Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Songs of Innocence (Richard Aleas, 2007)

This is follow up to Little Girl Lost and once again we are with John Blake and it's three years after he had re-discovered (and lost again) Miranda, love of his life. He is now even more guilt ridden, has left private detective business and is working at the college where he also attends free courses, one of them creative writing. But again it turns out he has bad luck with women because his recent girlfriend is found dead in the bathtub and her mother doesn’t quite believe she killed herself and neither does our hero. So stage is ready for the investigation!

And then we are slowly drawn into this strange mixture of dark family secrets, violent organized crime, weird characters and their relationships on student campus and so on. Lots of colourful people are introduced and most of them far from typical stereotypes so you are never quite sure whether they are good or bad (Michael seems to be pretty cool but he’s definitely under-used and especially Julie is intriguing one; in the middle I was sure she’s the guilty one). Plot is somehow linear without major leaps into the past or something like that, but it’s developed masterfully and has few dead-ends, so again you are not sure which indices are cold ones. Events are unfolding pretty rapidly over a period of few days and our hero can hardly find time (and place) to get some sleep. Like in Little Girl Lost, New York City plays major role as a dark sinister background of the story and you can feel author’s love (or maybe obsession?) with the city but here it is more toned down and not so intrusive for my taste. 

Everything, except maybe a lack of wittier dialogues with some slang, reminded me sometimes strongly on Chandler’s Marlowe. More modern type of sleuth of course (really liked stuff with internet email), but still – our hero is wondering in the big corrupt city on his lonely stubborn pursuit of his understanding (and of course enforcing) of the justice, honour and loyalty. He’s not too sure about himself, haunted by demons from the past, beaten frequently, doesn’t trust the police, doesn’t accept much of the help and is ultimately betrayed again by his loved ones (well, kind of). He never really controls the situation, it’s more like other way around: “I felt like the last pawn on a chessboard, rooks and knights and bishops closing in on every side. I was inching toward the far side of the board and I wasn’t going to make it”. 

Good stuff indeed, although I do have few little complains. First of all, John should be a bit tougher. Being nerd with glasses is kind of okay, but PI (even an ex one) shouldn’t really be concerned with train conductors. Also relationship with Dorrie is a bit strange and ambiguous, we never quite know if they were just fuck buddies or were actually in love. We do get some kind of explanation when John’s friend suggests to him they were Porn Buddies. After he stares blankly (me too for that matter) he does get definition, I quote: “You know - when two guys agree that if anything happens to them, the other will come over and clear out his buddy’s stash or porn before the guy’s parents or girlfriend can stumble onto it.” We learn something new every day, but somehow it still doesn’t seem realistic why should he get to all this trouble if they weren’t really that close. Finally, I’ve found last part before revelation to be a bit too long and Philadelphia episode somehow redundant. True, it does introduce key character, but I think it takes too long and slows down plot unnecessarily.

My last little rent goes to the structure of the book. It has three parts and first one is told in flash-back and then story goes into “real time” mode. I find this a bit superficial and kind of pretentious. And each of the parts starts with William Blake’s quotes that I can really connect to the story. To me this is just intellectual crap, but probably because I’m not native English speaker. Maybe you can give it a try. Here’s the first one, from where this little masterpiece got its title:

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief? 

William Blake, Songs of Innocence


John Blake, age 31. Ex private investigator. He also gets some help from his old (ex girl) friend Susan who used to be stripper and is now private investigator.

NYC, briefly Philadelphia
Dorothy aka Dorrie, student with troubled past and dark family history. She is also masseuse who draws prostitution line at the blow job.

Body count
5, maybe/probably 6 (4 murders, 1 suicide, 1 most likely suicide; 2 bad guys, 4 innocent)

Good and pulpy but not very accurate. At least I can't remember no naked chick covering herself with a teddy bear and a gun. By Glen Orbik.

Cool lines:  
I don’t bother nobody. Just do my job. I’ll work for whoever pays me. I don’t care if he’s white, black, Hungarian, whatever. You show me the green, I’ll show you the pink.

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