REVIEW: Personal Demons by James Buchanan
I’m not a big one for police procedurals — they usually bore the snot out of me — but I’m a big one for your writing and characters, so I read this anyway and I’m very glad I did. As always, your characters are very real, full of personality, and your spare writing style — no long introspective paragraphs or emotional declarations to be found — appeals to me. While I don’t like mystery books, I like figuring out the mysteries of two men reluctantly falling in love and unable to articulate what’s going on.
Chase Nozick is FBI, following the trail of the man who killed his partner on a bust five years earlier. He’s assigned to a Special Task Force in LA and to an LAPD partner who turns out to be the man he’d hooked up with for anonymous sex the previous night. Both Enrique and Chase are very much in the closet at work, but they use their time together — appropriately: no sex in the middle of a stake-out or on the run — to commit to and deepen a real relationship.
The case gets heavily involved in Cuban voodoo-type religion and its religious practitioners like faith-healers, priests, and spiritualists. There are tarot-type card readings, complete with their symbolism that if I went back and reread I’m sure would match up with the story. These types of literary devices — foreshadowing through card readings or palm readings — usually bug the heck out of me, but Chase is as skeptical of them as I am, which made up for it partly. On the other hand, Chase’s skepticism seemed to last longer than strictly plausible, which also bugged me. His character was one of rolling with what he was dealt, so his inability even to imagine that the weirdness happening to him wasn’t the product of charlatans was slightly annoying. He learns to accept the unexplainable by the end of the book, and maybe I’m too used to characters in paranormals who blithely accept the woo-woo shit happening to them, but I felt that it took him too long to do that.
I loved Chase’s relationship with Enrique. The sex is hot, he’s comfortable around his partner, and that’s all they’re both willing to admit to. There’s no undying declarations of love, but they both admit that they need the other and commit to trying to make it work at the end. I like that Chase is an alcoholic and that this isn’t demonized, glossed over, or made the center of his existence. He’s a drunk, he admits it, he deals with it, and eventually overcomes it, but it’s not the center of the story. And I love Enrique. The whole story is told from Chase’s third-person perspective, so we only see Enrique from Chase’s point of view, but I love Enrique’s self-confidence and general happiness. I love that his big secret isn’t that he’s gay, but that he’s actually a believer in the voodoo that we’re introduced to and I love how you deal with that — again, as just another aspect of who he is, rather than making it the center of everything Enrique.
I got a little lost in some of the details, both the details of the voodoo-inflected religion and about how and why Chase and Enrique were hunting for a woman who is the object of the task force’s search and how she got involved in the first place. The last was because I kept getting interrupted in my reading and because I’m not used to police procedurals, so I don’t keep that stuff in my head. The first, I think, happened because you were trying to make sure you got the religion and its trappings right and the need for detail in description overrode your usual almost telegraphic writing style. When clearing a building during a huge bust, Chase would probably not detail all the beads and baubles in an empty room. I mean, I know about the memory details of a high-adrenaline situation, but when you’ve spent a lot of time describing the trappings of the religion elsewhere, a repeat of those descriptions in a moment of high tension seems unnecessary, especially when you’re not saying anything new.
All of that said, this book somehow had a very gentle, almost calming feel to it. I keep coming back to it as an escape from the craziness of my life because Chase’s voice in my head seemed to keep chaos at bay. Despite the strangeness of the religion (and it got pretty graphic) and Chase’s alcoholism and the lack of emotional description about the romance, the story had a quietness to it, a controlled yet somehow lavish spareness that I enjoyed. I really like your writing style, your facility with inter-jurisdictional police lingo, your descriptions, and the way you write men who seem so real, so completely fucked-up, and yet so functional.
This book can be purchased from MLR Press in print or ebook format. Link provided as courtesy.
This book was provided to the reviewer by the author. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The reviewer endorses most any book by James Buchanan, who is a spanking good writer — sometimes literally — and would do so without payment of a free book.