Lathe “Lucifer” Bronson is a detective who moonlights as a PI in the (possibly) sentient city of Hell New York, who strikes fear in the hearts of all the thugs, gangs, and fiends on the rough streets he patrols. When a lace-adorned angel named Anjelo Benetti walks into his office seeking a bodyguard, Lathe can’t help but berate the kid for making himself a visible target and advises him to stay in his nice, respectable part of town. Tired of being rich, sheltered, and protected, and determined to get acquainted with life on the streets, Anjelo doesn’t heed Lathe’s warning and soon finds himself a victim of a beating. Despite Lathe’s nasty words and attitude, he can’t stop thinking about his Angel and after rescuing Anjelo, he decides to teach him to blend in with the street crowd. Despite the lessons and the animosity Lathe brings out in Anjelo whenever they meet, Lathe can’t stay away and eventually neither can Anjelo. However, Lathe fears that if the darkness within him doesn’t destroy Anjelo, the streets “the kid” is determined to run will.
Ok. So, I hate to say it because writing a book is hard work and putting it out there for others to judge… is daunting, and I applaud those who can do it. That being said—I just think this is a bad book. Not bad because I didn’t like the story or the characters or [insert element here], it is simply a poorly constructed mess. The only consistency to be found was the lack of consistency in any elements that comprise a story. Neither the tone, the “plot,” what slight character personality/motivation there is, nor the timeline have any cohesion. There is so little in the story for me to hold onto that I had to read the blurb in order to write the intro because I had NO clue how to sum up the book other than it standing out for its alliterative “put-downs,” implausible battles, and bad to nonexistent editing.
The wonky tone of the book is present from the opening prologue and emphasized in every conversation Lathe and Anjelo have. The story opens with “the traveler” falling asleep behind the wheel, crashing his car into a tree and being thrown from the vehicle, then waking up with sore ribs and standing up to look at his crushed car. Now I’m no physicist, but the only possible way to be thrown from a car in a head-on collision is through the windshield, and with the force of the impact against shatter-treated glass…yeah, he’s going have more problems than stiffness. But alas, this incongruity is soon solved when the traveler heads to the road and briefly sees a sign that says “road to hell,” which disappears in the blink of an eye. The narration shifts to him getting to “NYC,” where he soon establishes himself as a badass “as [those] felons got to know him.”
The tone then completely shifts from the paranormal vibe conveyed by “spooky” descriptions and otherworldly hints, to a 40s-style noir with the homme fatale breezing into Lathe’s office to pay for his protection. The tonal shift to indicate the type of reality Lathe is in now wouldn’t be so jarring if A) the dialogue wasn’t so stiff and clunky, and B) the type of detective vibe was consistent or at least well-blended. The language Madison employs creates characters and a setting that fluctuate messily between 40s-style noir, 70s Dirty Hairy/Shaft style cop drama, Black-ploitation and Grindhouse fare, and 90s-era gang/street portrayals. Again, I don’t mind a mash-up, but it should be intentional and well-crafted; otherwise it comes across a ragged patchwork of one-dimensional stereotypes as set-pieces and MCs.
This jaggedness is also present in Lathe and Anjelo. Sometimes, I could not recognize who they were from one scene to the next, as their personalities would either turn on a dime or become stuck in the same “you need a real man to show you the ropes/I don’t need your help, creep” dynamic. This also isn’t helped by the fact that although I am told many times in many ways that Lathe is a tough, hardened, “real man” whose “words could shoot bullets every bit as fatal as those coming out of his gun” and that make “even the toughest gangs…back away in fear,” I am shown something different. When he’s using his deadly word-ninja skills to hurt Anjelo, the self-proclaimed King of Sin produces such pearl-clutching glove slaps as calling Anjelo a “snotface,” a “skulking scoundrel,” and, my personal favorite, “ruffian rubbish.” And when Anjelo has learned “to fly on [his] own” as a real man (of course through the manly art of confrontation and bloodshed), the barbs that fly between them had me searching for a fainting couch, with Anjelo calling Lathe “creepy” and “a lazy bum” and Lathe bringing the pain by calling Anjelo a “nasty little toad” and “beastly little brute.” SO. HARD. CORE.
Additionally, while the book is listed as erotica with four flames on the publisher’s website, there is zero chemistry, zero steam, and fade to black or hinted at sex between the two. But I guess there’s plenty of zombie decapitation and Lathe walking off a bullet the size of a “small missile” to proclaim his high testosterone levels and overlook his lilting alliteration when provoked. However, what solidifies King of Sin as a bad book is that cardinal sin of writing…lack of editing. While I could have mostly overlooked the few typos, awkward tense shifts, and odd grammatical quirks (like italicizing not just street slang, but random words; or having paragraphs worth of adjectives and adverbs), the COMPLETE absence of continuity editing shot this novella through the heart. When I first began reading, I kept getting the sense that this story was part of a longer novel that had had the bothersome “filler” of building a relationship between the characters removed to make it shorter. Lathe and Anjelo jump into conversations in which their dialogue gives the impression that they have known each other and been involved in one another’s lives or an extensive period of time, while the story says only a few days have passed in which they had no on-page interactions.
This left me feeling as if I had skipped whole scenes and missed bonding moments and/or crucial fights. The problem is only exacerbated by clear signs that scenes are in the story out of order, or a character will completely contradict himself. For example, early on Lathe visits his office a few days after getting out of the hospital to remove salvagable items and close it up, but it’s covered in dust, mold, and cobwebs like he’d been gone for months. Which makes NO sense until 80% in when, he goes back to his office to clean it out AGAIN months after he left the hospital. Similarly, Lathe declares that “love is the only prize [he] wants” and admits he’s in love with Anjelo…only for Lathe to freak out and thank Anjelo two chapters later when Anjelo tells him he loves him because “neither of them had ever used the ‘love’ word before.”
Between the inconsistent tone, the timeline that exists in all dimensions of temporal space at once like Dr. Manhattan, the character “development” that manifests as arguments between Anjelo and Lathe where they spew character flaws and issues out of nowhere, and the fact that this real Alpha Man, King of Sin throws verbal blows like a Victorian spinster aunt, it almost doesn’t matter that Anjelo’s motivation for living the hood life is only “explained” towards the end or that the hell/purgatory of a sentient city and the metaphors sprinkled throughout King of Sin are poorly executed and waste a cool concept. I simply cannot recommend this novella.