Before even picking up Charles Salzberg’s Swann’s Last Song (Down & Out Books), it was going to be a tough battle in that I have an outrageously high bar for PI books. This is mostly due to the work that that Stephen J. Cannell, Roy Huggins, Meta Rosenberg, and James Garner did on the creation of Jim Rockford and then further cemented by my readings of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
Salzberg’s protagonist Henry Swann is more of a repo man rather than a skip chaser and he definitely doesn’t think of himself as a private investigator. Swann gets a job to track down a rich woman’s husband, the catch is that she doesn’t know much about him — they have two separate residences in New York City and the last she saw him was nine days ago. Like any PI, Swann takes the case because of money.
I was beginning to think I might be out of my element here and, for a split second, I contemplated folding up my notebook and calling it a day. But then I took a look at the enormous ring on her finger and thought about the lottery-sized payday I might wring out of her and my greedy little heart skipped a beat.
Influenced by the hard-boiled detectives of yesterday, Swann’s Last Song is a fun read: the drinking is frequent, the women are fast, the criminals are bad, and the job is kind of boring.
A few days later, I found myself in a very familiar position: leaning against the side of an Upper East Side apartment building, a prop newspaper in my hands. I was on the job.
Swann chases the phantom husband and as he digs into his past, the mystery builds in some unexpected ways. Though it didn’t hit my ridiculously high standards for a PI story, Salzberg’s novel made me want to read more in this series.