As I've mentioned previously, Hard Case is doing a terrific job of bringing some classic detective stories back into print. However, as in this case, they also publish the occasional novel from current authors.
Chapter 1 (p.12):
I saw Miranda for the last time a week later. She went away, and despite the best intentions on both sides we didn't stay in touch. I didn't know what happened next in her life, but I could imagine: after college, she settled down into a safe, sensible, hard-working Midwestern life, turned into a damn good doctor, while I - I stayed in New York and turned into what New York turns people into.
That was where I thought the story ended. And it was - until I walked into a room ten years after our graduation and saw Miranda Sugarman's yearbook photo staring out of the Daily News under a headline that said "Stripper Murdered."
This book gets off to a running start and never looks back. John Blake is a tough New York private eye, who opens the paper one day to find his high school girlfriend murdered. How did she end up on the roof of a seedy strip club?
Chapter 2 (p.12):
Visiting a strip club in the middle of the day is like visiting a well-lit haunted house. The magic, such as it is, is gone. At night, the Sin Factory was probably decked out like a casino, with a flashing marquee and a tuxedoed bouncer checking IDs at the door. Maybe even a velvet rope to make the patrons feel special when they were let in. But at three in the afternoon there was no one at the door, the neon was turned off, and even the beat of the music leaking out into the street sounded sluggish and half-hearted.
As you might have expected, this novel leads the reader into the world of strip clubs, taking a "no illusions" look at the world of clubs and strippers as John Blake seeks the answers to what became of Miranda.
Chapter 6 (p.40):
By two, my shoulder hurt from gripping the phone and I'd run out of people to call, so I switched to the computer. Search engines like Google are only a starting point, though they're a good one; when you're in the business, you become familiar with all the other resources out there, ones that allow you to track down municipal filings, business filings, deed, insurance data, court records, and the like. I tracked through all of them, keeping one eye on the clock. Four hours seems like a long time, but the Internet eats hours like a kid eats popcorn.
This novel was a real page-turner for me, and the ending is complex with shades of gray. There's also a marvelously melancholy tone that's carried all the way through. My only quibble is that there's a point late in the book where Blake's motivations change, and I felt the author didn't do a good job of explaining the transition; otherwise, this one is highly recommended.
From a wargaming perspective, the background is useful information for a Pulp campaign, and the plot could be borrowed (with more violence added) for a .45 Adventure-style detective adventure.
Richard Aleas is (of course) an alias; the author is Charles Ardai of Hard Case. The title comes from the work of romantic poet William Blake, who also inspired the name of the detective - and the title of the sequel, Songs of Innocence (which is now on my "to find" list).
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .