Megan Abbott’s second noir novel, The Song is You (2007), though set in 1950s Hollywood, is topical in light of the #MeToo furore.
Based on the real-life disappearance of actress Jean Spangler, this novel peels off some of the gloss from Tinseltown. Spin doctor Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, former reporter, is tasked with running interference for the movie stars, ensuring that no mud sticks, that scandal stays buried. He’s pretty good at what he does, turning a blind eye to debauchery and traumatised starlets.
There are a number of appropriate name-drops from that period.
On the night when Jean went missing, Hop had been among the crowd she was with, and now he has to retrace the steps of a male double act in order to muddy the water and inter memories. Drugs, sex, and violence – it’s all here, though not too graphic. The few clues from the real case are inserted in the story, with convincing explanations. The real mobster Dave Ogul of the time also features.
While covering tracks, Hop becomes entangled with girl reporter Frannie Adair who’s also on the case. ‘She had been easy for Hop to spot, the sole pair of heels and the only ass worth a glance in the sweeping room full of sweat-stained unshaven ginks. … all ginger curls and round cheeks, like three months off the farm, until she spoke. Twitching her freckled nose, she shot back at him, “What’s it like going over to enemy lines, turning stooge for the plastic factory?”
She didn’t take prisoners, it seems: “I hear you’ve done more white-washing than Tom Sawyer.” (p47)
Besides wit and one-liners, Abbott delivers an atmospheric hard-boiled tale. Despite his less than savoury character, you’re drawn to Hop, a flawed man who wanted to be good, but that didn’t pay enough. We’re with him as he turns over stones and sees what crawls out from under; even when he stumbles upon a corpse, ‘Hop felt his body rise out of his skin, hover there a second, and then thud back down to earth.’
If noir fiction is your thing, then The Song is You is worth your while.
In the real world, the case of Jean Spangler remained unsolved; in the novel Hop gets to a solution.
The sparse number of chapter headings seems odd.
Over-use of the word ‘something’. On pages 190-191 it appears 7 times; it crops up a lot elsewhere, too. Something to think about, anyway.