Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Second Girl.
Such a unique detective (and one of the edgiest characters to appear in contemporary crime fiction), coke-snorting, hard-living Frank Marr is more baffled than ever by the woman in his life--ex-US attorney Leslie Costello--who like Marr began her career as a police officer. While his on-again, off-again affair with Leslie humanizes Frank, his penchant for using violence to get his way is certainly exhibited in the opening pages of The Second Girl when the private detective descends deep into the Adams Morgan area of Washington DC and into the orbit of a gang of Salvadorian street boys selling crack cocaine while running free on the streets.
Currently Marr’s wrath is trained on one of the gang’s safe houses,
where he hopes to discover a stash of coke for himself. But when he actually raids the house, he ends up rescuing a young girl. She tells him her name is Amanda and that she’s from Fairfax
County, Virginia. She sits cowering on the tile floor snug against the wall below the sink, next to the corner of the bathtub;
the kids had just enough time to “brainwash the shit out of her,“ judging by all of the tracks and the bruises.
Armed with a few necessities to help him through in the event of a “total crash”--Valium, Klonopin, Oxy, and a good amount of weed and a lot of liquor (“I like my life on the ups not the downs”)--Marr is happy to take credit for Amanda’s rescue. Initially he takes her to Costello’s office, telling Leslie how he found the girl in the house on Kenyon Street, how the boys had shot her up with heroin and raped her.
Although Costello is not too happy about being dragged into yet another one of Frank’s shadowy cases, she’s smart enough to see how Frank can navigate these gangs with ease. Of greater concern, however, are the gangs’ sudden movement into the suburbs to recruit impressionable high school kids, especially teenage girls.
Cute young gangbangers woo them, taking them places, giving them the kind of attention they crave at that age.
They get the girls smoking weed then move them up the chain to the harder drugs.
Frank must now use his web of associations to find the missing second girl who up until now has escaped the notice of the DC police. While the devastated parents of Miriam Gregory plead with Frank to assist in finding their daughter, the trail eventually leads him back to the same school as Amanda’s. More problems come to light, indirect but troubling connections to local drug cartels. It appears that the Salvadorian gangs are hiding behind a façade for criminal activity. It’s doubtful but still possible that Miriam Gregory was abducted by the same crew that abducted Amanda. Marr refuses to believe those boys on Kenyon Street were acting alone, not the crackheads, drunks, and thugs who roam the area.
While Swinson’s cast of characters are many and varied, the real star is Frank, with his coke-addition and the way he combines brute force with self-control. In a world where cocaine is a monster, crack is the devil, and suburban white girls are seen as the victims, Frank Marr is always the cipher for Swinson’s bracing, volatile combination of murder, brutality, and Washington police politics.