The Black Stiletto: The First Diary – 1958 by Raymond Benson

BensonBlackStilettoWhy I Read It: Look at that cover! A female superhero in 1950s, in leather, doing knife work. Yeah. Definitely on my list of books to read.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!) via Audiobook Jukebox

Who I Recommend This To: Anyone who enjoys a realistic female superhero – like she has a job and spends years training – and leather outfits.

Narrators: Arielle DeLisle, Chris Patton, Michael Ray Davis

Publisher: Crossroad Press (2012)

Length: 8 hours 24 minutes

Series: The Black Stiletto Book 1

This exciting action mystery tale is told in part through Martin Talbot’s eyes in the modern day. But then he finds a stack of his mom’s diaries. The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of Judy Cooper from her adolescent years up to her early 20s (1958). Starting off at the family house in Odessa, TX, Judy faces her bullying, sometimes drunk step father on her own, eventually deciding to leave. Ending up in New York, she quickly finds employment waitressing. Within a short time, she starts mopping floors at a local gym in order to gain access to the equipment and training. Soon she is training her mind and body in various forms of self-defense. It is the loss of someone special in her life that finally pushes her into making a black leather outfit and going out at night to seek justice, with a side of revenge. Of course her chosen identity is well known to modern day folks – The Black Stiletto. Judy’s son, Martin, at first has a hard time believing that his aged Alzheimer-wracked mother was once the super hero of New York.

I did not want to put this book down. Judy Cooper’s survival spirit caught me right away and swept me off to New York with her, through her years of training and growth, and finally to the super hero clad in practical boots, a balanced knife, and chic leather outfit. The story was so believable, so every day life of masked crime fighter. Raymond Benson has created a kickass heroine in the super hero realm where so few clothed, practical, female crime fighters exist in literature. Judy is so very human with her flaws, her inner drive, her mistakes, and her questions about how and why she pursues justice.

The side characters were well placed, giving Judy a balance of friends watching her back and those enemies pretending to be chummy or ignoring her because they don’t believe her a threat until too late. Throughout the tale, she keeps her secret identity to herself, with only a few close friends making some educated guesses. But she also has close friends that have no idea – an aspect that I also liked, as it gave Judy time to simply b Judy, a young single women in NY. The book also notes racial and gender inequalities, and the differences between NY and TX at the same time period.

I tend to enjoy books that tell at least part of the story through diaries. This book does not disappoint. Through Martin Talbot’s voice we get a sense of the here and now and his impressions of his mother growing up. Of course there is also the big bad still living villain of the book, who has certain things he wants to wrap up now that he has been paroled at 50 or so years. The tale was a well-balanced mix of these three points of view, although I often found myself wanting to get back to young Judy Cooper the most.

The publisher did a great job in their selection of narrators. Arielle DeLisle was our primary narrator, giving voice to Judy with a slight Texas accent, going from a worried scared teen to a confident crime fighting woman. DeLisle was the perfect choice. Chris Paton and Michael Ray Davis did great with the male voices, giving Martin a questioning, sometimes incredulous voice in discoverying something new in his mother’s diaries and pulling off the elderly, gravelly voice of our uber-villain.

What I Liked: Kickass heroine with practical boots; Judy had to train for years to become the person she was by her 20th birthday; there’s good people, and folks of various shades of grey in Judy’s life; gender and racial inequalities are part of the story.

What I Disliked: Judy Cooper doing a Marylin Monroe voice…, so wrong.


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