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By Paula Tutman

It’s hard to say which is the more fear-provoking thrill in Raymond Benson’s latest book, THE BLACK STILETTO: BLACK AND WHITE released May 2012 by Oceanview Publishing.  You’ll have to choose between the fact that his masked heroine is about to be betrayed by her own heart and discovered, or the authentic ride the reader is taken through in her old-age.

No thriller or murder mystery is as terrifying as the disease of dementia, and Benson weaves cold hard fiction with cold hard fact by forcing the reader to suffer the cold slap of wind in the face while riding, hands up and screaming in the front seat of the Alzheimer’s roller coaster.

There’s a literary justice in being able to split a book into different personalities to throw the reader off kilter.  There’s a sumptuous voyeurism in being able to read the diary of a masked crime fighter.  Just don’t tell Judy Talbot she hides behind a costume, she’ll quickly correct you that she wears a disguise.  A mask.

Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes”.  Raymond Benson goes behind that mask and shows us what’s truly beneath it.

THE BLACK STILETTO: BLACK AND WHITE is the second of what will likely be a five book series.  It picks up where the first Black Stiletto novel leaves off.  So who is the Black Stiletto?  Benson explains, “The Black Stiletto was a legendary female costumed crime-fighter in the 1950s and early 1960s.  Today, however, she’s in her seventies and has Alzheimer’s.  Her grown son is taking care of her and he has just discovered her secret.”

You can imagine what it would be like if you stumbled over the secret of an aging parent that they were once someone else.  In the case of Judy Talbot that someone else was a sometimes villainized vigilante who didn’t believe in the rules set down by society in the fifties and sixties.  Of course if that parent has dementia, they’re already someone else you don’t recognize.  And such is the schizophrenic journey of Martin who must get over the shock of discovering his mother’s true identity beneath her true identity.

Raymond Benson lays out his plot like this, “It’s 1959, and Judy Talbot (the Black Stiletto) sets out to confront the heroin kingpin of Harlem when the teenage daughter of her beloved martial arts instructor becomes a prisoner in an uptown narcotics den.  And she falls in love, this time with an FBI agent who has standing orders to arrest her.  In the present, Martin, Judy’s son, has to deal with a blackmailer who has vintage film footage of the Black Stiletto being unmasked.”

The thing that makes this book so different is the way it’s served up to the reader.  There are three courses placed on the table at the same time.  Each chapter allows the reader to choose a flavor from a different plate.  ‘The Stiletto’ or Judy Talbot’s story is told in diary form and takes the reader through a year in her life in the fifties at the height of her adventures as a masked crusader.  Another dish is from Judy’s son, Martin, in real time, who’s dealing with the insanity of a mother with an insane disease.  If his mother had rambled on about a life as a masked crime-fighter he would have thought her mad, even demented.  And that’s the twist.  You’d have to be demented to think your mother was the infamous Black Stiletto putting the bad guy in his place, fighting for truth, justice and the American way.  Except when Martin finds her diaries and takes possession of a long hidden canister of film, the insanity becomes real.  And so in present day the reader dishes on Martin’s own struggles with what he’s found out; being the ordinary son of a most extraordinary woman and his own need to step out of the shadows of his fading mother to save his own family.  The third dish on the table is that of FBI agent, John Richardson, who’s been sworn to track down the Black Stiletto (Judy Talbot), arrest her and bring her to justice.  Only here’s the catch.  The Stiletto has fallen for the gumshoe.  Has he fallen for her or is he just a man with a job who has no soul?

Of course the stiletto of The Stiletto is actually a knife and what Judy’s son is finding out cuts straight through him with such surgical precision that he’ll be altered forever.  The very crux of the novel is summed up in one, simple phrase Martin screams out as he slowly begins uncovering Judy’s true identity, “Who the ‘F’ is my mother?”  And that’s where the thrill begins.  A trio of stories told from three points of view converge and intersect for a mind boggling siege upon the reader.

Benson will tell you that he’s in love with The Stiletto.  “Judy (May) Cooper Talbot is a feminist before her time, she has a sense of humor, and she’s intelligent.  But at heart she’s a small-town Texas girl in the big city.  She’s tough as nails and is practically fearless, but she also has emotional vulnerabilities.  Even so, she has a perky personality and tells her story with gusto.”

You can imagine the depth written into such a character whose vibrancy is dulled by dementia.  Benson says, “I’d also gone through an experience with Alzheimer’s–my mother-in-law had just passed away from the horrible disease.  Thus, the Stiletto’s past/present story naturally unfolded in front of me.”

So that’s The Stiletto, but who is Benson, Raymond Benson?  The author of more than twenty-five novels, he’s also one of the franchise writers of the James Bond series.  He’s worn his own literary mask as David Michaels of the bestselling Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell books and he has done numerous tie-ins to movies and videogames.  And in case you’re wondering of the James Bond actors who’s his favorite, he’s partial to Sean Connery but enjoys Daniel Craig.  But right now he’s heavily invested in, Stiletto, The Black Stiletto.  He’s polishing the blade on the third installment and there’s even buzz about the series being spun into a television series or a movie.  Which then begs the question, who will really wear the mask?

To learn more about Raymond, please visit his website.

Paula Tutman