Songs of Innocence : A John Blake Mystery
Richard Aleas
Hard Case Crime 2007
256 pages

Songs of Innocence the second Richard Aleas mystery novel published by Hard Case Crime is the probably the third or fourth book I have cracked open this month and the first I continued reading and finished. It is summer, it is hot, and my attention span is as consistent as soft serve ice cream at high noon in the Sahara. Songs of Innocence works because Richard Aleas (if that’s his real name and not an alias) knows how to hook you -the opening sentence here is “I was a private investigator once. But then we’ve all been things we aren’t  anymore.”- and his character, John Blake (a good solid detective name if you ask me) is interesting right from the beginning.

I have to admit I was predisposed to this Hard Case Crime paperback. I generally like the series, love the pulp fiction style covers, and, though Songs of Innocence arrived unannounced in the mail from the publisher, especially like the price: the books sell for about the price of a used recent paperback mystery novel and for a lot less than most new books. These books ain’t cheap but well priced.

In Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas, Blake is a former P.I. whose last case (perhaps Little Girl Lost, the Edgar Allan Poe and Shamus Award nominated first mystery novel) ended disastrously and is now has an office job at Columbia University and taking a creative writing course. This is where he met and befriended Dorrie Burke who worked as a call-girl until she was found dead in her bathtub. The cops think it was suicide, Blake does not. Even if he has sworn off the gumshoe business he decides to investigate and avenge his friend’s death.

I very much enjoyed this whodunit. Aleas is a crisp, clear, economical writer who does not waste any time with long, boring, page filling descriptions. I like my mysteries tight and my detectives hard boiled and troubled. Richard Aleas has that in Songs of Innocence. I also liked that the author has managed to avoid the usual detective tear sheet -former cop, perhaps ex boxer, a friend in the PD to get information, and some kind of sidekick who acts as muscle and watches his back.

I am less impressed with Aleas’ occasional colloquial spelling (wouldja, doncha) when some characters speak. I find it annoying and that it imposes a specific voice on the reader. Also a bit disconcerting is how Songs of Innocence refers to events Little Girl Lost to explain John Blake or secondary characters. It’s great if you’ve read the previous book and annoying if you have not. If the idea is to get you to read the first mystery, Aleas’ Songs of Innocence is good enough to make you want to do that anyways so why bother?

There are also a few surprises in store for the reader and I am not going to reveal any only to say there are a couple of standard whodunit plot points that Aleas has fun toying with, there are a couple of genuine cool twists, and the ending, oh baby, the ending!

Songs of Innocence is a really good mystery novel.

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