Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas

(Hard Case Crime, #33)

Three years ago, detective John Blake solved a mystery that changed his life forever—and left a woman he loved dead. Now Blake is back, to investigate the apparent suicide of Dorothy Louise Burke, a beautiful college student with a double life. The secrets Blake uncovers could blow the lid off New York City’s sex trade...if they don’t kill him first.

Songs if Innocence is if the first of the hardcase crime novels I have read, a flashback to the days of old where crime noir with pop-up style covers populated the streets. I doubt I'll read another I enjoyed as much as this one for a long time coming.

As a mystery, it's rich. The unlucky protagonist, still carrying baggage from trauma three years ago (covered in the prequel Little Girl Lost), has been taking creative writing classes for journalism in order to rest and recover. His former life of private investigation has been lost to him as he felt suffocated from real life's invasion.

He meets another disturbed woman living two lives, someone who he can retreat from the world with and share his own troubles, but finds her dead in her apartment when she won't return his call. Since she didn't honor their pact of calling before suicide - as they both had discussed before - he's convinced she's been murdered and takes up his past detective life to bring justice to her name.

Entering the streets, he's soon threatened, beat up, framed for a vicious murder, and must fall into an unsettling underground sex ring to find out the truth. What he uncovers is not only surprising, but the guilt he's been carrying around with him never gets relieved. It ends with a final slap of the face, something that will be remembered by most readers for awhile to come.

Edgar Award Winner Richard Aleas creates a world that may as well have been in the fifties, even if the scene is placed in the modern world. The gritty feel easily seeps through the pages, and the story - while not overly fast in pace - is gripping and doesn't let up once you start reading. There's of course a jumbo pot of characters, but unusually the emphasis is on Blake, which isn't always common in detective novels of this sort.

This is one of those books where it's difficult to pinpoint brilliance and likability factor, because in books as well as in life - either it's just there or it just isn't. This is one of the cases where it just IS, between flaw-ridden characters, scenes brimming with angst, and tragically wasted life.

Tension is fierce where it's needed, and while the novel contains a fair share of suspense, it was never meant to be about that. Instead it's more a mental deterioration in the face of loss. A nihilistic book where violence never stops, and just when you think you may have it figured out, another dead end is around the corner. This is no average crime noir detective, and as a result Songs of Innocent stands out proudly among the crowd.

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