Skid Row Serenade

Author: J.S. Cook

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Rating: 5 stars

Buy Links: DSP and Amazon

Type: Novel

Received from Publisher


Blurb:  In the tradition of novel noir, nothing is ever quite as it seems.

Novelist and war hero Tony Leonard sees private investigator Edwin Malory being mugged outside a seaman’s mission in downtown Los Angeles, so he takes him home and gives him clean clothes and access to a hot shower. It doesn’t take him long to discover Malory was hired by wealthy industrialist Linton Vanderbilt Stirling, the father of Tony’s estranged wife, Janet. The reason for this is simple: Tony’s father-in-law suspects him of drinking away his daughter’s personal fortune.

On a whim, Tony drops in on Janet one night and finds her naked, dead, and tied up, her skull beaten in. Horrified, Tony flees the scene, knowing that as her husband, he is the number one suspect in the killing. He sees only one way out. He needs to fake his own death.

And who better to send his “suicide note” to than Edwin Malory.


Review:  Let’s see…Action packed, page turning noir mystery, check. Fascinating, multi layered characters, check. Historical era authentically portrayed, check. Provocative, first- person POV, check. Reader in heaven, check!

A must read author for me – JS Cook delivers big time here. Within this gripping mystery written in her distinctive, raw, gritty – yes, often dark – style, she still deftly brings her characters a measure of comfort and peace.

Starting with the first page, this mystery screams with the delightful quality my mind insists on calling: “what the fucking fuckery is going on?!?!” Who is Tony – really? Who is Ed – really? What are they up to – really? Are they even on the same side? Why was Tony’s estranged wife, Janet, murdered? Who did it? What really happened in Mexico? What is Tony’s mystery illness? Who is sleeping with whom? What caused Tony’s scars? How does he happen to be wealthy? Which people are involved in which crime(s)? Oh, sweet torture. 

The setting is 1947 Los Angeles. Tony Leonard is a street smart, no nonsense character. He also happens to drive a nice car, wear expensive clothes, and live in a posh apartment. Well, he claims to be a best- selling author, but still…posh? Beneath his hard, obscure exterior, Tony regularly practices some kind hearted acts, such as giving some down on their luck guys at the Fromsett Street mission a helping hand and someone to talk to. Despite being in Tony’s head (as this story is told from his POV), and even though I was mightily intrigued by him, I was unsure how much I really liked Tony until I was quite a way into the book. The questions pretty much everyone involved with him had in regard to his actions, his history, and his opinion of himself, caused my own opinion to waver. Fascinating! Motivations for many of Tony’s decisions and life choices were murky, but did get explained during the course of the story – and they made sense when disclosed. So, my opinion of Tony took an upward trajectory throughout the story, to the point where I was rooting for him 100%.

Ed Malory enters Tony’s life in classic, cunning fashion. After their initial meeting, the two find they share common interests that make an acquaintanceship mutually beneficial – professionally and personally. When Tony discovers the brutally beaten corpse of his wife, all bets are off, and the heat is on. Tony’s skeletons are revealed to the reader as Ed’s relationship with Tony grows more intimate and Tony becomes more transparent – a technique which I love, especially when the story is in first person. I liked Ed immediately, and although he had some surprises of his own, my first impression held true.

The author’s writing is highly evocative, with regard to descriptions of the settings as well as the emotions of the characters, particularly Tony. Being as Tony is the prime suspect in the murder, and also because Tony is hell bent to expose Janet’s murderer at any cost… he and Ed work against dangerous odds and shocking foes to exonerate Tony, and uncover the truth.

The mystery elements along with the complexities of the characters are the stars in this captivating story. Multi-faceted and clever without becoming overdone or difficult to follow, this mystery takes some great twists, plus a few side avenues… all delicious and worthy of some gasps and some “no way, seriously, ah-hah!” moments. The fact that Tony and Ed are gay/bi is understated, it’s not a focus. Their sexuality is not treated as problematic – it is mere fact. Their coming together is needy, heated and impassioned (ahem – chapter 18), but never tawdry. A palpable, genuine undercurrent of something deeper than mere sex was apparent from the get-go between the two men. Furthermore, they are not the only players in this story who can lay claim to being something other than heterosexual. Several secondary characters shine as they share the limelight quite deservedly with the MCs.

A few plot niggles distracted a fraction. One involvement of a minor character was never fully made clear in my mind, which was bothersome, but never to the point of taking me out of the story.

Readers are in for a treat. The author’s ability to weave an atmospheric, entertaining mystery – combining converging plot threads, a range of complex highly memorable characters, and a poignant romance – is top notch.


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