Cinnamon girl

Daniel Weizmann, 1967-

Book - 2024

A never-released vinyl LP helps a Los Angeles Lyft driver honor his former piano teacher's deathbed request to prove his son's innocence in a decades-old murder case.

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Subjects
Genres
Noir fiction
Detective and mystery fiction
Thrillers (Fiction)
Novels
Published
Brooklyn : Melville House 2024.
Language
English
Main Author
Daniel Weizmann, 1967- (author)
Physical Description
346 pages ; 21 cm
ISBN
9781685891152
Contents unavailable.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Lyft driver and PI Adam Zantz plumbs the depths of L.A.'s mid-1980s music scene in Weizmann's enjoyable if erratic sequel to The Last Songbird. Adam's childhood piano teacher, who is dying, enlists the part-time sleuth to track down a man he claims can clear the name of his son, Emil, who was killed in prison while locked up for the murder of drug dealer Reynaldo Druazo a decade earlier. To start, Adam turns to the family of Emil's former girlfriend, Cinnamon Persky, who died of an apparent overdose shortly after Emil was killed. While visiting Cinnamon's mother, Adam stumbles on the test pressing of an unreleased 1980 LP from a garage band called the Daily Telegraph, whose members included Emil and Reynaldo. Following that lead, he discusses the band with a burnt-out L.A. music historian, who sheds light on their competitive, druggy, and crime-riddled milieu. Could Emil, Cinnamon, and Reynaldo all have fallen victim to a musical rivalry gone wrong? Fans of the previous novel will enjoy spending more time with Weizmann's shaggy detective-in-training, even as the plotting stumbles in the home stretch. This breezy neo-noir whizzes by like a familiar old song. Agent: Janet Oshiro, Robbins Office. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Adam Zantz, a 37-year-old Jewish Lyft driver earning his P.I. certification, is summoned by an old family friend to solve a decades-old mystery. Charles Elkaim is dying and wants closure. Forty years ago, his son Emil ("the Israeli Keith Richards") was arrested for the murder of Reynaldo Durazo ("the Mexican Keith Moon"), then shivved in prison while awaiting trial. Charles is convinced Emil was framed, as is reinforced by a recent visit from Devon Hawley, a man who claims he can prove Emil's innocence. Adam, Charles' old piano student, remembers a young Emil "strumming Beatles on a scratched-up acoustic," and spurred by both Jewish guilt and a desire not to be seen as "the king of jumping ship," agrees to investigate. He learns that Emil, Reynaldo, and Devon all played in The Daily Telegraph, a band that was either the next big thing or "some nothing rock band," depending on who's asked. After discovering an old Telegraph record--whose transcribed lyrics are scattered over many chapters--Adam is drawn into a web of psychedelia and "the dream." Weizmann is conversant in the vocabulary of detective fiction, counterculture, and Judaism, but his descriptions feel superficial. Yiddishisms like noodnik and schmuck are peppered throughout, and characters ask questions like: "Mind if I make like Bob Marley and light a fire?" Noir, even when its plot isn't watertight, largely lives and breathes on evocative settings and idiosyncratic characters. Unfortunately, Adam's narration is inconsistent, characters traffic in exposition and cliches--and occasionally negative stereotypes about homelessness and mental health--and the L.A. landscape is scarcely sketched, particularly egregious considering that Adam drives around for a living. Convoluted mysteries aren't an automatic impediment to success (see Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice), but absent stronger craft elements, this one lacks intrigue. A soft-boiled detective yarn. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

I parked by the newsstand across from Canter's Deli and headed for the Shalom Terrace Retirement Home in the morning sunlight. The streets were fresh, softened by the night's rain, and the old neighborhood looked young again, washed clean of memory. Me, I was edgy, crazy restless. I was calling on Charles Elkaim, my former piano teacher, now pushing ninety. Crossing Fairfax Avenue, looking up at the neon chef delivering pastrami, I cautioned myself: Be kind and hear him out. Operation Get-This-Over-With. Elkaim had phoned out of the blue with what he described as private troubles--" tsuris of a sensitive nature." It wasn't like we were still close--a million years ago, he lived across the street from the house I grew up in. In the Thursday afternoons of my awkward childhood, I sat beside him on the black bench and practiced Hanon scales. Elkaim was a taskmaster. His motto was "Better to play nothing than touch the wrong note." Still, they were happy times--he liked me, and he was more than teacher or neighbor, he was also my late uncle Herschel's only real close friend. Hersch was gone now, buried out there near Whittier Boulevard, and we hadn't ended on good terms. Odds are, Elkaim knew that. There were other hesitations as I made my way around the corner to the retirement home in the brisk morning. Elkaim was a survivor--of death camps, of war, and finally, of America itself--his teenage son Emil had been killed in prison some thirty years ago, shivved by a gang member trying to get rep. In our neighborhood, it was forbidden topic numero uno-- the tragedy . Nonetheless, you felt the silent sorrow of it around Charles Elkaim, even at the piano. In a very real way, it was Charles Elkaim who'd been taken down. This dark and fading presence, this Moroccan Israeli widower with a phantom for a son--what could he possibly want from me? Through the glass doors of the Shalom Terrace, the empty lobby was as vintage as the residents. A fake pink crystal chandelier dangled over mustard deco wall-to-wall carpet. Elegant umbrellas sat unused in a brass holder at the door, and a pair of tall smoked windows let in a wash of hazy morning light. It all stirred up the peculiar feeling that time could be stopped at will, the way a hasty croupier might bring a roulette wheel to a sudden, premature halt. I asked a janitor pushing an industrial vacuum if he knew where I could find Elkaim, and he pointed me down the hall. Nobody was in the room, but a crappy Casio sat on the bureau so I knew I was in the right place. I couldn't resist, I flicked on the keyboard and started poking out the melody for "And the Angels Sing" with one hand, and just like magic, he appeared, clunking in on an old steel walker. "Zantz, this is you?! You still play too fast! Who told you fast was good?" "Mr. Elkaim," I said, grinning. "Zantz the fast!" He stopped to wag a finger. "You must be a terrible disappointment to your lady friends." This was a running gag, and we joined hands to share it. His touch was bony, fragile, all warmth. He was skinnier now. The years seemed to have darkened him, too, even more than I remembered, and when he let go of my hand, something remote glowed through his out-of-fashion glasses--a certain aloneness. All at once, I saw what Uncle Herschel used to say about him--what I never got as a kid-- "This is the real thousand-year-old man." He'd come to America late in life, too late to shake off the patina of human history. "I have not seen you since you were this tall," he said, tapping the walker. I pointed a thumb over my shoulder. "The whole block has changed." Elkaim made a quick hand gesture-- gone to dust . Then: "Come. There is a courtyard. It's more private." He turned the walker and I followed, lumbering behind childlike the way we do around the elderly. He led me out of his room, past the nursing station where he insisted on introducing me to Miranda the administrator and Nurse Rosa. Then we moved slowly down the hall, past pale old bodies in various stages of disappearance--some lying down stunned before televisions, some bent asleep in EZ chairs, some nursing a slow tea in a paper cup as if that might ward off the Angel of Death. "So it's true what your sister Maya tells me?" he said. "You are making a living as a private investigator." "A living? No. I drive Lyft. Do you know what that is?" "You lift things?" "I'm like a taxi driver. But I'm studying for an investigator's license, a college extension course." "But she sent me by the email--you solved a real case." "That was just a fluke." "Fluke, shmook, you're a mensch ," Elkaim said, hobbling along. "That's what counts." Then he stopped, turned, placed a fragile hand on the lapel of my coat. "I have had a visitor. And I need your help." Elkaim pulled aside the old orange curtain and led us out through sliding glass doors to a small fountained courtyard. We dragged steel chairs into the morning shade. A solemn, topless Greek lady made of white stone poured endless LA water from the big urn on her shoulder. I had the uncanny sensation she wasn't the only other presence gazing down upon us--somewhere Uncle Herschel was looking too. Elkaim wiped the lenses on his glasses and put them back on. "I was very sorry about what transpired between you and your uncle." "I know, Mr. Elkaim." "Still, you should have visited." "I know." "Fathers and sons," he said matter-of-factly, then sighed. "Forty years we benched together at Etz Jacob. We were the last holdouts for havdalah on Saturday night." "I know that meant a lot to him." "Herschel was the glue--the minion fell apart not long after he died." I tried to do the compassionate nod, but the family talk was plucking at my nerves. I said, "Tell me about your visitor." Elkaim breathed deep with some labor. Then he asked me what I was afraid he'd ask. "What do you know of what happened to my son?" "A little," I said. "But I was very young--and it's been a long time." "Yes. In any case, you are a grown man now. And there should be no secrets between us. I came to this country in 1979 on an employment visa. My late wife's cousin got me an accounting job--at Globus. B pictures . I . . . we wanted our only child to grow up in a more peaceful country. And Emil--loved it here." "That I remember," I said. Then I blurted, "I adored him." Elkaim nodded without approval. But I wasn't exaggerating. To a little kid such as myself, scooter-riding up the block looking for the world, sixteen-year-old Emil Elkaim was something to behold. Tall, shoeless, with dark longish hair and a scruffy almost-beard, he looked like he just walked over from the Holy Land. But he wasn't solemn. A wisecracker, a daredevil skateboarder and fence-hopper, it was like one day Emil just appeared out of nowhere--the teenage prophet--and all the kids flocked to him. On Saturday afternoons, these neighborhood hangdogs of every race and haircut all gathered at Fairfax High to chill on the bleachers with Emil strumming Beatles on a scratched-up acoustic, the whole gang singing around him. "I believe he babysat you and your sister," Elkaim said. "A few times. He and his girlfriend took us to Disneyland once." Elkaim half-smiled at this long-lost memory. Then he spoke the facts flat and plain, like someone in a spelling bee. "Emil turned eighteen on March 28, 1984. He was arrested April 10. He was not convicted--but he was the primary suspect in the murder of a drug dealer named Reynaldo Durazo. My son was awaiting trial in county lockup when an inmate murdered him--allegedly on the orders of the victim's cousin." I could not find a word to say. "A revenge slaying," he went on. "And Emil's girlfriend--" "She--ran away?" "Yes. A few months later. And she died of an overdose." His black eyes bore into me like a telescope scanning for something just one yard away. "In 1987." "So awful, Mr. Elkaim, I am so--" "In any case," he interrupted as if to go on--but then he reached into his brown coat pocket and handed me a folded-up printout of a scanned photo: a fading Kodak shot of Emil and his girlfriend Cinnamon on the Santa Monica Pier, arm in arm outside the Skee-Ball Arcade. Emil was shirtless in flip-flops and cutoff jeans, his grin teenage goofy. Cinnamon was laughing too, in a white-and-yellow minidress that blazed bright in direct sunlight. But they looked more like sixties teens than kids of the eighties. It wasn't quite how I remembered them. "What year was this taken?" I asked. "1983," he said. "In the summer. Her real name is Cynthia. Was Cynthia." "But everyone called her Cinnamon," I said. "That's right." His old man's nod packed a punch--regret, loss, guilty-feeling erotic charge, and the peculiar wistful hands-off pleasure some fathers get from seeing their sons with pretty girls. Then, as if to back off it, he said, "She . . . loved to sing with us. Shabbat, at the dinner table." But she was something else, reflecting back the sunshine. Even from this faded printout scan of a faded snapshot, the feeling came back to me: these two were gone for each other, you could practically see little birds flying around their heads. I returned the printout, and he refolded it. "Three weeks ago, a man came. On a Saturday in the morning. I was not expecting anyone. I came out of the shul here and sat with him in the lobby. He called himself Devon Hawley. He was perhaps in his fifties, maybe more. He claimed that he had known my son in high school. I did not remember him, but I had no reason to doubt him. He gave me this." Elkaim dug into his coat's other pocket and pulled out a folded newspaper page. He opened it for me, a page-long article torn from the Downtown Courier -- MINIATURIST IS CITY DREAMER . In the center of the article was a black-and-white photo of a cheery-looking bald man hovering over a mini-skyline like a middle-aged Godzilla. I scanned quick: For Devon Hawley, Jr., the creation of finely detailed tiny cities is more than a hobby, it's an obsession. In just the last three years, Disney, NBC/Universal, Pixar, and Netflix have all called upon Mr. Hawley and STEAM-WORLD STUDIOS here in DTLA, to design and photograph the backdrops for over a half-dozen blockbusters. I looked up. "Did this man harass you?" "Not in the slightest. He was very polite. Tall like the day is long." Elkaim made a reaching gesture. "He was apologetic for having interrupted me and so forth. Quite nervous." "What makes you say so?" "He spoke in a halting manner. He seemed to have a hard time looking me in the eye." "Isn't it a bit strange that you didn't remember him?" "No, no, I don't think so. My son had a life of his own--especially as a teenager." "Okay," I said. "But what did this Hawley guy want?" "He told me . . . that he could prove my son's innocence. He said he figured things out ." "Wow, all these years later?" I sat up, on instinct. "Did . . . did he say how?" "No." Elkaim pursed his dry lips, tallying some invisible calculation. "No, he would not tell me how he knew, but my lifetime of suspicions were confirmed. I always knew it was a mistake. My son was not capable of murder." "Of course, but--" "The night they arrested Emil, he wept to me, he told me he was innocent. He would not lie to me about such a thing." I took it in--I knew I was on shaky ground. Everybody's son is innocent. "So . . . this guy just came here out of the blue, without any notice and--" "But he was not rude about it. He simply said that he wanted to introduce himself and set up a time to speak, to share certain details. He asked if he could return the following Saturday--to take me to his studio, I gather to show me his . . . his files, his evidence. He begged that I tell no one. As I say, he seemed very nervous. But respectful about the whole matter. And then--" Mr. Elkaim raised his palms to the heavens. "--a no-show ." I scrambled for words of comfort, came up short. "Maybe he got the dates wrong?" "At my age, one does not have time for such delays." "I understand, Mr. Elkaim--" "No," he said firmly, "you do not understand. A cancer eats my pancreas. The doctors say I have three months, six at most." A bright, vivid silence-- " Ninety days ," he added without self-pity. But his dark eyes held me in place. "I want to help," I said. "Anything I can do. But . . . I'm trying to get a full picture. Can you tell me exactly what this man said?" "Word for word, no. I was in a state of shock. I . . . I was shaken, I did not want to press him, I--" Elkaim hesitated and, before my eyes, his yearning morphed into a peculiar self-scrutiny. His longing for justice, for last-minute redemption was high, wild, out of control, and he knew it. It made both of us uncomfortable, this intensity of hope. I caught myself glancing at the glass door. Like more than one visitor to a nursing home, I yearned for the clock to move quicker. Excerpted from Cinnamon Girl by Daniel Weizmann All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.