A chilling second novel from Edgar-nominated Abbott (Die a Little, 2005) spins the conventions of noir crime fiction into something fierce, fast and fresh.
Gil “Hop” Hopkins is on top of the world. The smooth-talker has parlayed his celebrity-magazine post into a studio publicity gig, giving him access to all the famous names and gorgeous starlets he desires. The year is 1951, and stars like Lana Turner and Robert Mitchum are lighting up the screen. Hop, however, is more involved with the smaller names. B-movie actresses like Barbara Payton keep getting themselves in trouble (Payton’s two lovers brawl publicly over her), and the studio counts on him to make everything nice, or at least keep it out of the press. This he does. But when an African-American actress named Iolene comes to him, scared and desperate, he brushes her off. She’s concerned about an old scandal, the disappearance of the beautiful Jean Spangler two years before. Her body was never found, but Hop and Iolene accompanied her on her last night, which ended at a shady club whose patrons sometimes engage in very rough play. Hop doesn’t want to revisit that night—hushing it up won him his job—but when Iolene goes missing, too, he finds he can’t let it go. Winnowing through the rumors, some of which he planted, makes him face some dark truths, but not before a whiz-bang adventure through Tinseltown’s underbelly. Abbott channels the great pulp authors without aping them. Cain and Chandler are evoked in the rough-and-tumble period language (Iolene is a “colored girl”) and standard noir slang (girls are “knockout[s]” with “endless gams”). But Abbott has her own voice, avoiding the genre’s macho conventions to evoke the young women who live “in a gasp of tension.”
With abundant style and a tight, convincing story, Abbott provides a retro thrill ride that transcends its dated roots.