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REVIEW: Slave to Love by Nikita Black

Dear Ms. Black:

It’s very hard to write this review because something happens at the end of the book that shades my entire view of the story so a post mortem is a little difficult because the story, before the ending, was really intriguing despite a few problems with believability. And frankly, while I read this book in one sitting, it’s not even a book I can recommend without telling people first what happens at the end. I would feel too guilty to recommend the story without giving them some kind of heads up. It would be like sending people out to swim without warning them that there is a sudden drop off.

Slave to BlackCaroline Palmer is a vice officer but she wants to be part of the homicide team more than anything. She also wants Lieutenant Michael ‘Mick’ McGraw. She tried to flirt with him when she was first transferred from Traffic a year ago, but he shot her down and Caroline burns with both embarrassment and need every time she sees him.

Mick has labored hard to keep his personal life separate from his professional life. He’s had to. Mick has some very dark tastes when it comes to sex and a bad reputation to live down. His father was a notorious murderer who has been imprisoned for years.

A series of crimes have been committed and Mick needs a female partner to pose with him in hopes to lure a serial killer into making a mistake. All the couples who have been killed have a common link to a leather fetish club called The Brimstone. No one within the club will talk to the police and thus they need a couple to go undercover. Caroline’s experience on the vice squad makes her the perfect foil for Mick. At least, that is what Mick tells himself but in truth, this is an opportunity to give himself permission to touch Caroline, something he’s wanted to do for a long time but hasn’t allowed himself to act on those urges.

The first few chapters really set up Mick and Caroline as serious officers and I think because you did such a good job of selling the setup, it made the deviations from reality that occur later on more palatable. We see Mick and his partner, Bobby, run down the facts of the case that they know. We see the three of them and other members of the homicide team working a crime scene. It all seems very plausible. Even the first undercover scene at The Brimstone seems in keeping with what might happen in real life.

For the most part, I thought Caroline was portrayed as a confident woman, although this eroded over time as Mick’s personality exerted itself more and more in the book. But there was real effort to show these two as some kind of equals:

She was about to cave in to her fear when he said, "If you’re ever afraid, really afraid, and you want me to stop … whatever I’m doing … just call me Detective.”

She met his solid gaze with her unsteady one. She knew what this was about. He was giving her a safe word. It’s what people did when they were into bondage and stuff like that. So things wouldn’t go too far. So everyone felt comfortable at all times, secure in the knowledge that they could stop whatever was happening with a single, pre-arranged word.

She gave in and bit her lower lip. His thumbs caressed small, patient circles in her palms. She peered up at him, at this giant, broad-shouldered, muscular, totally intimidating man who had her knees shaking and her insides doing things she’d never thought possible.

“And if you get scared," she said from her place against the wall, "you can call me Officer.”

As the serial killer escalates and the undercover game gets deeper, the story loses some of its strength – believability. There is a point in the story where it takes a ridiculous turn where it seems like everyone on the force is at some underground BDSM club jerking off and engaging in torrid, unsanctioned sex. There are FBI undercover and Homicide undercover from at least two precincts and everyone is watching everyone else get off. It was pretty crazy and I’m not really sure what it was there to prove, particularly when you tried to bring believability back by dragging Mick and Caroline into the Chief to explain an act that placed their investigation in jeopardy. It was as if you were signaling to the reader, “hey I really do know I am taking liberties here”.

Mick’s father is out of prison and Mick has some inside knowledge about his father’s perversions and desires which ratchet up the stakes and push Mick into taking more chances to bring this matter to a close. Complicating this is the fact that Mick perfectly fits the profile of the serial killer and there are details which implicate Mick as well.

This is a dark romance not only because of the subject matter but because of the way in which the feelings of the two characters are drawn out, through their exploration of pain, dominance and submission. In that area, I thought the romance was really well done and I believed at the end that Caro and Mick were meant for each other and because the serial killer was playing around in the BDSM scene, I accepted the other parts of the story out of necessity even though questions played around the edges such as Caro’s ability to maintain respect with her fellow officers, the gossip that would necessarily follow such a public display of Mick and Caro’s sexual desires for each other, and the ability of any of the officers to bring the killer, if caught, to justice. Further, the attempt to show Caro as independent was ameliorated as time went on, as her desires subsumed her to the all controlling Mick. Up to the last two chapters, I would have given this book a B-.

But the ending…the ending has a big surprise that made me reflect (and not favorably) on the story.

But up until the reveal, I thought the book was a pretty strong erotic romance. It was the reveal, however, that made me doubt many things in the story, particularly Mick’s motivations. I didn’t think a good enough job was done to foreshadow Mick’s actions and that the reveal wasn’t entirely consistent with the story that had gone before. Even with the reveal, though, I don’t regret reading this story. The ending only makes me feel conflicted. In the end, I give this a C+ and I would recommend it to some readers, but not to all readers.

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

76 Comments

  1. Angela James
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:08:40

    Ha! Another book I made you read. I am in your life, taking over your ereader…

  2. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:13:11

    @Angela James I know! Give me another rec!

  3. Angela James
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:18:39

    You didn’t mention that you did like this book enough to seek out the author’s backlist under both her pseudonyms.

    I hope she decides to write more erotic romance, because I enjoyed this book as an example of good erotic romance, though, like you, I was surprised by the ending. It didn’t make me dislike the book at all, it was just almost too much of a surprise.

    But still, overall, good story and good erotic romance, I’d like to see more from this author.

  4. GrowlyCub
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:20:03

    I *hated* this book. Up to the reveal I agree with you it was a good story with some flaws, but that ending made me totally lose my trust in this author and I will NEVER read another book by her.

    It’s an F for me and if I could wash the memory of it out of my brain I would.

  5. Anne Calhoun
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:21:04

    Yeah, and then Jane told me to read it, and I did, and now…

    The ending made this book unsatisfying to me as a reader. As a writer, I give Nina Bruhns credit, b/c as irritated as I was at the end, I went back and reread to see how she did it. And I’d far rather read something that annoyed me but made me think about the craft (ie: how does she do that and make it work?) than read something bland and forget it 20 minutes later.

  6. DianeN
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:52:52

    Jane, you mentioned that you would recommend this book to “some readers, but not to all readers.” Are you saying you’d only recommend it to people whose reading tastes you’re personally familiar with, or do you think there are certain types of readers who just wouldn’t be accepting of the ending? I’m not asking for spoilers here, because I think I might want to read it myself–unless it hits my squick buttons!

  7. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 10:57:58

    @DianeN: I think that there are some readers who won’t get past the ending. I knew something about the ending but was still intrigued by the story when I started. I think the writing is strong and Angela is right. I sought out the Nina Bruhns books because I thought that maybe I would respond well to her more conventional stories.

  8. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:07:29

    @Angela James: I plan to review the Bruhns books next week and that is my lead in, dammit. Stop ruining the surprise.

  9. Angela James
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:09:31

    Hey, I only said you sought out her backlist under both pseudonyms. ANNE is the one who actually named her. Yell at Anne.

  10. Gennita Low
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:33:24

    I love her Nikita pseudonym. Years ago, she wrote Cajun Hot and I was hooked.

  11. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:37:26

    @Gennita Low Yeah, I bought Cajun Hot after reading Slave to Love and thought it was terrible. There was no plot. The men were interchangeable and the heroine had the personality of a dishrag. It’s not a book I would recommend.

  12. Angela
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:43:47

    Well, you definitely made me interested. I usually tend to agree with most reviews you have, and books that Angela James recommends…but I’m not sure I’ll be giving this one a try. I’m not a huge fan of surprise endings that seem to go against the rest of the story. Ruins the trust for me, I think.

  13. Gennita Low
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:55:52

    @Jane: You didn’t like Cajun Hot? Admittedly, it’s been ten years since I pulled it off my shelf, and might read dated, but I remembered that I enjoyed it then. Maybe because at that time, there was not many stories playing in the erotic range. I’ll have to reread and see how I like it now.

  14. Gennita Low
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:57:51

    @Jane: You’re also tempting me to get this so I can go straight to the ending to see what upset you.

  15. Jean
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:58:45

    I thought this book was an enjoyable read – not great, more of a B read for me – up until the very end. But that ending??!! Ruined the entire book. I don’t know why she went there and because of it I have no interest in ever reading another book written by Nikita Black.

  16. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 11:59:38

    @Gennita Low: No, I thought it was bad but not as bad as Renegade Woman.

    I usually don’t say “don’t buy” a book but Renegade Woman is just so bad and so offensive that I just want to be on the record that I told you all not to buy it.

  17. berite2
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:05:28

    Ok. What was the surprise at the ending? I’m not against spoilers that help me determine if a particular book is for me or not. Help me out here.

  18. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:08:54

    Okay, now I’m seriously intrigued… I’ve read & enjoyed some of NB’s stuff, under both names I think, and I’m dying to know what the ending was…

  19. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:10:02

    @Jean: I don’t know why she went there. To be clever? I don’t know. And I guess the author isn’t saying.

  20. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:10:55

    Now I have to read this. Why do I always click to read the full review? WHYyyyy

  21. GrowlyCub
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:16:33

    I’ll be perfectly happy to tell those interested what the ending is. Feel free to email GrowlyCub @ yahoo . com

    I would love to spare as many people that surprise as I can.

  22. Jean
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:33:50

    I started a thread on the spoiler board on the Romantic Times forums if anyone wants to know about the ending. (thread started 12/11/08).

  23. Kirsten
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:38:07

    @Jean: Jean, can you provide a link to it?

    @GrowlyCub, I emailed you and I suspect you are about to be bombarded!

  24. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:43:00

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    The implication is that the hero is the serial killer and he did this to draw out his father. Which, really? Why not just off the father in some back alley and if it wasn’t to draw out the father, then poor Caro is going to end up dead at some point right?

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  25. Jean
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:44:59

  26. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:45:06

    @Jean: I’d like to see the thread too. Am wondering what other people thought!

  27. Heather
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:48:01

    I was curious about the ending too and found the Romantic Times thread.

    I’m not surprised for some reason, but I’d be ticked if I’d read the book.

  28. Liz
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 12:57:24

    @Jane: Now that I’ve read the spoilers, I’m thinking (besides “wow” and “ick”) this would be a really interesting example for the ideas about reader consent in your last post. I don’t think any writer could gain my consent to that ending, at least not when I read with the expectations created by reading a romance.

  29. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 13:02:21

    @Liz: I certainly didn’t like the ending but up until the very end I enjoyed the book. So I thought to myself, if this book didn’t have the surprise, what would I think? How would I grade it? Would I recommend it?

    It was a very dark book and I think that helped, but it’s not a book I could read again because I KNOW now what happened and I couldn’t read it with that knowledge. But the first time around, I didn’t really KNOW.

    So I don’t think the author does a good job of gaining the reader’s consent. I don’t think she wants you to consent to it. I think it was kind of a shock tactic and because the book ends on the shock the reader’s consent isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t read another Nikita Black book without knowing the ending and I would stay away from those in which she choose to shock the reader again.

    This is partly why I sought out her Nina Bruhns books. I didn’t think she could sell her story to a mainstream audience and thus I could be more assured of an HEA.

  30. Sirius11214
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:01:54

    Oh wow, Jane you have no idea how much I appreciate spoilers about the ending. I mean, I am the type of reader who loves spoilers no matter what, but to be surprised with the ending like that, no thanks.

    Having said that, I went to Amazon and got the book to see if I would appreciate writing skill in pulling it off or not. I also saw the brief discussion in the product forum which is called “the ending” lol.

    Supposedly, this is not the author intended to convey with the ending. Now whether she intended to do so or not, it appears to me that she did a poor job then, because several readers here seem to get the same idea of what is the implication of the ending. I will be very curious what will be my impression after I finish.

  31. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:03:30

    @Sirius11214 This isn’t what the author intended to convey? What? I need to read that thread. Do you have a link?

    Edited: Found the link. I guess I would love a clarification from the author.

  32. Holly
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:05:05

    Okay, thanks for revealing the spoiler because I can NOT read this book. Shudder.

    The idea of hero as serial killer is anathema to me. I haven’t explored Dexter (book or tv series) because I can’t handle the main protagonist as a serial killer. Serial killers are NOT heroic to me – even if the victims “deserve” it which is supposed to be the case with Dexter.

    It’s possible to feel empathy for their pain if they were abused as children. The season opener of Criminal Minds touched on this last night when JJ had to talk the guy down after he’d killed a cop and abducted a child. But while I could empathize with his childhood trauma, like JJ, I could NOT empathize with his subsequent murder spree. Oy.

    Thanks so much for saving me from having to throw my Nook against the wall. I like my Nook.

  33. Sirius11214
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:08:32

    Jane,

    Unfortunately I cannot link from the desktop I am in and will be for another few hours, but go to Amazon link and look into forum discussion of this product, you should see it there.

  34. MaryK
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:13:23

    Oh, the infamous ending! I’d heard about it and hoped to read a review sometime in case there was some other way to interpret it. It’s a real shame. I like a good ER but that ending ruins the R for me. (And after thinking about it, “ruin” isn’t a strong enough word. It eradicates it. It vanishes from the book as if it never existed.)

    It’s violation of consent, IMO. Giving and promising the reader one thing and substituting something different at the end. I choose not to read books with that in them. Slipping one into a genre that doesn’t have them as a rule is just wrong.
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    Doing the spoiler thing because I have to say it: HE’S NOT HEROIC, HE’S A CRIMINAL! Hero. Villian. They’re opposites.

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  35. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:19:06

    @MaryK I actually have an op ed piece I plan to run in October about the hero/villian thing and whether the words “hero/heroine” have any meaning anymore, particularly with authors pushing the anti-hero envelope so far to the edge. My reading of the JK Beck book prompted me down that path along with the depiction of Aiden in Kresley Cole’s latest book.

  36. MaryK
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:25:24

    @Gennita Low: I remember liking Cajun Hot. :) It was one of the first ERs I read. I got it on a disc (from EC, I think)! LOL

    I think I also have Renegade Woman if that’s the Native American one. O_O I never got around to reading it for some reason.

  37. MaryK
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 14:41:56

    @Jane: That’ll be interesting. I love a good anti-hero. Anne Stuart’s come immediately to mind. But somewhere there’s a distinct dividing line that I trip over.

    Hopefully I can hold onto my thoughts until your post. Sometimes they sneak away when I’m not looking. :)

  38. Melissa
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 15:03:25

    I haven’t read Slave to Love but seeing this review and discussion reminded me of an old Amazon thread where the ending was debated. A poster (Char) emailed Nikita Black asking if the hero was the killer and she replied that he was not, he just planted evidence against his father. The link to the discussion is here, Char’s reply is over halfway down the page:

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/romance/forum/ref=cm_cd_pg_next?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=FxM42D5QN2YZ1D&cdPage=3&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx35O1HYRIP3MRX

  39. GrowlyCub
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 15:15:00

    @Melissa:

    That’s very interesting. If that’s really how it was supposed to be I have to say she did a really poor job writing it as such.

    Also, unless I totally misremember, the couple that was found last was killed first and his father was still in prison at that time. And everything at that scene pointed to a novice killer.

    In other words, I’m not buying… maybe I’m too cynical.

  40. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 15:36:02

    Re hero/anti-hero

    I was taught that a hero has one fatal flaw and an anti-hero has one redeeming virtue. I use that to judge hero/anti-hero, but given I’ve yet to come across a true anti-hero in any of the romances where the term anti-hero was used to describe the male protagonist, I’m not sure my definition jibes with the rest of the world’s.

  41. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 16:06:08

    @GrowlyCub I wonder if this is a case of an author being too clever by half. By trying to have the ambiguous ending and thus an ending more palatable to some, doesn’t she make either outcome unbelievable?

  42. GrowlyCub
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 16:13:38

    @Jane:

    To me it’s definitely an experiment gone wrong. Cynical me says she cobbled that explanation together when she saw the outrage the ending created, but I’m not feeling generous today. :)

    She says on her website something to the effect that she’s trying to push the envelope and I think she pushed it too far in this case or with not enough skill.

    I’ve been rolling the ‘planted evidence on his dad’ explanation round in my head for the last hour, but it’s just not sticking *at all*.

  43. Gennita Low
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 17:41:22

    I just read about the ending. Oh dear. That’s not anti-hero to me at all. I’d put this in the par of Karin Slaughter’s shock-value ending to Beyond Reach. If I were expecting a romance, this ending would really kill the promise of a romance.

  44. vi
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 17:41:38

    I am in complete agreement wiith GrowlyCub. I remember reading the spoilers about this short story way back in the day. This has ruined my perception of all of her books, either as Nikita Black or Nina Bruhns. Anytime, I see her name, I’m repulsed because all I can think about is, this is the author who made a serial killer a ‘hero.’ *shudders*

  45. Serena
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 18:19:03

    I think the comparisons to Dexter are really interesting. I think people are willing to root for Dexter and not the hero from this book because 1. we know he’s a serial killer from the first, so there’s not the ‘nasty surprise’ at the end like in this book, 2. he only kills really horrible people 3. Dexter is not really a romance

    Other “killers we root for” that come to mind are Damon Salvatore, and other various “evil vampires”. They’re serial killers too, but most of the fans still want the “good” heroine to end up with them.

    When it’s a tv show or movie, of course, there’s also the charm/talent of the actor that can make the audience root for them.

  46. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 19:11:44

    Because that’s what BDSM romance needs, a serial killer hero. Fabulous. I’m…mostly speechless after just having read the review. I really don’t think I should read the book. No thank you.

  47. MaryK
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 19:21:43

    @Sarah Frantz: No kidding! It’s bad from every angle really. A serial killer boyfriend? Nooo, lets have a serial killer boyfriend who’s into BDSM. Yeah, that sounds like fun. o_O

  48. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 19:50:06

    @MaryK: Well, you know those dirty rotten whores of BDSM, right?! Anyone into that shit must be a serial killer. Or in love with one.

  49. Jane
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 19:58:29

    @Sarah Frantz: I didn’t get the sense that the author was trying to portray BDSM lifestyle as only for deviants who were killers at all.

  50. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 23, 2010 @ 20:39:49

    @Jane: Actually, I didn’t get that idea from your review. Sounds like she did a good job with the BDSM, but the final implication remains.

  51. Jessica
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:57:35

    @GrowlyCub:

    I *hated* this book. Up to the reveal I agree with you it was a good story with some flaws, but that ending made me totally lose my trust in this author and I will NEVER read another book by her.

    It's an F for me and if I could wash the memory of it out of my brain I would.

    Sold. I have to read this now.

  52. Angela James
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 07:29:52

    @Sarah Frantz: “Actually, I didn't get that idea from your review. Sounds like she did a good job with the BDSM, but the final implication remains”

    I disagree. Like Jane, I saw no implication of that.

  53. GrowlyCub
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 08:54:10

    I remember feeling very uncomfortable when Mick talks about his father and clearly links his father’s BDSM tendencies and murderous inclinations. Also, the reason Mick fights his interest in BDSM is because he associates it with ‘wrong’.

    In sum, while I know Nina did a lot of personal research into the NOLA scene, I think she does not present BDSM in a positive or even neutral light, especially not with the twist at the end.

    Actually, I’d really like to get your take on that particular aspect of the story, Sarah!

  54. Jane
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 09:35:24

    @GrowlyCub I disagree quite a bit and here’s why. To say that a serial killer who enjoyed BDSM is a condemnation of BDSM is essentially saying one bad egg spoils the whole barrel. Everyone in the book that was having sex was enjoying the BDSM scene, even those who hadn’t been exposed to it before. It wasn’t as if there was one set of people doing straight missionary sex that were shown as pure and good people as opposed to those dirty evil minded BDSM people. It was about one man’s perversion of something that consenting adults enjoyed. Mick’s conflict with his father had far more to do with his sexuality, in my opinion. In fact, if it weren’t for the reveal, I would argue that Mick’s character arc was complete acceptance of his sexual nature given release through his father’s death and finding Caro as a partner who he could love wholeheartedly.

  55. Angie
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:42:12

    @Angela James: I agree with Sarah; I think the implication is there.

    If Mick seemed like a nice guy up until the end, then suddenly we see that he was the serial killer all along, people are going to wonder how they missed that, whether there were any signs of it, because despite hearing over and over that sociopaths seem like everyone else until they’re sprayed with blood, there’s something in us that insists there must be something that marks these people from “normal” people. A lot of readers are going to go looking for that something, and people who’ve already been primed to think badly of BDSM and the people who practice it aren’t going to have to look far.

    The fact that other people who were perfectly nice and normal were shown practicing BDSM throughout the book doesn’t change anything, either, because we thought Mick was perfectly nice and normal until the reveal at the very end. So who knows what all those other people do that we just don’t know about?

    When you’re dealing with an already marginalized group, it doesn’t take much to add to the filth smearing their rep.

    Angie

  56. MaryK
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:42:17

    @Angela James: I understand what she’s talking about though. It’s like if you find out a serial killer worked at a local burger joint. After that, every time you go in there you look askance at everybody.

  57. Jane
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:45:13

    @Angie: @MaryK: Really? So if a Korean man was a raping a bunch of girls, would you all look at Korean men as rapists? Of if a Korean woman went out and shot up a bunch of people in a cafe, would you look at every Korean woman as a potential killer? I don’t see that.

  58. Angie
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:49:10

    @Jane: I wouldn’t, no. But plenty of people who are already racist against Koreans, or Asians in general, probably would. That’s how racist stereotypes get started, and it works with any other type of -ist or -ism as well.

    Angie

  59. Jane
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:55:47

    @Angie: Sorry I just disagree with you strongly. There is no comparison here between BDSM characters and non BDSM characters in the story. They are all into the scene and thus any prejudice derive from it has to be read into the text, it can’t be inferred from the text itself.

    In Joey Hill’s Natural Law, the killer is someone heavy into the BDSM scene and I’ve never, ever seen anyone suggest that Hill was implicating BDSM as deviant sexual killers through Natural Law. In fact, Sarah Frantz recommends that book (as I do) all the time.

    Essentially, BDSM is such a taboo subject that no one can have BDSM + serial killer in a story if the take from this book is that BDSM = serial killer. And if that is that take away from this book, then it has to be the takeaway from every book that has people into the BDSM scene and involving killing.

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  61. Joanna Terrero
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:06:35

    This is a very interesting discussion, we all can learn a lot from it. At the end we are talking about point of views. Beliefs which might be wrong or biased, but ours.

    BTW, the plot of Slave to love by Nikita Black is very similar to Gerald Walker's novel, Cruising. Which was the base for the movie. It's about an undercover cop hunting a serial killer among the BDSM community. It also has a shocking ending where is suggested the cop is the killer.

    Many, in an ignorant manner, associate BDSM with violence and dominion over others. This reminds me of the interview Stone Phillips did with Jeffrey Dahmer. I don't think it can get more ghastly than that. Dahmer preyed in BDSM gay bars. At the end of the interview, evil nature aside, it was concluded that he did all those atrocities to get the ultimate control over his victims. He said it himself.

    We don't need more books presenting this as tempting, because it's not. If a book portrays a serial killer who is into BDSM, it should be horror never romance. Of course, we cannot control that.

    A writer has the right to create a book any way she/he wants, but the readers deserve respect. The lines between the genres is blurring too much. I'd seen many books being marketed as darkly sexy romance, when they are really horror/crime fiction with a dash of erotic romance. Maybe because sex/romance sells. Many books in the categories of urban fantasy/paranormal erotic romance have a 70% horror/action thriller, 15% crime fiction and 5% of erotic romance. Serial killers are the new vampires. The urban fantasy/paranormal romance books contain as many gruesome body parts as any horror book. When I want to read horror thrillers, I know where they are. Also when I read romance I expect a HEA or a HFN.

    Jane, I’m looking forward to the discussion on anti-heroes. I have a penchant for bad boys.

  62. MaryK
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 14:20:51

    @Jane: Probably, for a while. I tend to idealize people until something reminds me that they’re just as prone to badness as a sinister looking stranger.

    Essentially, BDSM is such a taboo subject that no one can have BDSM + serial killer in a story if the take from this book is that BDSM = serial killer. And if that is that take away from this book, then it has to be the takeaway from every book that has people into the BDSM scene and involving killing.

    I agree. I even had that very thought while reading through all the comments. Call me illogical. :) I feel like it’s something all niches suffer on their way to familiarity with readers/the public. They have to get over the hump of “Yes, these are regular people some good some bad just like everybody else.”

    Natural Law is on my TBR list. I’ve never gotten the same impression from any discussion about that book. I really think it has something to do with it being the hero (who the reader is attached to and never suspects) not a stranger.

  63. joanne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 15:04:20

    @Joanna Terrero: I’ll challenge your statistics particularly that horror and action are interchangeable.

    And this:

    Serial killers are the new vampires

    No. Not. Nope.

  64. Joanna Terrero
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 16:36:56

    @joanne:

    As you read the new books coming out, you will see what I meant. Somehow they are getting darker. For example, if we remove the supernatural elements from some urban fantasy/paranormal romance books, all that is left is an action thriller where the main characters are hunting a predator while stumbling with chopped body parts. When a book details in a gruesome revolting way what a killer does with the remains of the victims, is horror in my opinion. I was reading a paranormal romance the other day, and at times, some paragraphs read as a crossbreed between Silence of the Lambs or Perfume with a paranormal setting. I picked the book because I thought it was a paranormal romance, at least it was promoted as such. I wanted to see the hero and the heroine together, instead the serial killer is getting all the screen time. None of this was detailed in the blur or in the excerpt of the book. I assumed it was only this book by this author. The next book was similar thing from a different author and publisher. Maybe my luck. For now, I opted for reading historical romances, those are still safe.

  65. Randi
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 10:06:00

    @Jane: Funny you mentioned “Natural Law”, because as I was reading the review, I was thinking this author was trying to emulate Joey Hill.

  66. brooksse
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 21:26:09

    Wow… I read this book a while back but didn’t catch on to the implication about Mick. That’s what I get for doing a quick skim through the last couple chapters in the book. Between barely reading the ending, thinking earlier parts of the book were following the old standard of “the hero being made to look guilty when he’s not really guilty”, and being conditioned to think hero villian, my mind just naturally went in the “tampering with evidence to set up his father” direction. Just re-read the last 2 chapters and can see the serial killer thing now. Wow.

    I’ve had the exact opposite reaction to Nina Bruhns’ Berkley trilogy. I’ve read the first two books Shoot to Thrill and If Looks Could Chill. The 3rd book is in my TBR pile but I haven’t read it yet. After reading the first 2 books, I was actually surprised to see him as the hero for book 3. Given his implied actions in first 2 books, I just didn’t think of him as hero material. If it turns out he actually did what the heroine thinks he did, at least it won’t be a surprise!

  67. brooksse
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 21:50:56

    @brooksse: I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. It was Gregg… after reading the first 2 books, I was surprised to see NB had chosen Gregg as the hero for A Kiss to Kill.

  68. Nina Bruhns
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 12:35:29

    Wow. Interesting thread!

    Just wanted to clear up a few things from my perspective as the author. First and foremost, SLAVE TO LOVE was never meant as a condemnation or even a slam on BDSM. In fact, quite the opposite. One of the main things I tried to do in the book was to explore an intelligent, independent woman’s attraction to what so many people find imposible to understand–why she’d let a man control her sexuality. I find it fascinating, and am completely positive when it comes to the subject of BDSM, practiced in the right way. Anyone who has read any of my books must know that. It’s something I think every soccer mom should try. :)

    As for the hero of SLAVE TO LOVE, Mick, yeah, he’s dark. Very dark. He’s probably the repository for all the darkness in my own life over the 10 years I wrote the book. :)

    But, here’s the thing. He is not the killer. My intent was that Smythe was the one who actually killed the couples (hello people, did no one get this? Or were you too caught up in your horror with the hero that you blanked on that character? the cops actually say this), but that Mick knew instinctively his father was behind the murders, steering them, as the dominant (the book is about dominance and submission…). Dad was the instigator, from jail, he and Smythe were cell mates, remember? Mick thought it must be dear old dad because of the timing and overwhelming similarity to his mom’s murder. Yeah, Mick was a little obsessed, but he simply made damn sure the physical evidence pointed to his dad (using the key, etc), after the fact, to get the bastard back in jail permanently, even tho he was innocent of the actual killings (but not of planning them, which is just as bad). Otherwise, why wouldn’t Mick just have killed his father outright? Bam. Problem solved. But Mick doesn’t kill people. It’s what he’s been struggling with all his life–seeing the difference between sexual domination and actual violence. Obviously, Mick would have to be very crafty about how he steered his co-workers to the “truth” with the planted evidence (deliberately allowing suspicion to fall on himself, etc).

    The important thing to remember is Mick’s motivation. Whatever he did, he did out of love for his abused and murdered mom. To avenge her. Caro knew that, and accepted that dark need within him to balance the scales. Thus the ending. If you believe in Mick as a hero, you believed it too. He would never kill Caro. Ever. He loved his mom. He loves Caro.

    Admittedly, I did leave the ending very ambiguous. Deliberately. I like it when a story ending gives me the chills, just a little doubt, and while writing romance, that is totally impossible to do. This was an ebook, and I could do anything I wanted :D. So I played.

    And that’s one reason I love this book so much. The characters really came alive for me (obviously). As an author, it’s a rare luxury to write a book like this, one that stimulates on all levels–even if not everyone agrees with my choices. I knew that when I wrote it. But regardless, I’m thrilled that it has found readers who are equally engaged. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But believe me, I’ve heard from many more readers who love Mick and “get” the story, as those who didn’t.

    And as for Gregg in the Thrill/Chill/Kill series, yeah, he’s dark, but only a pale shadow of Mick. And he was framed (duh! It’s a romance!!!) I get more mail from readers about him (loving him) than about sweet Alex. :)
    Sorry you didn’t like SLAVE. I did. It was fun to break that good-girl romance mold for one book. It won’t happen again (for those of you who worry). Mick was my one really bad boy. But man, I do not regret writing him for a single minute.

    Thanks for your interesting discussion!

    Nina
    http://www.NinaBruhns.com
    passion for danger

  69. Nina Bruhns
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 12:38:27

    PS. I’ve never heard of Joey Hill. The inspiration was the Clint Eastwood movie, Tightrope. :)

  70. Jane
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 17:59:24

    @Nina Bruhns Actually, I didn’t think Mick was the killer until the last scene where you wrote that the heroine found a picture of Mick’s mother posed just like all the victims wearing the same orange scarf that was used on all the victims and the implication that the heroine had to forgive Mick for something bad. Given how many people actually think that Mick is the killer of some of the victims, I would say that it isn’t just the reader’s fault for coming to the conclusion. And if you deliberately leave a very ambiguous ending, why would you be surprised at the conclusions that readers draw. I wasn’t “caught up in [my] horror” at all. If you read the review, I was clear to say that it wasn’t until the end, that I felt very differently about the book.

    I appreciate you coming and giving your point of view and while you probably didn’t intend to insult the readers who believe a) that Gregg might be an asshole who did horrible things to Gina or b) that Mick was a serial killer, it doesn’t help when you say “duh! It’s a romance” and “hello people, did no one get this? Or were you too caught up in your horror with the hero that you blanked on that character?”

    And for what the cops say, who cares? There is such a thing as an unreliable narrator and let me point out the obvious as you state it. You left the ending deliberately vague.

  71. Teresa
    Oct 08, 2010 @ 22:23:05

    @ Nina Bruhns You definitely cleared up some things for me in your post.

    I just read the novel (and had read the spoiler beforehand) so I was reading with a preconceived notion but I did not come to the conclusion that Mick was the serial killer. I reread the ending several times and it just didn’t seem to fit for me.

    Unfortunately I have to say that I did not enjoy the characters’ exploration of the BDSM world. I can’t help compare the situations presented in this story to the situations presented in Joey Hill’s books and Joey Hill’s books appear to be more authentic/true to the world of BDSM. This is why the book didn’t work for me. I didn’t buy that someone who was drawn to the BDSM world would be willing to engage in sexual activity in front of their work colleagues or would jeopardize their careers in the manner that the characters did.

  72. Nina Bruhns
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 02:19:28

    Hi Jane,
    You’re right. Sorry about the snarky sounding reply. It was meant to be sardonic, but as I thought about it later I realized it probably came off sounding pretty condescending. Yikes. Sorry about that. If you knew me personally, you’d know that was not the intention. It’s just the way I talk — very dry. Sometimes things don’t come out the same over the internet as in person. I’d actually come back online tonight to edit that stuff out of the post, but realize now it can’t be messed with after the fact. Ah, well.

    Anyway, no, I’m not surprised that people misinterpret the ending…because yes as I’ve said since forever, I did it deliberately. It was my mood while writing the book, and I stand by my choice. I don’t spell it all out, I let the reader make their own interpretation, and therefore I must live with their conclusions — and with my own occasional frustration that they don’t always see the whole picture from my perspective. They see what speaks to them, good or bad. I know that once I let a book out into the world, its meaning is different for each person who reads it. But that’s the magic of story. As an artist, I realize I can never please everyone, so I try to be true to my own vision for a particular story and can only hope readers enjoy the result. This book was never written to be mainstream. It was meant to be in your face, and in that I think it succeeds. :) Certainly, none of my regular romances have ever engendered the amount of discussion as this one has over the years.

    However, I fear writing for a NY publisher now will force Nikita Black to become more socially acceptable. Do my readers really prefer a story like the one in the Wedding Favors anthology? As much as I enjoyed writing that more generally accessible story, it just isn’t the same rush. What can I say. I like edgy. :)

    Nina
    http://www.NinaBruhns.com
    passion for danger

  73. Joanna Terrero
    Oct 09, 2010 @ 11:30:29

    @Nina Bruhns: Don't let this experience stop you from writing the books you want to write the way you feel like. As you said, you're an artist. Forcing your creativity should never be an option.

    My personal problem with ebooks like this one, it's not how they are written or the subject. It's where they are ‘shelved'. Slave to Love is an erotic thriller rather than an erotic romance.

    An erotic thriller like all those films we got in the 1990s, for example Body of Evidence, Basic Instinct and The Last Seduction. Nobody complained about those endings.

    You might be into something huge, even if your style is more noir. The lesson here, it's not about morphing your writing into sociable, it's about marketing it to the right readership in the correct sub-genre. When you chose a new penname, you should be conscious that your romance readership would stay with your romance books. Nikita Black deserves her own readers, who probably won't be the same following Nina Bruhns.

  74. VALERIE GALLO
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 12:04:01

    DEAREST NINA:
    YOUR BOOKS ARE WONDERFUL, YOU ARE AN EXCEPTIONALLY GIFTED WRITER, ANYONE WHO HAS READ “SLAVE TO LOVE”, AND HAS NOT FALLIN IN LOVE WITH MICK, HAS A SURE PROBLEM. I HAVE READ THIS BOOK 15 TIMES, AND WISH THERE WAS MORE…THE CHARECTORS IN THIS BOOK WERE GREAT..(WOULD LOVE TO SEE SOMETHING WRITTEN ABOUT BOBBY) I HAVE PURCHASED EVERYBOOK YOU HAVE WRITTEN AND HAVE READ THEM MORE THEN 10X..I KNOW A LITTLE OBSESIVE I SUPPOSE, BUT, YOUR WRITING IS VERY ADDICTIVE, PLEASE KEEP UP THE WONDERFUL WORK…ALSO, BLUE JEANS AND A BADGE..I AM LOOKING FOR MY PHILLIP, ANOTHER OF YOUR WONDERFUL CHARECTORS..TO MANY MORE YEARS OF YOUR CREATIVENESS AND HEARTFELT STORIES..A BIG FAN…
    THANKS AGAIN
    VALERIE

  75. VALERIE GALLO
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 12:07:10

    DEAREST NINA:
    YOUR BOOKS ARE WONDERFUL, YOU ARE AN EXCEPTIONALLY GIFTED WRITER, ANYONE WHO HAS READ “SLAVE TO LOVE”, AND HAS NOT FALLIN IN LOVE WITH MICK, HAS A SURE PROBLEM. I HAVE READ THIS BOOK 15 TIMES, AND WISH THERE WAS MORE…THE CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK WERE GREAT..(WOULD LOVE TO SEE SOMETHING WRITTEN ABOUT BOBBY) I HAVE PURCHASED EVERYBOOK YOU HAVE WRITTEN AND HAVE READ THEM MORE THEN 10X..I KNOW A LITTLE OBSESIVE I SUPPOSE, BUT, YOUR WRITING IS VERY ADDICTIVE, PLEASE KEEP UP THE WONDERFUL WORK…ALSO, BLUE JEANS AND A BADGE..I AM LOOKING FOR MY PHILLIP, ANOTHER OF YOUR WONDERFUL CHARACTERS..TO MANY MORE YEARS OF YOUR CREATIVENESS AND HEARTFELT STORIES..A BIG FAN…
    THANKS AGAIN
    VALERIE

  76. carrie
    Mar 27, 2012 @ 02:00:43

    @Angela: Read it! I can’t be the only one who saw the ending coming from half way through, the author gave subtle hints… subtle, but I knew where it was going, it was clear as day. I could not put it down. I am having tons of trouble finding a similar book. This is one of those books that lingers in the back of your mind well after you’ve finished it.

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