I'd say that Big Town played a major role in making me a crime fiction fan for life. No shit, dear readers. None whatsofuckingever.
Big Town is the first in Swanson's shamefully under-appreciated Jack Flippo novels, a private eye series set in Dallas, Texas (in case you thought I meant the other Dallas...). Flippo used to work in the DA's office until his dick got him into some trouble (and I don't mean like his dick didn't use the proper format on a memo, I mean like his dick had sex with the wrong woman), costing him his job. Now he's one step ahead of the repo man and collection agencies, living in a shit shack that no bum would envy, and he still hasn't learned to think with the other head.
Jack is hard up for money (in case that last sentence wasn't clear...) so he takes a quick job from a scummy lawyer friend snapping photos of the famous huckster/entrepeneur Buddy George cheating on his wife. Bad shit goes down during the shoot and Jack ends up saving the mistress from George's violent idea of sex.
Then he finds out that George's "wife" is actually his opportunistic secretary, Paula (who happens to be smoking hot) and that someone paid the mistress to seduce Buddy George. Obviously, things are not what they seem and soon Jack is in the thick of a twisted blackmail plot that is - no joke - fucking brimming with double crosses, hot sex and some memorably nasty violence.
What first strikes you about Big Town is that while it seems to be a P.I. novel, it quickly becomes clear that it is more of a crime novel than a mystery. There aren't any major revelations or anything, we're kept abreast of shit along the way like an Elmore Leonard novel. We get to follow all the major players in this one and thank God, because Jack has some great fucking characters surrounding him - Teddy Deuce chief amongst them.
Teddy is the henchman in this book, the idiot muscle counted upon to deliver the beat downs and intimidate the competition. Thing is, dude's about as loyal as your dog when a stranger offers him a piece of hamburger. Teddy double-crosses people so often that his dumb ass can't keep straight who he's working for eventually.
Then there's Buddy George, the Napoleonic motivational speaker. And the sexy femme fatale Paula. And the mistress Sharronda. And Sharronda's white trash piece of shit boyfriend Delbert - a brief (guess what happens) but MAJOR highlight.
But of course, a series is only as strong as its hero and Jack is one of the all-timers. He is as smart as they come and says all the cool lines but, goddamnit, dude just can't see a foot in front of him if his dick is at attention. In other words, he's willing to over-look certain things about Paula, a woman he can't even remotely trust but man is she purty, a situation that leads to him becoming one of the more dark and fascinating series heroes I've ever encountered.
Swanson hit the fucker out the park his first time around and his following novels were no slouches either. Dreamboat, the second book, has this mistaken identity thing near the end involving tattoos that is just the nastiest, most perverse, excellent scene ever. I mean it just...shit. I guess this FFB entry is really just a plug for Swanson's body of work. The guy was just so damned good and it's coming up on a decade since we've heard anything from him. That is a shame and a fucking half.
I think Swanson's brand of sick, funny and dark would fit right in with the big boys of neo-noir that are pumping out the awesome today. He had his own thing going with Jack Flippo - a PI series that was more Cain than Chandler - and Big Town showed he had it down cold right out the fucking gate.