It's early 1944 and Richmond, Virginia is a devil's paradise. Ration scams and police corruption are rampant while the inflated black market commands top dollar.
Detective Sergeant Bennie Sherwood, fresh off a soul-scarring tour of duty with the Marines, couldn't care less. His old man was recently murdered under suspect circumstances, and he's on a hunt for the truth.
But then an old friend is killed during a botched black market raid and Bennie is thrust onto a hellride through Richmond's underworld. Suddenly, he's at the front lines of a new kind of war, one that's played out in gentlemen's clubs and back alleys between tobacco kingpins and numbers runners.
It's a dark, twisted journey that will test Bennie's every limit, even as it gets him closer to the truth about his father...
Until, that is, he's framed for murder.
Now the subject of a citywide manhunt, Bennie must choose - disappear into the shadows and succumb to his fractured mind, or confront his darkest fears and root out the evil that has infested his city.
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"Hunger and need are universal, my good friend."
Returning home after a stint in the fighting of World War 2, 1943, Benny Sherwood is injured more in mind than body. His constant night terrors took him back to the jungles and the constant Japanese threat, and these fears even infiltrated his waking hours when he was under duress, the feeling of danger, of being watched and even faces of people he knew morphing into murderous Japanese, causing him to freeze up in fear or even pass out. All of which made his new job that much more difficult. Because Benny signed on as a cop, made detective by virtue of his war record, and that of his father, another well respected cop in the area, who had recently been murdered. That case was still unsolved. Benny intended to find out who killed him.
This is a fabulous story set in the dark days of wartime, where black marketeering was rife as well as youth gangs, racial prejudice, homosexually kept hidden, prostitution and robbery as well as dance halls and jazz, corruption and murder. And the constant sadnesses of the telegram to tell that a loved one would not be coming home. The author captures the dark atmosphere perfectly, the poverty, desperation and the need to find release in some instant gratification. It is a thriller and a mystery, well, more than one: there are murders to be solved and always that one killing closest to Benny's heart: the death of his dad. The book is complex and twisting, moving ever faster to the final conclusion.
The narrator is excellent, perfectly matched to the tale being recounted by the damaged yet dedicated cop, Benny, in his ongoing search for justice. Ward Paxton's reading is steady and clear and he voices the other characters distinctly and in such a way as to further give life to already well drawn characters, real people with shifting attitudes, fears and allegiances.
I was very fortunate in being gifted a copy of River Street Blues by the rights holder, via Audiobook Boom. My thanks for this. It wasn't until i had finished the book that a brief note about the author, Ward Howard, revealed that this was his first novel. I was surprised given how well constructed and visual it had been. It is a story which will stay with me for a long time and is one which i recommend to anyone with an enjoyment of unusual detective noire.
- Norma Miles