It’s all fun and games until someone threatens to kill you. Then it becomes a matter of life and death.
Archer has it all — a job he’s good at, people willing to buy his grotesque and violent photographs, and a cop boyfriend who doesn’t mind when Archer hooks up with someone else for the night. Archer gets off on blood and gore, the grittier the better, and Clint — his boyfriend and a homicide detective — has the best stories. Stories about real people shot and stabbed, beaten to death, run over by cars, or strangled. The sort of stories, told in lurid details, that get Archer off. Unfortunately, Clint has to go and ruin a perfect thing by proposing marriage and threatening to retire.
Angry at Clint and needing to burn off some energy, Archer heads for the club where he meets Mr. Perfect, aka Holland. Holland is not just tall and handsome, he also shares Archer’s kink for blood and knives. The two of them get along like fire and oil. All Archer needs for it to be perfect is for Clint to join them. Together they’d make the perfect trio with Clint, who keeps Archer grounded in the real world, and Holland, who can join him in the marvelously macabre fantasy of blood and pain and death.
A killer, a cop, and the man who captivates them both.
This is not a book for the faint of heart or the squeamish. This is book eight in the Criminal Delights series, a set of standalone stories by different authors that involve dark and disturbing content, where killers, murderers, and heroes (if there are any) live in the shades of grey between black and white. There is no justice for anyone in this book, no morally sanitized ending. This is a story about two deranged and depraved men pulling their lover down with them. One of the three POV characters is a serial rapist and murderer who enjoys beating and killing men, and that scene is lovingly written out. The mentions of traumatic death are offhand and casual and the main characters in this book enjoy gore and blood play and get off on the voyeuristic stories of people being attacked and killed.
Holland is a killer. He enjoys beating men, raping them, and then killing them. Though he’s only killed two, so far, he’s beaten and assaulted far more. His therapist is afraid of him, which pleases Holland. Not that he’d hurt her (though he fantasizes about it), because he’d never hurt a woman. Or a child. But men … men are a different matter. He’s been good for a while, now, but Holland is getting the itch again and needs to find the perfect victim for his next night out.
Archer is an artist, though his art isn’t to everyone’s taste. He takes photos of people in various styles of death, from stabbed to strangled, bludgeoned to drowned. All of them are graphic and raw and violent (and staged), and he loves it. He loves pain and violence in bed and out, though his lover, Clint, doesn’t feel the urge to hurt Archer the way he wants to be hurt. Still, Clint’s stories of the people he’s seen, their dead and mangled bodies, make for wonderful foreplay, and their open relationship allows him to get what he needs, when he needs it, from other people. Even so, he always comes back to Clint.
This is a difficult book, not so much in its subject matter — though some people may be turned off by it — as much as its execution. There was so much build up, and then no pay off. Archer and Clint’s relationship just didn’t work for me, not only due to the lack of communication, but the lack of respect, as well. Perhaps they did love each other, but there is a great deal of incompatibility between them, and Holland was never more than an idea. It’s not so much that I need more gore and blood and death as much as I wanted there to be more of an emotional impact behind it. The book isn’t bad, and certainly not poorly written, but it didn’t give me either the horror I wanted or the complexity. I enjoy morally grey characters and complex situations, but this book just didn’t manage to give me either.
Archer mentions twice in the story that he wants both men — the cop and the killer — because they both give him something. According to Archer, Clint grounds him and keeps him in reality, while Holland lets him indulge in the blood and pain he needs … and yet, Archer is just as much a monster as Holland. He gets off hearing that his boyfriend raped other men, and when Holland mentions killing someone, Archer tells him to not only go and do it, but take pictures so Archer can see and use it as his spank bank, later. Archer isn’t grey; he’s just as dark as Holland, especially when he wants him to go and kill again. And again.
Holland isn’t scary enough, for me. I love a good villain, but Archer came off more dangerous and more deranged, while Holland felt rather cliched. Holland didn’t do anything new or special. He just went through the motions and leered a lot, and I was unable to either see him as a threat or even as a sympathetic character.
Clint, on the other hand, came off as a bit of a sad sack. He wanted to marry Archer, but hadn’t ever talked to his lover about it. I agree that he could ground Archer — and I believed that he did love the younger man — but he never rose above the tired detective trope. It didn’t help that both Archer and Holland talked about manipulating him so easily and carelessly; Clint wants to retire, but Archer wants more stories, so of course, Clint can’t and therefore won’t retire. Because it’s what Archer wants.
The ending of this story hinges upon my ability to believe that Clint and Holland are just as much in love with (or in lust with) one another as they are with Archer. Their growing realization that they love one another is the most important relationship in the book, I think, and the least explored. It’s important because has to build the groundwork of why and how Clint isn’t looking more deeply into the past of the man he knows is a rapist — the man fucking, and slicing and dicing his boyfriend — and why he might hold off on acting on his knowledge or gut feelings about Holland. But, unlike the killings, where we get to see Holland seducing, fucking, and then killing someone, we aren’t given nearly enough information about the growing relationship between the two men.