"Songs of Innocence"
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JUL 22, 2007)
"Dorrie Burke was taller than I was, not quite six feet in flats but pretty damn close, and she entered a classroom as if there was a curtain on one end and a row of photographers popping flashbulbs at the other. It wasn't something she did deliberately, but she did it, nonetheless, and the rest of turned to watch as she made her way to the empty chair, and slid her shoulder-slung messenger bag to the floor and sat down."
“Richard Aleas” follows up his well-received first novel, Little Girl Lost, with a second novel that is similarly worthy of acclaim. First off, everyone knows (and anyone who did not, does now, as the back cover of Songs of Innocence discloses) that Aleas is a pen name for Charles Ardai. Knowing this, a reader knows that this second time novelist is already accomplished in so many ways, as a writer of short story mysteries, one of which received a Shamus nomination and another awarded an Edgar; as founder and former CEO of Juno, and as founder and editor of Hard Case Crime™ Books, the three year old series of books consisting of the re-issue of “lost pulp classics” and the publication of new “hard-boiled” crime fiction (like Aleas’ two novels), with truly pocket size books distinguished by vintage book cover art. Songs is one of the over 30 books published to date under the Hard Case Crime emblem.
With Songs of Innocence, Aleas brings back John Blake several years following the events of Little Girl Lost. He is no longer a private investigator. He could not help feeling responsible for the deaths that resulted during the course of his investigations. This aspect of the work was just too much for him, and at the start of Song he is an administrative assistant for a writers' program at Columbia University.
Songs starts with Blake’s finding his friend, Dorrie Burke, dead in her apartment. To any objective observer, it was suicide. There is a plastic bag taped over her head, an empty pill container nearby and a copy of Final Exit, a book with instructions on committing suicide, next to her dead body. But Blake knows better. Dorrie vowed not to do anything drastic to herself no matter how despondent she felt without first calling Blake and talking it out with him. Blake figures that the only way for her to kill herself without calling would be if she did it in a fit of absolute rage. But given how systematically and thoroughly all phone and other records were shredded and all emails erased that had anything to do with her secret life as a sex worker, she could not have acted out of rage. Dorrie had traded in a $9/hr receptionist job at a massage parlor for a $90/trick job as a masseuse of sorts. Blake figures the shredding and erasing was done by the murderer to cover his/her tracks, to prevent his/her being traced.
Despite his intense dislike of the profession, he resumes the role of professional investigator, albeit reluctantly, to track down the person responsible for his beautiful friend’s death. Blake investigates where Dorrie had worked, only to learn she had left a particular massage parlor and had gone “independent” after one of the other girls was attacked by a mobster’s henchman. The hood maimed her hand as retribution for taking some customers with her when she left the employ of a “spa” owned by the mobster. Blake thinks this is a lead to Dorrie’s murderer, especially when a fellow carrying a gun pursues him when he meets with this woman.
Despite being warned against it, Blake dares to seek out the mobster. After talking to the man, he realizes that the mobster had nothing to do with Dorrie’s death. But to pay Blake back for his false accusation, the mobster arranges for the gun-toting fellow to be killed and left in Blake’s apartment with all evidence pointing to Blake as the murderer. Now, an already difficult investigation is made even more so as Blake has to disguise himself and go underground to evade arrest, at least until he can complete his investigation and identify Dorrie’s killer.
As his investigation progresses, more people who have connections with Dorrie get killed. Eventually, Blake is left with what Leo Hauser, who first recruited him to be a private investigator, had warned him: private investigators usually turn up something they and their clients would rather not know. And this is exactly what happens to Blake. He ultimately finds that he had not walked far enough away from the profession to keep from getting snared in its trap and at the end of the book—while Blake knows how Dorrie died and who was responsible for her death—he also comes to a realization that startles him, as much as it will the reader.
As stated, this second novel of Aleas/Ardai is equally worthy of praise as his first. The story’s plotting is particularly masterful. The movement from scene to scene is clearly drawn and the pieces of the puzzle of who killed Dorrie eventually fall into place by the end. The final scene will blow the reader away. John Blake, the angst-ridden, reluctant private investigator, an inventive addition to crime fiction’s ranks of private investigators, comes to terms with the fallout from his investigation of Dorrie’s death and the burdens that the profession had weighed upon his soul.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Songs of Innocence at Hard Case Crime(back to top)
"Little Girl Lost"
(Reviewed by Hagen Baye FEB 17, 2005)
Hard Case Crime™ Books are a new series of books consisting of the re-issue of “lost pulp classics” as well as the publication of new “hard-boiled” crime fiction. The paperback series, with truly pocket size books, is also distinguished by its emphasis on vintage book cover art, reminiscent of the classic crime fiction covers of the past. This series will delight those enamored with that distinctive style of writing, those who have yet to discover it, and those who just plain enjoy a good read. And if the first four books of the series are representative, this is a series not to be ignored. (See reviews of Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips, Grifter's Game by Lawrence Block and The Confession by Domenic Stansberry)
Richard Aleas, the author of Little Lost Girl, Hard Case Crime’s third book, is the pseudonym of an author who was a Shamus Award nominee for his short stories. The little lost girl is Miranda Sugarman. The news of her brutal roof top murder shakes up John Blake, a young private investigator, who ten years prior was her high school sweetheart. The last John saw Miranda, she was heading west to college to study to be an eye doctor, and he was shocked by the tabloids’ report that she was a stripper at the time of her death. Blake is compelled to investigate what had happened to her during the intervening years and who was responsible for her death. There are surprises galore in each step of Blake’s investigation, and the author maintains the suspense throughout. In fact, the style of writing is reminiscent of Lawrence Block's Chip Harrison series, where there is also a young private eye with a boss/mentor named Leo. And like Block's Harrison stories, Little Lost Girl is fast-paced, lively and a most enjoyable read.
This is a stunning debut novel and is nominated for the 2005 Edgar Award for best first novel as well as short-listed for the Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America.
- Amazon readers rating: from 16 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Little Girl Lost at Hard Case Crime
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Written as Charles Ardai:
- Fifty-to-One (November 2008)
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- MostlyFiction.com interview with Charles Ardai
- Wikipedia page for Charles Ardai
- Columbia College today article on Aleas/Ardai
- Nori Originals review of Little Girl Lost
- Craig's Book Club review of Little Girl Lost
- This Week review of Little Girl Lost
- HippoPress review of Little Girl Lost
- Independent Crime review of Songs of Innocence
- Pulp Fiction Review of Songs of Innocence
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About the Author:
Richard Aleas is the pseudonyn Charles Ardai, who is an Edgar Award and Shamus Award - nominated mystery writer and editor whose work has appeared in dozens of publications including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine as well as anthologies such as Best Mystery Stories of the Year and The Year’s Best Horror Stories. His first novel, Little Girl Lost, was nominated for both an Edgar Award and Shamus Award. His second novel, Songs of Innocence, won the Shamus Award.
Ardai graduated from Hunter College High School in 1987 and Columbia College in 1991 as an English major specialziing in British romantic poetry. Shortly after graduation, he joined the New York office of the D.E. Shaw group, a worldwide investment and technology development firm, and has been with the company for 13 years. In only his third year there, Ardai was entrusted with the leadership of Juno, an Internet service provider that was conceptualized, organized and initially financed by the D.E. Shaw group. Ardai served as CEO of Juno until its merger with NetZero in 2001 and returned to the D.E. Shaw group as managing director, his current position.
Ardai is cofounder of Hard Case Crimes along with Max Phillips.
He is married to writer Naomi Novak. They live in Manhattan.