Jean Spangler, a rising starlet willing to take chances and risks to make the big time, disappears after a night on the town with two Hollywood stars. The only thing found the next day is her handbag containing a cryptic note. Gil (Hop) Hopkins, every star’s friend and publicist, was there that night, and in the following days helped to create a smokescreen to protect his studio’s stars and misdirect the police investigation. Two years later and Iolene, Jean’s sultry friend, tracks Gil down fearing for her life. Jarred by Iolene’s visit, Gil starts to make sure that his web of lies is still intact, but in the process gets drawn into Spangler’s disappearance, retracing his steps that fateful night to discover what really happened to the charismatic young woman intent on stardom.
Megan Abbott’s second novel is a hardboiled expose of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s, revealing how the dark underbelly of the movie business was kept out of the media or was repackaged as glamour and glitz through the gossip magazines and newspapers. Hopkins is a master of spin, operating at the centre of that world, picking up the stars and wannabes who are living on the edge or skeetering out of control, dusting them down and making sure they retain their all-American, clean-living, family entertainment persona. His charm and success though masks his own dark secrets and shabby life – a serial philanderer unhappy in his own company whose wife has left him for his best friend. The Song is You is both an in-depth character study of Hopkins and his work, and a mystery tale of Jean Spangler’s disappearance. With a steady pace, careful plotting and a nice turn of phrase, Abbott spins a dark tale of sex, ambition, blackmail, greed, violence, and psychotic deviance – a tale that gets very dark in places. The characterisation is excellent, and like Ellroy, Abbott manages to evoke the time and place of 1950s L.A., immersing the reader in its the murky world. Overall, an enjoyable, dark story and I’m looking forward to reading more of Abbott's books. My review of Queenpin is here.