DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

By Christa Faust
Babbage Press/ $18.95/ 288 pages
ISBN 1-930235-14-3

Writer Caitlin McCullough is one tough chick: 6'2", an accomplished martial artist, rides a Harley, doesn't want to get too involved with the men who are attracted to her -- even her current boyfriend Mike Kiernan, a police detective. When she sees a chance to exploit a grisly murder and turn it into a big bucks true crime book, she grabs it and starts investigating. The victim, a young blonde -- whose real name is Eva Eiseman -- went by the moniker Apocrypha in the hacker world. But computers and codes weren't the girl's only world, she also lived in the darker parts of New York's sexual jungle.

Although previously unexposed to the kinky world of fetish, bondage, domination, submission, and sadomasochism, Caitlin takes to it like a wrist to a handcuff. She quickly finds she has a natural talent for domination and adopts a new persona as Mistress Morrigan. She's also happily in the clutches of Absinthe, the top dog in the decadence division as well as the chief murder suspect. Detective Mike seethes and does silly jealous man-things. While Mike seethes, etc. and Caitlin discovers herself as a dominatrix, both pursue clues to Eva/Apocrypha's murder.

Book COVER Caitlin's sexual adventures overwhelm the mystery for an extended mid-portion of the novel, but the reader doesn't really miss it much as there's plenty of perv-performance taking place on the novelistic stage. In fact, it's not until the ending that we learn just how complex a human puzzle it had all been.

Atypically for a debut novelist, Faust rarely falters as a writer. She writes with clarity and style and handles the naughty bits with skill. Typically for a first novel, there are some lose ends that never become part of the rigging: the world of Apocrypha and her nerdy friends and their fantasy/pagan/psychic associates is almost completely lost after the first 80 pages; Caitlin's sensei and handy Robin Hacker Hood friend Wilson is similarly abandoned, although he does pop up with handy information from time-to-time and at least is provided both an exit and a post-plot life; Eva's mother is evidently a person of some repute, but that's immediately dropped. And, although the debauched and depraved are well drawn, Mike and his police partner Erik, are crude cardboard cutouts.

Even with these flaws, CONTROL FREAK stands out as a significant achievement. Unlike like most erotic writing -- where even dark fantasy remains just that, fantasy -- the perceptive Faust examines the destroying nature of obsession and the devastating compulsions of lust in a milieu where sex involves "scenes" and not relationships. She examines the duality of human nature, but doesn't stop there. She probes further, at least in her heroine, into more complex multiplicities. By the book's finale, Caitlin -- despite her extremes -- has become a character with whom the reader is loath to lose touch. It would be interesting to see where a more mature Caitlin (written by a more mature author) would find herself. -- Paula Guran (Original to this site, January 2003)

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.