Meet Grey Randall, a hard-boiled detective whose sense of humor makes it hard for him to stay strictly noir. It’s 1948 in Las Vegas—the newborn Sin City—and he’s just landed his first murder case. He’s more at ease among the lowlifes, but his new client, a beautiful, wealthy woman, a real femme fatale, moves in the upper crust of society.Grey’s hot on the trail of a killer, despite obstructive cops who don’t want a private dick sniffing around and digging up secrets. And he starts getting close to the truth, but one of his suspects, Phillip Martin, AKA Mr. Big—AKA Mr. Beautiful—proves to be a man who could force Grey to reveal a dark secret of his own.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book One of Catt Ford’s new detective series is off to a great start. Slick characters and a decent mystery are enough to carry this fun story but the era appropriate prose really brings this over the top in the best way. Many stories about the roaring 40s throw in bits of dialogue or phrases that are reminiscent of the time period but this story is steeped in the language of the time. This helps make up for any stumbles and issues that may arise and some definitely do with the main character. However the good pace and well used sexual tension has delivered a great start and one I can’t wait to continue with.
Immediately we’re introduced to Grey Randall, the first person narrator. Grey is a tough private eye, ex-military, that has settled in Vegas and made a decent life. When a well-known dancer comes to Grey to help find a friend’s killer, Grey is excited for the case. The tracks and clues lead him to a hidden gay club and a host of possible suspects. From cops to big shots and everything in between, Grey must keep on his toes and his pants zipped despite temptation to figure out the truth behind all the smoke and mirrors.
The plot reads similar to classic noir films. In fact in many ways I could see this story as a black and white film with flashes of red or white whenever Lily, the classic femme fatale, was in the scene. From Grey the private eye to the big shot casino owner rumored to be with the mob to even the closeted club owner that Grey just can’t stay away from, the entire cast reads along familiar and well-loved lines. Many seem straight out of noir film and fiction, even so much that I recognized a lot of the moves Lily did from great films. However, instead of ruining the story or making it feel too cliché, this all works to invoke a great time and era. These well-crafted outlines may not surprise anyone but fans will be thoroughly entertained and delighted with the classic ambiance and characters.
Part of this is the great choice in prose and writing. From the very beginning to the end, the writing keeps up the era and time period incredibly well with few, if any, slips. There are no occasional mentions of dames but instead Grey consistently acts, speaks, and quips like a private eye from the noir time period; albeit a gay one. There is a nice sexual tension and homage to Lily’s beauty and sex appeal that Grey acknowledges even if he’s not particularly interested himself. There are also several undercurrents and themes running along that help craft a great background to a new series. Most of the recurring characters are introduced and developed just enough to be memorable without having too many players moving in too many directions.
Some of the plot twists are predictable and the connection between Lily and her friend is obvious immediately, just as the killer is obvious as well. However this didn’t take away any enjoyment and the quick pace and great writing really carry the story. The character of Grey definitely stumbles the most unfortunately as he comes across rude, uncouth, and selfish. This is fine when depicting a rough and tumble private eye (or dick as he’s called by everyone else) but when trying to put him up against a slick object of lust, it falls apart somewhat. The first sex scene (of only two!) is absolutely fabulous and shows both Grey’s mercenary nature and a true example of a sex scene furthering the plot. This is not only smoking hot, but incredibly fun to read. The last sex scene is superfluous and more of a nod to readers but who’s going to complain since it’s a great scene. It does however highlight the juxtaposition of Grey’s in your face rudeness with Phillip’s suave demeanor. It really made me wonder why Phillip bothered with Grey at all but no doubt these two have more encounters in future novels, especially since the ending is left dangling.
Another great aspect is the honesty with which issues of the day are handled. From race relations to homosexuality and even the obvious infidelity and reputation of dancers, the entire feel of the story is authentic, honest, and compelling. The fact that each of these problems brought up is portrayed as close to the era as possible helps the continuity of the story. There are no breaks to downplay or try to apologize for the time. Instead the story lets the great noir feel shine in all its glory and seedy actions.
This first offering is more mystery and introduction than romance and I didn’t mind at all. Some readers may be disappointed so know going in that the romance is the least important element but there is a lot of great sexual tension from all angles that help make up for that and the potential for romance is huge as the series continues. The best part of the story again for me is the writing. I loved the prose, dialogue, and quick banter from all the various characters, even the minor ones and that had me turning pages eagerly. This is quite the cast and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Although not very romantic per se, if you’re looking for that classic noir feel, check this out.
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