Friday, January 28, 2022

John Blake #01 - Little Girl Lost

Charles Ardai is the founder and publisher of the Hard Case Crime paperback imprint. Using the pseudonym Richard Aleas, he wrote two original, contemporary mystery novels starring a New York private eye named John Blake for Hard Case Crime. The first Blake novel, Little Girl Lost (2004), was nominated for an Edgar Award and remains available today in all formats.

The paperback opens with Blake remembering Miranda Sugarman, the sweet neighborhood girl who took his virginity years ago. She left Blake behind after high school to attend a university with a goal to become a doctor. Blake learns of her death from an exploitive newspaper headline reading, “Stripper Murdered.” Without a client, he decided to investigate her death and gain a better understanding of his former friend’s life and death.

One of my favorite elements of the set-up is Blake’s boss in the PI firm, a much older ex-cop named Leo, who plucked Blake out of college and mentored him in the investigation racket. He’s the perfect, world-weary antithesis to Blake’s youthful idealism and quest for justice. He’s also well-connected within the NYPD and a great asset to Blake’s side.

The trail to the truth takes Blake into the behind-the-scenes world of seedy NYC strip clubs. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain as Blake encounters a conspiracy of dope, missing college girls and much more. Blake is a fallible hero who takes more than a few beatings, but is always smart, capable and upbeat. His narration moves the plot forward at a good pace and is never boring.

Ardai is a much better writer than I was expecting, and Little Girl Lost was a solid, workmanlike private eye mystery with plenty of twists leading to the satisfying solution. It’s an easy recommendation, and I look forward to reading the sequel, Songs of Innocence, from 2011.


  1. I agree, it's a terrific novel.

  2. This is a smashing private eye novel and Ardai is the real deal. The second installment is even better IMO. A real shame he didn't continue with the character to make it a series, or that he didn't publish more novels in the genre. He really delivers with these two.

  3. This one popped up at Dollar Tree a few months back

  4. I read this a few years ago and was equally stunned Ardai was such a good writer. Frankly, given he's the co-owner/editor of Hard Case Crime, I thought this would be an unworthy vanity project. Instead, it was a gritty book. The second book is much, much darker but also, in my opinion, much better. When is the podcast coming back? I'm dying over here.