Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Songs of Innocence, by Richard Aleas

I had not heard of this series until the day I bought this book. I was looking specifically for this one and could not find it under the author's name. Fortunately, a Borders employee recognized it as one of this series and he found it on another shelf.

"Hard Case Crime" publishes old and new pulp mysteries, in low-cost editions. Many current mystery writers have written for the series, taking on a type of mystery that they might not usually do, the kind of hard-boiled detective genre. The covers feature original art created for the story. When I saw the painting on the cover I realized first that it resembled the pulp fiction covers of old and second that most modern-day cover art comes from sources like Getty Images and is not created for the specific work.

Songs of Innocence features a detective who also featured in Aleas's first novel, Little Girl Lost. In that episode, detective John Blake was indirectly responsible for the death of one woman and the near-death of another. His guilt has now led him to leave detective work altogether and take up working as an assistant at Columbia University (one of the places I wanted to attend as a young'un, by the way) and to take some writing classes.

He meets the gorgeous but sad Dorothy Burke, called Dorrie, in a class, and one thing leads to another. In this case it isn't just sex that follows but a mutual support arrangement, given that both are prone to depression and thoughts of suicide. They even make a pact that one will not off herself without first calling the other.

So when Dorrie turns up dead in her bathtub, apparently a suicide, Blake is skeptical. But generally keeps his thoughts and his investigation to himself.

Of course his investigation does not stay secret. It invites inquiry by a wide range of bad guys and Blake is at times beaten up to prove it. His investigation also ferrets out ugly secrets from others Blake had not included on his list of possibles. In the end, it becomes too much, far too much.

I was a bit uncertain about the "notable book" status of this book as I was reading it, although it certainly does have an edge of reality and depth you would not normally find in a pulp novel. The end, though, explains it all.

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