THE BLACK STILETTO
By Raymond Benson
Did you ever wish you had a lot more time to read? I have to believe everyone reading these reviews is now nodding their head affirmatively. It seems every day a new book comes out that appeals to our particular likes and suddenly our pile of books to read begins to rise towards the ceiling. It’s a daily occurrence for every reviewer I know and there is no solution other than to accept the limitations imposed by life and do one’s best to climb that mountain. What follows is one of those reviews of a book I’ve been waiting years to get to.
Judy Cooper is raped by her stepfather at the age of thirteen. She leaves her small town home in Texas and makes her way to New York City circa the mid-1950s. There she gets a job as a waitress in a greasy spoon diner and then makes friends with the owner of a local boxing gym. For her help in managing his office chores, this old pugilist allows her to live in the apartment over the gym. Pretty standard stuff until one day Judy gets it into her head that she wants to learn how to box. The nightmares of her rape continues to haunt her and learning how to physically defend herself is something she has to do for her own peace of mind. Not only does she learn to box, much to the chagrin of the male clientele, but soon thereafter Judy discovers a new Japanese dojo has opened in the city and out of curiosity goes to see what all the fuss is about. Seeing both a display of judo and karate, the young Texas gal realizes this is going to be the next step in her evolution as a warrior.
All of this history is related to us via flashbacks found in Judy’s diaries by her son, Martin. In the present, Judy is an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and has been committed to a nursing facility. Because of her incapacity to manage her own affairs, her lawyer delivers a box of her personal belongs to Martin and thus he discovers the diaries. Once he begins reading them, he, and we readers, learn a whole lot more about this amazing woman he calls Mom.
Through a series of fateful encounters, Judy falls in love with a gangster working for the Mafia. When he is murdered by his own Don, Judy decides to emulate the comic book heroes she’s read about and seek her own personal justice. She dons a black leather jacket and mask and becomes a butt-kicking vigilante calling herself the Black Stiletto.
Deftly moving back and forth from his mother’s writings to Martin’s own personal problems, Benson deftly keeps the pace moving at a machine-gun rattling clip. The idea of a real costume clad hero has been done by many other writers today, all of them hoping to cash in on the recent popularity of comics. But none have done so as logically as Benson does with Judy and her metamorphosis into this radical new persona is totally believable. Though she possesses no supernatural powers, she is gifted with heightened senses that allow her discern when people are lying to her. At the same time her survival instincts, due in large part to her rigorous martial arts training, have grown sharp and unerring.
And so we are given a female Batman, though after reading this first book in the series, I’d argue Judy Cooper has a great deal more in common with the early pulp heroes; especially one Ellen Patrick, better known as the Domino Lady. Although they are polar opposites in their modus operandi and looks, it is those qualities they share that make them sisters in arms. Beautiful, cunning, vulnerable and with a strong sense of justice is what makes them exceptional in their own times and settings.
“The Black Stilleto” is grand tale with a truly original, endearing protagonist. Having met Judy Cooper, I doubt seriously I’ll ever forget her. And neither will you.