“Swann’s Last Song” – Charles Salzberg

This novel was nominated for a 2009 Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America and it is easy to see why. Salzberg takes the traditional private eye noirish novel and flips it around so that your expectations are skewed.

First, the main character, Henry Swann, is NOT a private eye but rather a muddled and troubled skip tracer living and working in a rundown section of New York City. Therefore it sidesteps all the usual clichés of the detective novel. Swann is certainly NOT Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Not even close. The novel makes what appears to be a traditional segue to California where the culture clash scenes are prevalent. However, Swann makes a trip to a hacienda in Mexico followed by a dangerous trek into the mountains. This appears to be more of something from “Romancing the Stone” or an Indiana Jones movie.

If this locale is not jarring enough, Swann then flies to Berlin where there is all the rainy and dark cloudiness of a Robert Ludlum spy thriller. And yet, throughout all these romps across the globe, it never falls back into a travelogue with droll descriptions of scenes and places. It is mood that Salzberg is creating.

The story is rather muddled but in that regard it is no different than the classic “The Big Sleep” (which Chandler readily admitted that he was uncertain as to who committed one particular killing.) Stories of this type are about character and mood and Salzberg creates a new and fresh version of the genre.

——–

I had the opportunity to meet Charles Salzberg at the KWA Scene Conference in Wichita in 2010. He was a speaker as well as a consultant who I had the opportunity to visit with on a ten-minute consult. We discussed (briefly) my transgressive work, “Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing” and I was encouraged by his comments and grateful for his feedback.
He is one the founders of the New York Writers Workshop (www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com) and heavily involved with Greenpoint Press (www.greenpointpress.org). He is gracious to a fault and a pleasant conversationalist (as I experienced at lunch).
I was absolutely delighted to have made his acquaintance and honored to have an inscribed copy of his novel.

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