I got a complimentary copy of this one in exchange for an honest review from the publisher – thank you very much! That fact didn’t influence my opinion in any way.
Rebecca Feldblum, a NYPD homicide detective, and Dominic DeCosta, her new partner, have to find the murderer of Mack Steel (a.k.a Albert Clarence Stahl), a gay BDSM aficionado. He was ruthlessly stabbed during the yearly Mr. and Ms. Global Leather and Bootblack contest. What cheer.
Who exactly did the entire Universe a favour and send Mr. Steel to hell in a pair of girly, frilled, yellow panties, a much worse insult to his macho leatherman persona than the murder itself? Not only the detectives want to find out the truth; there is also an intrepid reporter, Nancy Nichols, who hopes to get the scoop. And an eyeful. One thing you can be sure of: the investigation is bound to give you a crazy headache. Or maybe not.
Imagine one of those oldie-worldie Agatha Christie mysteries but set among the leather/BDSM/kinky/poly/pansexual/Zodian/Wiccan community during one of their weird contests. Everyone and their dog is dressed in leather shirts, different uniforms, furs, latex, chiffon veils, chain collars and whatnot. Then imagine a detective who is also a Jewish lesbian and another one who is an African/American man from Alabama, raised by a very religious aunt. They have to find a murderer and they have to do it during one weekend, before the contestants and the judges cross different state lines and go home. They navigate around pissed off bootblacks, alcoholics, Christian activists and the Zodians, expanding their vocabulary as they go.
In case of such a whodunit you can actually speak about a world build. Dom. Sub. Slave. Puppy. Switch. Alpha. Primary. Boy or boi, master, mistress, or sir and ma’am, top and bottom, 24/7, twink, tourist, Zodian, polyamorous, lifestyler, leather, latex, gear, rubber, cyberpunk, steampunk, uniform, vampire, furry…I must say it could be a bit overwhelming sometimes. Still it was also one of those rare novels in which clothes descriptions didn’t bother me at all because they served a very concrete purpose- the identification of different contestants/judges and their sexual/lifestyle proclivities. Speaking of the kinky people – the author did everyone and her own book a huge favour by not idealizing them. She has a keen eye for the posturing and paradoxes of the leather world, yet there’s nothing malicious here. The descriptions of their day jobs, strengths and weaknesses, less-than-ideal appearances, problems and sorrows were actually one of the strong points of the book, not only providing a lot of comic relief, a feature I always warmly welcome, but also a whiff of originality which is like fresh air for too often overly formulaic crime mystery genre.
However the world build shouldn’t overshadow the main story arc, a murder mystery in that case, and here it happened more than one time. Plus the whole mystery wasn’t that difficult to solve – granny Agatha was far more devious in planting her red herrings and leading the readers astray. When the ending finally arrived and the culprit was revealed I was surprised it actually took our detectives the whole weekend to find them (not spoiling, thus the plural). If I were the editor I would also suggest deleting the character of Nancy Nichols. Although sometimes funny, in my view she didn’t contribute anything significant to the plot; without her the book would be shorter and snappier.
An S/M mystery in which you can find far more S/M (the author’s first love, I presume) and humour than mystery but which was also a surprisingly refreshing experience. I enjoyed reading it and I would pick another such a book for sure – as lately it’s definitely easier to find someone to hurt you consensually than to make you laugh, such funny books are simply too precious to be missed.