Three months ago, we welcomed our first “guest blogger” to The Rap Sheet, James Ellroy. Tomorrow, our talented crew of contributors will be joined by Megan Abbott, the New York City author of The Song Is You, released this month by Simon & Schuster. It’s the second novel from Abbott, following Die a Little (2005), which earned Edgar, Anthony, and Barry award nominations last year.
The Song Is You spins off from a real-life--and still-unsolved--disappearance, that of Jean Spangler, an attractive dancer, model, and sometime actress who vanished in Los Angeles, California. On October 7, 1949, she left her 5-year-old daughter with her sister-in-law and headed off, she said, to talk with her ex-husband about child-support payments and then appear in a nighttime movie-lot shoot. “Wish me luck,” she told her sister-in-law. She was never seen again. However, Spangler’s purse did turn up two days later, discarded near the entrance to L.A.’s expansive Griffith Park, with its strap broken and a cryptic note inside. What followed was “one of the biggest manhunts in LAPD history,” according to an article in Palm Springs Life magazine. Rumors of a new romance, a botched abortion, and Spangler’s association with known criminals all seemed promising, but led police down blind alleys and to no good leads in the case. Three weeks into the investigation, cops said they’d reached a dead end. “The only thing we’ve been able to find out,” one detective confessed, “is that this girl really got around.” In the months that followed, law-enforcement personal got around some themselves, chasing supposed sightings of Spangler all over the American Southwest and Mexico, yet none of them amounted to much. Almost 60 years later, the Jean Spangler case remains open.
It also remains fertile ground for fictionalizing, especially because Spangler’s disappearance came a mere two years after the more notorious slaying, in L.A., of another wannabe starlet, Elizabeth Short, aka “the Black Dahlia.” (Abbott remarked on that timing in a Rap Sheet post from last September. Click here to read her comments.) In The Song Is You, the author introduces us into the company of Gil “Hop” Hopkins, a young and rakish movie-mag reporter turned film studio publicity man, whose guilt at concealing evidence of what happened to Spangler on the last night she was seen alive drives him, first, to ensure that the information remains secret, and then, to figure out for himself whatever became of the dark-haired, fetching Jean. Abbott posits her own complicated solution to this mystery, but not before leading readers through a funhouse of flaky Hollywood comers, sexual predators, and grimy L.A. nightspots that never made it into any tourism brochures.
Atmospheric, filled with period slang, and harrowing in its conclusions, The Song Is You confirms Abbott’s skill at penning noirish potboilers with literary aspirations. And it’s likely not only to send readers back to buy Die a Little, but also to look forward to Abbott’s third novel, Queenpin, “a feminine twist on a classic story of underworld seduction,” due out from Simon & Schuster in June.
I’m most pleased to welcome Megan Abbott to The Rap Sheet this week. I hope that during her time in our midst, she’ll share some of her thoughts on noir fiction, white men as hard-boiled fictional protagonists (the subject of her first, non-fiction book, The Street Was Mine ), the Spangler investigation, the state of modern crime fiction, and much more.
Wish her luck.