On October 7, 1949, dark-haired starlet Jean Spangler kissed her five-year-old daughter good-bye and left for a night shoot at a Hollywood studio. "Wish me luck," she said as she crossed her fingers, winked, and walked away. She was never seen again. The only clues left behind: a purse with a broken strap found in a nearby park, a cryptic note, and rumors about mobster boyfriends and ill-fated romances with movie stars.
Drawing on this true-life missing person case, Megan Abbott's The Song Is You tells the story of Gil "Hop" Hopkins, a smooth-talking Hollywood publicist whose career, despite his complicated personal life, is on the rise. It is 1951, two years after Jean Spangler's disappearance, and Hop finds himself unwillingly drawn into the still unsolved mystery by a friend of Jean who blames Hop for concealing details about Jean's whereabouts the night she vanished. Driven by guilt and fear of blackmail, Hop delves into the case himself, feverishly trying to stay one step ahead of an intrepid female reporter also chasing the story. Hop thought he'd seen it all, but what he uncovers both tantalizes and horrifies him as he plunges deeper and deeper into Hollywood's substratum in his attempt to uncover the truth.
In the tradition of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia and Joyce Carol Oates's Blonde, The Song Is You conjures a heady brew of truth and speculation, of fact and pulp fiction, taking the reader on a dark tour of Tinseltown, from movie studios, gala premieres, and posh nightclubs to gangsters, blackmailing B-girls, and the darkest secrets that lie behind Hollywood's luminous fa�ade. At the center of it all is Hop, a man torn between cutthroat ambition and his own best intentions.
Fans of James Ellroy nostalgic for his gritty, cynical take on postwar Hollywood in such noir classics as L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia should enjoy Edgar-finalist Abbott's second novel (after Die a Little). The author uses a less-celebrated real-life crime--the disappearance of actress Jean Spangler from Los Angeles in 1949--as her hook to spin a downbeat tale about a journalist-turned-studio-flack, Gil "Hop" Hopkins. Hop was with Spangler, a stunner but a second-rate acting talent, the last night she was seen, and harbors guilt over leaving her in the company of a famous acting and singing duo, Marv Sutton and Gene Merrel, who have a reputation for rough play. Hop's efforts at amateur sleuthing unearth a blackmail ring and a possible mob connection to Spangler's disappearance. Abbott deserves credit for resurrecting this virtually forgotten case and concocting a plausible fictional solution to a true crime. (Jan.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Simon & Schuster
February 18, 2008
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Excerpt from The Song Is You by Megan Abbott
The Petty Girl
The whistle isn't jaunty, not Doris Day. It's low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time.
Ah yes, that bit player of definite note.
"You sound happy," he says to her, his head half turned, leaning back in his springy dressing-room chair so he can catch a glimpse of her in the corridor.
She stops, swivels her hips, and looks back at him, black eyes crackling.
"I am," she says, almost a husky coo. She laces her long, red-tipped fingers along the door frame. "I have a new romance."
"Is it serious?" he says, flirting hard. Has he played this game with her before? He lets his arms dangle boyishly from the sides of his chair.
"Not really," she replies, tilting her head. Then, with a klieg-light leer lewd as a burlesque dancer but with infinitely greater appeal: "But I'm having the time of my life."
With that, she twists her long hips back around and, with a kittenish wave of the hand, continues down the corridor, heels lightly clacking, matching her whistle in perfect time.
What is she humming?
He can almost name it, taste it even.
It reminds him of close quarters, mouth pressed against folded satin, sparkled fishnets, music throbbing unbearably, pressure in the chest and fast, jerky leg kicks in the air. A long-ago peccadillo with a clap-ridden chorus girl in a curtained booth at the Top Hat Cafe?, an encounter so quick and so urgent that it felt like a sucker punch in the stomach.
That was it.
You're so much sweeter, goodness knows...
He will tell this story hundreds of times in the weeks and months to come under official and unofficial circumstances. He will tweak it occasionally, leave details out, add a shading of provocation or a whiff of heat. Or he'll tell it as if it were a cool exchange between temporary colleagues. He'll tart it up or iron it out, depending.
But this is how it really happened and it has lodged tightly, uncomfortably in his head on a continuous loop, winding itself through his thoughts, unfurling in his dreams. He may barely recall the movie they were shooting (The Petty Girl, right?), but he remembers everything about the costume she wore as she walked down that hall, all china silk and shocks of pleats, a curling blue flame. And the lipsticked mouth folding around the coarse and delicious whistle. His creaking, squeaking chair as he leaned back, makeup bib cocking up, he, the star, too eager, bright-eyed and chomping, aside her distinct and unfounded cool, the cool that comes from her not needing his attention at all. He could tell: she had brighter stars sniffing around her, around her creamy curves, lashes batting in chestnut hair, a turning ankle, a cloud of jasmine, a bawdy song no white girl should sing.
It was her voice that purred and snapped and stuck in his head most ferociously, making him sick with random desire, making him want to do something foul, unmentionable, unarticulated, ugly. How he'd like to fuck her into oblivion.
But someone beat him to it.
Park La Brea
"He ain't gonna pay up, doll. No matter what the judge said. Once you're out of their bed, you lose all the angles. You should've stayed hitched and played it close to the line."
These words of advice came from next-door neighbor Beryl Doolan, who delivered them as she chipped the last bit of nail polish from her curled foot, planted flat against the edge of the kitchen table.
"Are you going to listen to here" Peggy said, drying the last dish.
They were both talking to Peggy's cousin, Jean, the tall brunette girl, the one pulling on a pair of crisp gloves and not meeting either woman's gaze. The girl, well, she was beautiful in a toothy, sharp-dimpled way. You had to look very, very close to see the thin skein of lines around her eyes. She was still a good eighteen months away from post-ingenue.
"She don't need to listen to me," Beryl said. "She knows. She can talk to the ex-hubby 'til she's blue in the face and she ain't getting more child support. She thought she married an en-tre-pre-nure and he was just another four-flusher."
"That's enough, Beryl," Peggy said. "Christine's in the other room."
Jean pulled a lipstick from her purse and dabbed her mouth with it.
"Christine knows all about her old man," Beryl said, watching as Jean clipped her purse shut and slung it over her shoulder. "Don't she, Jean?"
Jean finally raised a pair of finely etched eyebrows and looked in Beryl and Peggy's direction as she straightened her hat.
"Five years old," she said. "And she's already got her daddy's number. I should have been so lucky."
"Oh, Jean." Peggy shook her head, hands on her hips.
The girl smiled, all straight, shining teeth and two sets of dimples. The smile was so charming that Peggy couldn't help but smile in return.