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John Blake #2

Songs of Innocence

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Little Girl ... Found. — Three years ago, detective John Blake solved a mystery that changed his life forever -- and left a woman he loved dead. Now Blake is back, to investigate the apparent suicide of Dorothy Louise Burke, a beautiful college student with a double life. The secrets Blake uncovers could blow the lid off New York City’s sex trade ... if they don’t kill him first.

Richard Aleas' first novel, Little Girl Lost, was among the most celebrated crime novels of the year, receiving nominations for both the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Shamus Award. But nothing in John Blake’s first case could prepare you for the shocking conclusion of his second ...

256 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published July 3, 2007

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About the author

Richard Aleas

8 books43 followers
Richard Aleas is a pen name of Charles Ardai.

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5 stars
280 (28%)
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369 (36%)
3 stars
279 (27%)
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52 (5%)
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20 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 134 reviews
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews769 followers
December 17, 2015
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I loved getting to know detective John Blake in Little Girl Lost. In crime-ridden New York with lots of people leading double lives, John maintains his innocence and is deeply affected by what he uncovers in his quest for justice.

Three years later, John’ s life is changed. He has abandoned private investigative work and decides to complete his education, so he accepts a job as an administrative assistant for the university’s writing program.

Once again, John becomes involved with a troubled and hurt young woman and once again he sets out to determine the cause of her death, this time an apparent suicide. John, however, believes foul play was involved and once he digs deeper, he learns of Dorrie’s job as a sex worker and uncovers some hard and ugly truths, about others and himself.

As my friends Dan and Kemper stated, this is a mind-blowing and powerful novel with strong, well-developed characters. It gripped me right from the start, and left me breathless until its grim and devastating conclusion.

Profile Image for Richard.
984 reviews359 followers
December 11, 2017

If Songs of Innocence was simply another John Blake mystery, a sequel to Aleas's serviceable first novel, Little Girl Lost , it would still be a pretty good read. But it's much more than a simple sequel, outshining the first book in every conceivable way. It begins as just another detective story, with the retired Blake putting his detective hat back on to investigate the death of his classmate and lover, Dorrie Burke.

But things get darker as the book progresses, pushing Blake further and further into the abyss as he begins to discover the kind of collateral damage that his actions, his mistakes, as well as his discoveries ultimately lead to. It really is better than it has any right to be, crushing its mystery genre expectations and ascending into tragic crime opera territory. And like the best mysteries, the conclusion isn't as cut-and-dry as many would expect.

I docked half a star because, just as in the first book, I didn't really feel the connection to Blake and the object of his investigation. He obviously had a deep connection to Dorrie but it felt like it was intentionally vague, which lessened the impact for me somewhat. Aside from that, it's hard to pinpoint exactly how the book achieves the effect that it has, but at some point I became completely engrossed! I've been tired of standard mysteries lately but this is one of the best detective stories I've read in a while, right up there with the best of Lehane, Mosley, or Lawrence Block. If you have any interest in crime or mysteries, put this one on your list.
I hadn't meant to end up this way, counting the dead, apologizing to the ghosts of the dead women I'd loved.

But here I was, with apologies to make and so little time to make them.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,925 reviews10.6k followers
July 2, 2011
Three years after the events of Little Girl Lost, John Blake has quit the detective game and gone back to school. When his friend Dorrie turns up dead in her bathtub, John puts his detective hat back on and goes looking for why Dorrie ended up dead. The trail takes up through New York's seedy underbelly of "massage" parlors and up against the Hungarian mob. Can Blake piece together what happened before he ends up dead too?

Ho. Lee. Crap. Songs of Innocence is the most powerful of the Hard Case Crime series I've read so far. Blake's desperation is a tangible thing. The mystery of what happened to Dorrie gets worse and worse, as does John's situation. I didn't see the end coming until it hit me like a freight train. The characters are well done. Not only Blake, but the supporting cast as well. It would have been easy to make the other masseuses into stereotype sluts but Aleas didn't skimp.

Like I've said before, I was prepared to dismiss Richard Aleas (aka Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case) as a pretender but the man has made a believer out of me. You can definitely tell that the Hard Case Crime series is a labor of love for him.

If you're itching for a good crime story, Songs of Innocence fits the bill. You might want to pick up Little Girl Lost first, though, for a little more background on Blake and Susan.
Profile Image for Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*.
2,432 reviews1,062 followers
January 27, 2016
Songs of Innocence is the first of the hardcase crime novels I have read, a flashback to the days of old where crime noir with pop-up style covers populated the streets. I doubt I'll read another I enjoyed as much as this one for a long time coming.

As a mystery, it's rich. The unlucky protagonist, still carrying baggage from trauma three years ago (covered in the prequel Little Girl Lost), has been taking creative writing classes for journalism in order to rest and recover. His former life of private investigation has been lost to him as he felt suffocated from real life's invasion.

He meets another disturbed woman living two lives, someone who he can retreat from the world with and share his own troubles, but finds her dead in her apartment when she won't return his call. Since she didn't honor their pact of calling before suicide - as they both had discussed before - he's convinced she's been murdered and takes up his past detective life to bring justice to her name.

Entering the streets, he's soon threatened, beat up, framed for a vicious murder, and must fall into an unsettling underground sex ring to find out the truth. What he uncovers is not only surprising, but the guilt he's been carrying around with him never gets relieved. It ends with a final slap of the face, something that will be remembered by most readers for awhile to come.

Edgar Award Winner Richard Aleas creates a world that may as well have been in the fifties, even if the scene is placed in the modern world. The gritty feel easily seeps through the pages, and the story - while not overly fast in pace - is gripping and doesn't let up once you start reading. There's of course a jumbo pot of characters, but unusually the emphasis is on Blake, which isn't always common in detective novels of this sort.

This is one of those books where it's difficult to pinpoint brilliance and likability factor, because in books as well as in life - either it's just there or it just isn't. This is one of the cases where it just IS, between flaw-ridden characters, scenes brimming with angst, and tragically wasted life.

Tension is fierce where it's needed, and while the novel contains a fair share of suspense, it was never meant to be about that. Instead it's more a mental deterioration in the face of loss. A nihilistic book where violence never stops, and just when you think you may have it figured out, another dead end is around the corner. This is no average crime noir detective, and as a result Songs of Innocent stands out proudly among the crowd.
Profile Image for Mr. Matt.
288 reviews82 followers
December 10, 2013
Songs of Innocence picks up three years after Little Girl Lost. Blake is out of the P.I. business. The mess around Miranda had left him shaken and he just wanted to move on with his life. He is working in Columbia as a low level administrator.

And life is ... okay. Not great, just okay. After Miranda there is a darkness in Blake and this permeates the whole story. He's been battling depression. He's found a sympathetic soul, Dorothy Burke, who is fighting her own demons. And then she winds up dead of an apparent suicide. But John knows that it's not. Because Blake knows her secret.

Digging into Dorothy's death leads Blake back into the seedier night life of the city. He visits massage parlors, strip clubs, runs afoul of gangsters, is chased by the cops, and, ultimately, finds the man responsible for his friend's death. And that discovery destroys what is left of Blake's soul. At the end of the story he is lost.

This is a much darker story than Little Girl Lost (which I highly recommend). It is probably not a good thing to read these two books out of order, although I suppose you could. I worry that someone who read this book first might not read the earlier volume. I know that I probably would not have.

Three stars.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,822 followers
September 2, 2009
I'm grateful to Charles Ardai for establishing Hard Case Crime. Starting a publishing company is a clever way to spend some of those internet billions. But when I learned that he had written a few novels for HCC under the pen name of Richard Aleas, I was worried that he was just buying his way into a writing career. His first book with HCC, Little Girl Lost, didn't change my opinion much. I thought it was very...OK. But having Ardai kick out a book a year seemed like a small price to pay for getting the rest of the HCC line.

So I had zero interest in this one until fellow HCC fiend Dan reviewed it and loved it. His review so intrigued me that I had to read this.

And holy crap. Dan was right. This is a mind-blowing crime novel.

John Blake, the hero of Little Girl Lost, has retired as a detective following the events of that book, and is working for a writing program at a college. He met Dorrie, a girl with her own tragic past and shady career as a quasi-call girl/ masseuse and they became close. When Blake finds her dead of an apparent suicide, he suspects foul play and begins investigating Dorrie’s professional life. As he gets a first hand look at New York’s sex trade, he angers a dangerous mobster, but the worse the danger gets, the more determined he is to solve Dorrie’s murder.

Sound familiar? At first glance, the plot doesn’t seem like anything special, and halfway through the book, I was still only mildly interested. But in the second half, as the collateral damage of Blake’s investigation to others and his own life begins to mount, you get the feeling that this isn’t just another noir story that isn’t going to end well. I started getting a real feeling of dread and then a sneaking suspicion that ‘not ending well’ wouldn’t even begin to cover the horror show that was waiting. I was right.
Profile Image for Steve.
802 reviews226 followers
March 15, 2015
"But then, I'm Mr. Vanilla..."

Whew. Devastating. I may even bump this up one star, but I need to sort it out some more in my mind. I'll be honest, earlier on I was thinking this was mabye a three star book, which makes the book fairly unique in my reading experience. It's also a book that veered, quickly, from mystery to darkest noir. What a hook.

Overall, I liked the gritty details of the sex trade (very Lawrence Block), and Aleas' characterizations of various thugs, hookers, killers, side characters, and overall fine descriptive passages. Also good are the incorporation of such modern day things like Craigslist (which evidently has a booming sex-for-sale corner), cell phones and e-mail, etc. I like stuff like that since it adds dimension via detail. What I was having trouble with is the main character, former detective John Blake, and his seemingly precious hugs-only relationship with fellow student and exotic (and erotic) masseuse, Dorrie Burke.

When Burke is found dead from an apparent suicide, Blake is compelled to track the killer down. This sounds like standard stuff, and to some extent it is, compounded by Blake's bland delivery, bland questions, and even his bland grief. Everything about him is so vanilla. But that's what kept my going. Everything surrounding Blake is too well written, too well realized. I sensed a sucker punch coming. Clearly Blake's blandness is by design. Boy, is it, but to say much more would be giving the story away. I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call him an unreliable narrator since he seems so straightforward, sometimes stupidly so in a death wish sort of way. But I may revise that opinion on a second reading, or by reading the first book in the series, Little Girl Lost, which I'm kicking myself for not reading first. I do want to track the full arc of Mr. Vanilla's character.
Profile Image for Gregory.
239 reviews22 followers
October 12, 2009
This is a very fine book. It's beyond a genre book in my opinion. The writing is very good to excellent. The story is gripping with an emotional edge to it. John Blake is back after his previous (and first appearance) in Little Girl Lost. It's interesting to see how the Blake character was changed by the experiences in the first book. I'd recommend reading the first book and then reading this book because you would get even more out of the total experience. I can't say too much more without moving into spoiler territory but this novel is time well spent for the crime reader.
Profile Image for Cassie.
13 reviews
November 18, 2018
I swear this book took me around and about in so many different directions. The suspense kept building and building and just when I thought that was it, there was more. Poor John Blake, he definitely had a lot going on but kept me engaged until the very end. I hated waiting for the few chapters to get the whole story but it was worth it. He took a journey I'd never want to find myself on...
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 10 books420 followers
January 28, 2013
I’m not sure how to classify SONGS OF INNOCENCE. It’s easily classified hard-boiled, or it’s not much of a stretch to have it by grab noir by the throat and strangle it. Either way, this book is one depressingly good read, filled with entertainment, action, and plenty of strong women and men. At some points, it even felt like a wrestling match was unfolding in my living room, and I found myself so engrossed in the story…well, let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have to think to breathe.

John Blake is the ultimate tragic hero, a man filled with enough demons to start a touring circus, and Richard Aleas takes full advantage of his disastrous circumstances. Susan proves the perfect companion for John, even if he’s too blind to see it, and once she’s no longer a wounded bird, he doesn’t know to sustain the relationship. He’s a fixer throughout his life, which makes him the quintessential PI, and this novel serves as the perfect backdrop for his life.

Instead of just being a sequel to LITTLE GIRL LOST, which would have worked well enough, Mr. Aleas knocked the bar to the mat and carved a new path three years later from the first novel, making it one enjoyable read from the first page to the last.

It’s hard to find any fault with this novel, even though the ending, while fitting, added another level of tragedy to this already tragic novel. If you’re a crime fiction connoisseur, this would certainly make a nice addition to your collection.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
940 reviews
June 3, 2018
Well-written but very bleak noir crime novel. It's a sequel to Little Girl Lost. I didn't think the story was quite as compelling as the first novel, and I did not like the ending as much.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,275 reviews559 followers
June 2, 2014
This one has quite a body count. To me, it was a 4 for the first half, but then although possible, it got so noir improbable, that the plotting diminished the rating of my enjoyment in the last quarter. The endings of the two John Blake novels I have read are not usual, quite surprising, IMHO. Tension is sustained throughout at an enthralling pitch, but I think this one is just too much of too much for me. Pulp Fiction violence, brutality, torture combatted by a protagonist who is highly conflicted. But amidst better than average characterizations for multiple secondary characters and ALL the women players, as well. 3.5 star to be fair. If you are a fan of this concrete texture hard boiled crime and action genre, this one might appeal more than it did to me. Nasty as Little Girl Lost, yes! But it just did not work as well, for me. You would need to read these in order. Little Girl Lost, first read. Otherwise the main core of John's emotional decline and other spoilers would obscure the depth AND the plots. Both.

Profile Image for Jeff O'Brien.
Author 46 books156 followers
March 5, 2022

Yes. That is my review of this book.
Profile Image for John.
1,458 reviews36 followers
October 12, 2015
Though it falls just short of being a masterpiece, SONGS OF INNOCENCE is one of the best examples of detective noir that I've stumbled across in quite some time. Charles Ardai (AKA Richard Aleas)'s ear for hardboiled storytelling is pitch-perfect, and the ending is like a punch to the gut.
There's very little to criticize here, apart from certain suspenseful moments that I think rely a little too heavily on coincidence. (Like when the main character's picture suddenly pops up on TV at the worst possible moment, or when he accidentally bumps into his enemy while napping in a sauna.) Also, I can't help but think that Ardai is holding himself back just a little by chaining himself--however loosely--to the "pulp" format. I would love to see what he could do as a writer of literary fiction.
Profile Image for Maddy.
1,689 reviews73 followers
January 13, 2014
SERIES: #2 of 2
WHY: While in a writing class, PI John Blake became involved with Dorothy Lee Burke, "Dorrie", who worked as an intimate masseuse on the side. When she commits suicide, Blake begins to investigate because he doesn't believe that she would kill herself. He is aided by another former lover, Susan. There are quite a few suspects developed as they dig deeper into the situation. Blake is quite tormented because he feels he has caused damage to all of the women he has loved. The book went on too long for the story. Just as I was losing patience, Aleas pulled off a stunning resolution.
Profile Image for Razvan Banciu.
966 reviews54 followers
May 26, 2018
A story about friendship and comradery, rough, dark and sad. The plot is not the greatest, but the epic thread flows nicely, the style (recalling a Erich Maria Remerque atmosphere)is ok and, most of all, Aleas' skills are obvious, as almost every chapter finishes with a new question, which is a not so easy thing to accomplish.
Profile Image for Angie.
325 reviews10 followers
April 12, 2009
One of the better Hard Case crime titles--a followup to one of the best, also by Aleas.
Profile Image for John Colombo.
81 reviews
June 16, 2022
Holy cow. This book was amazing and by conclusion very dark. It paired well with John Blake 1 “Little Girl Lost” and was a worthy continuation of John’s story.
Profile Image for Alan Scott.
33 reviews15 followers
January 4, 2009
The Universe as Seen Behind From the Curtain-- A Giant Meat Grinder

The second book by Richard Aleas and follow up to his novel "Little Girl Lost," both of which feature his character John Blake trying to make a difference in the world-- and boy does he ever! Not really two separate novels, they should be read together as one story with two parts. This novels catches up with Blake a handful of years after the events of the first book. He's not doing so well. He's depressed, lost, and struggling to find meaning in the world. When one of the few persons who provides some meaning to him is badly hurt, he submerges once again into the dark, fetid underbelly of American society to try and get some answers.

I loved this book (and the other novel as well) for a few reasons: 1) John Blake is a great character. He is not a typical hero in that he suffers pain-- both physical and mental-- like any real person. Events resonate with him deeply. He is a highly emotional and sensitive detective who has to face great darkness in the world and it leaves its mark on him every time; 2) this is dark stuff, akin to a Greek tragedy. Both novels are set up in such a way-- but particularly the second novel-- so that the universe in which the characters inhabit almost feels mechanistic, such that Fate can never be escaped no matter how far and hard you run, the gears keep grinding, the giant machine, and in the end you better think real hard about whether it's better to remain in ignorance or if you really want the truth cause baby, you probably can't handle it; 3) I liked the differences between the formats of the two books, in that the first novel felt more like a typical detective set up and the second was more like a fugitive format in the vein of the wrongly accused man stories-- this kept the narratives of the two stories popping; 4) even though both stories are relatively short, he gets a lot in there, and they are well written and evocative, particularly the second, where Aleas creates a desolate, despairing, neurotic, paranoiac environment for the characters to dwell in, which I feel he did it effectively and in a tightly controlled manner.

If you are in the mood for a thoughtful, intelligent, evocative, dark and depressing, and somewhat sleazy examination of why the world is really a pit of festering slime which should be flushed down the toilet, then pick this up. If you're in the right mood, it's terrific. When I feel down, nothing makes me feel better than listening to the saddest blues songs I can find. This is like the blues, a blues song about struggling desperately to take some control in the world and finding out that doing so just takes you down harder and faster. Life's a bitch. Wake up and go back to sleep.

I really hope Richard Aleas writes some more stuff like this. I took to it like a moth to flame.

Profile Image for Rowland Pasaribu.
376 reviews68 followers
August 3, 2010
For a while young John Blake worked as a New York private investigator, but the case of Little Girl Lost really got to him, and he's now settled down in what should be a harmless, quiet job, an administrative assistant in Columbia University's writing programme. One of the reasons he took the job was because one of the perks is that he can take classes at the university for free, and one of the classes he took was in 'Creative Nonfiction'.

Blake got close to one of his classmates, Dorrie Burke, but Dorrie turns up dead, an apparent suicide and Blake has to get to the bottom of that. Dorrie's mother thinks it was murder and wants to hire Blake; Blake is sure someone else was responsible too, but he needs to look into it on his own -- and he wants to conceal some of Dorrie's secrets from her mom. Like the fact that she earned her money by offering fairly intimate massages.

Yes, Blake again finds himself immersed in the seedy world of New York's sex trade, and in particular the flexible offerings of its massage parlours -- and the lengths to which some of the owners of these places will go to make sure customers don't follow 'masseuses' away from the establishment when they set up their own.

Blake plunges headlong onto the trail, and enough pieces soon fit into place for him to confront the biggest, baddest man in town. It's not a confrontation that goes well or clears enough up; worse, the man Blake accuses leaves a little thank-you gift for the talk for the would-be P.I. at his apartment, leaving Blake on the run from the authorities as well.

The downward spiral of ever-increasing desperation continues, Blake not worried about the consequences as he single-mindedly follows his obsession, just a half-step ahead of everyone who is after him. He does get some help, but there's only so much anyone can do for him and soon enough he's hitching rides in the back of a hearse .....

What was sordid and frenzied takes one final turn to the deepest black as he faces the abyss in the resolution. Dorrie was a troubled girl and Blake was privy to much of what weighed on her mind and soul, but even he didn't know everything. He learns it at the end, and it is a mighty, mighty blow -- making for a turn that is dark even for a noir.

The thrill-elements of Songs of Innocence, and the sex-scene exposé, are solid if unexceptional noir, but Aleas does the human element very well; some of the bad guys may be almost caricatures, but the rest are well-presented, especially Blake and Dorrie. And in willing to go all the way, to see the story through to its very bitter end, the book does more than most crime and thriller fiction dares, making for a nice, hard, gut-wrenching hit at the end.
Profile Image for Jonathan Dunsky.
Author 21 books116 followers
February 4, 2015
John Blake is back. Three years after the conclusion of Little Girl Lost, which introduced Blake, he finds himself at the center of another tragedy.

Blake, who gave up being a private investigator following the tragic culmination of Little Girl Lost, now works as an administrator at Columbia University, in a writing and literature program, where he also takes courses.

In one of the courses he takes, Blake meets a young, beautiful woman named Dorrie Burke. Dorrie makes her living as an erotic masseuse. Dorrie and Blake become good friends (and a bit more). They are both somewhat despondent, each for their own reasons, and they make a pact: if any of them seriously considers suicide, they must call the other first. This Dorrie does on a number of occasions, but one day, she is discovered dead in her bathtub, a plastic bag tied around her head.

The police writes this off as suicide, but Blake is certain that Dorrie was murdered and sets out to discover the killer. Thus begins a journey full of twists and turns, as Blake dives deep into the New York sex-service world and encounters his share of sex workers, criminals, psychopaths, and sex clients.

This is a powerful novel, with an excellent plot, great characters, nice twists, a good dose of action, violence, and tragedy.

Better than the great Little Girl Lost (which should be read first). Not to be missed.
Profile Image for Nik Morton.
Author 66 books35 followers
October 9, 2008
Blake teaches creative writing in New York, having retreated from PI work after getting a woman killed and another seriously wounded. Clearly, he’s not particularly good. Unfortunately for him, one of his students takes his heart and bed and then her life. He – and her mother – are convinced it was murder. So he sets out to discover the truth.

In his search for answers, he delves into the sleaze and dirt of the sex industry, well manipulated by the Internet. There’s a dark heart in the Big Apple – and probably most cities these days. Corruption, protection and drugs – the usual, but uncomfortably realised by Aleas.

His bitter and damaged investigator Blake is out of his depth and seems to carry death around like an evil aura. The ending is, as the publisher’s blurb states, shocking in more ways than one.

One annoying aspect is the back references to the earlier book, 'Little Girl Lost' which I haven't read. Even so, Aleas has well captured the mood and tone of the lone investigator. I felt, however, that Blake himself would have excised a number of echo word repetitions; but for that I could not fault this dark brooding tale with no happy ending.
5,200 reviews53 followers
November 1, 2014
#2 in the John Blake series - Note that the indication Hard Case Crime #33 is meaningless as far as the author or protagonist is concerned, Hard Case is merely a publisher's imprint indicating the subject matter. 2008 Shamus Award for Best Paperback.

John Blake, an ex-PI, is working at a clerical job in the English Department of Columbia University with the fringe benefit of being able to take writing classes. His lover and fellow student, Dorrie Burke, is found dead, an apparent suicide. John doesn't believe it and searches for her killer. Dorrie worked in the seedy massage business and the investigation turns dangerous.

Profile Image for Joye.
17 reviews
September 21, 2014
Another good mystery from Aleas

I enjoyed this book more than Aleas's first. This ending caught me completely by surprise. John Blake is no longer a detective. He's now a student studying to be a writer. Dorrie is a fellow student and his girlfriend. When she is found dead, an apparent suicide, he believes she was murdered and begins investigating. Along the way, he gets himself framed for murder and several other people killed. Lots of twists and turns and another fairly quick read.
Profile Image for Donald.
1,402 reviews9 followers
June 3, 2022
John Blake is THE best kind of friend to have - no doubt about it! Everyone should have a friend like him.

Dorrie Burke did. And when Blake finds out that she died, he does what he promised her he would do.

This is a good sequel to "Little Girl Lost". With the way it ends, I'd say it was a really good sequel. I liked it 'till page 238, and I LOVED it from there until the end. A very sad, but excellent, ending.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 13 books75 followers
March 3, 2008
This book was robbed of an Edgar nomination by a technicality, but it is easily one of the best (albeit bleakest) mysteries I've read in a long, long time. Very few endings will punch you in the gut the way this one does.

(Of course, I'm friends with "Richard," so my view is biased.)
Profile Image for Steve.
555 reviews18 followers
November 19, 2008
For the first half, this one felt like a retread of the first book, Little Girl Lost. That book was really terrific, so I was a bit disappointed. But the ending here is just devastating, one that I won't soon forget.
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