The story recounts growing up in dusty Odessa, Texas. One of three children and how she was more tom-boy than little girl. How she discovers that she has an enhanced sense of hearing and vision, and an almost sixth sense or intuition to sense danger and whether someone is trying to lie to her. She is tall for her age, and has a natural ability in gymnastics, and in athletic pursuits such as running.
It is a poor family, her father having been killed in WWII leaving her mother to raise three kids and drink her sorrows away. Her stepfather is a large and abusive man, an oilfield roughneck with a pension for drinking too much and beating his wife.
One night, when Judy was 14, he gets drunk and rapes her. Judy runs away from home and winds up in New York where she falls in love with the city, becomes a waitress at a dinner, and eventually ends up living and working in a boxing gym. She is more or less adopted by the gym owner, Freddie, who clandestinely teaches her to box, and box well. Through the gym she meets a Japanese martial artist, Soichiro who also teaches her Judo and Karate. After she is seriously wounded in an attempted mugging, she meets Fiorello, a mafia enforcer and master knife fighter. Fiorello becomes her lover. It is when Fiorello is murdered and Judy intuits, using those sharpened powers of perception, that he was killed by his own don that Judy gets the inspiration to take revenge on his killers, disguised in the costume of The Black Stiletto. She has also always plotted revenge on her stepfather for the rape that drove her away from her family.
Benson brilliantly forms the story and masterfully turns it from a comic book, to an adult novel. He could have kept Judy as some reincarnation of Wonder Woman or Super Girl – a cartoon character. Instead, he makes her very real. None of her abilities are beyond the realm of reality, yet combined they form an extra ordinary person. Bringing together boxing skills, Judo for close in fighting and grappling, karate for power, her gymnastic ability and her heightened senses of seeing and hearing, combined with a street fighter's guile, makes her a formidable opponent, (especially for opponents who would underestimate her as a mere woman), but not a super being.
The scenes, the descriptions of the city, the language, the music, the current events all make the story real and familiar. The action is perfectly paced, and the fight scenes, technically described, are at once fast and realistic but don’t slow the story. The characters come alive in personality and motivation.