Lily White, Rose Red (Grey Randall, Private Dick Casefile #1)

Title: Lily White, Rose Red (Grey Randall, Private Dick Casefile #1)
Author: Catt Ford
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Historical (1940s) Murder Mystery
Length: Novel (208 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5


A Guest Review by Aunt Lynn

One Sentence Review: I loved this noir-y and at times humorous book, the first of a new series featuring Grey Randall, Private Dick.

THE BLURB

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.

THE REVIEW

Lily White, Rose Red is the first installment in the new series about hard-ass gay private investigator Grey Randall by Catt Ford. Set in the late ‘40s, it’s damn near perfect: wonderfully-written, -plotted and -paced, well-drawn characters, a mystery element that was complex enough that it left me guessing. I was totally engrossed from the minute I picked it up and stayed awake way too long to finish it.

The story opens with our narrator, hero and private dick Grey getting a professional visit from a locally-famous dancer and legend, the beautiful and charming Miss Lily. She is looking to hire him to look into the murder of her protégé, Marguerite Saint-Ville. Eager to take the case — his first for murder — but recognizing that Lily is not telling him the entire truth, he gets straight to work. His investigation takes him first to his cop friend and war buddy Reggie, to get the low-down and some inside info on what the police have. From that meeting, he moves on to the crime scene where he finds his next clue which leads him to a club that caters to men like him — queer as a three dollar bill. He’s thrown when he meets gorgeous club owner Phillip, AKA Mr. Big (and in Grey’s mind, Mr. Beautiful), which adds complications as he is also a possible suspect. As the investigation gets deeper and he uncovers many secrets, his body and heart are put into jeopardy.

I loved this book. Catt Ford is a terrific writer and she gives Grey a unique voice. Though the story has a very noir-y feeling, with lots of slang and lingo of the time, it’s also liberally laced with dry humor, which is always a big plus for me.

Grey is a great lead character. A veteran of WWII who happened to come to live in Vegas by accident on his way back to New York from the war, he’s one tough cookie (“Trouble is my business…and I’m open twenty-four hours.”), but underneath he has a heart of gold. And he has morals and is all about wanting justice, which I really liked. For a number of reasons — including jailtime if he is caught — he is used to denying himself and ignoring the hunger of wanting other men (It wasn’t good business to get known as a private dick with an interest in dick). I thought it was very funny how he’s so suave and cool and collected until he meets Mr. Beautiful and then he gets flustered:

If I weren’t used to the undercover gig, I might have given away the show, but as it is, I think I carried it off with a lot of cool. “Um—yes—it’s my first time—no, that isn’t what I—I meant, I’ve been around—no, I haven’t been around—it’s just—”

And though he’s gay, he can appreciate female beauty:

Hell, I’m not gonna pass up a photograph of a beautiful woman wearing only pearls and a G-string, although most of the good stuff was left to the imagination between the lighting and the pose.

and

Hey, even a hard-nosed, booze-swilling, seen-it-all dick like me can appreciate talent when I see it. That and she had on some really glam lace-topped stockings.

The secondary cast of characters is large, very colorful and fully-fleshed and -developed, from his client and femme fatale Lily, to his police contact Reggie, to best friend and mannish-dresser librarian Charlotte (Charlie), to his boxer pal Artie, to pianist Jazz.  Even those who just flit through a scene have depth. Grey’s crush, club owner Phil Martin — Mr. Big — does not have much screen time in this book and is a bit enigmatic, but that worked and I suspect we will be seeing more of him in future installments.

Neither romance nor sex is the main focus here — which worked perfectly for me — and the two smexxin scenes that are included are both smokin’ hot and move the plot along nicely.   And though there are romantic elements, LW, RR is not a love story, but the potential definitely exists for future stories to feature the development of a relationship between Grey and Phillip, who have tons of chemistry between them.

I felt the mystery aspect of the story was well-developed, and though I suspected several things about both the connections between the players and the whodunit, there were enough suspects to throw me off several times.

Okay, maybe I’m a thirteen-year-old-boy in a forty-something-year-old woman’s body, but I snickered every time “dick” (or “deek,” as Lily’s French housekeeper pronounces it) was mentioned in relation to Grey’s profession. Oh, and “hardened dick” made me choke on my tea. g

One note: in authenticity of the times, there are some racial slurs included in the story. Read the Author’s Note for more information and commentary on this.

OVERALL

Run, don’t walk, to get yourself a copy of this wonderful book, the first in a new series. You won’t be sorry.

20 comments

  • Well, I ran and read the book. XD

    And LOVED IT. Randall is lovely character. The whole skinny-wiry thing was hilarious and I especially liked how, underneath that tough exterior, Randall is actually a romantic guy who wanted the things to work for both Reggie and Jazz and Lily and Mr. X. The first scene was classic noir – I could almost see Bogart and Bacall there. Randall and Martin have great potential and I’m sure we will see more of them in the sequel (the last sex scene was HOT). Ah, sequel… WHEN?!

    Reply
    • Hi LadyM. I’m so glad you loved this book as well! I had a feeling you would, but you never do know about these things.

      The whole skinny-wiry thing was hilarious

      I know! I almost mentioned that in the review, but there were so many things to love that I thought I’d let readers find some of them on their own. 🙂

      Reply
  • Hi Aunt Lynn,
    First let me thank you for such an enthusiastic review. I’m not sure I deserve 5 stars, but I’ll take it! I’m so glad I hit some of your buttons with this, because I love noir and Grey, and the slang. I must be 12 because I was giggling like mad over you giggling over the dick usage. I have to admit, I amuse me and I was hoping it would be funny to others and I wasn’t just kidding myself. LOL. Hardened dick. *okay, I’m just getting giddy here*

    I have to say, it was with the greatest reluctance that I used some of the racially offensive slang. It was a dilemma for me, because back then many white people were thoughtlessly careless of what we would consider unbelievably rude at best. I am going to have to poke around for Wave’s rant on this.

    I love what you said about the possibility of getting away with a crime, which when turned around also means it was easier to railroad someone for a crime. And I’m glad you liked the characters. I want to be Miss Lily when I grow up. She’s so fabulous. (I feel all fangurly for her.) I surely hope that the next book lives up to this one and that you’ll enjoy it as much. Thank you again for this lovely review! You’ve really made my day!
    Catt

    Reply
    • Hi Catt and thanks for stopping by. And thanks for giving us such a great book; it deserves every one of the 5 stars. I adore Grey and am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

      Reply
  • This was a good read, and it was good that I knew before hand that it was the first in a series. Because of the romance thing.
    The slang was a bit harder to get used to, I had to think about what it meant sometimes.

    I my mind I was sometimes comparing this LV to the CSI one. No DNA samples, no fingerprints, only photo’s and interviews.

    Reply
    • I my mind I was sometimes comparing this LV to the CSI one. No DNA samples, no fingerprints, only photo’s and interviews.

      It’s funny you mention this, Ingrid, because I found myself thinking at one point, when they were talking about a blood sample and comparing it against type, that there wasn’t anything like what we have now with DNA identification. I was thinking that it was so much easier to get away with crimes and the innocent being framed or even mistakenly being found guilty.

      Reply
  • Hi Lynn,

    Great review. I like the sound of this one. I enjoy a good mystery and even better with some humor thrown in. Hardened dick? – I’m glad I wasn’t drinking when I read that. I’m snickering like a 15 year old boy and It’s been many years since I was 15. I’m sold!

    Reply
  • Lynn
    This sounds like a wonderful read and I guess it will go on the ever lengthening (like a dick):) TBR. I’m guessing that I’ll be offended by some of the language since this is the ’40’s, however since this is Catt I’ll forgive her, but just this once. I sent her a link to your review.

    I love murder mysteries set in the 40’s especially books by authors like Raymond Chandler (Farewell my Lovely) starring his private dick 🙂 Phillip Marlowe.

    Reply
    • Wave, if you like mysteries set in the 40s, then you should love this one. I thought Grey’s voice was wonderful and the characters fleshed. A great start to a new series, and I eagerly await the next one.

      For the offensive language, you will not like it, but luckily, there is not much of it. I understand why it’s there and can forgive it, but I can see that it could and will bother folks sensitive to it.

      Reply
      • Hi Lynn

        >>For the offensive language, you will not like it, …..<< I figured, which is why I opted not to review the book, because I was concerned that my reaction to the language would colour my opinion of the story. I already did my rant about the use of the "n" word in historical books so I'm going to shut up now. 🙁

        Reply
  • Although I’ll admit that’s not my fave era for a setting, I do love the mystery element and your review makes it sound great so I’ll definitely check it out. It doesn’t always have to be hearts and flowers romance to be a great book. Great review.

    Reply
    • Hi Tam. I’ve read a few books set during this era, and even a few set in Vegas, but this is the best one by far. As far as the lack of romance, there is enough chemistry between Grey and Phil to make up for it, but regardless, it’s a great book for other reasons — the prose, the characters, the humor.

      Reply
  • I admit it, I waited for your review because I read some conflicting reviews (mostly because people expected the – no pun intended – roses & lilies romance). This book should push several of my buttons – noir mystery, hardened dick (XD) who becomes flustered around his love interest, the period, Las Vegas setting… Nice. Thank you for the review!

    Reply
    • Hi LadyM. I thought the lack of romance worked really well here. Like some other murder/mystery series I can think of, this was very much an intro to the characters and something to build upon. We have similar tastes, so I think you’ll like it as well.

      Reply

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