Friday, October 08, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 8, 2010

Andrew Nette is a Melbourne writer. He blogs at

May I interrupt And
rew's review of a book near and dear to my heart to tell you a bit about him. This week Andrew was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier's Literary Award category for the best unpublished novel. Although he didn't win the award, the judges thought enough of his manuscript to award him a fellowship to support his future writing. I am sure we will be hearing more about Andrew Nette. Andrew did not tell me about this honor; I learned of it on my own. Congratulations!!

The Song Is You
, Megan Abbott

The Song is You is only the second Megan Abbott book I’ve read, but it’s cemented her place in the select group of authors whose work I recommend to friends with undisguised envy about what awaits them.

Hell, can Abbott write and her take on post-Second World War Hollywood is distinctive and razor sharp.

The Song Is You focuses on Gil ‘Hop’ Hopkins, a studio publicity man/fixer/pimp whose beat is “the world of trouble between mid-night and seven am”. Whether it’s rescuing starlets from opium dens and rough trade or procuring quickie abortions for leading men and studio heads who want to maintain their happily married public personas, it’s just a job for Hopkins.

He does what he’s told and doesn’t ask questions until he gets involved in the disappearance of starlet Jean Spangler, two years missing with no clues other than a mysterious note and a swirl of rumours. They shared a moment, if you can call it that, the night before Jean disappeared. A group of them had been drinking hard and they ended up in a seedy harbour side bar, where Hop left Jean in the company of a couple of big name studio crooners with a reputation for playing very rough.

Girls like Jean, drawn to Tinseltown from dust bowl towns across America with stars in the eyes and hopes of making it big, are a dime a dozen in Hop’s world. He’d hardly given her a second thought until a friend of Jean’s makes contact, accusing him of being one of the people responsible for her disappearance.

Soon, fuelled by guilt and the need to protect his own arse he’s investigating every last detail about the night in question.

There’s a hard-bitten female journalist who is also looking into Jean’s disappearance, plenty of mob connections and a whiff that Jean may have been involved in her own illegal scam. There’s also plenty of sex. It positively oozes from the pores of the story, amid the mood lighting, calypso music, tiki torches and martinis.

The parallels between The Song Is You and Ellroy’s Black Dahlia are obvious, their noir sensibility, the era they are set in, their mix of fact and fiction, right down to their raven-haired party-girl victims. But there’s something about Abbott’s book that sets it apart.

I think big part of it is her less is more style. This allows her to hint at horrendous events, introduce the sleaziest characters and take us to the very worst places, without collapsing into cliché. She’s also a master of allowing class, sex and social observation to collide in a way that does take away from the precision of her plot and characters.

Jeff Meyerson, SAM 7, Richard Cox

I've been meaning to write about this book (it is not in print, but you can get a copy online for a few dollars) for some time. Even though it came out in 1977 it is extremely relevant today; indeed, I'm surprised some enterprising publisher doesn't bring out a new edition.

The plot is simple to describe: Middle Eastern terrorists shoot down an airliner over central London, which crashes into Victoria Station. There is a vivid description of the damage done, the attempts to rescue the people trapped in the station, and the hunt for the people behind it.

At the time we were going to London every summer to buy books and see the sights and theatre. We were very familiar with Victoria Station and I was extremely impressed with how accurate and detailed his descriptions were. I haven't read the book in a long time but I've always meant to revisit it and see how well it holds up. It certainly was prescient as to where the world is today.

Ed Gorman is the author of the Dev Conrad books, SLEEPING DOGS and STRANGLEHOLD. You can find him here.

Dig My Grave Deep, Peter Rabe

At his best Peter Rabe was harder-bitten than even Dashiell Hammett. His take on humanity wasn't a stylistic choice to impress hard-boiled readers. His world view was informed by one of the worst moments in history. He escaped Nazi Germany just in time.

Dig My Grave Deep is the first of the Daniel Port novels. Port is the second-in-command of a mob that runs a large city. But Port is still young and has enough of a conscience to see that he's in a slimy business. He wants out and tells the boss, a man named Stoker, that he's leaving. Stoker threatens him, tries to bribe him and then makes him a deal. If Port will do one last thing for him he can leave without a hit man stalking him. A man named Bellamy, under the guise of running the Reform Party, is trying to bring his own mob into power. He needs to be stopped.

What's particularly interesting in this novel is the way Port sets about taking Bellamy out of the picture. He uses not guns but bribery and blackmail. Virtually every elected city official is on the take. Stoker has paid all of them off over the years. Bellamy wants to get through a slum clearance bill that will rob Stoker of his base, Ward 9. Port shakes every one of them down. He is, after all, a mobster.

Bellamy also wants Port for himself. His goons kidnap Port and beat him up. Port responds by hiring a young wanna be mobster to pose as a gardner and wire Bellamy's office. The wanna be has a beautiful sister who intrigues Port. Unfortunately she despises him for helping his brother get involved with the mob. There are some memorably angry exchanges as Port tries to woo her.

In 1956 the mob ran many American cities. Today Wall Street and congress are the people doing the puppeteering. Not so much violence (though 'm sure there's been some) butmuch much more money. At the risk of being stalked, I think Rabe's representation of the mob is more honest than the way the Soprano's played them. He anticipates what such excellent novelists as Charlie Stella would do decades down the time line.

This is a swift, stark, occasionally angry novel that foreshadowed one of the major careers of the Fifties.

Paul Bishop
Paul Brazill
Cullen Gallagher
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Mike Dennis
Martin Edwards
Jose Ignacio Escribano
Cullen Gallagher
Glen Harper
Glen Harper
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple


Paul D Brazill said...

Hi, my forgotten book is here:

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool, another Megan book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Got it, Paul. Thanks.
And unsolicited, Charles!

Anonymous said...

Hardly forgotten, though. Megan is everywhere! (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Lots of good stuff this week (that is, books I've read and liked, as well as ones that sound interesting).

I didn't love Campbell's Whistler book but liked his series about Chicago fixer Jimmy Flannery.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have read thousands of "mysteries" in the course of my life. But I rarely see them here.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Love it!! You are amazing with this feature :-)

pattinase (abbott) said...

That is very kind of you to say, Margot. When are you going to do one?

Todd Mason said...

Actually, my link at the moment goes to last week's book...when I set up the "timing" on my blog to "publish" at 8a this morning, I forgot my blog is still set to default to Google Standard Time (currently, PDT)...

Todd Mason said...

You know, this might be the best selection of books in the run of FFB. Thanks, everyone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And I have read one of them. Guess which?

Todd Mason said...

And you were bursting with pride, as your memory cast back on how Peter Rabe brought his first A-graded short story from 3rd grade English class home that one afternoon.

Sorry, of course I meant George V. Higgins. Graham Greene? No, wait, it's on the tip of my--ouch, hey!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

My apologies for being so late today with this.

My forgotten book is CLOSING TIME by Jim Fusilli. It can be found at:

P.M. said...

I guess I'm behind the curve re Megan Abbott. Looks very cool, thanks for the review.