THE BLACK STILLETO – Black & White
By Raymond Benson
In the first book of this series, a divorced unemployed accountant named Martin Talbot uncovered a startling secret upon opening the contents of his mother’s effects. In the 1950s and 60s, his mother, then Judy Cooper, donned a masked and became a crime fighting vigilante known as the Black Stiletto. Now she suffers from Alzheimer’s and is committed to medical institution. In her diaries, part of the cache he discovers, he learns that as a teenager, Judy had run away from her abusive stepfather in Texas to begin a new life in New York City. There she came under the tutelage of an exboxer named Freddie who taught her how to fight. She later added to her martial skills by studying both judo and karate from a Japanese sensei. Eventually she had a romantic tryst with a young man who she later learned was part of the Mafia. When he was murdered, Judy decided to mete out her own justice in the guise of her secret identity. By the book’s finale, Martin is forced to accept the realities of his discoveries and keep them a secret from everyone including his own daughter, Gina, who adores her grandmother.
With “Black & White,” the saga continues and again is narrated by both Martin in the present and by sections of Judy’s detailed diaries showcasing her exploits. For Judy the year is 1959 and the country is undergoing radical changes. Many are due in part to the racial tensions boiling up in the urban centers of America’s fast growing cities. Harlem has become a blacks-only community and a gangster named Carl Purdy has risen to power. He has grandiose ambitions and challenges the Italian families for control of the growing drug trade.
As the Black Stiletto enters the fray, she finds herself hunted by a smart and handsome F.B.I. agent named John Richardson. Through a series of dangerous outings, the Stiletto manages to start a truly weird, and romantic, relationship with the dedicated agent. While their feelings for each other threaten both of them, Judy finds herself embroiled in the Harlem gang war and agreeing to a truly bizarre alliance with a Mafia Don. Meanwhile, in our time, son Martin has unearthed an actual film reel of Judy in her Black Stiletto get-up and is being blackmailed by a small time New York thug who also owns a copy of the same film.
Once again, Raymond Benson weaves twin stories, interweaving them skillfully while heightening the suspense with each new chapter so that the reader is rewarded with not one but two exciting and dramatic climaxes. What makes this book a winner, as was the first, is his knack of bringing Judy Cooper to life with all her courage, naiveté and sincere empathy for others. She is a wonderful character; one you really should get to know.