Detective Roger Corso is open about his sexual orientation. He’s less forthcoming about his leather lifestyle. There’s only so much his coworkers can take. He thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of keeping it covert, but then something happen that changes his mind.
Someone delivers an elegantly clothed corpse to his home. His couch to be precise. And that corpse is carrying a leather flogger. Roger’s taking that personally.
Additional distraction comes in the form of the victim’s younger brother Sean. He’s annoying. Knows something about the murder he’s not telling. Wants something from Roger–and is everything Roger ever wanted. But before he can make Sean his, he’s going to have to solve the mystery of the elegant corpse.
I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous writing this review. In fact, I’ve been putting off reviewing this book. Not because the book was awful, completely the opposite, in fact. It’s not often that I come across a book that I liked so much that it gets more than top marks for me (5+ DIK). I can probably list the ones I’ve read this year on one hand, but this book of murder, secrecy, friendship, love and the shady world of BDSM clubs was just so wonderfully written, that I hope that I can do justice to it in this review.
The Elegant Corpse begins with a murder and a very personal one at that for Detective Roger Corso. Someone has left a 25 year old mummified corpse on his living room sofa. This gruesome discovery leads Roger and his partner Mary Anne to several members of an elite BDSM club. A club which Roger is secretly a member, leading to a conflict of interest as he strives to keep his private life a secret, protect the confidentiality of the club members and solve the murder. It’s a race against time as the bodies start to pile up, all with symbols linking the corpses to the BDSM lifestyle. Into this comes Sean, the brother of the man left on Roger’s sofa who wants to help with the investigation. Roger sees in Sean hidden submissive tendencies which call to his dominant nature but Roger is still grieving the death of his previous lover and doesn’t want to compromise his investigation further by getting involved with ‘a person of interest’.
Thematically there is a lot packed into this book. The overarching theme is that of the murder investigation. This side of police work was portrayed in a very realistic way with the bulk of Roger and Mary Anne’s time spent searching the internet, making phone calls, interviewing suspects and trawling through piles of paperwork. It was so refreshing to see a police mystery where they actually did more than swan around chasing the bad guys. Every clue is painstakingly followed up and meticulously documented. I found it amusing that Mary Anne is shown to love this type of work and as a pair the two detectives have an obvious love of their job, despite the late hours and the tedious nature of following up leads.
The second theme is that of Roger’s BDSM lifestyle. He is a member of a club and several scenes in the book are set in that club and give the reader a detailed look at what takes place. I found this theme absolutely fascinating. I’ve never really understood the appeal of BDSM, but this book showed me clearly how, when it is done well, the experience can be breathtaking. The way that the subs are described during and after a ‘scene’, the careful work of the Doms the use of the different tools to achieve that higher state that transcends pain and the sense of pride in ‘performing’ well all combined to show me that BDSM is so much more than a bit of spanking or being tied up. As the scenes set in the club are very detailed, this may not appeal to all readers, but I’d urge you not to be put off the book because of this aspect. I didn’t find the BDSM scenes to be gratuitous but actually necessary in giving me a greater understanding of Roger’s character and what drives him to be a Dom (or Master as it’s called here). Alongside the club scene is Roger’s relationship with other club members or men who have been involved in the BDSM lifestyle. The way that many of these older men, especially Roger’s old mentor, Jay, talk about BDSM as though it is a dying art, gave the book a great sense of nostalgia. This comes across very strongly when Roger and Jay discuss the days before AIDS (or the plague as they call it) and Jay’s old records and photographs of what they consider to be the heyday of BDSM in the early 80’s just adds to that nostalgic feel.
The third theme in the book is that of Roger and Sean’s relationship. Theirs is a relationship based, at first, on friction. Roger’s naturally controlling, calm nature clashes with Sean’s impetuous, excitable character. As the book progresses so does their understanding of each other. Sean is curious but also frightened by the BDSM lifestyle and the scenes where Roger slowly initiates Sean were a mix of tender and beautiful. There’s also quite an age gap between them and I liked how that was addressed and not just dismissed. One part of their relationship which affected me greatly was in Roger’s admiration of Sean’s skin. He is constantly looking at it, commenting on the texture, colour and possible feel of the skin.
He was white across the chest and lower back. Smooth, butter cream skin and lightly defined muscles on his arm and belly. The painter pants he wore were rolled down on top so the trail of strawberry hair dipping from his navel could be seen in front and the swell of his high butt cheeks showed as he turned to pick up his shirt from where it hung over the chair.
These descriptions were so sensual and yet told the reader much about Roger and his love of BDSM, of observing and inflicting pain on skin to see the changes in tone. It was such a simple thing to include in the book but said volumes about Roger.
There were so many other things that I liked about this book that I could go on for pages. The plotting was tight and the characters, including the secondary characters were complex. Mary Anne was one of the few female characters I’ve come across in m/m who wasn’t a stereotype. She added a lot of humour to the book, but was also well rounded enough to be a realistic portrayal of a partner and friend to Roger. The story was very serious in tone and packed so full, I’ve only scratched the surface with this review, and yet wasn’t too busy. The mystery was complicated enough that I didn’t guess the murderer but simple enough that I could follow the clues along with the detectives. If you don’t like books based around BDSM, then I suggest that you make an exception with The Elegant Corpse. I was thoroughly delighted with this book, so much so that I can’t think of one negative thing to say about it. What I will say is that this book is a must read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.