Clues to My Crime: David Swinson’s CRIME SONG

Mystery Month 2017In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. In this installment, David Swinson (The Second Girl) tells us about what inspired Crime Song, his second book about troubled private investigator Frank Marr. 

Books and music. The two mainstays of my life. My father was a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department. We grew up all over the world, in countries that didn’t get the same TV as they had back in the States, so books and records became my entertainment. Both my parents loved to read, but it was my father who instilled the deep passion for books I carry with me today. After my father retired, he moved up north. He left his book collection behind. Hundreds of books ranging from Thomas Hardy, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

If books came from my dad, then the love for music was given to me by my mother. I can still hear her playing Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Bob Dylan in our apartment in Beirut, and The Best of Bread on one summer vacation in Osage, Minnesota in the late seventies.

It’s no wonder when I sat to down to write The Second Girl and Crime Song that both music and books would work their way into the stories and characters. Here’s a little of what you might find in Crime Song.

 

AUTHORS AND BOOKS

I like authenticity. I love it when an author can create true-to-life characters and also make the cities or towns they inhabit as much of a character as the characters in the books.

 

CHARLES DICKENS: I’ve read everything by Dickens, some of them twice. He wrote from experience. G. K. Chesterton said it best in his biography on Charles Dickens: “He knew well that the greatest happiness that has been known since Eden is the happiness of the unhappy.” That is what his characters are about, and Dickens knows humanity well.

Several of my characters are named after Dickens characters. For instance, Biddy, Tiny Tim, and Fagin in Crime Song and Claypole in The Second Girl.

 

Maj Slöwall and Per Wahlöö

MAJ SJÖWALL AND PER WAHLÖÖ:  This husband-and-wife writing team were the mother and father of the police procedural. Their Martin Beck series, called The Story of a Crime, took place in Stockholm Sweden, which is also one of the cities I lived in as a teen. There are ten books in the series, and they were written over the course of an actual ten-year period. The books captured everything that was going on in Stockholm at the time: all the political upheaval, the social issues, and the effect it had on the characters.

 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Harper Lee’s book is the one book I always go back to when I need to feel inspired. It is a book that covers every genre—literary, thriller, legal, mystery, YA, adventure. Reading it affects me in the same way that music does. Sometimes it just takes a paragraph from the book to get me motivated to write.

 

HUNTER S. THOMPSON: He truly inspired me, but not so much because of the books he wrote. It was more because of the man he was. Something that didn’t have anything to do with his lifestyle.

I met Hunter S. Thompson back in the 80s when I booked a few of his speaking engagements at Bogart’s Nightclub, a venue in Long Beach, CA that I promoted. I remember Bill Stankey, his agent at the time, asking me, “Are you sure you want to go through with this?” I did, and I did get to know him quite well throughout the couple of years we did these events. Unlike Crime Song’s Frankie Marr, Hunter did not hide the fact that he consumed massive amounts of cocaine and alcohol and weed. What amazed me was how he could physically get away with it. He told me once that it was because he consumed massive amounts of grapefruit. For medicinal purposes. That’s why I had Frank Marr devour grapefruits too. It’s my little homage to the Doc.

 

MUSIC AND THE SCENE

Ian MacKaye of Fugazi

FUGAZI: Washington, D. C. was always home base between countries. I ended up graduating from high school there. My friends and I would often hang out at Fort Reno to watch the free concerts. Frank Marr is younger than me, but I gave him a high school childhood in D. C. like mine, but it was in the eighties, not the late seventies. He was into the scene, which was largely led by the band, Fugazi, and their record label, Dischord. He would also go to Fort Reno, and listen to Fugazi, and other punk bands.

 

NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS: I went to college in Long beach, CA. Not long after I left college, I fell into a relationship that would go sour after a few years, but way before that happened she introduced me to alternative and punk music. There was a scene happening in Long Beach, CA in the early 80s, but there were no venues for those into the scene to go to and listen to their favorite bands. That’s when I discovered Fender’s Ballroom, and then a couple of years later Bogart’s Nightclub. We booked everyone from the Violent Femmes, Social Distortion, The Descendants, Johnny Thunder to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I was blown away by Nick Cave.  It’s not only about his music, but about him. Happiness of the Unhappy. Out of all the bands I booked, he is the only one that has stayed with me over the years. I own every record he has ever recorded, and like To Kill a Mockingbird, I go to him when I need motivation.

Frank Marr had all these bands, and more, in his vinyl collection that gets stolen in Crime Song. Coincidentally, I also lost my impressive vinyl collection to the girl in California, who introduced me to all that great music. They weren’t stolen, but it feels like they were. Oddly enough, the feeling would come back to haunt me many years later when I was a rookie police detective in Washington, D. C. and worked burglary and home invasion cases. One such case involved the victim’s music collection. Read about it in this Washington Post article by Del Quentin Wilber.

One thing I love to do while writing is to create a playlist for the book. With some of the music I chose for Crime Song, it was about the lyrics, and others, just the music and the way it made me feel. But with most of the songs it was both.

So, for you’re listening pleasure, or maybe not, here’s the playlist for Crime Song:

David Swinson is a retired police detective, having served 16 years with the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department. The Second Girl is his first novel to feature Frank Marr. Swinson currently lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, daughter, bull mastiff, and bearded dragon.

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