Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: First Song Might Just Have Been Better?

Swann's Last Song

By Charles Salzberg

I admit I was pulled in by Salzberg's slick interactive promo! I just knew I was going to like the book, except I was saddened by the ending. Now the author will know that this is important. Me, I'm sitting here wondering what my feelings would have been had I first read Swann's Last Song as originally written. You see, I liked it better--it fit with the story and it fit with what I thought the character, who really was known to me by the end of the book, would have done and said. 

You see, the latest, published by Greenpoint Press included not only the entire book, but included the original final chapter as well as an essay published in Writer's Digest. So, in essence, my reaction was the total opposite of earlier professionals who told the author that nobody would accept the book as written. Indeed I was saddened by the book's ending, which was what had been predicted by those who reviewed earlier would have happened if they had not forced the author to, as he said, give in and change the ending.

Does that make me unusual? Or was the book really great as first written, only to be reduced in impact, by the changed final that was forced on the author?

Of course, some could say I was influenced by the essay. Only thing I know is that I was relieved and grateful when I read the real final--because I was then satisfied with the book!

Now if all that doesn't make you curious enough to read the book and make your own decision--and please do share your thoughts with me, but especially the author--let me tell you that the book is truly fantastic! 

Saltzberg refers to a number of  authors that you might think while you read the book. It was the handsome TV Mike Hammer that I pictured in my mind. The case begins as usual. Beautiful woman comes to Swann to find her husband.:  

Only thing is, Swann is not a PI, he's a skip tracer.

But since he normally was offered food stamps to pay for his services, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity, even though he's not quite convinced her reason for coming to him is the truth. And besides, he does go out looking for the missing, even if most of the time, it is to repossess a car... 

Swann's Last SongHarry Janus, however, had already been found by the police--dead. He had been found in Times Square, probably as a result of a fight with a pimp. Mrs. Janus didn't believe he would be where he had been found and wanted Swann to proceed with his investigation--now he was to find out who had killed him.

Visiting Janus' apartment, since he and his wife had an open relationship, resulted in Swann being hit in the gut, soon out cold. Once he was awake again, he did hear his answering machine which gave him two names, Carole and Horst, both claiming a need for urgent callbacks. From this he moved optimistically forward...

Soon, he was meeting the ex-Mrs. Carole Cheney in sunny California, where he learned that not only was he previously married as Jason Cheney, as in "the" Jason, of "Jason and the argonauts, "a famous rock group from the 70s". (If you haven't yet clicked the first insert above, do so now for a little background rock!)

Before anything else happens, Swann is convinced by Carol to take a plunge--into her bed.

One clue on top of another next takes Swann down Mexico way...and then on to Berlin. Instead of expecting Mrs. Janus' ongoing financial support, he's wondering exactly why she cares who killed her husband! He's been battered and nearly killed, so Swann is grateful for her support, because by now, he is almost obsessed in following the case to the finish and finding the murderer. After all, it is not everyday that you find one individual who has lived four separate lives! Besides, I think he is quite proud of his work so far!

Since I started with the ending of the book, I'll just stop and say I was just as obsessed to follow Swann through his journeys, growing more and more amazed about the man who was so many different people before he was killed. Swann follows the trail and pulls readers along; we have no option but to follow. But I wanted to turn each page!

Still, I do have one question in my mind as I finish the book and my review. Was this really Swann's Last Song ? I hope not. I don't mind his remaining a skip tracer--I just want to meet him again and see how the next case goes. How about it Charles Salzberg? 

Book Received from Author



  1. Thanks, Glenda, and yes, I have finished a sequel to Swann's Last Song, using the original last chapter as a taking off point. Not only that, but a Swann short story will appear in the upcoming (though I don't know when) Long Island Noir, the latest offering by Akashic Books.
    And yes, I do prefer the original ending.

  2. I totally TOTALLY agree with you, Glenda - I was truly bummed by the ending ... thank God the author was able to give us the REAL ending - which was, indeed, quite satisfying. Makes me want to strangle the folks that made him change it in the first place. Why do they have to mess with ART!

    Thanks for the link to Swann's website - i was given the honor of creating it and had a blast!

  3. Wow! Great to hear from both of you!

    You know, Charles, I had heard of Jason and the Argonauts, obviously the original story...but I wasn't sure...took me most of the day to do my research, even found a pic of an English group on, though, just one site...I sure am glad to hear they were mythical, even though they "that" what you may!

    Francesca. I'm so glad you agreed with me on the first is a statement to support how sales/marketing can be used by publishing staff, rather than judging the story on its own merit!

    Loved your work...both of you!

  4. Yes, Glenda, I made them up, or thought I did. The book was first written in the late '70s, and I was trying to keep to find something that had allusions to Greek history.

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