I asked him to put the novel to the "page 69 test." Here is his reply:
I didn't know what to expect when I opened to page 69 of Little Girl Lost -- it's been four years since I wrote it and at least a year since I last read it, and I had no idea whether p.69 would yield something typical or something aberrant, dross or a gem.Richard Aleas is a pseudonym for Charles Ardai, who also earned a Shamus award nomination for his short story, "Nobody Wins." His work has appeared in dozens of publications including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine as well as anthologies such as Best Mystery Stories of the Year and The Year’s Best Horror Stories.
Now that I've looked at it, I have to say I still don't know. It's a scene where detective John Blake is talking to a patron in an underworld bar about a vicious drug dealer who may -- or may not -- have been responsible for the murder of someone very dear to the detective. Blake himself doesn't appear on this page, nor does the woman whose death he's investigating; the character who's speaking never appears again in the book. In those respects, the page is not typical. But in establishing just how awful the drug dealer is, it sets up an antagonist whose ominous influence will hang over the rest of the book -- and whose relentlessness and capacity for cruelty will be central to the climactic moral decision John Blake finds himself facing.
As for the dross vs. gem question, well, I leave that to wiser minds than mine...
From page 69:
...So, these two punks are going through the neighborhood, and they come to this enormous place, and they figure, this guy’s got to have some good stuff. So they break in through the garage, go room to room, filling up their bags. And God knows he’s got plenty to take any night of the week -- but just as it happens, this particular night is the night before Murco is going to be making a buy, so he has a suitcase full of cash waiting to be handed over to the gentlemen from Colombia. The punks go into his bedroom, and there he is, counting the money. They must’ve thought they’d died and gone to heaven.
“They pull guns on him, tie him up, smack him around some, take the money, and they leave. A million dollars in cash, plus whatever else they picked up along the way. It’s a better score than they could’ve imagined. There’s just one problem.”
“They didn’t kill him.” He finished the rest of his drink, set the glass down carefully. “I could have told them. You’re going to pull something like that, you have to go all the way. You can’t leave him there tied up, blood running down his face, for his son to find when the old man doesn’t call for two days. I don’t care if you wore masks, disguised your voices, I don’t care if you left no fingerprints, this man’s not the fucking police force, he’ll find you and then you’re going to wish you’d never been born. And that’s what happened.”
I felt my skin start to crawl...
Many thanks to Charles for the input.
Read a sample chapter from Little Girl Lost.
Among the praise for Little Girl Lost:
"Excellent...[A] machinegun-paced debut...Aleas has done a fine job of capturing both the style and the spirit of the classic detective novel."David White interviewed Charles for Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals website.
"Combine[s] the noir sensibility with emotional depth and superior writing."
"Barrels forth at the speed of [a] Manhattan taxi...and contains some whiplash-inducing plot twists...Tightly written from start to finish, this crime novel is as satisfyingly edgy as the pulp classics that inspired it."
"[A] slice of pulp heaven."
"A wonderful novel, brilliantly plotted, beautifully written, and completely satisfying."
--Richard S. Prather
"A great character with a very original voice. Little Girl Lost feels both old fashioned and bang up to date at the same time...The Manhattan setting is really well done and the plot fairly clips along in this diverting and exhilarating PI novel."
Charles told Columbia College Today that he "finish[ed] writing Little Girl Lost in just 90 days (albeit after writing the first chapter 10 years ago)."
Coming in July 2007: Songs of Innocence, the sequel to Little Girl Lost. Read a sample chapter.
In July 2006 the Los Angeles Times did a major article on Hard Case Crime, the publishing house started by Charles; that article may be hard to locate, but Jeff Pierce captured the gist of it at The Rap Sheet. Also see this TIME profile.
Read William Blake's poem, "A Little Girl Lost."
Previous "page 69 tests:"
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale