Kent, Bill 1954-
Kent, Bill 1954-
Born 1954; married; children: one son.
Writer. Bergen County Record, NJ, reporter.
Under the Boardwalk, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1988.
Down by the Sea, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1993.
On a Blanket with My Baby: A Novel of Atlantic City, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1995.
Atlantic City: America's Playground, Heritage Media (Encinitas, CA), 1997.
Street Money, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Street Hungry, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Street Fighter, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Street Legal, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine.
Bill Kent bases his mystery novels on two cities he knows well: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Kent has worked in both venues as a journalist, and in his work he captures both the vernacular and the special issues besetting the communities. In a trio of novels, Under the Boardwalk, Down by the Sea, and On a Blanket with My Baby: ANovel of Atlantic City, Kent features a city detective named Louis Monroe, whose scrupulous morals are tested time and again not only by the criminals in Atlantic City, but by the corrupt police force itself. Readers meet Monroe as a rookie cop in Under the Boardwalk and follow both his personal and professional struggles through the next two entries in the series. "Upstanding, honest Monroe is definitely out-of-place on this dysfunctional police force," observed Bernard A. Drew in Armchair Detective. "He takes the jeers and taunts of the other cops." Sometimes Monroe's enemies go beyond invective and beat him up—at five-foot-two he looks like an easy target.
Many critics have found reason to praise Kent's Atlantic City novels. In a Kirkus Reviews piece about On a Blanket with My Baby, the reviewer stated: "Kent prophesies like the veteran journalist he is and plots as if he's never forgotten Raymond Chandler's rule that a good novel is a novel full of good scenes." Another Kirkus Reviews contributor found Under the Boardwalk to be "visceral entertainment for fans of nasty action, raunchy dialogue, and gritty vice-squad lore." New York Times Book Review critic Marilyn Stasio wrote that "the characters have incredible kick, and the author sheds plenty of neon light on the city that keeps them all twitching on their strings." In the Washington Post Book World, Paul Skenazy concluded of Down by the Sea: "Kent lays out this complicated world with an insider's savvy and a good writer's cynical rage … and some very fine moments along the way."
With Street Money Kent introduces a new—and unlikely—pair of amateur detectives. Andrea Cosicki is a young graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she has been a basketball star. With the help of her father, a "facilitator" known on the streets as Benny Lunch, Cosicki lands a job at the Philadelphia Press. When Benny Lunch is found dead in a burned-out building, Cosicki knows it is murder and begins her own private investigation. Her blundering efforts are given direction by a coworker, N.S. Ladderback, who writes the obituaries for the Press. Cosicki's fearlessness on the street pairs well with Ladderback's vast knowledge of the city and its denizens both living and dead. A Publishers Weekly correspondent deemed Street Money a "brisk and entertaining new series," and Connie Fletcher praised it in Booklist for its "originality and rightness of fit." Fletcher added that the exploits of Andrea Cosicki and N.S. Ladderback are "funny, street smart, and filled with suspense."
Following the success of Street Money, Kent published Street Hungry. Cosicki and the agoraphobic Ladderback pair up again to uncover the mystery behind deaths of chefs and food critics. The journalist pair traces the mystery to a pharmaceutical company that produces appetite-suppressing drugs and find leads into other mysterious deaths in the area. A critic writing in Publishers Weekly categorized the book as straddling "the line between hardboiled detective story and thriller." Fletcher, writing again in a Booklist review, called the sequel "wonderfully funny and searing."
Cosicki and Ladderback return in Street Fighter. Here their work overlaps when an obituary for local political fixer and well-connected accountant draws Cosicki's investigative curiosity. The more they look into the death, the more suspicious they become. Eventually, the trail leads to Philadelphia's Asian immigrant community and a group of martial arts thugs. In a Booklist review, Fletcher praised the "fun dialogue, fast pace, and intriguing newsroom lore." Writing on the Mystery Ink Web site, David J. Montgomery found some flaws with the book but appreciated the "colorful and unique" characterizations. He went on to say that it is "refreshing to see that Kent is committed to writing in his own style and not trying to copy the mainstream." A contributor to Publishers Weekly concluded that "the bold, quirky characterization and solid romantic subplot will keep readers turning the pages."
Street Legal is the fourth in the series about the investigative obituary writer and consumer-advice columnist team. After the Delaware Valley Law Watch publishes its list of corrupt lawyers, a vigilante goes crusading against the people who appear on the list. After several of these lawyers are found murdered, and as the pair investigate the mystery, Ladderback finds a personal connection with the main suspect. Fletcher wrote that Kent "constructs an engaging detective story" in a Booklist review. A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly thought the writing was caricature-based and noted that the "amusingly quirky protagonists offer little beyond their quirks." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded that the "colorful cast, a pair of irresistible protagonists and Kent's ingratiating prose are … enough to sustain a highly entertaining series."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Armchair Detective, winter, 1994, Bernard A. Drew, review of Down by the Sea, p. 103.
Booklist, November 15, 1988, review of Under the Boardwalk, p. 543; July, 1993, Wes Lukowsky, review of Down by the Sea, p. 1947; October 1, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of Street Money, p. 304; September 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Street Hungry, p. 70; May 1, 2005, Connie Fletcher, review of Street Fighter, p. 1526; May 1, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of Street Legal, p. 33.
Chicago Tribune, November 16, 2003, review of Street Hungry, p. 2.
Drood Review of Mystery, November, 2002, review of Street Money, p. 2.
Kirkus Reviews, October, 1, 1988, review of Under the Boardwalk, pp. 1424-1425; April 15, 1993, review of Down by the Sea, p. 489; March 15, 1995, review of On a Blanket with My Baby: A Novel of Atlantic City, p. 346; May 1, 2006, review of Street Legal, p. 440.
Library Journal, November 1, 1988, Rex E. Klett, review of Under the Boardwalk, p. 113; August, 1994, Dan Bogey, review of Down by the Sea, p. 168; October, 1, 2002, review of Street Money, p. 131.
MBR Bookwatch, May, 2005, Harriet Klausner, review of Street Fighter.
New York Times Book Review, December 11, 1988, Marilyn Stasio, review of Under the Boardwalk, p. 34; June 20, 1993, Marilyn Stasio, review of Down by the Sea, p. 21; October 20, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of Street Money, p. 25; December 14, 2003, review of Street Hungry, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Under the Boardwalk, p. 52; April 13, 1990, review of Under the Boardwalk, p. 61; April 12, 1993, review of Down by the Sea, p. 50; March 13, 1995, review of On a Blanket with My Baby, p. 63; September 23, 2002, review of Street Money, p. 53; September 29, 2003, review of Street Hungry, p. 47; April 11, 2005, review of Street Fighter, p. 37; March 20, 2006, review of Street Legal, p. 39.
Washington Post Book World, January 1, 1989, Paul Skenazy, "Games for the Desperate," p. 6; July 18, 1993, Paul Skenazy, "Catching Up with the Past," p. 6; October 27, 2002, review of Street Money, p. 13.
Books & Bytes,http://www.booksnbytes.com/ (June 25, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Street Money.
Mystery Ink,http://www.mysteryinkonline.com/ (February 23, 2007), David J. Montgomery, review of Street Fighter.
Mystery Reader,http://www.mysteryreader.com/ (October 21, 2002), Andy Plonka, review of Street Money.