Rating: 2 stars
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Hugo and Ben have just gotten married and have traveled to South Africa for their honeymoon. They love each other deeply, though Hugo’s not thrilled with Ben’s habit of wanting to sleep with anything that moves. When Ben makes a pass at the boy who delivers their breakfast, Hugo sulks a little bit and spends the afternoon in his room preparing a work project while Ben heads down to the pool. Hugo gets his revenge by sleeping with the room service guy while Ben disappears without a trace.
Ben is taken to, basically, a torture chamber, where he is subjected to all manner of horrific sexual crimes, including multiple rapes and abuse, even involving him in murders. This is all filmed and posted to the Internet for profit. It would seem the captor, as well as having some sort of previous Master/slave hold over Ben, wants to get ransom money for him. There is an investigation into his disappearance, with clues sent periodically, several disturbing videos posted on the Internet, and a botched first attempt at Ben’s exchange for the ransom money (seems the investigators got distracted by fireworks).
In the meantime, Hugo meets two men who are of great comfort and help to him during this time (perhaps a bit too much comfort since Hugo falls in love with one of them rather quickly), and manages to find time to serve as a stand-in as a go-go dancer at a club they visit. He misses Ben and wants him safely home, but seems to keep his mind occupied by performing a live sex show in a packed club. Hugo doesn’t lose hope, but if Ben is found, he knows there are going to be some significant hurdles to get over after all the trauma Ben has experienced.
Wow. This book was unlike any I’ve read before. Originality can be a good thing, and was one of the reasons I chose this book, based upon the creative yet strange premise. First of all, I can accept and, in fact, relish a whole lot of kink. For a lot of people, they wouldn’t have gotten past the first 10 pages. There are a lot of hot-button issues here that could alienate a significant number of readers. There’s an awful lot of cheating, and I mean cheating between two people in a committed relationship days after they tie the knot. There’s abuse, torture, rape, and all manner of horrific sex crimes performed and described in detail. I suppose there’s a HFN, but it’s not at all what you’d expect, and is not very satisfying.
People fall in love very quickly in this book, and fall in lust even quicker. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of morality when it comes to any of the characters, and while the horrific torture is looked down upon, there’s a lot of talk about people being aroused while they watched the scenes (for instance, the investigative officer). What it comes down to is this, I had no problem with the taboo content in this book; my problem was that the story was told so badly, it quickly became absurd.
The only way I can possibly find some sort of hidden potential in this book is if I look at it as a type of modern-day Greek tragedy. Things happen for seemingly no reason. There is death and destruction everywhere you turn. The characters are so over the top, it’s impossible to see them as anything but a symbol of amoral, unlikeable, narcissistic creatures rather than real people. Even so, I see a Greek tragedy as one that is trying to teach a lesson, warn about the consequences that occur due to a flaw or a poor decision or a series of decisions, etc. In this book, I never saw any sort of self-reflective regret for actions. No changing of ways. No learning from mistakes. It was just one horrible decision after another.
The content of this book did not disturb me, and I thought there were some genuinely good ideas here. I thought one of the significant problems was that it started with a couple who get married — which implies some sort of commitment or deep love, but then turn around and sleep with whoever they happen to meet. Had they just been lovers, I don’t think it would’ve been nearly as ridiculous. It was hard to take any of Ellis’ characters seriously from that point on, though they were all almost identical in this regard.
The writing was stilted and awkward. The dialogue was unnatural and lacked any semblance of warmth. There was no order to the plot, no story to get caught up in. It was an anything goes mentality from the beginning, and so it was all over the place. I can’t recommend this book, but I hope the author will take some of his unusual, rather compelling ideas and try to give more thought to character development, plot, and writing style. Or have someone else write them for him.