Books — Little Girl Lost
Little Girl Lost

By Robert Greene

The return of the hard-boiled sleuth

Latest release from Hard Case has a nice edge

Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas, Dorchester Publishing, 2004, paperback, 221 pages

What would you do if you learned your high school sweetheart had given up her dream of working as an eye doctor and become a stripper instead, and then gotten herself shot to death on the roof of one of New York City’s seediest strip clubs?

Well, if your name is John Blake and you work as a Big Apple private dick, the answer is simple: you start poking around for answers.

Blake is the protagonist in Little Girl Lost, one of the latest releases by Hard Case Crime, a division of Dorchester Publishing. Hard Case, according to its website hardcasecrime.com, “brings you the best in hardboiled crime fiction,” complete with lurid, pulp-esque covers.

Hard Case, in general, offers pretty good stuff, like Micky Spillane would have written had Mike Hammer had access to Google and a cell phone.

Blake, see,  grew up in New York City, a town where vice rises from the street like steam from a sewer grate. Browsing the paper one day, Blake, a New York University dropout, learns that his high school gal pal, Miranda Sugarman, has been murdered. Blake, who has been assuming for the past 10 years that Miranda is safe, married and happy on the West Coast, is troubled. Against the advice of his mentor, he starts digging.

“You won’t like what you find,” the mentor warns.

Guess what? The mentor is right.

In short order Blake learns that Miranda fell in love with her college roommate, dropped out of doctor school and started a two-girl stripping act with her new lover. The team’s gimmick — remember this — is that the girls looked a lot alike, almost twins.

There is a set of father-and-son drug kingpins involved, along with a slimy strip-club manager and his pet bouncer. And, of course, there’s $1 million in cash missing and a stripper with a heart of gold and solid sleuthing skills to help our hero.

Blake’s a clever lad and, at 28, pretty resilient. He survives three, count ‘em three, beatings during the course of his investigation and downs only one whiskey, on the rocks, for his pain. Hardboiled in this case does not mean hard drinking.

“Richard Aleas” is the penname of a Shamus Award-nominated mystery writer and editor who has written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazines, as well as for anthologies such as Best Mystery Stories of the Year and The Year’s Best Horror Stories. Little Girl Lost is his first novel.

The plot is simple and, if you pay attention, it’s pretty easy to figure out whodunnit. I beat Blake by at least 50 pages and I’ve only been to New York City once in my life.

The writing is clean, with detail and phrasing that harkens back to Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. However, the dialogue, what there is of it, is a little dull, lacking the pop and play of better Robert Parker “Spenser” novels.

At $6.99, Little Girl Lost is about $1 cheaper than many other mystery paperbacks.  This makes it a good buy and a good entertainment bet on one of those snowy, can’t-get-out-of-the-house days.

Other Hard Case standouts

Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block: “Con man Joe Marlin was used to scoring easy cash off beautiful women. But that was before he met Mona Brassard and found himself facing the most dangerous con of his career, one that will leave him either a killer — or a corpse.”

Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips: “Ray Corson came to Hollywood to be a screenwriter, not hired muscle. But when a beautiful girl with a purse full of cash asks for your help, how can you say no? So Corson agrees to protect starlet Rebecca LaFontaine from a vengeful mobster — but what he doesn’t realize is that he’ll have to join the Mob to do it.”

Top of the Heap by Erle Stanley Gardner: “When the beautiful girlfriend of a notorious gangster vanishes, it’s up to P.I. Donald Cool to get to the bottom of her disappearance — and of a mining scam, an illegal casino operation, a double homicide, and an opportunity for an enterprising private eye to make a small fortune ... if he can just stay alive long enough to cash in.”


—Robert Greene

 
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