Monday, September 5, 2011
Songs of Innocence
Songs of Innocence
Hard Case Crime, 2007
A former private investigator and currently the administrator of the course «Creative Nonfiction» at Columbia University, John Blake once lost his beloved and barely survived himself. 30-something-year-old Blake, himself attending a course on creative writing, moves closer to Dorrie Burke, who also attends the course. When Dorrie found dead in her apartment with a bag over her head and a book «Final Exit» next to her, the police do not doubt that she committed suicide. Dorrie's mother is not so sure of it and hires Blake to conduct an investigation of suicide and show to her that it was murder. Dorrie trusted Blake, and he knew her secret that she kept from her mother. Dorrie worked in massage parlors like sort of a prostitute and once took Blake's promise that if it something’d happen, Blake would have to remove all traces of the second life of the girl. The PI removes all information from Dorrie’s laptop that may reveal her secrets. On the Internet Blake looks for clues, how he would find people with whom she Dorrie worked. Among them is a dangerous mobster, a Hungarian by birth.
It is difficult to say who has written this book so well, Richard Aleas or John Blake. Aleas cleverly combined the two professions in Blake, a private detective and a writer, and this is what explains why this Blake not only knows where and whom to look for, but how apply words to each other, but still with such grace. There are enough detective writers in the world literature, Aleas is not the first in there, but he successfully solved the problem, which troubled many readers of detective stories about private detectives, written from the first person view: why do these men who shoot well and hit in the face (and are hitted themselves not less) well tell their stories so good? Here the answer is obvious: Blake has the literary talents.
Blake, however, is not demure and not a homebody. In his past as a private eye he had lost any kind of innocence, and because of that the tour to massage parlors of New York (and «Songs of Innocence» is exactly this trip), with its meetings with the lower social classes, dangerous criminals, strong prostitutes, does not scare or surprise Blake at all. He has already seen it. He already has passed it.
Aleas not only writes well, he's a masterful plotter, with each chapter throwing new puzzles. The novel is built by the canons of 30-50s pulp fiction, and if not the sudden appearance of a laptop in the first chapters, one would think that the action is taken place in our time. However, «Songs of Innocence» is a story of today, with mobile phones, laptops, Internet, e-cards in the subway. It should complicate the task for a writer, because he must take into account new elements added to the classic story. And here Aleas manages to be original: not revealing the plot, I will note only that modern technology plays a key role in the highly twisted plot.
This is a book about the irreversibility of the secrets and mysteries of the people; about that always there is a line that under no circumstances must not be crossed. Already closer to the finale Blake recalls that he once has been told by a detective from the NYPD:
«You work like a bastard for days and days and nothing makes any sense. You're lost, you're confused, you've got no answers and you're wasting your client's money. You're a fraud, you've always been a fraud ... one day, you think of something. Or you see something. Or someone tells you something. And suddenly, everything that didn't make sense does. Only here's the thing: nine times out of ten, you wish it didn't. You wish you were a fraud again. Because the things people hire us to figure out are the ugliest fucking things in the world».
For the same reason we read books: to get to the dark corners of human soul, to look at these ugliest things, to be a little different after reading. And songs of innocence no longer play in your head.