Songs of Innocence – Richard Aleas

5 out of 5

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Regarding Little Girl Lost, the prequel to Richard Aleas’ Songs of Innocence, I said that it “…might not be the most hard-edged, or the most original, or the most noir of all the HCC books….” but then I also gave it five stars.  (Or, eh, crampons.)

Richard Aleas is a.k.a. Charles Ardai, head honcho of imprint Hard Case Crime.  So maybe he sneaks a book in with a wink to himself, bypassing some quality checks so he can get his own work out there.

Hardly.  I praised the unique voice of Little Girl Lost, despite its apparent lacking in hard-edgeness or originality, and I praise that here again: Songs of Innocence’s John Blake is the most unassuming of noir detectives, far past ‘retired’ in to well and truly not wanting to do this anymore, until what could, I suppose, be considered the inevitable ‘pulling ‘im back into it’ routine.  But we feel it.  We feel that this isn’t the allure of PI work, or a one-last-score sunset type of retirement; John is still young, and has found a life he’s essentially succumbed to, flirting with depression.  He’s regular regular, with the guilt of things that occurred in the previous book preventing him from ever thinking he deserves otherwise.  And when he does get pulled back into it, due to the death of a friend – a suicide, which he adamantly maintains – which he knows is not the cause – it’s not adventurous, or heroic, or poetic.  The whole thing feels damned.  Aleas assuredly read my previous review, because I’m the most important person on the internet, and decided to show me what hard-edged originality would sound like via his pen, but then he took it one further step and managed to sneak it in.

There’s that looming sense of offness in Songs of Innocence, but it feels like the juxtaposition of how much energy John is expending on investigating this – which forces him into some dire situations, pitted against quite unfriendly mob types – with how little anything seems to point to the conclusion he’s come to of his friend’s death being a murder.  There are truly some heart-stopping moments in this book; thanks to the logical, believable steps Aleas puts us and John through, we can follow his progress step-by-step, believing in his passion, and so we’re more than fully immersed when things start to go wrong, wrong, wrong.  Pages can’t be turned quickly enough.  I held my breath during some scenes.

But then it only gets, well, worse, by which I mean better.  A lot of things add up to a certain direction – the quotes used to preface the book’s parts, for example – and you start to get a gist, but in true noir fashion, Aleas keeps twisting the knife.  And then even beyond that point.

Songs of Innocence, amongst many of Hard Case Crime’s amazing publications, is one of their best.  Charles Ardai can stand proud amongst the classic authors he’s continued to promote.