Written by David Swinson — The central character in A Detailed Man is a Washington policeman – detective Ezra Simeon. He is a loner, with a divorced wife and a platonic best friend, both back in California. He’s recently been afflicted by Bell’s Palsy, a form of partial paralysis that affects his facial expression but not his mind. Physically he tires easily, but after being on light duties he’s promoted to the Violent Crimes Unit. His first task is to pick up the horrific murder of an escort girl, and see if it’s linked to a cold case file from two years earlier.
The early investigation was covered by Simeon’s long time friend, who has just died of heart disease. In fact, Simeon has to clear his friend’s desk of personal belongings to give himself space to work. Simeon views his colleagues with sardonic, but genuine affection and welcomes being back at work because the job is his life.
The title of the book is a play on words. Simeon is ‘detailed’ in the sense that he has been assigned to the task. He is also ‘detailed’ in that the book is more about him and his personality than it is about the crimes he tackles. By the end of the story we know him as well as we might know ourselves. The narrative is entirely first person, the dialogue is spare but convincing, and we get a great sense of a wintry Washington, DC. This sense of place seems perfectly natural, and there is no hint that the author is typing the story with one hand while holding a local map in the other.
There are other murders on Simeon’s plate but he is baffled, intrigued and fixated – in turn – with who killed the escort girl. Neither his suspects nor the victims are who they seem to be, and he is fighting an increasing sense of debility brought about by his physical condition. David Swinson is a retired police officer, and while the book is very much not a police procedural, the day-to-day atmosphere of the Violent Crimes Unit feels authentic.
This is a challenging book. The pace is very measured until quite close to the end, and some readers may find the constant self-absorption of Simeon wearing after a while. The startling denouement is a brave stroke by Swinson who uses a far from the conventional means to close out a detective story, and some may wonder if leaving a number of apparent loose ends works or not as a literary device. Personally, I was gripped by the book and fascinated by Ezra Simeon. Hopefully it will be the first of many successes for David Swinson.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars