The Last Songbird (PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY MYSTERY, A)
“Weizmann’s updated L.A. noir storytelling is pitch perfect, so this quirky investigator stands in for each of us, committing in a fumbling fashion to doing what’s right even though we’re not equipped for the journey.”
Pull up that poignant song about driving a beautiful woman in your taxicab and never forgetting her. Hold onto the emotion—now, pin the story to Los Angeles, to the brutal competitiveness of performance and production, and to the significance of small and persistent acts of kindness.
Too saccharine? Fear not. Daniel Weizmann roughs up the story of a Lyft-driving songwriter on the night streets as he hardboils affection, friendship, loyalty. That means grit, lots of it, from drug-fueled disasters to twisted personal secrets.
Yet The Last Songbird, personified here by aging yet still famous folksinger Annie Linden, never quite loses the heartache and beauty of the old songs. By the time driver Adam Zantz trusts Annie Linden enough to share his own songs with her (he writes both the lyrics and the melodies) in the strange privacy of his hired car, she’s also won his faithfulness. When she and her bodyguard are brutally murdered (with Adam a suspect, of course), there’s only one mission possible: find the killer and bring them to justice. Even though that won’t bring Annie back, it will let Adam keep hearing and feeling the support of her voice.
“She was a songwriter’s songwriter, a taker of lyrical chances,” Adam clarifies. Annie’s become his antidote to despair, too: “Annie Linden, my Annie Linden, never had any place to hide. Because she believed in love, like a religious devotee. She said as much to me on the road when I asked her where her songs came from.”
Extra horseradish on the side for this dish of neo-noir, please, since Adam (Addy to his friends) presents a Jewish flavor to all his choices. His friends twist toking and Torah, like Ephraim Freiberger, aka Double Fry, who explains that his paparazzi work is bounded by not selling any photos that could embarrass someone. Addy checks this: “Embarrassing someone is strictly forbidden?” Double Fry responds, “By the Torah, it’s like murder.” Tough boundary for a photo career in L.A., though!
Adam’s songwriting future may be dead in the water with Annie’s murder—she was the first and only significant person who’d believed in his work—and the darkness of his nights, with its long ugly driving shifts through L.A.’s special brand of despair and denial, threatens his inner life as well. But under Double Fry’s pressure, he nails his urge to solve the crime: “I owe her—for giving me hope when I had zero. And I’m pissed. ’Cause if I don’t find out who—If I don’t find out who [killed her], maybe nobody will.”
The clumsy but persistent efforts of this spur-of-the-heartache amateur sleuth pull him into danger, of course, as well as waves of anguish over his past and over his desperation to “make good” to Annie’s memory. Weizmann’s updated L.A. noir storytelling is pitch perfect, so this quirky investigator stands in for each of us, committing in a fumbling fashion to doing what’s right even though we’re not equipped for the journey.
Of course, classic noir would spit Adam back out in misery at the end. Case solved, or not? Annie still an inspiration to him, or lost in the clutter of her own revealed mistakes? Things change: An author who creates a Torah-hugging buddy for his protagonist can’t be consigning the case, or Adam’s songs, or hope itself to the dumpster. Best of all, in a new twist on noir (but a definite plug for those taxi-now-Lyft drivers), a playlist of the book’s songs wraps up this irresistible tale, putting all the half-spoken secrets back into active memory. Van Morrison, anyone? Mick Jagger? Dylan? Who is the “last songbird” that you’ll hear bringing you home?