Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Second Girl.
Ex-Washington, DC, detective Frankie Marr is a rather compelling character, a fringe-dweller ultimately corrupted by his own weakness as a narcotics detective, an old-school ex-cop unhampered by the civil rights constrictions of the legal system. Working as a private investigator for a local criminal defense attorney
(and former prosecutor) Leslie Costello, Frankie supplements a retiree pension (the truth carefully shielded in his official file), still euphemistically “one of the guys” during an investigation--until his behavior causes his former brother officers to question if Marr is playing too close to the edge.
While Costello garners more inherent suspicion than Frankie, having left the prosecutor’s office for the dark side of litigation, she has maintained her reputation as a straight shooter, a critical contact for a man such as Marr who frequently requires the shine of respectability to offset his illegal adventures. It doesn’t hurt that mutual attraction fuels a romantic interest between Frankie and Leslie, the PI inspired to keep her good opinion, to be more honorable than his downward-spiraling inclinations.
For Frankie Marr, life is lived on the edge, his “managed” cocaine habit fed by select scores as he haunts the busy streets where local gangs sling drugs and engage in the usual violence of the trade. Just like back in the day, Frankie will feed local narcotics detectives information to aid in a bust, then hit the drug house for his own purposes, eschewing crack or heroin, selectively choosing only cocaine or prescription drugs. He’s got a ritualized system that keeps him comfortable and in play until a nasty surprise propels him into another level of drug exploitation: he finds a chained-up teenage girl instead of a locked cache of drugs. Thinking on his feet, Frankie goes into overdrive, creating a scenario that allows him to get the girl home, notify the right detectives, and cover his own actions at the scene without getting arrested. It soon morphs into a manic, risky adventure where Frankie is too close to big trouble too often, maybe too much trouble this time.
Swinson hits the streets of DC much like Richard Price, with that same driving rhythm, down, dirty, in-your-face, and unremittingly violent. Not to mention chillingly authentic. The banal brutality of drug cartels is on full display with the usual results: the new target is the prostitution of suburban teenage girls who think flirting with drugs and gang-bangers is exciting--until they end up hooked, hustling, and far from home. By the time they have made that error in judgment, home is usually only a memory.
The first girl is a complete surprise, but when Frankie is hired to locate another missing teen, he gets caught up in the elaborate stories manufactured to cover his actions, on full hustle between feeding a new task force critical data and covering his tracks in a case that gets personal. Marr slides back and forth between good guys and cold-eyed drug dealers, colliding with a stricter police department, Messianic cops, and his own instincts for survival. It’s hit and miss, Frankie Marr often ceding to his baser nature but ever that outrageous roué who has slipped a little off-center, a guy’s guy and a man women can’t resist, even when they should.