Crime Song


By David Swinson

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The return of Frank Marr, the “refreshing” protagonist of one of the New York Times‘ Best Crime Novels of 2016.

Frank Marr was a good cop with a bad habit, until his burgeoning addictions to alcohol and cocaine forced him into retirement from the DC police. Now barely eking out a living as a private investigator, he agrees to take on a family case: a favor for his aunt, who was like a second mother to him growing up.

Frank’s surveillance confirms that his cousin Jeffrey is involved with a small-time drugs operation. Modest stuff, until Frank’s own home is burglarized, leaving a body on the kitchen floor: Jeffrey. Worse, Frank’s .38 revolver-the murder weapon-is stolen, along with his cherished music collection, his only possessions of sentimental value: dozens of vinyl albums that belonged to his late mother. Only Frank’s stash, his dwindling supply of the cocaine he needs to get through the day, is untouched. Why?

Clearly, his cousin was deeper in the underworld than anyone realized. With the weight of his family, his reputation, and his own life on the line, he’ll have to find the culprit by following the stolen goods through a tangled network of petty thieves, desperate addicts, deceiving fences, good cops, bad cops, and one morally compromised taxi driver.

Frank’s as determined to uncover the truth as he is to feed his habit, and both pursuits could prove deadly. This time, it may just be a question of what gets him first.


Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.

—Hunter S. Thompson


I tried self-restraint once. Not on purpose. Caught a bad virus. Put me down for a bit. When I got better I continued not using, but after a couple days I came back, preferring high spirits and liking myself again over a state of near comatoseness and self-loathing.

That’s the memory that comes to mind when I think about what I have left of my stash. I can’t get it outta my head. It’d be an incredible supply for the mere social user, and it might even last someone months, but it certainly isn’t enough for the devoted.

Like me.

So in part, that’s what has kept me working this case after I learned what my cousin Jeffrey Baldwin got himself into. I’ve been tailing and surveilling him off and on for over a week now.

Jeffrey’s mom, Linda, still lives in the same small town outside Akron, Ohio. Last time we talked I was a detective at Narcotics Branch, but we lost contact when I was sent into retirement. Didn’t return her calls. It was on me, not her. She didn’t give up trying for a long time.

Then when she called me last week, I answered. She talked like we’d been keeping in touch all this time, told me she hadn’t heard from Jeffrey in days and he was skipping classes at George Washington University last semester so now he has to attend summer school to catch up. Said he got in with a bad crowd in his senior year of high school in Ohio, and she’s worried he’s found another bad crowd to pull him down again. She thought I was still a cop and could help. I told her I was a PI now and maybe I could. No fee, though, I insisted. The least I could do in return for not keeping in touch and because she’d been there for me as a kid after my mom died.

I hate to admit it, but Aunt Linda was right. I have enough to give her, but for my own selfish reasons, I need to go further. That stash of mine ain’t gonna grow on its own.

Last Thursday I followed Jeffrey to the same spot I’m headed to now—Spotlight, a trendy nightclub on Connecticut Avenue. Mostly college kids, but they get a few locals from the area, including some who look like players. Real players, not wannabes like my cousin. It didn’t take me more than a few minutes to figure out the action going on.

Jeffrey would do some little deals there on the sly, quarter and half grams, a dime of weed, but only occasionally and nothing that would draw attention. Most of his dealings were with other students, outside the nightclub.

He’d meet up at the club with one of the local boys who’d re-up him for the weekend. I don’t think the local is a supplier, but he’ll lead me to whoever is. Eventually. Another benefit, but I’m not ready to go that far just yet. I’ll get a quick hit out of Jeffrey before I tell his mom, though. It’ll be like I’m doing her a service anyway. Maybe teach him a life lesson along the way.

I find a nice spot to park on Connecticut. I’ve got a good view of the front entrance, and there’s a large tree at the curb with a trunk that gives me good concealment.

I drive a newish-model Volvo with nice tint, so I’m not worried about the pedestrian traffic, even without the tree and its large trunk. These people aren’t gonna pay much attention to me.

I honed my skills conducting surveillance when I was on the department working 7D Vice, then later as a detective. You wouldn’t get away with what I’m doing here in most of those locations, and most of the time you’d have one or more partners to watch your back.

I need a boost, so I grab my prescription-pill container out of my left pants pocket. It has fifty capsules that I packed tightly with cocaine. Two capsules make for a nice line—or, in this case, pile. I twist one of the capsules open and squeeze the powder out of each half onto the back of my hand. After I look around, let a couple pedestrians pass, I take a snort, twist the capsules back together, and repeat the process. Light a cigarette after.

It’ll never be like the first time, but the initial wave is still nice. Also takes more than it used to, mostly when I’m home alone.

The sunset isn’t so sudden during the summer months. It just softens into nighttime. This area is well lit, too: large office buildings, restaurants, and retail stores.

I notice Jeffrey. It’s just after nine. Right on schedule. Not like working some of the street ops from back in the day. Can’t depend on those drug boys worth shit. At least he’s reliable. He’s wearing designer jeans and a stylish black slim-cut sport coat over a gray V-neck T-shirt.

Fucking kid. What happened to you?

Fuckin’ me. What the hell am I doing? Just go tell Aunt Linda and leave it, maybe have a talk with him after. In my mind he’s still just a small round-faced boy.

I watch him enter, then I give myself another bump and exit the car. I flick my cigarette to the gutter, put my suit jacket on to conceal my sidearm, straighten it out so it falls nicely over my shirt collar, then make my way to the front entrance.


An older cop in a cheap suit is working the door tonight. He greets me with an upward tilt of his head. I don’t know him. He’s not one of the regulars who work this part-time gig. He’s a big man, mid- to late fifties, but I wouldn’t ever fuck with him. He looks like he hits the gym almost every day.

The music’s loud, though not as uncomfortably loud as it’ll get when the DJ hits the mixing board with that techno-electronic shit and scratches vinyl on his turntables. Scratch vinyl? Good God. I should be long gone by then.

Jeffrey’s standing at the bar nursing a beer. Everyone seems well dressed. Trendy. Black leather booths set in darker areas for those special moments. The area around the bar is backlit against gold to highlight the liquor bottles on the shelves. Two bartenders working—one male and one female. She’s wearing a bra like it’s an eighties fashion statement.

It’s early enough for me to find a seat at the edge of the bar, where it’s darkest. I’ve got a couple of hours before the in crowd starts to show. I order a double Jameson Caskmates ’cause the bartender measures the shit out, and an ounce and half is nothin’ but a sip for me.

I notice Jeffrey over my left shoulder still nursing his beer when I’m surprised by a question: “Just saw ya last week, Frankie boy. You becoming a regular here?”

Willy Jasper is leaning on the edge of the bar between me and an empty stool. He’s a master patrol officer out of the First District and runs the part-time here. It’s an unsanctioned off-duty job, ’cause cops can’t work as bouncers at a club.

Who am I to care?

Jasper’s not wearing a suit tonight, so I’m assuming he’s not here to work.

“Willy, hey. Just finishing up that security gig, that building down the street. What’s up with you? I thought they had a dress code here. Or are you working undercover?” I ask with a bit of a smile.

“Undercover. Shit. I’m on my way to work midnight shift. Stopped by to check in on my boy first. Then I saw you at the bar here all by your lonesome and thought I’d drop by.”

The bartender in the bra shows up for Jasper.

“Hi, sweetie,” he says.

“Hey, there, Willy. Can I get you something?”

“Just a soda.”

She shoots him a smile before she turns.

“Yeah, you got a good gig here,” I tell him.

I casually look over my shoulder to make sure Jeffrey’s still there.

He is.

“I can hook you up if you want. Money’s good, and I can use the extra manpower. Chief’s got us working all kinds of mandatory OT shit. Hard for me to fill up some of the hours here.”

“I keep myself busy enough, and I’m not pressed for money right now. But you never know what the future holds. I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks.”

The bartender returns with his soda.

“Thanks, hon,” Jasper says with a smile. “And give my boy here another of whatever he’s drinking on my tab, would ya?”

“’Preciate it, Jasper.” I lift my glass toward him, and he clinks his glass of soda against mine.

He throws me a peculiar half smile after.

“But seriously,” he says after sipping his soda. “Big boy Wyatt Morris over there at the door is retired, like you. He’s been working with me for a few years. We go back. In fact, he was my training officer.”

“No shit? Yeah, I noticed him. Looks like he keeps in shape for his age.”

“Ex-military and straight to DC police after. Retired outta ERT.”

I down the rest and trade the bartender the empty for another. Looks like she gave me a good pour this time.

“Job comes with benefits, too, huh?” I take a drink.

“Naw, man, I ain’t tapping that,” he tells me.

“I meant the drinks.”

He belts out a screwy laugh. “Oh, yeah. They take care of ya here.”

I casually look toward Jeffrey again.

Jasper looks at the time on his big wristwatch.

“I gotta roll. Still have to hit the locker room and change up before roll call.”

“Be safe, Jasper.”

“Likewise, brother. Drop by again sometime. I’m always here Fridays, Saturdays.”

“I’ll be sure to do that.”

He walks back to the front, talks with his boy for a moment, then rolls out.

With any luck, after tonight I won’t have to come to this place again. My hangouts are the spots that never change, like Shelly’s and Rebellion DC. They don’t cater to crowds who expect the next trend. Or, thankfully, play this fucking music. I’m just hoping my cousin gets this shit done before the DJ hits the stage.

“You a cop, too?” the bartender with the bra asks.

She’s leaning over the other side of the bar facing me. Maybe a little too close.

“No. Not anymore.”

“You look too young to be retired.”

“Moved on is all.”

“So what do you do, then?”

“I like to drink. Occasionally sleep,” I say straight-faced, with a tone that I hope expresses lack of interest.

She shoots me a cute smile, and with little effort she slips away to help another customer.

There was a time in my life I might’ve been interested, pursued it with enthusiasm. See if she really liked me or was just making a flirty attempt at getting a bigger tip. But no, I’m too fixed on a certain lifestyle, one that I can’t jeopardize. And Leslie Costello is a major part of that lifestyle. Last thing I want to do is fuck it up with her. You don’t get that many chances in life.

Third drink in, more people showing up, and Jeffrey is still at the corner of the bar, but now nursing a martini. It’s been around forty-five minutes, and he hasn’t budged.

Few minutes later, a young kid wearing a white T-shirt with an abstract cannabis leaf design on the front seems to bounce through the entrance. His baggy dark blue jeans hang a bit too low, and his dreadlocks fall to his shoulders. It’s not the same kid as before, when I was here last Thursday, but I note Jeffrey clocking him.

At the bar, they share some kind of special handshake. They talk for a second, then Jeffrey gets the attention of the male tender and orders something. The tender draws a glass of beer from the tap, slides it to Dreadlocks. Jeffrey pays the tab, and the two walk to a corner booth in a quieter area of the club.

For an experienced guy like me, the exchange is obvious and quick. Jeffrey stuffs something into the left inner pocket of his sport coat—something that seems too large to fit there. He stands afterward and walks to the men’s room.

Dreadlocks picks up his beer and walks toward a group of girls near the DJ booth. A couple of them smile as he approaches.

I could follow him into the restroom. It’d be easy. So easy I even find myself giving it serious thought. He’d know who I am. That’d make taking the shit off of him easier. What’s he gonna do? It’d scare the shit outta him, but then maybe we’d hug after. Fuck me. I know what he’s got, and I know he’s going into the restroom to check it out. At most he’ll share a half a gram with a couple of cute girls, but that’s about it. He’ll go home, probably shove what he got in a shoe box, and hide it somewhere close to his bed. I’ll snatch it up after he goes to his morning classes. After I give his mom everything I know, she’ll kick his ass into the military or some shit like that—I hope.

I down the rest of my drink, then signal the bra queen for the tab.

“It’s taken care of,” she says kindly.

“Thank Willy for me, then.”

I drop a twenty on the counter. She smiles.

I go home, see if I can find some sleep.


First thing I do when I get home is go check my stash wall. I admit I’m getting increasingly paranoid, but for some reason being aware of it makes it feel less like a weakness. It’s become obsessive, I guess, a stupid little ritual. Otherwise I don’t feel safe. Seeing the neat little wall in its place, I feel my heart lift. It’s like magical thinking in reverse.

There’s a small room just before the entrance to my kitchen. Inside is the HVAC system for the house as well as a washer and dryer. I unlatch a phantom hinge that allows me to open the molding along the outer edge of the drywall. It’s like a tall, thin secret door. I slide the drywall that’s against the right side of the washer out along its hinges to open the enclosed area.

Inside there are several shelves affixed to two-by-fours.

I got rid of the weapons I’ve picked up along the way, ’cause I’m sure they had bodies on them. I still carry, but I’m covered under my retirement and 218, so mine’s legal. Will a certain assistant chief at the department try to fuck me out of my weapon? Maybe. But then maybe he forgot about old Frank and I’m just being twitchy.

I also have a shelf where I store several large baggies of weed; four pill containers, the labels torn off, containing Oxy, Vicodin, Valium, and Klonopin, none of which is prescribed for me; another shelf that holds a little more than twenty grand in cash, stacked and secured with rubber bands; and a baggie that contains around an ounce of good powder. That’s what’s left—an ounce.

Who knows if I’ll get anything out of Jeffrey’s apartment? So I gotta slow down a bit on what blow I have left. My body says I gotta slow down, too. Just have to start cutting back to certain times of the day, never while working. Unless it’s an emergency. Most of the time it is. That’s why I have to do the quick hit on my little cousin’s place and have a plan for what comes after. Planning these ops and then executing them can often take up more of my time than my real job as a PI. But that, along with my scanty pension and whatever work Leslie Costello throws my way, pays the bills.

I’m not getting much work from Leslie, though. It’s taken a while, ’cause I’ve known her for a long time, but we’ve finally settled into a relationship of sorts. It’s something cozy and fun for now. But I don’t think she feels comfortable with bossing me or having to pay me for my PI services. I don’t mind. I actually like it.

After I’ve had my time with the bank, I slide the wall back, secure it.

Upstairs, I grab two 1mg Klonopin pills out of a container I keep in my pocket and down them with a nice shot of Jameson.

I set my iPhone on the coffee table in case Leslie calls, think about putting an old Johnny Cash record or maybe the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session on the turntable. I light up a smoke instead and bide my time reclining on the sofa. After a bit, the Klonopin flows. It helps ease the tension and my cravings with it.


Daylight is sudden. Trying to surprise me by creeping behind the top edge of the curtains. Pretty sure I found sleep. Unusual because of the amount of blow I put through my system. I check the time on my phone: 7:00 a.m. Damn!

No time for a shower, just a quick change of clothing. I throw on a newly pressed shirt and the suit from last night, but no tie. I snort up a couple of lines. Almost feel human again. I check the vial to make sure I’m supplied, then secure my holster and the pouch holding two magazines to my belt, grab my backpack containing my essential items, and head out the front door. I lock it, check it, then check it again.

I have a little time to kill before Jeffrey goes to his class, so I head to the diner on 18th Street in Adams Morgan for a couple cups of coffee and a quick bite.

When I’m done, I drive to Jeffrey’s little English-basement apartment on N Street. Don’t see his car. I drive around twice looking for a legal parking spot. Find one around the corner on 22nd. He’ll have left for classes by now.

It ain’t cheap renting in this area. GW ain’t cheap, either. Aunt Linda must’ve done well for herself, especially after the divorce. It’s too bad about Jeffrey, but I’ll snatch him up eventually. Try to talk some sense into him. But first I’m sure he’ll be good for at least a couple of ounces, maybe more. That’s only pocket shit for me, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

He’s too easy, really. All these expensive homes, with their heavy landscaping, make for perfect targets. I have to wonder how many of these spots have already been hit. One more won’t matter. Doubtful if Jeffrey will even report it. After I get done in there I’m sure that’ll be the last thing on his mind.

I walk down the steps to his front door like I got a reason for being there. I take the tactical gloves out of a side pocket of the backpack and slip them on. Ring the doorbell. After a minute, ring it again, followed by a couple of knocks on one of the door’s square glass panes. I look behind me and up the steps. Clear. The brick walls on either side of me are concealment enough. The front door looks simple—probably just need a screwdriver to pry it open, or, better yet, I could smash out one of the door’s glass panes.

I grab a hand towel and a screwdriver out of the middle compartment of my pack, fold up the towel, and cover a corner pane on the door. Using the butt end of the screwdriver, I hit the towel toward the bottom, smashing the glass inward. Only sound comes from inside when the glass breaks on the floor. I reach in and unlatch the door, open it, step in, and lock it behind me. I stand still by the front door for a moment to survey the scene. To listen.

Looks like it was furnished by the owners, not a kid Jeffrey’s age. The small living room opens to a tiny kitchen separated from the living room by a wooden breakfast counter and three stools. A love seat flanked by two mission-style end tables is against the wall ahead of me. There’s a coffee table in front of it and an armchair to the side. A sixty-inch flat-screen television, along with an Xbox and several stacks of Xbox games, sits on another coffee table across from the sofa. A short hallway to the right of the kitchen leads to two doors on the left and one at the end of the hall, which is probably his bedroom. I scan the ceiling and the walls, including the entryway where I’m standing. Nothing that looks like surveillance. Don’t expect it, but you never know, especially when the occupant is a rich white kid dealing drugs. My little cousin: damn.

It’s messy, but the kind of messiness you’d expect from a kid his age living on his own—worn clothing hanging over the sofa; sneakers everywhere; couple of empty containers of Chinese takeout with plastic forks still in them; microbrew beer bottles on the coffee table and breakfast counter. Not close to looking or even smelling like some of the spots I’ve hit over the years, both in my current position and when I was on the job executing actual search warrants.

When I’ve taken in enough I walk down the hall toward his bedroom. I always start in the bedroom. That’s where I usually find what I’m looking for. Most of these boys like to keep the shit close.

The bedroom is messier than the living room. No family photos. Something happened there; probably the divorce. I look under the bed, lift the mattress, but don’t find anything. Find a couple of joints in an ashtray on the nightstand beside his bed. I put them in my shirt pocket. I search the drawers, then go to the closet. After a thorough search of the bedroom I return to the living room area and the small kitchen. I find some paraphernalia in a cabinet beside the stove—little Ziploc bags for quarter and half grams, a scale with residue on it, cutting agents, and that’s fucking about it. It pisses me off. I mean, who am I to judge? But shit, I don’t deal, and I certainly wouldn’t want to put my lifestyle on someone else, especially Jeffrey. It ain’t for everyone.

The apartment is so small it doesn’t take long. I’ve spent too much time in here already. He either took the shit with him or hooked up at the club and didn’t come home at all. Fucking waste of my time. Fuck.

I roll out. Figure I’ll go back home and write this thing up for Aunt Linda. I got what she wants—or, rather, what she doesn’t want. I’ll give her some comfort and say I’ll talk to him, scare him, even. I know how to use fear, and with any luck Jeffrey’s not so far gone that it won’t work.


When I make the turn onto 12th I see several marked and unmarked units as well as an ambulance. Couple of local news media vans, too, with cameras already set up on tripods. Looks like a bad scene, and it’s near my house. Shit, I’m high. Now I have to take an illegal spot at the corner. And fuck, I gotta walk through all that to get to my house. If I can get to my house. They got the yellow tape up, connected to a fence a couple homes down from mine and stretching across the sidewalk to a utility pole. One of the cruisers, I notice, is cruiser 1.

The damn chief.

A few neighbors are out. Worried faces all around.

When I get half a block up I’m more than startled to see the house they’re moving through is mine.


I got my pack full with shit I don’t want to be found, and I probably smell like weed.

I light a cigarette. Puff the smoke down so it folds around my clothes.

What good is that?

Did they finally hit me, and that’s a search warrant?

I think about going back to my car, taking off. At the least drop the pack off in my car. Taking off sounds better, though.

I’m frozen. I never freeze.

One of the officers notices me. I know him. Hal Lloyd. He’s an old-timer outta 3D. He waves me toward him, then signals a detective close by and points me out to him.

I think I just got fucked.

Cameras pan toward me.

So much for taking off.

I acknowledge him, and after a couple more puffs of the cigarette I slowly make my way over there, still considering the possibility of running.

How stupid is that? Fucking cameras got me on the local news now.

“That’s my house. What the hell’s going on here, Lloyd?” I ask.

“Hey, Frankie. I’ll let the detective here advise you about that,” he says while lifting the tape so I can duck under and enter.

The young detective is there to greet me. No cuffs out, so maybe…

“Detective Joe Hurley.” He introduces himself and extends his hand to shake.

I accept.

“What happened?” I ask with more than a bit of trepidation.

“Let’s talk at your house. Let me get the detective on the scene.”


  • "Marr is easy to take, a decent guy with a sense of honor. And since Swinson is one of the best dialogue hounds in the business, Marr is blessed with some terrific street talk."—The New York Times Book Review
  • "So convincing . . . Compulsively readable"—Jack Batten, Toronto Star
  • Frank Marr is "one of the genre's most damaged yet empathetic characters. The writing feels as authentic and true to the street as The Wire--which for crime writers is about the highest praise there is."—Casey Barrett, Village Voice
  • "Former DC detective Swinson knows his stuff. . . . His second in the Frank Marr series features sharp prose, spot-on dialogue, and a protagonist as complicated and unlikely as he is appealing. Fans of gritty crime fiction will want to add Swinson to their reading lists."—Booklist (starred review)
  • "David Swinson is one of the most exciting new voices to come along in crime fiction in this decade, and Crime Song is Exhibit A of his remarkable talent. Swinson's writing is heartfelt, powerful, and authentic, and Frank Marr is as fully rendered as any detective in recent memory."—Michael Koryta, bestselling author of Rise the Dark
  • "Frank Marr is a straight-up addict. His life, a train wreck. And he's the good guy. Welcome to the world of David Swinson, author of one of the most compelling P.I. series to come along in a while. Pick up a copy of Crime Song. You'll love it."—Michael Harvey, New York Times bestselling author of Brighton
  • "A veteran detective, David Swinson knows DC's secrets and it shows in this killer noir, so authentic it'll make you get up and lock your doors. Crime Song is even better than the fantastic TheSecond Girl and Swinson writes with a refreshing, understated realness. This is right up there with Richard Price and The Wire."—Matthew Quirk, New York Times bestselling author of Dead Man Switch
  • "Swinson delivers a superb second installment (after The Second Girl) in the "Frank Marr" series. Readers of Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, and George Pelecanos as well as fans of The Wire will appreciate the gritty depiction of the mean inner-city streets of our nation's capital."—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "Smart and sharp . . . Swinson, a retired detective himself, knows his way around mean streets. . . . Through all the plot twists of this well-designed mystery, what comes through most are Swinson's characters--particularly Marr, who attracts affection and respect, even when he is at his worst."—The National Book Review
  • "Crime Song is fast and rough and great. The atmosphere is perfect. The details are perfect. Only a cop, someone who's really lived in this world, could get so much so right."

James O. Born, bestselling author of Walking Money

On Sale
May 2, 2017
Page Count
368 pages
Mulholland Books

David Swinson

About the Author

David Swinson is a retired police detective from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, having been assigned to Major Crimes. Swinson is the author of the critically acclaimed Frank Marr Trilogy – The Second Girl, Crime Song and Trigger, and the standalone City on the Edge. He lives in Northern Virginia.

Learn more about this author