Written by Charles Salzberg — The fourth book in the Swann’s Way series doesn’t have any references to Marcel Proust in it, but instead begins with skip tracer Henry Swann playing poker with his New York pals. A new player, investment banker Stan Katz, takes Swann aside and asks him to track down Rusty Jacobs. Jacobs briefly worked for Katz and has disappeared with $1 million of his money.
Katz offers Swann $1000 a day to track him down, but Swann is reluctant. He is feeling uneasy about his work, and about his partnership with fellow private detective, Goldblatt. He is even uncomfortable with his own identity at the moment. However, he takes the work because the money is too good to refuse.
Excluded from Swann’s embezzlement case, Goldblatt starts working a job in the posh New York art scene, for a client who is worried they bought a counterfeit painting.
Swann’s main lead comes via the woman who introduced Jacobs to Katz, and he attends a glitzy film industry party in New York. From there, the investigation points towards Hollywood, where Jacobs is easy to locate. He has invested the money he took from Katz in a movie scheme and Swann gives him a week to get the money out again, before flying back to the Big Apple. The Hollywood scenes perfectly capture the absurdity of the entertainment industry and are a delight to read, alongside Salzburg’s great characterisation.
In the meantime, Swann joins Goldblatt on the art forgery case, and at this point the personal problems he’s been having really start to bloom. He can’t stand his partner, but more than that, he’s having a midlife crisis – which becomes a central theme of the book. He questions his identity and what he has and hasn’t achieved in life, and re-evaluates most of his personal relationships. The way his internal conflicts gnaw away Swann are as important to the story as the cases he’s working on, and Salzberg handles these questions authentically by showing how complicated life is.
As if a midlife crisis weren’t enough, Swann’s estranged son then goes missing. Now a teenager, he has been looked after by his maternal grandparents since he was three. The grandparents reach out to Swann to find the boy he gave away, which drives him even deeper into his personal crisis. Salzburg navigates the emotional terrain extremely well, and although Swann’s Way Out gets a lot more serious at this point it is all the stronger for it. The author leaves the big questions hanging there, because there are no easy answers, but the true to form feel, razor-sharp writing, and realistic touches make the lack of conclusion forgivable and leave you wanting more… and eager for the next instalment.
It’s a book with laugh-out-loud humour, particularly in the Hollywood scenes, and serious drama as Swann grapples with the disappearance of his child and his own midlife crisis. Salzberg is a cool writer and the heir apparent to those other cool writers Lawrence Block, Gregory Mcdonald, and Elmore Leonard.
Down & Out Books
CFL Rating: 5 Stars