REVIEW: The Elegant Corpse by A.M. Riley
Dear 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.
This book can be purchased at Loose Idin ebook format or other etailers.