Pretty Ballerina by John Wessel
A Novel

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It's a Sunday in late July and Harding, the private investigator John Wessel introduced in This Far, No Further, is riding down a rainslick road with Cassie Rayn, a one-time porn star, headed for the house where she grew up. Harding's a man of many talents, or at least many jobs -- cabbie, tour guide, private detective. He calls this patchwork-quilt approach to work "flextime." His girlfriend, Alison, calls it unemployment. The truth is that Harding has to take whatever job comes along. Since a manslaughter conviction cost him his license and his legitimate clients, the detective work that's been coming his way has ranged from the barely legal to the slightly impossible. This trip sounded like the chance for an easy payday.

He should have known better.

When Cassie asked, "What scares you, Harding?" he should have gotten out of the car and walked away. But then she started telling him the story of a runaway boy's disappearance twenty-two years ago. And how two years later, the boy's sister hid in a basement while upstairs the rest of her family were murdered. The boy was never found. The crime was never solved.

Cassie Rayn is that sister, and now she's begun to receive terrifying anonymous messages, strange reminders of the most horrible night of her life and stranger hints that her brother might be alive. When Harding takes the case, the only things he knows for certain are that their search has stirred up something ugly and if he can't get to the bottom of this soon, his client's life will be snuffed out.

Pretty Ballerina marks the return of ex-con private eye Harding, a loner who combines the tarnished armor of Philip Marlowe with the smart mouth of Spenser. When Wessel's first novel, This Far, No Further, was launched, Sue Grafton called it "one of the most exciting mystery debuts in years." And the rest of the world agreed. The New York Times called it "flagrantly original," while the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said it "delivered a knockout punch," and the Chicago Tribune called Wessel "a writer to be reckoned with."

They're right. Wessel takes the private-eye form to a higher level by offering us a cast of quirky, unpredictable characters; by telling us his stories in a voice that demonstrates an unmatched ear for tough, funny dialogue; and by making the city of Chicago -- venal, violent, and pulsing with a unique energy -- as much a character as it is a setting. In Pretty Ballerina, he offers a harrowing tale of love, betrayal, and the terrors of memory. He takes us on a journey through the darkest recesses of the human mind and brings us face to face with the strangeness, the evil, that lurks just around the corner.


About John Wessel

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John Wessel lives in Lincolnshire, Illinois, with his wife. This is his first novel.
Published January 1, 1998 by Viking. 240 pages
Genres: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Pretty Ballerina

Kirkus Reviews

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Even though Cassie Rayn’s awaited by hordes of adoring fans the moment she arrives for Chicago’s GoreFest film festival, not even the panting devotees of such earlier porn masterpieces as Pretty Ballerina--some of them, like Rhythm King Leon Minsk and Pool King Marty Devlin, wager to shell out th...

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Publishers Weekly

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Despite quick wit and compelling action, PI hero Harding suffers the gentlest of sophomore slumps in the comparatively spare follow-up to Wessel's highly acclaimed This Far, No Further.

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