In Swanson's debut crime thriller, a sedate man encounters the mysterious woman who ignited his passion years ago—and now plunges him into the depths of noir.
George Foss is the accountant for a well-heeled old Boston literary magazine, and he lives a staid and quiet life: Red Sox on the tube, a cat, a low-heat semiromance with a co-worker. But one night in his local bar, he spots his long-lost first love from college, a woman whom he knew as Audrey. Her real name, he's since discovered, is Liana Decter. In the novel's most affecting and effective scenes, we see George, a lovelorn college freshman, head to Florida after “Audrey’s” suicide is reported over Christmas break. He gets himself clumsily, boyishly embroiled in the mystery surrounding that death—only to discover that Audrey/Liana is not the corpse. By the time George retreats northward to resume his freshman year, she's suspected in two murders and has disappeared for good. Or not quite—it is Liana in the neighborhood pub, and soon, she's pressed her loyal sap into service as a go-between in returning some stolen money to a wealthy and shady man with whom she's been involved. George recognizes that she is that most durable noir trope, the belle dame sans merci, but if anything, the knowledge only enhances her appeal. Soon, he finds himself several coils of intrigue—and levels of danger—out of his depth. The pace is fast, the prose mostly smooth, and the plot genuinely twisty. But the characters aren't quite fully fleshed; George is sometimes too one-note in his role as helplessly enamored milquetoast, and Liana—who has great potential, possibly to be explored in the sequel this book points toward—is a little too purely a femme fatale, with the emphasis—as usual—on the second word rather than the first. We know her almost exclusively by her effect on men.
Seemingly pre-measured for the movies, sometimes to its detriment but often to good effect; all in all, a quick, deft, promising first crime novel.