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Swann Dives In by Charles Salzberg

I have places in my home where I like to read. Another place to watch television. My wife and I have our favorite pub probably because they know our beer orders. Contentment is important. Is this why the mystery genre is filled with so many book series? These sets of books give us the satisfaction of the known, they give us the comfort of characters and the familiarity of setting.

After reading Charles Salzberg’s first novel about Henry Swann, Swann’s Last Song, I was ready to read the second in the series, Swann Dives In (Down & Out Books). The novel starts a few months after Swann solved the case in Swann’s Last Song, but we find that Swann is no longer a poor man’s PI, a skip chaser. He’s now installing cable in New York City, “a foot-soldier in the war against double and triple image ghosts and out of season, non-meteorological snow-storms.” But huffing it up five flights of stairs in Hells Kitchen gets tiring real fast.

A few pages into Swann Dives In, Salzberg does what the expect: an old friend/client reaches out to Swann to do him one last solid — take a case. Swann protests saying he’s out of the game and quite content being in the “entertainment business”. But Swann acquiesces and does one last skip trace for his friend “for old time’s sake. And for the money, naturally.”

Swann Dives In was exactly what I expected from the Swann series, a good PI novel with a believable mystery. Salzberg weaves a fast-paced plot based on the simple premise of Swann searching for a man’s daughter who doesn’t want to be found. When I finished Swann Dives In, I was left with one question: will Swann continue being a skip tracer in book three, Swann’s Lake of Despair? I don’t know, but I aim to find out.

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Swann’s Last Song by Charles Salzberg

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.

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