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REVIEW: The Elegant Corpse by A.M. Riley

Cover of The Elegant CorpseDear Ms. Riley.

DA reader cs recommended your writing to me in one of my previous posts. I bought this and Amor en Retrogrado and devoured both of them in about 36 hours. I adore Roger and Sean in this story, adore your presentation of BDSM, and adore the storyline, huge gaping plot holes or not.

Roger, homicide detective and Old Guard BDSM top, comes home from some time off and finds a mummified corpse on his couch. During the ensuing investigation, he travels through his own memories of gay leather circles pre-“plague,” including visiting “the happiest perv in WeHo,” his old mentor who is now in a wheelchair with emphysema. He also meets Sean, a young, restless, searching man who sets Roger’s teeth on edge for reasons he can’t figure out. Sean is the brother of the mummy on Roger’s couch and stumbles not only through helping Roger figure out the killer but also into a relationship with Roger.

I adore the emotional sparseness of your writing. It matches both Roger and Sean so perfectly, Roger because he’s so emotionally contained — almost OCD about suppressing emotional displays — and Sean because he’s so confused, so clueless and searching for security and answers and understanding. For example, when Sean is being threatened:

A wild animalistic emotion rose up in Roger. It was that thing he always sought to control and his whole body shook as he contained it.

And that’s it. That’s all the reader needs to understand Roger’s reactions, because that’s exactly how Roger deals with himself. Roger is still recovering from the loss of his partner from cancer a few years previously and is NOT looking for another entanglement — it would mess up his incredibly well-ordered life, if nothing else. Sean is…searching. He’s absolutely clueless and Roger’s somewhat clueless about dealing with Sean’s cluelessness because Roger’s trying to figure out if, how, and why he’s attracted to Sean.

The BDSM is beautifully done. We see Old Guard gay Leather in memory, we see Roger dealing with a completely novice submissive, we see the difference between consensual, loving BDSM, “traditional Christian discipline,” and outright abuse. We see a couple of BDSM scenes between Roger and other characters. We see Roger having to be circumspect about being gay and having to hide his BDSM identity.

I do not read books like this for the mystery. In fact, I mostly actively dislike mysteries, especially police procedurals that do not marry the suspense to the main characters. Because the mystery is so deeply personal to Roger, however, I became deeply invested in the mystery itself, which is very unusual and, frankly, pleasing. And, for what it’s worth (which is very little because I don’t do suspense) I had no idea who the killer was until he was revealed, so that was gratifying. These two things hid, for me, the one problem I had with the story, that I only figured out when I was rereading to review. The killer’s been doing what he does for decades. It seems an unusual escalation for him to kill as many as he does during the course of the story, and as there’s very little serial killer monologuing at the end of the book, there’s very little explanation of why he does what he did. So I felt a little bereft there at the end.

But seriously, authors, can we please figure out the differences between floggers, cats, and whips? They are not interchangeable, although there is a little overlap. This is a flogger, (in fact, a buffalo hide flogger like the one that plays a prominent part in the mystery of The Elegant Corpse). This is a cat (or, more historically, a cat-o’-nine-tails). Cats are usually braided floggers and have knots on the end of the falls. Cats and floggers obviously easily overlap now and then. This is a single-tail whip, obviously named, I would think, for the fact that it’s got a single tail, rather than multiple falls like a flogger, even if the end has multiple cracks. This is a bullwhip, like Indiana Jones uses. I’m not an aficionado of whips — they’re hella difficult to use — but I *think* the main difference between single tails and bullwhips is their length. The main differences between whips and floggers/cats is the number of falls and where they start. Another telling difference is that most whip handles are flexible and part of the fall itself, while most flogger/cat handles are solid. It makes a difference if Roger is using a whip, a cat, or a flogger at the end of the story to defeat the bad guy, and you seemed to use the terms interchangeably – in one paragraph: "the abandoned cat lying on the table" and three sentences later: "He’d probably left the singletail there to tease Roger." Sigh.

That aside, I truly adored this book. I loved Roger and Sean was adorable. I loved the plot and the BDSM was perfect. Amor en Retrogrado was equally brilliant and completely different (review eventually). I heartily recommend this book to everyone. I’ve reread it multiple times and see it in my future. I especially love the very last scene.

Grade: B

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased at Loose Idin ebook format or other etailers.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

18 Comments

  1. Mezza
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 17:12:58

    I read this a while back and loved it too. I liked the respect and friendship between Roger and his police partner. The Hadrian’s wall between their desks, respecting and managing different levels of comfort with mess. This respect was there in support for him as he revealed some of his private life in order to deal with the case. The ending as Sean and (I can’t remember her name) ‘compare’ engagements was about respect as well. I found this a very thoughtful little book. I read the escalation of the killings as proportional to the sense of the killer wanting Roger’s attention to be on him, of wanting Roger to know.

  2. DS
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 19:10:03

    I’m glad you reviewed this. I thought from the title that it might be connected to Riley’s Immortality Is the Suck, but the only connection seems to be both books feature gay cops. The mystery is important to me and plot holes drive me nuts so I’ll give this one a pass.

  3. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 20:39:02

    @Mezza: Yes! I loved that Mary Anne (had to check too) was a real person and not a token female (even if she was, if you see what I mean). I also loved that Roger was aware of his own vague misogyny and had dealt with it.

    And, oh lord, I love that last scene. So short, but so evocative.

    @DS: Sorry it’s not for you, but yeah, mysteries are supremely unimportant for me, so I’m never sure what’s a good mystery and what isn’t, because I have so little experience with them.

  4. Mezza
    Jan 06, 2010 @ 22:14:03

    @DS
    If you’ve read ‘Immortality is the suck’ you have to read the Xmas follow up, a short story ‘what to get the vamp who has everything’. It wraps up the development of Peter and Adam’s relationship which is a HFN in the book. the little story is kind of thrilling – in the sense that Adam seems to have worked out how to live and love only because he has died. I really like the idea that Adam is more alive now than he was before.

  5. Nonny
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 01:38:21

    I’ll have to put this on my TBR. :)

    Regarding the flogger/whip issue, that’s a frustration of mine as well. The two are not interchangeable. There are so many different types of both, too. My evil little barbed wire rubber flogger is different from my heavy elk leather flogger is different from a rubber flogger — etc! I can’t say I have much experience with whips — sigh! — but even without, I know the difference in what marks are left and what sort of feel is likely and — gah.

    Authors would benefit from some thoughtful browsing of toys, or hands-on research if possible. I know many urban areas have a “fetish flea” type convention where vendors gather and workshops are held. Or even just talk to some of us kinky types; there are some that will think you shouldn’t write about it if you’re not doing it, but there are plenty who are willing to answer questions.

    …… I’m sorry for hijacking your comment space for a rant. >_>

  6. Angie
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 02:15:32

    But seriously, authors, can we please figure out the differences between floggers, cats, and whips?

    I vote yes please. [raises hand]

    I mean, my own experience is sort of minimal and I’ve never played with these kinds of implements, but ya know, that’s what the internet is for. Start with Google and take it from there, just like any other subject a writer might have to research. Why is it so hard when it comes to researching BDSM?

    It does sound like a great book, though, even with that glitch; I added it to my wish list. :)

    Angie

  7. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 05:50:59

    @Nonny: Bookmarking sites. Love that barbed wire rubber flogger. Beautiful. And like the look of the floggers from MT Leather. My favorite for wonderful floggers is Bare Leatherworks (despite the crazy website).

  8. commenter
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 08:00:13

    testing two

  9. DS
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 08:08:39

    @Mezza: Thanks, I will. I had an impression that there was a connected story but I had bought it from Amazon where only a minimal amount of imformation was available.

    I enjoy gritty at times and Riley did it pretty well. There was only a couple of eye rolling moments, and if I hadn’t bought it in ebook form I would be tempted to give it to someone I know who used to ride with a (non-outlaw) club just to watch his head explode.

  10. Nonny
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 12:55:24

    @Sarah: The MT Leather stuff is awesome. The flogger I have from them (the elk one) has undergone the most use of any of mine, since we actually also use it for a massage tool given how it hits deep but soft. It’s held up amazingly well when others I’ve bought have not; very impressed with their work. :)

  11. cs
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 16:13:59

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book, as another poster said I wish the author wrote faster, but then whatever she puts out is always quality. Mystery is one of the genre’s that I love, whilst BDSM I can do without most of the time. However, I think she handled both wonderfully and it is a really enjoyable book.

    Another recommendation: Angela Fiddler and her Master of the Lines series from Loose Id. I think the author mentioned that book one is expired – but alas the main interest lies in book two onwards. I’m not sure how much you care for the paranormal/vampires aspect. But I find the BDSM in her books scorching yet elegantly understated. Though I’m bias. I adore this series; but figured I’d thrown another author at you and see if you like her stuff.

    ETA: The end of the post where you link the book says, you can purchase the book from Samhain. You’ve got the Loose Id link but wrong text. Just a head’s up.

  12. BlueRose
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 16:38:21

    re whips – the thing that makes a bullwhip is the handle – the link you gave for a single tail was not a bullwhip as it was a whole flexible one piece plaited whip

    EM Whips

    This is an australian guy who makes *excellent* whips out of kangaroo hide among other things

    Here is a nice photo series showing how the handle is made up of a steel core and several layers of leather/plaiting

    Handle images

    And a bit of history on the different types

    Whip History

    (I also have a fantastic cobalt blue suede and black leather flogger made by a friend, its *awesome*)

    /threadjack

  13. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 18:06:32

    @BlueRose: Thanks! I learn something new every day. :) And I think the whips at MT Leather at the top of the page are closer to the Single Tails I’ve seen used than my link in the review. They’ve got better cracks, at least.

  14. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 07, 2010 @ 18:07:34

    @cs: I’ll check it out! You’re doing pretty well for recommendations for me. :)

  15. kaigou
    Jan 12, 2010 @ 19:23:38

    Psst: the tag says “Loose-ID” but the review’s closing line says you can get it at Samhain. Which is it? Neither site is really all that search-friendly, it seems.

    ETA: okay, tracked it down, and it’s at Loose-ID. Might want to change that “you can get this at Samhain” bit!

  16. Angie
    Jan 12, 2010 @ 19:25:33

    Kaigou — LOL! I didn’t even notice that. :D If you click on the link at the bottom, it takes you to the book’s page (on Loose Id) even though the label says Samhain.

    Angie

  17. Joan/SarahF
    Jan 12, 2010 @ 20:05:29

    @kaigou and @Angie: Fixed! Thanks, guys!

  18. Original Fiction by Ann Somerville » The Elegant Corpse by A M Riley
    Aug 07, 2010 @ 02:05:35

    […] gets this mostly right – Sarah Frantz, who’s something of an expert on the subject, agrees (and loves the book […]

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