River City Blues by Ward Howarth

Narrator: Ward Paxton

Publisher: Ward Howarth (2017)

Length: 9 hours 10 minutes

Author’s Page

1944 Richmond, Virginia is a gritty place and the local police department is part of that grit. Detective Bennie Sherwood has a lot of issues – his farther was murdered in the line of duty, he’s suffering from PTSD from his time at Guadalcanal, and now a friend has died in a suspicious manner. How crooked is the PD? How much can he rely on the intel on the black market? Bennie will have to figure it all out once he’s framed for murder, or go into hiding and never have his answers.

This was a pretty good noir detective story and I liked that our main character, Bennie, had so many issues. He’s suffering from PTSD well before our society really knew what that was and how to deal with it. The murder of his father, Detective Samuel Sherwood, is a big painful throbbing question mark in his life that is only 5 months old. But he’s got a job to do. He and his partner Detective Niles Hunter are set up to raid the black market along with Detectives Mills & Reed. However, things don’t go as expected there either. Skipper Holly, an old friend of Bennie’s father, is part of the black market and he’s mortally wounded during the raid. His presence there shakes Bennie up pretty badly. Right off the bat, I was caught up in this tale. I felt immersed in Sherwood’s world.

The Victory Squad and the wartime crime it was created to fight really fascinated me. I hadn’t really thought about how certain limited supplies during the wartime would have such a violent-riddled black market. There’s cheats and thieves and dealers in such numbers that you can’t help but trip over them. I really felt the author did his research homework and brought that to life in this novel. The missing gasoline was a nice side mystery.

The tale does have one weakness and that is the lack of female characters. I would have liked to see more of the ladies even if we do have one woman who’s a mechanic and a cab driver. She’s also a romantic interest and much of her page time is spent in that role.

The story includes some racism, sexism, and homophobia that was prevalent during the 1940s. I felt it was realistically portrayed without being gratuitous. I appreciate the author not veering away from this bit of historical accuracy. Humans are flawed, even our hero Bennie. I did get a kick out of how the acronyms SNAFU, FUBAR, and SUSFU were cleaned up a bit, substituting ‘fouled’ for the F word. While not necessary for me, I’m sure others appreciate it.

I liked the mystery surrounding Jedidiah King and his King Tobacco cigarettes. Skipper worked for him and that makes him a person of interest in the ongoing black market investigations. I also liked the Police Chief, The Cane, since he acts like a loud, demanding police chief. While such common character types sometimes made the story a bit predictable, it also felt like I was reading an old friend. It was easy to sink into this story.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: Ward Paxton makes a really good noir detective. His voice for Bennie is a bit more gentle than the other cops, but since we get Bennie’s inner thoughts, I felt this was appropriate. Paxton did great with the regional accents of the time and place as well, keeping all the characters distinct. There were few females but I felt they could have used a touch more femininity in the narration.

What I Liked: The setting (it was turbulent times); Bennie’s life is full of interesting characters; plenty of mysteries surrounding the black market; the historical accuracy for the times.

What I Disliked: Could have used more female characters and ones that aren’t there for comfort or romance.

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