The Song is You

by Megan Abbott

When a suspenseful mystery becomes a study of a character-making choices and facing consequences, you have literature.

Megan Abbott’s THE SONG IS YOU is just that.

She takes an actual event — the Oct. 7, 1949, disappearance of dancer, model and actress Jean Spangler — and spins out a speculative story that connects all of the possible fates that could have befallen her.

At the center of this novel is studio flak Gil Hopkins. Once a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, he moved on to a fan magazine and then to a studio publicity department. He’s smart enough to know that his job is less about writing press releases and more about protecting the studios and the “talent” from bad publicity.

He’s a fixer. A man about town, who always knows who to call or how to persuade a misbehaving actor where his or her best interests lie.

Hopkins is among the last people to see Jean Spangler alive. Not something he thought much about until a woman named Iolene, who was with him and Jean that final night, comes to see him. She’s afraid, but never clear about what she’s afraid of. She’s quite clear that she thinks Hopkins was less than honorable when he left Jean that night at a seedy bar in the company of two actors known to be sadistic.

Her digs get him remembering and reconsidering what happened that night and what his role in Jean’s fate might have been. He decides to do his own investigation, telling himself that his studio’s interests may be at stake.

Through Hopkins, Abbot explores all the speculations about Jean Spangler’s fate: did she die after a botched abortion? Was she killed by a powerful Hollywood “name” who couldn’t afford to be involved with her? Was she blackmailing someone? Was she involved with mobster Mickey Cohen’s goons? Was she into something that caused her to flee L.A.?

The investigation turns into a parallel exploration of who Gil Hopkins has become in his role as studio fixer, a philandering husband and a charmer who never lets anyone else get in the way of his own agenda. It’s a classic L.A. noir tale of desperate dreamers and corrupted souls.

In addition to an engrossing story and interesting, well-drawn characters, Abbot captures post-war L.A. well. Jean Spangler’s disappearance happened about 22 months after the brutally mutilated body of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, was found in a vacant lot.

To this day, beyond a purse found in Griffith Park with a cryptic note addressed to a “Kirk” with a reference to seeing a doctor, no additional evidence has been uncovered about Jean Spangler and her whereabouts remain unknown today.

If you enjoyed this book, you might enjoy Megan Abbott’s DIE A LITTLE.

About the Author: Megan Abbott (1971 – )

Megan Abbott got her first taste of hard-boiled fiction watching movies from the 1930s and ’40s in a Grosse Pointe movie theater near her home in the Detroit area.

She went on to write THE STREET WAS MINE, a study of the genre and film noir. Her novels are often drawn from or reworked classics of crime writing from a woman ‘s perspective.

Her seven novels have won multiple awards and been chosen as Best Books of the Year by Amazon, National Public Radio, The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. Her book QUEENPIN (2007) won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and the 2008 Barry Award for Best Paperback Novel.

She participated in the writing of the 2017 HBO show, “The Deuce,” and went on to adapt her own novel Dare Me in 2019 into a critically acclaimed TV series on USA Network.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan and then a doctorate in English and American literature from New York University.  She has taught at NYU, the State University of New York and the New School University.  In 2013-14, she was the John Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi.

She lives in New York City.


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