Lost Book Friday

by J.T. Ellison

The lovely and mondo-talented Patti Abbott has started a cool retrospective called LOST BOOK FRIDAYS on her blog, Pattinase. (Click here for a listing of other LOST BOOKS) She asked me to contribute, and since I’m actually in Omaha today, at the wonderful Mayhem in the Midlands conference, I agreed to play.

My LOST BOOK is a controversial one. SONGS OF INNOCENCE, by Richard Aleas (AKA Charles Ardai.)Songs_of_innocence_cover_3

I’m sure there isn’t a soul in the crime fiction world who didn’t hear about the situation with Charles Ardai and the Edgar Awards, and I’m not going to delve into that quagmire. But since this book couldn’t get the recognition it deserved for the awards, I’d like to name it my LOST BOOK. (Richard Aleas is the pen name for Charles Ardai, to clear any lingering confusion.)

The title, SONGS OF INNOCENCE, is taken from the title of a book of poems by William Blake, one of my favorite dead guys, and obviously fitting for a detective named John Blake. The opening epigraph to Aleas’s book uses a selection from "On Another’s Sorrow":

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

I love the idea of this level of compassion, that it takes the truly tortured to understand grief and loss. This book takes this concept and pushes it to the extreme, to the very limits of human endurance, and beyond.

It’s a lovely opening to this story, the sequel to Aleas’s excellent debut LITTLE GIRL LOST. I read that and loved it, but SONGS OF INNOCENCE takes the next step, moving John Blake into a world with no boundaries, where the sex trade runs rampant in the streets of New York, where his own sanity is at risk. Aleas takes his character, puts him out on the ledge without a net, and watches to see what he’ll do. I love seeing authors take that kind of risk.

Which begs the question: When writing a series, or at least inter-connected works, how far can you push a character onto that ledge? Aleas does it so seamlessly, so effectively, that I wasn’t mad at him when I read the end (I’m not going to talk any more about the book, so don’t worry, no spoilers.) Surprised, yes. But I understood. I bought into the epigraph — Can I see another’s woe — I certainly can see and understand John Blake’s woe. It’s masterfully done.

John Connolly manages this as well — the tortured soul seeking redemption. Charlie Parker is my all time favorite character, simply because he is so imperfect, so haunted (literally and figuratively.) He’s driven by his past, trying to escape the horrors he’s lived through. He’s desperately trying to find a way to survive in a mean world — one that is essentially of his own making, mind you. Dave White does a nice job of this in his debut, WHEN ONE MAN DIES, as well. Jackson Donne is as flawed a PI as they come without being a cliche. Our J.D. Rhoades has a tortured soul in Jack Keller — a bounty hunter  — again, a peripheral law enforcement occupation. Maybe that’s the trick — make sure these guys aren’t cops and you can get away with it. These meaty characters are so hard to pull off, but when executed well, it’s nirvana.

We talked two weeks ago about the dangers of exposing character weaknesses, but these are four authors who do it right. I’m trying to think of some female characters that can fall into this category — Karin Slaughter’s Lena Adams comes to mind. She’s tortured, no doubt. I’m reading the latest installment in the Grant County series, BEYOND REACH, right now and I’ve got to say, I’m more annoyed at Lena’s stupidity that empathetic to her plight. I wonder if it’s just me, that flawed men are fascinating but flawed women are just flawed?

Hmm… now there’s some food for thought on a Friday.

I invite you to share your favorite lost book in the comments, your favorite epigraphs and/or your favorite tortured characters. I’ll be checking in sporadically. A big thanks to Patti Abbott for inviting me to play along, and I wish you the happiest of Fridays.

Wine of the Week: 7 Deadly Zins, a surprisingly original wine. I’m not a big zinfandel drinker, but this one blew my socks off. Light, but friendly.

PS: I’m giving away an ARC of my new book, 14, to my newsletter list at the end of the month. Just head over to JTEllison.com, sign up, and you’ll automatically be entered. When I send out my newsletter, I’ll announce the winner there. (And a note, I only mail these quarterly, so don’t expect to be inundated!)

Here’s the whole Blake poem, for those of you who are interested.

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

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow’s share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can he who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird’s grief &
Hear the woes that infants bear,

And not sit beside the nest,
Pouring pity in their breast;
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant’s tear;

And not sit both night & day,
Wiping all our tears away?
O, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give his joy to all;
He becomes an infant small;
He becomes a man of woe;
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled & gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

18 thoughts on “Lost Book Friday

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I love Slaughter’s Lena Adams, too. Amazing characterization – someone who consistently does things that make me cringe, but I understand every bit of it. I haven’t read BEYOND REACH, yet, but I don’t see how ANYONE can sustain a series character for more than two or three books.

    I also love Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli – I think it’s such an awesome and true depiction of what it must be like to be a female detective in that totally male world. Especially in the first books, when Jane is NOT married yet – she’s so awkward and abrasive and defensive and I just love her anyway.

    I think the brilliant thing that Tess does in her series that keeps me reading it far beyond any series I’ve ever read except for the Repairman Jack books… oh, and Agatha Christie – (I’m just not a series kind of person) is that Tess lets the main plot be about a completely different and interesting character but still lets us check in with the ongoing lives of Maura and Jane. I love that and if I ever end up writing a series that’s what I would want to do.

  2. JDRhoades

    My contribution to forgotten books is here: http://tinyurl.com/65fgom.

    Thanks for the shout out, love. Have a grand time at Mayhem. Had I know you were going I’d have reconsidered my decision not to go.

    And I’m not reopening that can of worms either, except to say that SONGS OF INNOCENCE is one of the best crime novels–hell, one of the best novels of any kind– I’ve ever read, bar none. You should all go buy it. Buy two and give one to a friend. If Ardai couldn’t be eligible for the Edgars, he should at least make a pile of money off it.

  3. Scott Parker


    Aleas’s two novels from HCC are two of my favorites. And John Blake is great because he’s not the typical tough-guy PI. I mean, Blake wears glasses. There’s not another PI out there who wears glasses. As a guy who grew up safe in the ‘burbs, Blake really resonated with me. And his choice at the end of the first book logically led to how he acts in the second book.

    In terms of flawed characters, male vs. female, I’m writing a book about a flawed female character. It is my aim to portray her not simply as flawed but flawed with depth. We’ll see how it ends up.

    For anyone who is interested, the best HCC book published this year has got to be Money Shot by Christa Faust. Like Blake, the main character, Angel Dare, is not used to being shot at and her attempts to overcome her circumstances are what drives this wonderfully fast, striking book.

  4. Kaye Barley

    Hi JT – Hope you’re having fun at Mayhem!

    I’m going to have to think about my lost book, but my candidate for flawed female character that I think works splendidly is Carol O’Connell’s Mallory.

  5. Louise Ure

    And my pick for flawed female character is Denise Mina’s Patty Meehan. Or anything that Megan Abbott writes.

    I do so love that kind of book … where you not only don’t know the outcome, but you don’t know if there were any good guys in the story at all.

  6. Karen Olson

    I read SONGS OF INNOCENCE several months back. It depressed the hell out of me. It was well written but so bleak, so sad, so, well, you have to read it to experience it. If you want to plunge into the depths of despair.

    I don’t mind a bleak book. I’m reading CHILD 44 right now and it’s pretty bleak, but there’s a streak of humanity, of hope even. I didn’t get that with SONGS OF INNOCENCE. There was no hope. And in this time in history, I need it. We all do.

  7. Kaye Barley

    Okeey doke.My choice for forgotten book, which wouldn’t have a chance in the world of ever being published today, I don’t think, is Ann Fairbairn’s “Five Smooth Stones.”

  8. Becky LeJeune

    My forgotten book comes courtesy of my grandmother. Find the Feathered Serpent by Evan Hunter, published in 1952. It’s a teen sci-fi adventure. I’ve not read it yet, but am under strict orders to be very careful with it!

    My current favorite tortured character would have to be Mo Hayder’s DI Jack Caffrey. I’m just glad HE hasn’t learned the horrific end of The Treatment! Waiting for that to be revealed to him is torture and I hope for his sake that he never learns it.

  9. Chuck

    These don’t come from lost books…

    I enjoyed Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects. For those who haven’t read it yet, you will be impressed. It’s by Gillian Flynn.

    And how about Larry Darrell, the pre-PTSD aviator, from The Razor’s Edge? Everytime he floated into Maugham’s narrative, I sat up and focused.

    I will go home and look for a few lost books.

  10. jt ellison

    Hi all!Sorry to be so late to the party — I’ve been whirling and twirling here in Omaha — WHAT an amazing conference! I’ve had one of my best days as an author — I have to recommend this conference so highly. Beautifully run, the crime and forensic panels with Douglas County experts and prosecutors were fascinating, the readers are exceptionally generous, and the food and wine are lovely. A definite must stop. Alex Kava deserves a special nod too — I’ll talk all about this next week.

    Thanks for all the lost books, I’ve added them to my TBR piles. Y’all be good! Bed beckons…

  11. Fran

    Oh yeah, Sharp Objects is good, I agree, Chuck!

    I’m an advocate for the Aud Torvingen series by Nicola Griffith, which fewer people have heard of than I think is necessary. Aud’s twisted and flawed, but if you go through the books — and there are three — she’s coming to grips with the burden of being human, not a place she’s been to before or is comfortable in. I like them a lot.

  12. Chuck

    Okay, I have located my lost book. The next person I meet who has read it will be the first: Sniper’s Moon by Carsten Stroud. Stroud’s books are moody, thought-provoking crime novels, typically with flawed protagonists and bittersweet endings. Sniper’s Moon was his debut, and is simply worth reading to see how the author can set the mood of a scene.

    Check it out.

  13. Kaye Barley

    Alex! Really?!That’s the book I keep buying and buying and giving to the special people in my life. IF you do re-read it, would you let me know, please if it touches you the same as it did when you first read it? I’ll be very interested in hearing.


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