READERS TELL ALL.
For years, I've avoid the "cozy mystery" genre like a plague. When I picture the genre in my head, all I can think about are cats solving mysteries and Murder She Wrote--not that there's anything wrong with either of those, and the more diversity in the crime genre the better, but nevertheless cozy mysteries have never been my cup of tea. That was, at least, until I found out that Kellye Garrett's Detective by Day novels, featuring her (now award-winning protagonist) Dayna Anderson, a sort-of-famous actress turned private investigator who will stop at nothing to solve these crimes. Add a load of humor and an unstoppable sense of tension and sometimes despair that keeps the book in motion and you turning the pages, and you get the work of the incomparable Kellye Garrett.
Garrett was a wrier for television, as my research has led me to understand, yet her protagonist, Day or Dayna depending on who is referring to her, is from a hometown not far from my own in Georgia. With reverence to her religion (an unspecified sect of Christianity) and so much love and warmth in the novel for Dayna and her two best friends, although an irresistible romance, it's hard to put these books down, even when you've recently suffered severe eye damage like I have in the recent year, making me take extended breaks between reading periods to try and maintain my vision while also maintaining my sanity. It's hard to keep your blood pressure and heart-rate down when you're reading work as fine as Garrett's, and what's even more astonishing is how Garrett avoids using a lot of what might be considered "negative" qualities of the genre from the past to today. Dayna does not curse (or, according to her, she does her best not to), there's not frequent sex scenes and sex is definitely not alluded to, and the violence is minimal--so much so that the climax of the first novel, HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, is so delicious and stunning that it's hard to believe the author has kept all of these secrets and tricks buried up her sleeve somewhere.
There are two books in the series so far--HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE and HOLLYWOOD ENDING--the latter of which made my heart sink, leaving me wondering if, perhaps this is the end fo the series. According to a very recent update from the Amazon page for preorders of the fantastic Kellye Garrett, there is a. new book in the works and is coming to us in 2019:, HOLLYWOOD HACK, seemingly available for preorder and at a ridiculously low price. I rarely get so involved in a series--but lately I've started to witness and experience how Garrett's books, along with private investigator series by Erica Wright, Steph Cha, Alex Segura, and Kristen Lepionka all make me wonder if the traditional Philip Marlowe character--with Raymond Chandler being owed a lot for sort of setting some firm rules for the genre--is in fact no longer the rule, but the exception. It's a breath of fresh air to see these private investigators, not the typical white heterosexual cis-male, and how they all lead and empower different parts of different races and cultures and make one wonder if there is a brighter future for the readers of private detective fiction, making us wonder if perhaps if libraries and any other safe zone being cut by Trump, perhaps the newest way to solve all one's problems is by hiring the private investigator of the twenty-first century.
I for one am looking forward to Dayna Anderson's remarkable turn in--what I hope, for once--won't be a limited series, but will go on as long as my eyes continue to read these books. Garrett has won so many awards for the first book in Dayna's series, and I think it's important to note that she defies whatever our expectations are for a "cozy" mystery. The Detective by Day series could be viewed as a wide assortment of the crime and mystery genres, but don't be fooled and don't give in and not read these books. They are by far some of the best writing novels--fiction or non, crime or any other genre--published by day. Between the never ending, twisting and turning mysteries, the romance, the bromances (what would you call it when sister have a really close relationship? Just a sisterhood?)--you won't be able to tear your eyes away from the page, and, like me, you'll be dying for more. I have very rarely been so glued to one series at once, but Kellye Garrett can take all of my money if that means that she'll keep writing in a genre she loves, about a character who inspires her, and in this effortless, stomach-churning way that made me realize--and will allow any future readers to do the same--I cannot wait for the next Detective by Day mystery, nor to see where Garrett's career leads her.
In 2013, I was at a breaking point. A boy I thought I loved told me "I am not in a mood for relationships, but if was, I would be with you." Which, let's be real, is as fake as things can come, and that was before the--and I hate this phrase, but love using it ironically--level of "woke' I became due to crime novels which exposed me to the truth of things, a truth other genres cannot match or compare. I decided that perhaps I could be like a hero--or, rather, heroine--of mine, Veronica Mars, and so I set off solving mysteries. One involved getting a dog out of a locked car in July. That proved simple enough, as the front door was actually unlocked and the methheads who owned the car (I have my fair share of experience with methheads, given I am from a place called Hogeye, SC) who nearly attacked me, accusing me of stealing their dog. The next mission was a bit rougher--I had a cousin who will go unnamed, and who may or may not have been addicted to heroin. I bragged later in class about my endless efforts to locate him after he went missing, and finding him at the home of a drug dealer--his drug dealer, to be exact. Bragging about this in front of a professor I thought was cool actually resulted in me being sent a New Yorker article (because he was an English professor, and not afraid to show his snobbery) about criminal informants who wind up being found dead after dealing with drug deals. Let me get this across: I never once said that I was seeking out drugs, just a drug dealer who had provided my cousin a place of refuge after he tried to burn his parents' mansion to the ground--with said parents inside. Oh and so I don't get sued for this, assume this was all made up.
The point of the little anecdote is to press another matter on you: anyone who is reading this, all of the loyal followers of my website, desperately need to seek out a copy of Canary by Duane Swierczynski. I currently have exhausted all of my own funds sending our copies to my many friends, relatives, and fellow book-lvoers. By the way, if you aren't on the list and want to be gifted with extraordinary works of fiction, contact me and get on this list. Canary is a shining gem of crime fiction, writing in both a cold, hard-as-rock noir narrative mixed with the letters of a young college student to her mother. Her dead mother. Who used to be involved with drugs, possibly a cartel, herself.
Sadie Holland is trying to live her own life, maybe find a boyfriend, make decent grades, and be an average college student when she is unfortunately put in a position that--while not selling drugs--makes her look guilty enough to become a criminal informant. I won't really spoil the novel for you--there's danger, for sure, and it's lurking around every turn of the page of this novel--but you should be very aware: this is possibly the greatest book by a straight man since I breezed through Alex Segura's Pete Fernandez series. Segura himself is a sort of pupil of Swierczynski's, and I really don't know what to brag about more--knowing someone who mentored Segura, or knowing that Segura was the mentee or Mr. Swierczynski. Both roles deserve bragging rights, and let's be real--I am queer as fuck and I do not normally bag about straight men who intimidate me in the writing community, mostly because there aren't many who do. Throw in Daniel Woodrell, Larry McMurtry, and there are only a handful of other names who could be added to the list of straight men--and excluding Segura--straight white men--who make me want to devour their entire bibliography at record speed. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Laura Lippman backed Duane up by giving me her version of "READ THAT SHIT ALREADY" a few years ago. And thank god I finally did, but also, this is one of those books you're sad to have read at all, because it means you'll never have another "first reading" experience, given you don't give in and spend all your savings on electroshock therapy and forget the past six months of your life.
It would be hard to say that the writing in Swierczynski's novel is "immaculate" or "world-changing," mostly because he is able to slip in and out of so many voices, places, and people with such ease that it feels effortless, like Swierczynski typed this all out Jack Kerouac style (and yes there is mention of the Beats in the novel)--only, well, Jack Kerouac could have learned a thing or ten from Duane. Don't get me wrong, I loved reading Kerouac in eleventh grade when I was just as ironically un-woke as the next "No I'm not gay I just have an effeminate voice please don't ever talk to me again" literary wannabe. I only wish I had been able to read Canary then, and please, to all the friends receiving copies, thank me by naming your first children after me, or by somehow boosting me up in the literary community, or, better yet, buy ten copies of the book for your ten favorite people, even if they don't appreciate fine literature as much as we do.
Let me rattle off a few of those book review cliches that apply directly to this masterwork: it will have you on the edge of your seat. Swierczynski will knock your socks off with his literary prowess. He can somehow effortlessly inhabit the mind and voice of a young woman and understand all the complexities she faces in a post-Facebook world. He can also write from a. woman's point of view and not stick in the unnecessary "likes" and "oh my gods" that so many successful--wait for it--women writers put in their work to seem genuinely feminine. There is nothing false or condescending in the way Swierczynski approaches any of his characters, and it is truly a shame he hasn't released more books than he has, but in the same sense, this just means that every work he publishes is one to treasure. For a man who has mentored so many great, aspiring, and now world-shattering authors, and for a man who can earn the love and respect of a god like Laura Lippman, any of you who are reading this should be adding you to your (hopefully indie bookseller) shopping cart immediately and selecting the fasting shipping method, and that's only if your local bookseller is currently closed and you cannot race over there right now and snag a copy of the book I'm speaking of.
This world is tough. The United States government currently hates, as it always has, women, racial minorities, anyone who identifies on any level as queer, immigrants (including those seeking asylum in our country but the government wants to jeopardize their lives over), the poor and struggling lower and middle classes, really, let's be frank, everyone. And this government always has. And while I have admired Mr. Swierczynski from afar and am pretty sure he is as great a man as they come, and I recognize that his books will not fix every one of the social injustices our nation faces on a daily basis, perhaps you will consider buying any of his books, especially this book in particular, and spare yourself the grief of reading yet another headline about how much our government hates you for being you. Perhaps you will buy a book by this man, let him write more books that will help you escape, and when you come back from this escape, stronger than ever, you can fight to make things right. So while Swierczynski's novel only concerns itself with many and and not all social justice issues, perhaps you might be persuaded to know that buying one of his books will give your brain, your heart, and your mental health. a break, and in purchasing a copy of his book, you will enable a man who supports ALL of you to continue writing. It's a win-win-win whichever way you look at it.
Canary not only features one of the most endearing female presences in any book, written by man or woman, in the past several decades, it also features one of the most important messages our country is struggling with currently: coming to terms with its past, and deciding if it will make a brighter and better future for the people who have always been treated poorly, but deserve better. On that note, I will leave you with a link that Mr. Swierczynski asked me to share to a Noir at the Bar happening later this month, and also really encourage you to purchase his novel, which is genius. And I don't throw that word around for White. Straight. Men.
Much love to you all. I hope you read this book and support the writings of Mr. Swierczynski in the process.
Also, it would be a shame if I didn't mention that the novel does concern one of my favorite themes in any novel, ever: revenge, which is maybe what some of you are looking for right now.