While I enjoy her recent work, which is usually set in the present day, I wish Megan Abbott had written more books with settings in 40s and 50s LA and Vegas. She was really onto something.
I suppose comparisons to James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia are inevitable with this one. Like Ellroy’s work, it’s a murder mystery based on a true murder of a woman working the fringes of Hollywood. But unlike Ellroy, who likes to muse about social affairs and masculinity, this is a straight-up whodunnit. And Hallelujah, for the reader is better off for it.
Most of the book centers around centers around a Hollywood publicist named Gill Hopkins, frequently referred to as “Hop.” Two years earlier, he kept the heat off (fictional) movie stars Marv Sutton and Gene Merrel, who were out with the missing Jean Spangler the last night she was seen alive. His ability to do so earned Hop a promotion from writing purply prose for stars to actually protecting them and promoting them. He’s a fixer, a guy who works in the shadows.
Hop isn’t the best character in the world and while he may have had nothing to do with Jean’s death (or did he? you’ll have to read to find out), he’s responsible for the world that creates her. In drawing back the curtain on after hours Hollywood, we see through Hop’s eyes how easily disposable women are in the eyes of powerful men. Even when Hop tries to do the right thing, he’s got one eye on the next step up in the ladder. So as he’s sinking in quick sand with the story, it’s tough to feel too much sympathy for him.
And this is good because, for my part, I was far more interested in the mystery than what actually happened to him. And as Abbott reveals more in what moves from a missing person story to a horror show, I was at one curious and petrified of what I would read next.
The Song Is You is a compact book and one I found difficult to put down. It’s a great gateway if you’re looking to get into noir or if you want to read a cynical take on classic Hollywood and Ellroy is too much for you (as he was for me for many years).