The Black Stiletto

The Black Stiletto
by Raymond Benson
Published by Oceanview Publishing
Published on September 5, 2011
Source: Publisher (Netgalley)

Summary taken from Goodreads
Could Martin Talbot's elderly, Alzheimer-stricken mother, Judy, really have been the Black Stiletto? When Martin discovers several volumes of her diaries hidden by his mother, he is stunned beyond all imagination. His mother, the underground heroine of yesteryear? The famed, still unidentified woman who battled Communist spies, took on the Mafia, and preyed on common crooks? The woman who exacted punishment on evildoers without mercy?
But it is all described, in great detail, in the diaries. What caused her to begin her quest for justice. Her decision to act outside the law. Her feats as the famed and feared vigilante. How her reputation exploded. In short, how it all played out.
Could it be true? Talbot is filled with doubt and disbelief. But the reappearance of one of the Stiletto's old enemies with a thirst for merciless revenge makes the story more than real and could imperil the life of not only the Stiletto, but her son and granddaughter as well.
The Black Stiletto is split between three different points of view: Martin, as he discovers his mother's secret identity; Judy herself, in the form of her written diaries from the 1950s; and Roberto, an elderly mafia member who has a grudge against Judy.  Judy's portions were the most engaging, as they made up the bulk of the action of the story.  She's a real spitfire, a feminist before most people had any idea what that was all about, and absolutely unafraid to speak her mind.  She has a family of her own making in New York, and while most of her New York friends stay as secondary characters, they're still interesting and help provide motivation and understanding for Judy's extraordinary actions. I almost would have preferred the story be focused entirely on Judy, rather than taking side trips back into present-day with Martin and Robert.   I preferred hearing her story in her own words, rather than navigating Martin's shock over the revelation, or Roberto's need for revenge.
The Black Stiletto is one of those books that I kept reading even though I felt it had its share of problems.  While I enjoyed reading about Judy's exploits during the '50s and '60s, when she engaged in her own form of vigilante justice on the streets of New York City, I felt that the author had a hard time maintaining a consistent voice for her.  It alternated between being appropriately girlish (for a young woman keeping a diary) to being almost too technical and clinical-sounding.  I managed to suspend my disbelief over several plot points in order to just enjoy the ride.  After all, it's a story about a woman in her teens/early 20's who discovers that she has a heightened set of senses and decides to use those for the greater good, taking on thieves, abusers, the Mafia, and Communists.  Some suspension of disbelief is a given!
As I mentioned, I had a harder time connecting with the sections focusing on Martin and Roberto.  Martin is a mostly unsympathetic character: he has a few moments where he's interesting, but spends the rest of the time being bewildered, or irritated, or unsupportive of his teenage daughter, who appears mostly as a way to connect to the Alzheimers-stricken Judy.  Roberto, written in a style that just screams 'tough guy Mafia member' -- think every stereotypical Mob movie ever -- was so forgettable that I kept forgetting what his name was.  His role in the story was pretty predictable, although it did tie together Judy's past life with her present.  
The book raises many mysteries, but only reveals a few of them, and the last few pages clearly set the stage for a sequel.  Being a superhero/crime novel, there is a moderate amount of violence, as well as some sexual content, both consensual and otherwise.  Most of this is recounted in Judy's voice, so the violence is often written about in a very clinical manner, due to the way that Judy writes about her own actions, and the sex isn't described in detail, but is still a part of the storyline.

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