BLACK to Reality (Black #4)

AudiobookReview

  • Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published: Janda Management, released by Audible September 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled, Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

BlacktoRealityBLACK To Reality is the fourth in the acclaimed BLACK series of noir detective fiction featuring Artemus Black, the world’s losingest Hollywood Private Investigator. In this installment he is saved from financial calamity when he takes a case that requires him to work undercover on a reality television show, posing as an over-the-hill rocker trying for one last shot at success.

Black is back, broke and down on his luck. The rent’s overdue on his apartment, Roxie’s had no wages and there are no clients beating down his door. Add to that the move to a swanky new office, which unnecessary luxury, according to Black, is taking what little money he has left. Roxie is forced to look for another job until things improve. Then Black gets a call about a new client.

Reality shows are in the firing line in this story as Black is assigned to investigate possible shady dealings in a reality TV competition, Rock of Ages. He gets a chance to relive his long-lost fame by joining, as lead guitarist, one the groups who were knocked out last year. Brushing up on his guitar skills and getting a rock star make over, Black is again in the thick of the action. Could he actually have another shot at a career in the music business again? 

I just love Black’s character, his decency, generosity and sense of humour, not to mention his relationships with Stan, Roxie and Mugsy, who takes centre stage in this episode and eventually provides something of a life line for Black. Black is an authentic individual with normal, everyday issues in his personal as well as professional life, which most people can relate in one way or another.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”

“Oh, well, then sure. I’ll drop the triple homicide ticket I picked up this morning and get right on the dope fiend. What’s his name?”

“Rick Pearson. Lived in Hollywood.”

Stan paused. “Wait a minute. You’re not saying a guitar player in Hollywood was taking drugs! No wonder you’re suspicious…”

“Ha ha. Just consider it a favour to me.”

“Like you aren’t running a bigger deficit than the government.”

“I can pay it off in beer.”

“You make a compelling case…”

Underneath all the humour there’s some serious subject matter, including Black realising he’s reached the age of 43 with not a lot to show for it except ‘an eccentric wardrobe and an old Cadillac’, complex emotional issues and dealing with abandoned and ignored dreams. His character development has advanced and he’s less angry and bitter about the way his life has turned out.

Again, a realistic plot line with any number of suspects and an appreciable amount of Russell Blake’s entertaining and witty dialogue. I really enjoy listening to this series, it’s one of my favourites and RC Bray delivers a first-rate performance, balancing the humorous and the serious and handling the characters in an easygoing and distinct way.
I hope we see a lot more of Black in the future.

Black is the New Black (Black #3)

AudiobookReview

  • BlackistheNewBlackAuthor: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published: Janda Management, released on Audible July 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled, Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

When Artemus Black is hired to investigate a series of suspicious accidents at LA’s most prestigious modeling agency, he quickly discovers that brooding pouts and mascara can be as dangerous as guns or bombs. From LA to Mexico to Tahoe to NY, the story pokes fun at the world of high fashion.

Models from a top class agency are dying at an unprecedented rate and Black is called in to investigate, requiring him to attend photo shoots in exotic locations. The first of which is in Cabo San Lucas. It doesn’t go well and Black manages to get into his girlfriend, Sylvia’s bad books. It seems the modelling world is rife with corruption and deceitful competitors. As events escalate Black has his work cut out to get to the bottom of the accidents…or are they murders?

All the old favourites are back, including Mugsy, the fat and flatulent feline. Black’s exchanges with Roxie, who is planning a move to Germany with her boyfriend (Black will have to see about that!) and Stan, his police buddy, are as funny and entertaining as ever.

“Stan. It’s Black. You called?”

“Yeah. It was a lousy connection.”

“What’s up?”

“My blood pressure and cholesterol. Thanks for asking.”

“Appreciate the update. But I was thinking more about why you called.”

Black’s parents, Spring and Chakra, also feature and Black and Sylvia brave a visit with them en route to a photo shoot in Las Vegas. If Black isn’t being ragged on by Roxie, his mother is shooting her little barbs.

I’m enjoying this series so much, I love Black more with each book. Really great characterisation in the writing and narration. Black continues to develop into a genuinely good guy with a tough side and I think Roxie might even be slightly less abrasive. A surprising twist at the end, I didn’t see that one coming at all. The murder/mystery story lines are authentic and well thought out with a profusion of suspects to choose from.

Russell Blake’s characters are colourful, well drawn and very memorable, the writing clever and witty. Coupled with RC Bray’s masterful narration these audiobooks are a must have.

“Gunther will be out in a moment to show you back. Pellegrino?”

Black was stumped. “I don’t know who designed my suit.”

She didn’t blink. “Would you like some water? Juice?”

“Oh. No. I’m good.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed out loud. Several times. The snappy dialogue is such fun, especially when delivered so well. 

Disclaimer: I was gifted a copy of the audiobook which does not affect the content of my review in any way.

Black is Back (Black Series #2)

AudiobookReview

  • Black2Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published; Janda Management and released on Audible May 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled/Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

In this second installment in the acclaimed BLACK series, Artemus Black, Hollywood PI to the stars, dives into the rap music scene to stop a killer – with often disastrous and humorous results. Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction from Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly and Lawrence Block will enjoy Black’s trials and tribulations, all delivered with a tongue-in-cheek cynicism that’s uniquely Russell Blake.

Not a lot has changed in Black’s world. He’s still being needled mercilessly by Roxie, his assistant from hell, with her all black wardrobe and full sleeve tattoos. On the upside Black has managed to hang on to his girlfriend of several weeks, Sylvia. She is a good influence and Black’s anger issues have decreased.

Black, a little depressed about his upcoming 43rd birthday, is not helped by Dr Kelso making him feel crappy about not giving up smoking and drinking too much. Then, to make matters worse, his parents invite Black’s ex wife, Nina, to the surprise birthday dinner they and Sylvia have organised for him. The evening rapidly turns into a hilarious fiasco.

Things are looking up on the financial front though, with Black’s latest case involving a seemingly up and coming rapper and his entourage. Black is soon involved with the nefarious behind the scenes machinations of the promoters and managers in the music business. The plot is definitely conceivable and the miscreants are credible. I like that the violence is not gratuitous but fitting for the storyline.

Black’s head started to hurt just trying to keep all the rivalries straight, not to mention the monikers. Why the hell didn’t they have normal names, like REO Speedwagon or AC/DC? How could anyone differentiate between a Blunt, a 2Bad and a B-Side? Especially, as an ex-musician, the entire phenomenon escaped him, where the singers didn’t sing and nobody played an instrument…and that was the most popular form of music in the nation?

Black’s developing character and personality show a basically generous and good nature but one that can be ruthless when necessary. He’s complex and flawed enough to be realistic but not so much as to be anything but loveable. Black is rapidly becoming one of my favourite protagonists.

A great plot, poking a little bit of fun at the music industry, I think. A surprising ending which almost costs Black very dearly indeed. The writing, again, is excellent and full of humour with laugh out loud moments. I love Black’s descriptions of Mugsy…’the odds of Mugsy being able to fit into most alleys is a stretch’…’he’s got an eating-too-much-and-moving-around problem’….’he looks like a bowling ball with legs’

I’m loving this series and, judging by the book covers, Black doesn’t need to worry about getting older or his ‘body breaking down’. Quite the opposite in fact, looking good and darkly handsome, I’d say ;-p

Another stellar performance from RC Bray with great characterisations, especially the rapper street talk, gangsta style.

The Black Series may be purchased from Amazon US and Amazon UK

Black (Black Series #1)

AudiobookReview

  • Black1Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published by Janda Management and released on Audible April 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled/Noir Fiction
  • four-half-stars

Artemus Black. Perennially down-on-his-luck Hollywood PI whose Bogie fixation is as dated as his wardrobe. With an assistant who mocks him relentlessly, an obese cat that loathes him, a romantic life that’s deader than Elvis, money problems, booze, nicotine, and anger management issues, how much worse can it get? When he takes a case that’s supposed to be easy money working for a celebrity whose colleagues and surrounding paparazzi are dropping faster than interest in the star’s big comeback, the cakewalk turns ugly and Black finds himself in a web of deceit, betrayal, and murder – and bad hair days.

Black is a real vintage feel PI, with slicked back black hair, dressing in 40’s style suits and fedora hats, as though he’s been whisked away from his own time zone and dropped into the present day. I was picturing a James Garner look-a-like all the way through. He’s down on his luck and harbouring bitter feelings about his immensely rich parents who not only gave him the name he hates and refuse to call him anything else, but also became wealthy with the minimum of effort, while he struggles to make ends meet.

Artemus ‘Jim’ Black is an intriguing character and regardless of his faults he’s a really good guy with a soft side and a good dose of morality. This is a fun read with lots of humour, although the murders give the story a darker side which balances things out. The descriptive writing and solid plot are executed superbly and the dialogue is sharp and witty. 

Black’s snarky secretary, Roxie, is an unconventional character with an individual appearance and an attitude issue. She is the antithesis of Black. She gives him a hard time verbally, mostly about his dress sense and because he’s less than affectionate to the stray fat cat who has taken up residence in Black’s office. The one liners and banter between the two of them is seriously comical. Well portrayed and defined, colourful and amusing characters abound and give the story an authentic feel.

Black had been working with Roxie on improving her attitude, but some days it seems like a losing battle. It was a pity she was so good at what she did – running the office, juggling administrative duties and research that made the FBI look like neophytes.

“It means I think we can improve our brand, Roxie.”

”Our….brand. I see. Have you been drinking?”

”Branding is very important.”

”Maybe if you’re a cowboy or a steer. Wait – did you mix up your meds again?” Roxie asked.

This my first Russell Blake book but I’ll definitely read/listen to more of his work. I have the rest of the Black series and Jet lined up. If you’re a fan of the genre it’s well worth a read or a listen if audio books are your thing. RC Bray does a great job giving Black a ‘voice’, also with his interpretations of the rest of the characters. The humour, pacing and delivery of the comedic lines are all spot on.

The Black books may be purchased from Amazon US and Amazon UK

About the author

RBlakeFeatured in The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and The Chicago Tribune, Russell Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of thirty books, including Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, Blood of the Assassin, Requiem for the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, JET, JET – Ops Files, JET II – Betrayal, JET III – Vengeance, JET IV – Reckoning, JET V – Legacy, JET VI – Justice, JET VII – Sanctuary, Upon A Pale Horse, BLACK, BLACK Is Back, BLACK Is The New Black, and BLACK To Reality.

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.

Blake is co-author of The Eye of Heaven, with legendary author Clive Cussler, to be released by Penguin in September, 2014. Blake’s novel King of Swords has been translated into German by Amazon Crossing, The Voynich Cypher into Bulgarian, and his JET novel into Spanish and German.

Blake writes under the moniker RE Blake in the NA/YA/Contemporary Romance genres.

Having resided in Mexico for a dozen years, Blake enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns. His thoughts, such as they are, can be found at his blog: RussellBlake.com