Raymond Benson has written six original James Bond 007 novels and two anthologies on Bond, as well as other novelizations and short stories, so he is well versed in suspense and spy novels. That background has served him well in writing The Black Stiletto, a completely believable suspense novel about a teenager in the 1950’s who became a vigilante against crime and the son she had later, who had no clue she was anything more than an average every-day mom.
The Black Stiletto is written in juxtaposition between the present day and the mid to late 1950’s. The writing between the two periods is so well done that it flows beautifully for the reader; however, it presents some challenges when writing a book review, i.e., how to present it so you learn enough to decide if you’d like this novel without giving away too many spoilers. I’ve been debating it for a couple of days now and hopefully I’ve come up with a workable solution.
Mark Talbot is an accountant whose mom is in an assisted living facility for Alzheimer’s patients. Most of the time he’s not sure she knows who he is but he still visits her regularly in hopes that she’ll be lucid. He’s just been handed a bombshell envelope by her attorney without realizing it. At first it looks like it just contains diaries his mom wrote when she was young. Deciding they might help him know her better, he begins to read them only to realize he didn’t know her at all.
Mark learns his mom, Judy Cooper Talbot, lived in Odessa, Texas until she was 13 years old. Although her family was dirt poor, things weren’t too bad for her until her mom married Douglas. Judy ran away after he forced himself on her and took a bus to New York City, determined she would get revenge on the odious Douglas one day.
For a 13 year old girl from Odessa, Manhattan was a real eye opener and completely overwhelming. As a homeless person, Judy was thankful to find a place to stay at the 42nd Street YMCA. Eventually she got a job as a waitress at the nearby diner and then found a room to live in above a gym. She was determined to learn how to protect herself against men like Douglas, so she tried to get someone to teach her to fight but no one would. In the mid-1950’s, women were not supposed to fight. They were supposed to let men protect them instead. Judy had seen first-hand how well that didn’t work. She wasn’t buying it that some guy was always going to be there to take care of her. Even so, at first she had no luck at all.
She convinced the gym owner where she lived, who had kind of informally adopted her, to let her work there and slowly began to wear him down, and finally she learned to box from him. But that didn’t satisfy her, so she found a dojo where she could also learn karate and other martial arts. Last but not least she learned to use a knife from a very sweet man who also happened to be a mafia soldier. After testing several different kinds of knives, they decided the perfect knife for her was a stiletto. It seemed like everything in her life, including some amazing innate skills, prepared her for what she was to become next, The Black Stiletto, a vigilante handing out justice wherever she saw that it was needed.
I can’t tell you any more without completely ruining the novel for you. This is a story about a time in which women were supposed to be passive. It’s the story of a young woman who is nevertheless determined and persistent, who trusts her intuition and lets her instincts guide her in the direction she needs to go, and who never looks back. The strength and courage Judy Cooper displays is amazing for her time and the circumstances out of which she arose. I admired the hell out of her and had to laugh that someone like her had a son who became an accountant. I completely enjoyed every minute of this fast-paced novel. There were a few unanswered questions for me at the end, but aren’t there always in life as well? Since The Black Stiletto is the first novel of a new series, those answers will likely be found in future books in the series. WooHoo! A new series to look forward to!
The Black Stiletto will be released on September 5, 2011 so, if you’d like to pre-order it, just click on your preferred online bookseller’s link in the top right column.
We’d love to get your comments on The Black Stiletto, Raymond Benson and/or his other novels, and/or this review.
If you like this review, please +1 it and/or share it with your friends!