"The Black Stiletto" (prose novel review)

The following is a review I originally wrote for Amazon of a novel, "The
Black Stiletto," by Raymond Benson.   It isn't exactly a Silver Age
item-- even if the time period of the novel, 1959, falls within the Silver Age--
but I thought it might be of interest to list members.  (I originally
acquired the book as a free Kindle e-book.  I don't think it's still
available free, but check the Amazon listing for price and availability details
if interested.)

For a few years in the mid to late 1940's, there was a sub-genre of
costumed comic book heroes which might be called the "sexy female
crimefighter".  As conventional superheroes declined in popularity after
World War II, comic publishers seem to have decided that maybe those
tight-fitting costumes would attract more readers,. especially of the teenage
and adult male variety, if they were wrapped around shapely female bodies rather
than musclebound males.  Early prototypes included "Miss Fury," a character
created by female cartoonist Tarpe Mills who appeared in both a newspaper comic
strip and comic books, and the Black Cat, a Harvey Comics character.  Later
examples included the Phantom Lady from Fox Comics and the Blonde Phantom from
Marvel (famous as the only comic-book character to fight crime in an evening
gown and high heels).  Even staid DC comics came up with the Black Canary
and her fishnet stockings.  Generally, these characters did not have
super-powers like Wonder Woman or the later Supergirl, but fought crime aided
only by judo and detective skills and a gadget or two.
I don't know for sure
if Raymond Benson ever read these old comics, but my impression is that "The
Black Stiletto" novel series (of which I've so far read the first two) is an
attempt to revive and rationalize the "sexy crimefighter" genre, creating a
character who is somewhat well-rounded character-wise as well as physically, and
providing a somewhat plausible (at least for the sake of the story) explanation
of why a young woman might be driven to go out and fight criminals as a masked
The debut novel begins in the present as Martin, the
middle-aged son of Judy Cooper Talbot who is now an Alzheimer's patient in a
nursing home, is given a set of diaries that belonged to his mother.  He is
astounded to learn from them that his mother was the Black Stiletto, a female
vigilante who was nationally famous during the late 1950's and early 1960's,
though she dropped out of sight and her true identity was never
discovered.   The first diary reveals how Judy Cooper was a feisty,
athletic young girl with some unusual and unexplained abilities, including
heightened senses and a Spider-Man-like sense of danger.  After an incident
of sexual abuse, she flees her rural Texas home and ends up in New York City,
taking jobs at a diner and then at a men's gym, where she persuades the owner to
teach her boxing.  She also finds a Japanese martial-arts teacher, and when
she finds a romantic interest with gangland connections, he trains her in the
skill of knife fighting, including the use of the thin knife called the
stiletto.  When her mob-connected lover is murdered in a Mafia quarrel,
Judy adopts the masked, black-clad guise of the Black Stiletto in order to seek
vengeance on the perpetrators.
After achieving that vengeance,  Judy
continues making occasional forays against crime as the Black Stiletto, even
though she is now hunted by both the mob and the police.  She is not
portrayed as a grim, hardened, vengeance-obsessed killer, but rather a somewhat
naive and idealistic girl who fights crime in this way because it gives her an
outlet for her energies and she thinks she can do some good.  (Despite her
use of a deadly weapon as a symbol, she avoids killing when possible.) 

           The diary
chapters telling the Stiletto's story alternate with present-day chapters from
the viewpoint of son Martin, who wrestles with the discoveries he has made about
his mother-- particularly the question of whether he should cash in by taking
the truth about the Black Stiletto to the media-- and who gradually discovers
that even after all these years, one of the Stiletto's old enemies may still be
on her trail and determined to kill her. 
I wouldn't exactly call the
book "realistic," but it at least provides enough plausibility to the
female-vigilante concept to ride with the story and have fun with it.  I
can recommend the book to those who enjoy superhero stories told in prose rather
than comic-book form.