No, that wasn’t a funny headline. This is actually a review on one of the many fantastic books Hard Case Crime has to offer.

    Once in awhile a company comes along
that impresses me with their whole catalog of products. It’s usually
a DVD company. To be honest, I’m a film fanatic so I tend to watch as
many films as possible, different genres from different eras and I
look for the large companies and the up and coming to get my fair
share from. One of my favorite genres of film are film noir. Old or
new, I love it when someone can give me a private eye who punches
first and asks questions later. So it is in this regard that the
company I’m speaking about isn’t a DVD company. It’s Hard Case
, who deal with crime novels that people like Dashiell
Hammet, Richard Stark and Mickey Spillane would write for…
actually, one of which does have books published with them (it’s the
second under his real name Donald E. Westlake).

    Why bring this fine company up? Well,
they had sent me three books to review awhile ago and I read through
one in a matter of 2 days. The second book I read through in about 3
days. The third I haven’t had the time to read due to work
overwhelming my life, battling a rat the size of my Irish head and
trying to still move in my apartment 10 months after I signed the
lease. I will be reviewing two of their books here in the next two
days, the first being Songs of Innocence
written by Richard Aleas (pen name of Hard Case Crime founder Charles
Ardai) with cover art by Glen Orbik and
written by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr with cover art by Glen Orbik

    In Songs of
Innocence (released last July),
is the second book starring Aleas’ character John Blake.
Not having read the first novel starring him (2004’s Little Girl
), it didn’t take long to
learn about this deeply scarred former PI. You already see the pieces
in his life that are shattered; a lover who was killed by his last
assignment and a good friend almost lost as well. He’s now taken a
low key position as an administrative assistant at Columbia
University. He’s also using this position to take a creative writing
class to better hone his skills. This is where he meets Dorothy
Burke, a beautiful younger dame (sorry, getting in the mindset of
some pulp fiction), who he has a connection with. The only problem is
that the story starts off with the police finding her dead in her
bathtub, with the book
Final Exit
sitting right beside her, a plastic bag over her head and of course
ruling it a suicide. Her mother thinks otherwise and wants to acquire
John’s detective persona to take the case and find out who killed her
daughter. He tells her he isn’t in that business anymore and tells
the friend who almost died to take the case instead. But the problem
is that he’s mounting his own investigation to find out who killed

Charles Ardai has done is take a simple premise of the lover/friend
being found in a messy situation, and instead of taking the easy way
out and calling it the way it looks, takes the character and the
reader into an adventure around the sights and sounds not commonly
seen in New York City. It’s the violent NYC underworld we as the
reader wants to hear about. We can’t help it, it’s something about
stories, be it in print or on the screen that intrigues us. That
tickles are fancy into wondering what happens next, no matter what
time of day it is. I have to admit that while reading this story, I
sometimes couldn’t put the book down. I was like an addict, and sadly
a book in the fiction section hasn’t done that to me in quite some

has confided in John her life as a prostitute named Cassandra, a call
girl in the world of secret bath houses and happy endings that
accompany them. So of course he tries to track down a list of johns,
maybe one of which was a bit too ‘hands on’ and snuffed out the life
of his friend. It leads him into many fights, call girls with hearts
of gold but ice water running through their veins, the Hungarian mob
being provoked by Blake and then being retaliated against by pinning
a dead body on him, twist and turns, jumps between 60 foot crevices
on the rooftops of buildings, cops getting closer to him, a manhunt
for Blake, a estranged father Dorothy rarely talked about, a friend
who betrays him and so much more. I don’t want to ruin the story,
which is why I’m being very aloof in what I speak about. But what
Ardai is doing here is taking a old pulp story, one that would be
written for the fans, and taking it to the new century, infusing new
life in a genre that most people don’t give too much credit to.

like to point out that Ardai has said that his first Hard Case Crime
Little Girl Lost,
took him only 2 or so months to write. It then took him roughly 3
years to finish
Songs of Innocence,
which doest surprise me. The character of John Blake is a difficult
one to write about. A wounded man, one that doesn’t look at himself
the way he used to, slumming around and wishing he was somebody else.
It’s a hard book to write and to make the character likable,
especially when he’s being a real dick to people he loves is even
harder, but Ardai does it here. A quick read that you just want to go
back and read a few more times to find the little hints at the
stunning conclusion that you have to read to believe. Plus the book
is less than 7 bucks, so it won’t hurt your pocket much. Give it a
chance, especially since the book has been optioned for a film, so as
soon as I hear more about it, I’ll keep you posted.

two comes tomorrow night when I review Ken Bruen and Jason Starr’s The Max.