This is not your standard formulaic pulp mystery novel. This book made me think and I love that. But first...
Josh Lanyon, I am very angry with you! You muddled me all up and now I don't even know whether I'm coming or going. Damn you for being a skilled writer who likes to play with my head.
Big fat stinking royally enormous spoiler regarding the romance: I hate Jake, he's an ass and obnoxious and a cheater and treats Adrien like crap but he was supposed to change not attack Adrien and run off and get married!!!!! Adrien was supposed to put his foot down and leave him and then Jake was supposed to run back into his arms!!!!! Seriously, I spent most of the book furious with Jake and disgusted with Adrien, wanting the latter to dump Jake's ass but then Jake's gone and I'm a mess. What's up with that?
But let me start at the beginning.
Josh is a talented writer and unlike most books where I find myself comparing the plot with the romance, I just don't nor even can't with this book: They were so intertwined I didn't even see them as separate things. They mystery is good. I didn't have it solved and even when I kind of did, there were still pieces that didn't come together until the end.
One of Josh's skills is character building and this book was no exception. The characters are each unique and interesting. Adrien's mother, Lisa, is front and center in this book and it was nice to learn more about her. The new "family" is a hoot and it was fun to see someone nonplus Adrien. His workers are always funny and entertaining. Jake, as always, is an ass but I'll get to that a minute. I think we should have seen more (high medium spoiler)flirting between Adrien and Guy but I guess that's for the next book.
The pacing was mostly good, although I think the book could have been a little shorter. A couple of scenes dragged a little but mostly because of the suspense. I wanted to get to the next exciting scene.
What I didn't expect was such a well researched foray into occultism and "cults" (which are now just called new religious movements along with any non-cultish new stuff so that there isn't the negative, judgmental connotation). I gave a lecture on witchcraft in grad school so I know a bit about this stuff, and he was surprisingly accurate given literary necessities. I think he was a little less forthcoming on how completely the FBI debunked the whole satanic cult thing, but he did bring it up and I was glad for that.
The description of Satanism beliefs was different than I'm familiar with, the whole "To the true Satanist, all life is sacred," is completely misleading. Basically, Satanism is hedonism elevated to spiritual importance. That isn't judging it as either good or bad, it's just exactly what modern Satanism is about. Life is sacred in that it can be used in sacred pursuits. An animal isn't sacred in and of itself if it looks yummy or might make a good rug. It's sacred because it fulfills a base need of the individual. Likes
Adrian's a Subaru guy.
There are lots of postmodern/fourth wall including ribbing of Lanyon's own work when Adrien's writing comes up.
In two sad scenes, Patty Griffin's Rain is playing. It's the only song of hers I know and it makes me tear every time I heard it. Excellent choice.
The humor. I laughed loud and long, many times. I still can't say the name of the book of these two bad writers without snickering: Murder He Mimed.
Other funny moments:
"Immediately following lunch, he had what he described as 'a nicotine fit.' When he recovered, I slipped out for a Starbucks and a quick nervous breakdown."
"He had been born in Seattle. Wasn't that a well-known haven for Satanists?" (Seriously, being from said city, I laughed a full minute at that.)
He's running late and get's a phone call. "A pause followed my greeting. Then, 'We're watching you,' whispered the voice on the other end.
'Yeah? Did you see what I did with my keys?'"
"'I'm not involved in a serious monogamous relationship.'
I was, but it was apparently a solo effort."
Lanyon's gift for description:
He described succinctly why I come across as asocial: "I don't like crowds. I like reading."
He described a building orgasm as "...pleasure knotting into hunger and passion and the need that always felt close to anxiety." That's totally true. It's not anxiety, but it feels a little like it sometimes. I never thought of it that way.
Adrien gets a manicure when he gets his hair cut and there is no discussion about whether it is manly or not.
Lanyon gets how cults work:
"I'd learned from my research that it wasn't only lonely, ignorant, insecure, or troubled kids who were lured in by the promises of charismatic cartoon-character-like evil. One point most of the experts stressed was that people don't join cults, they join interesting groups that seem able to satisfy desires and dreams. Members were recruited based on skills and abilities and the needs of the group. That's why it wasn't unusual to find doctors and lawyers and CEOs and movie stars involved in some of the more powerful and sophisticated cults. [Can you say Scientology?] Cult members rarely understood the hidden agenda of their leaders. Everyone has their vulnerabilities. Cult recruiters knew exactly how to exploit them."
He also makes an observation about people trying to be different by noticing that the people trying to celebrate the individual were all dressed the same. Dislikes
Jake. Just about everything about Jake. I didn't realize he was still seeing that woman. I am so disappointed in Adrien for continuing to be with a man who gives him so little and treats him so badly. He says near the beginning of the book that he didn't think Jake's relationship with Kate is just a cover. He knows Jake's cheating on both of them. Jake is using both of them. What an ass. But Adrien stays. Which is kind of disgusting, especially since I spent most of the book not knowing what he sees in Jake. The man's never even given him a BJ. In all the books he gets jealous when anyone shows an interest in Adrien which he has NO right to. He wants Adrien to lie to protect him and keeps saying that he's trying to protect Adrien. medium spoiler) (FYI, they went about it all wrong. Instead of keeping Adrien out of it, they should have kept Jake out of it and just had Adrien call the regular police. He risked not just being outed but losing his job.
You can only tell if a pentagram is inverted if you know which way you were supposed to be facing when you look at it.
What college class has seating charts?
Adrien needs to man up. He keeps trying to be loyal to someone who is actively in two relationships. At one point, he even says that he didn't think what Jake felt for him was that significant. Why does he torture himself? Enough's enough. He's a nice person, as someone says. Too nice, I say. I also don't know why he keeps everything so close to the chest. When he and Jake "break up" if you can call it that, he doesn't tell anyone. He let's them think he's at work or whatever, even though he's falling apart. I guess it's a man thing but he'll have to tell them eventually, right?
Adrien doesn't know what it is "with girls and that elf" from Lord of the Rings. I get the impression this is partly Josh saying this. Josh, honey, you have to see him when his hair isn't long and blond. I mean, well, you call yourself gay? Seriously. I don't understand you at all.
Guy. I know we aren't supposed to love him but I didn't even like him. I mean, he has this fake British accent (***shudder***) and he's kind of milquetoast. They never agree on anything. He's way too old for Adrien. And, if you've seen the movie "Singles," he's totally Mr. Sensitive Ponytail.
I'm not sure if this is an intentional absurdity or not as a character is saying the words:
"Nor was [Aleister Crowley] a true Satanist, although many of his ideas and writings were used as a foundation for traditional--theistic--Satanism."
How can something recent (he was active late 1800's to early 1900's) be used as a foundation
for something traditional
? The silliness is in the word "traditional." Satanism is a very new thing. It was manufactured by bored Europeans in the past few centuries from which Crowley spring, and out of that (and eventually opposing it) stemmed organized witchcraft. Before him, witchcraft didn't have a name like that. People didn't call themselves witches. It was simple the local religion or herb lore or magic or what have you. There isn't this millennia old tradition of witchcraft and magic spells as we think of it today. It was just different and it bugs the eff out of me how it's portrayed.
Don't get me wrong, Wicca having been established last century does not make it any less legitimate.
It's a religion that people created out of a set of ideas and practices that hadn't been formalized. I think that's just fine and it makes a heck of a lot more sense than some of the other new religious movements out there. (Seriously, has anyone ever studied the origins of Mormonism? That's a legitimate religion that brings peace and spirituality to masses of people, but it's a religion that stemmed out of some major ridiculousness.)
There was too much black and white with the whole demonic thing. Even though characters/places in the book deny that Satanism is based out of Christianity, the discussion of demons is completely Judeo-Christian. Most cultures have demon mythos, many more so than Christianity. Islam and Hinduism have hordes of demons as a very established part of the mythology.In closing
Josh made me think many times throughout this and expand my comfort zone. At points it sounded like characters were thinking this weird idea of Satanism made sense and it really upset me. I think it went a little beyond not wanting a someone I liked doing something out of character or believing in something that I'm not fond of. I was extremely uncomfortable with any positive character in a book I like being a Satanist. Which is just silly. I'm a Unitarian, we're supposed to find value in all faiths. I don't believe in Satan or demons or hell, so I should be able to recognize it for what it was: just a way for people who are into material and physical desires to find a place they feel free and accepted. But somehow, I can't distance myself from the idea of evil, something I also don't believe in.
[Ask me sometime if you want to know. I was graduate assistant to a young professor, just finishing up his PhD who taught a class on Good & Evil. When I told him that I felt the class made an assumption that wasn't a given. He was shocked and asked what I meant. I told him that he assumed good and evil existed and that many faiths and my own belief system don't agree. That hadn't occurred to him and he definitely thought it was interesting and listened to me but we didn't have time to discuss it in depth. But it was pretty funny that in the program I was in, Religion and Culture (a more in depth comparative religion kind of thing) the thought hadn't occurred to him.]
At one point, characters discuss the idea of signing your soul over to a devil you don't believe in to get everything you want. The character advocating this says,
"'It is the requirement of every religion, is it not? Is there any faith that does not demand spiritual commitment?'"
He has a point, although I don't think a spiritual commitment is always on the same level as selling your soul. But doesn't Christianity require complete and utter faith in God, putting your soul in His hands? That's not any different. I hadn't thought of it in those terms before and it's an interesting question.
The book deserves five stars for structure, plot, pacing, mystery, characterization, etc. I want to deduct a whole frickin' star for the whole thing with Jake and Adrien. I want to add half a star for the excellent research. So we're at 4.5 stars. But I'm rounding up to 5 because this book made me think and that's what I look for in literature.
I still really want to know what sex magick is...