Natural Law by Joey W. Hill
The Particulars: BDSM erotic romance, Ellora's Cave, 2004, In Print, Book two in a series but very easily stands-alone.
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I've made no secret with how bored I am by BDSM erotic romance. It's always the same thing over and over and over again. Asshole "hero" who claims to be a Dom (but is just an asshole) schools an innocent ingenue-type who couldn't figure out why she was so dissatisfied with her boring little vanilla life until the Asshole told her she was a submissive. Damn, it all makes so much sense now! This book by Hill is often held out to people like me who want to read about a Domme heroine. Not a Domme heroine who secretly wants to be a sub. Not a Domme heroine who is a switch. Not a Domme villain. No, a Domme heroine. So naturally when I got a gift card from my in-laws last Christmas, I bought this book. Because, you know, what else would I buy with a gift card from my in-laws?
The Review: Mackenzie "Mac" Nighthorse (seriously?) is a homicide detective. He's also a submissive. There's a killer on the loose in Tampa, who is trussing up her (yes, he's convinced it's a her) victims in various "humiliating" bondage scenarios. Mac knows it's not humiliation though, and knows it's a Domme. So he convinces his superior officer to send him undercover at The Zone, an exclusive BDSM club where Mac thinks his perp is trolling for victims. A regular cop would get made in 2 seconds. But Mac is a sub and knows the world. He needs some help on the inside, someone who knows the scene, is friendly with a lot of members - and he lands on Violet Siemanski, a Mistress who has just completed her mentoring program and is stepping out on her own for the first time. She scares the shit out of Mac, but not because she's a Domme. Hardly. No she scares the shit out of him because she wants all of him - even all that messy emotional stuff he's been able to keep hidden from other Dommes, until her. Until Violet.
I'm probably going to be too hard on the set-up here especially since a true Domme heroine is as rare as hen's teeth - but of course! Of course Violet wouldn't be an "experienced" Domme. Of course she's just stepping out on her own for the first time! And of course Mac is a sub, but don't worry your pretty little heads romance readers - he's still a pit bull straining his lease. He's only marginally housebroken. He might be a sub, but it's OK! He's still Alpha! You know just like a "normal" romance hero! You can like him even though he's a sub! He's OK! You're OK! We're all OK!
So yeah, that kind of annoyed the crap out of me. Yes Mac is a sub, but other than that? He's like countless Alpha cop heroes that have come before him - and I'll be blunt - I found that a little disappointing. OK, maybe a lot disappointing.....
That being said, even though that above scenario is littered with land mines, the author avoids taking this story down a path that would make Wendy Mad! Wendy Smash! Violet calls Mac on pretty much all of his bullshit. She sees right through his charm. She sees how he has used that charm to keep other Mistresses at arm's length. And Violet knows that to make this relationship work the way she hopes it will? Mac needs to be stripped down, dismantled, and put back together. The trick will be getting him to let go. To let go of everything.
I've been reading erotic romance for a lot of years and BDSM has never been a "favorite" trope for me. Mostly because very (and I mean, very) few authors seem to get the dynamic right. Yes, it's a fetish. Yes, it's a lifestyle. But you know what? The BDSM relationship is built entirely around trust. Hill is the first author I've read in a long time that really seemed to address that issue. I felt like these characters were really "in" the scene - not just playing around in it like so many bored playboy billionaires and dissatisfied 20-year-old little girls. Honestly, give the recent explosion of BDSM within the erotic romance market, it's stupefying to me that this book is now 10 years old. I don't throw "ahead of its time" around all that much - but damn, this book was. Hell, it's revolutionary now in 2014 - and Hill got this story published in 2004. It's been a decade, so I think it's safe to lay down the gauntlet. The next time someone asks my opinion on trailblazers in erotic romance? Or perhaps they want a list of "classics?" Yeah, this book. Totally. I have quibbles, make no mistake - but damn - 10 years ago!
As for those quibbles? For one thing, the suspense angle could have been dispatched with entirely. For 3/4 of the story the author isn't really addressing it - it's all about the relationship between Mac and Violet. Hell, why not just write this like a traditional romantic story-arc? Leave the serial killer at home? There was more than enough on the page here, re: the romance, to make this story work. As it was, it just felt a little too long. And when we do get back to the serial killer? None of that really worked for me, right down to the climactic finish where there are elements straight out of Cheesy Soap Opera 101.
But you know what? Hill has written other books in this universe featuring characters that were mentioned in this story. I'm positively intrigued by a few of them - which means once again the TBR Challenge is counterproductive. I'm probably not going to read the entirety of the series, instead picking and choosing, but I will read more books by Hill.
Final Grade = B-