Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Black Stiletto: Book 1

Raymond Benson

About, From the Black Stiletto Website

The Black Stiletto was a legend in her own time, an underground heroine who made a name for herself during the late Eisenhower years and early Kennedy years as a New York City vigilante. Although she was wanted by the law and would have been arrested had she been caught or had her secret identity been revealed, the Black Stiletto was a competent and successful crime-fighter. A feminist before the term was in everyday vernacular, she battled common crooks, Communist spies, the mafia, and worse—and was responsible for their capture and, in some cases, their deaths. But the Stiletto disappeared midway through the sixties and was never heard from again. Most people thought she had died, and no one ever knew her identity. Like pinup queen Bettie Page, her mythical image resurfaced in comics and other media during the 1980s and 90s. Millions of dollars were made by others exploiting her likeness and persona. Today, the questions remain. Who was she? Is she still alive? If so, where is she now?

The answers can be found in THE BLACK STILETTO, THE BLACK STILETTO: BLACK & WHITE, THE BLACK STILETTO: STARS & STRIPES, THE BLACK STILETTO: SECRETS & LIES, and the finale, THE BLACK STILETTO: ENDINGS & BEGINNINGS, all by internationally-known New York Times best-selling author Raymond Benson. The July 2011 issue of Library Journal calls THE BLACK STILETTO "a mash-up of the work of Gloria Steinem, Ian Fleming, and Mario Puzo, all under the editorship of Stan Lee."

Purchase Links

My Review:

January 4 2015...started and forcing myself to put it down as family and work duties are demanding my attention. My first question is...what if my mom was a secret hero? What secrets, other lives, have our parents held? Do we ever really know our parents? Or see them as other than our parents?

A few years back, I was lucky enough to review Mr. Benson's "Dark Side of the Morgue." A book I didn't quite fully mix with; however, I'm losing myself in his "The Black Stiletto.

More to later...

Well, it's later and in order to accomplish anything I had to force myself to turn my eReader off and back away from "The Black Stiletto." Does this mean we were a mix? Oh Hades, yes!

Mr. Benson created an easy flowing story where I wanted to meet Judy Cooper aka The Black Stiletto. This lady has everything you want in a female hero. Is the idea a little over the top for the 50s? Maybe, but then again all the best super heroes are...a little over the top.

But, it's not just about the era and the capturing of that time and story voice. Mr. Benson visits an aged super hero who no longer remembers who she was...or does she, that I'm not too sure about and hope to find out more as I move through the next books in the series. Think about it, though, what happens to crime fighters when they age, if/when Alzheimer's lock away their memories? 

What about their families...children? Do they ever learn about their parent's past or is it buried away for the rest of time?

With "The Black Stiletto" Mr. Benson travels a different route...what if you discovered your parent was a super hero crime fighter from years ago? Someone who took on traitors and crime lords. It's hard enough on adult children to realize their parents had lives before they had children...lives and dreams and experiences that don't fit the mother/father picture. Now, the stories of some woman running the night in scandalously form-fitting tights and top, welding a needle sharp stiletto turns out to be your MOM?

And you can't ask her anything about it.

"The Black Stiletto" is pure fun. Mr. Benson's writing plays out as a movie in your mind...actually - Hey, Hollywood, stop making repeats of movies and get on board and give us something new, like The Black Stiletto. 

Being part of a series there's a trap some authors fall into...leaving too much open for the next book. Too few changes or too many closures in the first book. There's a good balance here. And, if I wanted to give you hints and imprint these on you before you have a chance to enjoy this read, I would. Sorry, not going to happen.

Go and enjoy "The Black Stiletto" I'm off to my reading corner with book two. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Belinda Lawrence Mystery 5 - A Wicked Design

Author Website


Jasmine Sinclair was a tall statuesque blonde, expensively dressed and cool to the point of being frosty. She offered a perfectly manicured hand to greet Belinda. “So you’re Belinda? Brad told me so much about you.”

“I’ll bet he did,” thought Hazel.

As Jasmine examined Belinda, the way she would no doubt examine a dubious fashion item, Belinda couldn’t shake off the feeling she had seen the woman before. But that was not possible. She put the thought out of her mind. “I’m pleased he did. Then you can understand just how upset I am at his murder.”
Jasmine flinched slightly at the word. “Yes. His death came as a great blow to us all.”

They took their seats at a small lounge area in an office. The window in the high rise building afforded a wide view of Port Phillip Bay, the beaches stretching in an arc down towards the Mornington peninsula. Belinda looked around. The wall held a display of architectural awards bearing Brad’s name. “So this is Brad’s office?”
“Was his office,” said Jasmine.

“Bitch,” thought Hazel.

Belinda let the woman’s tactlessness pass. “We were wondering if you could give us any idea of how or why he was killed.”

Jasmine examined her fingernails. “I would have thought you’d already read the papers.”

Hazel, sensing that Belinda was finding the situation difficult, spoke up. “But we thought you would know more details.”

Aloof, Jasmine transferred her look to Hazel. “Why would you think that?” The frost in her voice grew heavy. “I’ve told the police all I know. I wasn’t there when he died and I didn’t murder him.”
“But,” said Hazel in counterfeit honeyed tones, “as his secretary and being so close to him, you’d know if he had any enemies or was engaged in any activities or projects that might have led to his murder. After all, a really good secretary knows where the bodies are buried.” She gave a patronizing smile.

Jasmine stared at Hazel for a moment before addressing Belinda. “As you were such and old and close friend of Brad’s, all I can tell you is that, as far as I know,” she glanced briefly at Hazel, “there was nothing in Brad’s life or work that would be considered – questionable.”

“I’m sure of that,” said Hazel with false appease-ment, “but the police and the papers haven’t really given details, except he had his hands tied and had been hit on the head. A blunt instrument was it?”

Jasmine frowned, or as much as she could. A Bo-tox junkie, thought Hazel. “What do you mean, a blunt instrument?”

“Isn’t that what they always say? Hit on the head with a ‘blunt instrument’?”

Jasmine’s lips tightened. “I really wouldn’t know,” she spat out.

“And this ‘blunt instrument’, say an iron bar. Or perhaps one made of silver? Was it used in his apartment? Was he murdered there and then dumped in the river?”

Jasmine’s cheeks reddened and her voice became low and heated. “As I said, I really wouldn’t know. I’ve al-ready told the police I was working here in the office the night Brad died, but I don’t see why I need to tell you.”

Hazel lifted her eyebrows expressing doubt. There was an awkward silence. Belinda began to feel that soon Jasmine would throw them out. She gave a tentative cough to draw attention back to herself. “What projects was he working on?”

Jasmine gave a weary sigh. “I’ve told all this to the police. The most obvious thing was his desire to build the dome on Parliament House. Apart from that he had a number of projects at various stages of development. Some apartment blocks, a few contracts for private houses. That’s more or less it, apart from a corporate building.”

“Where were these projects?” said Hazel.

Jasmine continued looking at Belinda. “The apartment blocks, down in the Quay area. The houses spread here and there. Chiefly in country areas close to the city. The Dandenong’s mainly.”

“Dandenong’s?” said Hazel. “What’s a Dan-denong?”

Jasmine sniffed. “The Dandenong Ranges. The mountain range nearby.”

“You mentioned a corporate building.” said Belinda.

“Yes. Work there is well underway. It’s in Little Lonsdale Street near Spring Street. Some old houses were removed. Of course, the greenies and the heritage mob complained, as they usually do. But they lost out and the excavation for the new building foundations is already underway.”

“And you don’t think these activities had anything to do with his murder? I mean, a payback from groups he may have offended, or corporate management that had an axe to grind, or a jealous associate?”

Jasmine got to her feet. “I’m afraid you’re talking nonsense. Now you really must excuse me. As you can appreciate, we have to carry on with Brad’s work, and arrange for other architects to take over, that is until we can sort out what happens to the company.” She moved towards the door.

Belinda and Hazel rose and followed her. They moved into the foyer and Jasmine pressed the elevator button. There was another awkward silence before Belinda muttered a feeble ‘thank you’.

“I really think you should speak to the police, if you want further details about Brad’s death,” said Jasmine dismissively, “there is nothing more for me to add.”

Belinda felt whatever Jasmine knew or suspected, she wasn’t prepared to part with it. The lift door slid open and Belinda and Hazel entered. They turned as the door closed. Jasmine was watching them, her eyes steely and unfeeling. Once again Belinda had the curious feeling she had seen Jasmine before.

(C) Brian Kavanagh


Now hot on the heels of my previous review for "A Canterbury Crime" I get to visit Belinda in "A Wicked Design." If you've just read the other review, you know I'm not Mark's biggest fan...Belinda's boyfriend. Boy, I was thrilled at the mess Brian wrote for Mark this time around.

I had even more fun with Hazel this time around. Now this lady I would love to know in real life. She just grabs and runs with the moment...and if that moment is a cute male, all the more fun.

I know I shouldn't have this much fun with murder and politics, but "A Wicked Design" is too much a treat.

With "A Canterbury Crime" I enjoyed curling up and moving into the book. Here at "A Wicked Design" I was still curled up, but I found myself feeling a faster pace setting in. Could Mark really be ex-boyfriend Brad's killer? What would that do to Belinda? Given my mixed feelings about Mark, how would I feel if he was...wasn't?

Here is where I've discovered the diverse nature of Brian's writing. Reading both these books back-to-back, one had me in a much quieter mood (A Canterbury Crime) whereas "A Wicked Design" I felt I was racing against the clock. Both completely satisfying and not as easy as you would think for any writer.

It takes a dedicated writer to pull their series characters through each story without a formula developing. A formula which can then become an anticipated pattern. Don't get me wrong, I do like my pattern favourites...Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, along with The Famous Five books come to mind. However, I do appreciate an author who knows how and when to grow their characters. What pace the story being told requires...and listens to the story's demands for that pace.

Having been a fan of Belinda's since book one, closing "A Wicked Design" I feel there's a whole new chapter opening up for her. A new path she's going to travel down and I'm curious to know what that brings her. What decisions she makes.

Way to go, Brian. I'm forgetting she's a fictional character and you're her creator. I do hope you keep an ear open and a blank screen ready for what Belinda wants next.

A Belinda Lawrence Mystery 4 - A Canterbury Crime

Author Website


Tommy gave a yelp as Belinda began to pull away from him but he tightened his grip and dragged her towards worn stone steps that led down into a frightening black void.

"Where are we going?" 

Tommy, ignoring the sanctity of his surrounds sang softly and mischievously: "Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk aroun’ Dem bones, dem dry bones, gonna walk aroun’ Now hear the word of the Lord." 

"Yes, well, I’m in the mood to break a few," muttered Belinda. 

As they descended the shadows intensified, Belinda stumbled, clung to Tommy to prevent herself from falling and cursed him under her breath in a most unchristian manner. Eventually they reached a point where Belinda was utterly immersed in an impenetrable blackness that seemed to swallow her up. 

Tommy released his grip and stepped away from her. Panic rose in Belinda’s chest as the pitch black weighed down on her. She gave a whimper of fear as her outstretched arms sought some form of security. 

"Tommy, you idiot. Where are you?"

It was then that a beam of light shot through the darkness. Belinda blinked in the sudden light and saw illuminated before her the face of the Virgin.

Tommy had turned on a torch. 

"It’s Our Lady of the Undercroft," he said, a curious reverence in his voice. The white stone of the altar surrounding the Madonna glowed bright in the torch light and Belinda glimpsed a wonderful display above her of early Norman vaulting, supported by robust columns, with carved Romanesque capitals crowning each pillar. 

Belinda shook her head in bewilderment. 

"So no one knows if his bones are actually here in the cathedral? If the other grave proved to be false, why don’t they excavate this one to see if there’s someone buried here?" 

With a laugh, Tommy sang softly: "Moral of the story be, Dem bones gonna rise again. Don't leave your cores for the Lord to see. Dem bones gonna rise again."

He took her arm once more and they moved away from the tombs. 

"I think I’ve had enough talk about Thomas for one night," he said in a low voice close to Belinda’s ear, "and I don’t know about you, but I find it a bit chilly down here. How’d you like to warm me up?"

The light from the torch was suddenly extinguished and Belinda felt Tommy’s arm slide around her waist. She tried to push him away, but he tightened his grip.

"Tommy, let go. Grow up."

His face was close to hers. 

"Come on, Belinda, you know you want to. Don’t tell me you really fancy that cold fish twerp that hangs around you." 

His lips sought hers and he forced a kiss on her. 

Belinda struggled and broke free, grabbing the torch as she did. She hit out and struck him on the head. He gave a yelp and as the torch flew from her hand Belinda heard it clatter to the floor and roll away. Fear and panic rose in her chest. In the total dark she could see nothing but she turned in an effort to get away from Tommy and started to run. 

With a thud, she ran straight into one of the huge pillars and screamed in fright. The impact stunned her and took her breath away. She heard Tommy hoarsely calling her name but he seemed a distance away so steeling herself she pressed forward in the dark, holding her hands before her to prevent running into another obstacle. 

After what seemed an eternity she saw a pale light in the distance. The steps. If she could reach them she would be safe as she could escape up to the nave. The light increased a little as she neared the steps. As she reached the bottom one, she looked up and froze. The eerie figure of a man was silhouetted against the faint light. He was descending towards her. Frozen to the spot she watched in terror as the figure grew closer and closer.

 (C)  Brian Kavanagh


 Well now this review writing is way overdue.

It's has nothing to do with Brian's writing or storytelling...he still captures my attention and causes me to lose myself in Belinda's world. It has everything to do with my lack of words to repeat how wonderful it is to be back in Belinda's world.

Reading "A Belinda Lawrence Mystery" is visiting long time friends. I know how cliched that sounds, but in the volume of works out there to read, I want to visit good friends. I want to discover new friends.

Brian gives me this each and every time. It also doesn't hurt there's a mystery involved, which, for the most part, I can't solve by page ten.

"A Canterbury Crime" had me a bit confused. It's not a typical mystery, but (for me) rather something Belinda and Hazel stumbled into. A curiosity kills the cat type trapping. And they pulled me along with them.

I must admit, I'm finding myself not the biggest fan of Belinda's boyfriend,  Mark. I can't quite put my finger on why. Now normally, when the word 'stiff' is used in conjunction with a writer's work it's not a good thing. But, that's how Mark strikes me...stiff, but that's not Brian's writing. For me Brian has smoothly written a character who I can easily peg as reminding me of someone I know in reality. Bringing characters to life is no easy thing.

For me, Brian's writing isn't fast-paced. He's not an author I pick up and know I'm getting a quality fix. He's someone I pick up for quality, definitely. I pick him when I need to curl up in my easy chair and let the world carry on without me for a while.

Thank you Brian.