Genre: MysteryRecommended Age: teens and older
Reviewed By: Tara Fox Hall
Detective Benjamin Kramer's quest to find his long-forgotten Great-uncle Jonathan led him to a secretive attorney in Cincinnati, an esoteric monastic lover, a professional dominatrix, and a murdered temple priestess. Along the way he discovered his family's secret: his mother and her ancestors were Dionysians, members of an ancient, and supposedly defunct, fertility cult that worships Dionysos, the god of wine and ecstasy. From the attractive young monk who teaches him the secrets of Tantric sex to the professional dominatrix who shows him the whip-induced path that leads to visions of gods, Benjamin probes, questions, and discovers a hidden Alliance with immense wealth, power, and influence. When they turn to him to solve the ritualized murder of Chicago's temple prostitute, the verse from the Book of Ezekiel ("And the harlot shall be slain by the sword") is the only clue to the perpetrator. Is it a modern day Salem witch hunt or a Bacchanalian rite gone terribly wrong?
I selected this book as it seemed like it was going to be a sort of memoir of sexual discovery, mixed with Dionysian Religion facts. It did not disappoint! But it was more than that, as no sooner had the book began than one of the priestesses was murdered on her own alter, making the book not only about sexual discovery, but also a hunt for a serial killer.
Ben, the main protagonist, was believable, thoughtful, and I enjoyed his journey in discovering The Dionysian Alliance, a group of believers who celebrate their belief through sex and wine. The sex (rituals included) was handled perfectly, and not over the top, yet the participants were clearly into the proceedings. The religious beliefs and historical facts of the cult were interesting and not tacked on as an afterthought, but something the characters really believed in that was guiding their actions. In other words, this book was not an excuse to have erotic scenes one after the other; the erotica followed from the plot. The believers were just that; well thought-out characters that believed in their faith, with a good understanding of their religion’s tenets.
I note here only a few drawbacks. While the book was well written, there was a lot of use of “I thought,” “I wondered,” etc., where the thoughts should just have been voiced in italics with those words left out. The conversation was also a bit stilted in places (no need to use the characters’ names in each dialogue exchange, when they are alone in a room). But this didn’t really detract from the book for me. Mostly what bothered me is that I felt removed from the emotion of the book; the love Ben expresses for Cynthia and Thomas, the fear he feels that the murderer will kill one of them, and the trepidation he says he feels as he gets sucked deeper and deeper into the cult. I didn’t feel the passions that were being discussed.
Here is an example:
I was encouraged by Sebastian’s obvious thoroughness and professional attention to detail, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t worry about this amazing woman who had entered my life via my heart.
I was also surprised that only Glenlivet or Dewars was the option listed for “expensive” scotch, especially for characters that were “comfortable middle class.” This was starkly unbelievable. What about Ardbeg? Laphroig? Edradour? Lagavulin? I’d have expected at least a high-end scotch, if not a rare one like an Old Malt Cask from those that were comfortably wealthy. Again, this is just a pet peeve.
I will add as a warning that all manner of sex was described, including homosexual, BDSM, and multiple partners to the point of full-fledged orgies, which might be offensive to some. There was also an animal sacrifice. While I didn’t like that aspect of the religion, it was handled respectably.
Good ending, though it wrapped up a bit too fast for my taste. I’d have liked a little more drama and suspense.
Overall opinion: Strange but enlightening read!