The Beat of Black Wings by Josh Pachter (Editor)

The Beat of Black Wings by Josh Pachter (Editor)
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (362 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With nine Grammys, multiple lifetime achievement awards, inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a Top Ten ranking on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time,” Joni Mitchell has established herself as one of the most important singer/songwriters, not only of her generation, but in the history of popular music.

In this collection, 28 crime writers pay tribute to Joni’s musical legacy with short stories inspired by her lyrics, representing each of her seventeen studio albums from 1968’s Song to a Seagull to 2007’s Shine.
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Many of the classics are represented here, including “Both Sides, Now” (in the first literary collaboration between Art Taylor and Tara Laskowski, who have each won major awards for their fiction), “Big Yellow Taxi” (by Kathryn O’Sullivan, author of the Colleen McCabe series), and “River” (by Stacy Woodson, winner of the 2019 Readers Choice Award from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine), plus such equally fascinating titles as “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” (by Donna Andrews, author of the award-winning Meg Lanslow series), “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” (by Amber Sparks), and “Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” (by Michael Bracken). This anthology also includes contributions from Alison McMahan, Brendan DuBois, Edith Maxwell and many other talented writers.

The best songs are the ones that tell unforgettable stories.

An insurance clerk fell for a showgirl in “The Pirate of Penance.” He dreamed of whisking her away from the nude dancing she did to pay the bills. I was immediately entranced by their relationship and curious to see what would happen to them next. While I can’t go into any more detail than that, I will say that the twist in the end was delightful.

Charlie, the protagonist in “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,” was a homeless guy who had a secret weapon to fight against an enemy that only he could see. I had a lot of sympathy for him. He was clearly dealing with some hard stuff and had few resources to draw upon other than the one I already mentioned. Seeing how he dealt with conflict kept me reading. It was well written and compelling.

“Ray’s Dad’s Cadillac” told the tale of a family that bought a new vehicle that seemed to be too expensive for their lifestyle. Figuring out how they could afford it was a great deal of fun. I had a few different theories in mind and was eager to find one which of them, if any, might actually be the correct one. What was truly delightful about the plot was the big twist in it towards the end that I didn’t see coming at all. As much as I’d liked the main character before, my opinion of her only grew even more positive by the final scene.

The Beat of Black Wings was a beautiful anthology that I’d heartily recommend to anyone who is a fan of Joni Mitchell or the mystery genre.


  1. We’re all delighted that you enjoyed THE BEAT OF BLACK WINGS. One quick correction: I’m Josh Pachter, not John. But thanks much for the stellar review!

  2. Glad you enjoyed my story “The Pirate of Penance” – mega thanks for highlighting it!

  3. You’re welcome!

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