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