Written by Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Published by Ig Publishing (summer, 2006)
I tried to start off this review with something clever and intellectual sounding, but those things aren’t really fitting in this instance. Kimberly Warner-Cohen’s first novel, with the tantalizing title Sex, Blood and Rock ‘N’ Roll, has little to do with being clever and intellectual and much to do with raw, elemental visuals and visceral experiences. The story takes place in New York City, and the city itself (circa 1990’s) provides more than just a backdrop for the story; it is a living, breathing character.
From the very first word of the book, the reader knows this is going to be a different experience. Warner-Cohen opens with a sexy scene: A woman is tantalizing a man, picking him up, taking him home, and bringing his – and the reader’s – blood to a boil. And then the woman cuts him. Not enough to kill him, just enough to really hurt. She cuts him and plays with his blood, heightening her own pleasure by causing him pain. It’s stunning, sexy, and disturbing in the very same breath. It builds toward a deadly climax, and you’re immediately hooked. It’s a dark fantasy through which we first meet our heroine.
The main character, Cassie Chambers, lives in the city with her rock ‘n roll boyfriend, Dev, and works at a sex toy shop. Her life consists mostly of work, smoking a little weed, and going to shows (to see bands at local clubs). She’s originally a small-town girl who left that life for the big city. Like many denizens of the Big Apple, she was searching for somewhere to fit in … or blend in. And the city has welcomed her, helping her to build a life that – while it may not be perfect – allows her to leave behind a painful past and thrive. Her only real complaint is that her job doesn’t pay much, and that’s if the boss remembers to pay at all.
Lucky for her, one night while she and Dev are out at a club, she runs into a friend who offers to set her up with another job – one that pays much better – as a dominatrix. Cassie’s up for the challenge, but Dev’s not so keen on the idea. Still, she decides that it can’t hurt to at least go on the interview. It’s clear that part of Cassie is intrigued by the prospect. When she gets the job, Dev tries to be the supportive boyfriend, but he’s obviously not really onboard. As Cassie starts out on the job, dressing provocatively and being able to be in control of all these men, even if she is playing a part, sort of jazzes her. Her dark fantasies are ever at the edge of her thoughts. That she’s not just beating these men to get them off … but that she’s killing them to get herself off. But it puts a strain on her and Dev’s relationship. They can’t talk about work because every time they do things get tense. And then Cassie begins to revile the men she dominates, to really loathe them. It starts to color her attitude toward work, toward life, and toward Dev. Things are spiraling downward. Cassie’s darkness is seeping from the corners of her mind, slowly overtaking it all.
When Cassie finds out she’s pregnant, however, there’s a point of light in the darkness. Dev’s thrilled, and so is she. She even promises to quit the job once she starts to show – which won’t be long given the “uniforms” a dominatrix wears. And really, aside from the money, Cassie won’t be sad to see the job go. So things start to look up, but it’s only a brief reprieve. The day she decides to give notice at work, her first client is a real nutcase. The guy snaps and beats her badly with a paddle, landing her in the hospital with a miscarriage. It’s this tragic event that’s the catalyst for Cassie’s slipping mind. To her, it’s the rationale to take out retribution on the type of men she thinks are responsible for the loss of her child. But she doesn’t just take some weak, girly revenge. Cassie uses her persona as the dominatrix Mistress Averna to set up her own studio. The nature of the beast being what it is, most men don’t tell their wives and secretaries, or even their buddies, when they’re going to be dominated so it’s really a brilliant setup. And graphic? Oh yes … Deliciously so. (Forgive me… I just need a minute to wipe up the drool.)
Warner-Cohen’s writing is dark and pulsing. It vibrates with life. Her style is reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis, who is mentioned in the bio on her website as an author of seminal importance to her. Sex, Blood and Rock ‘N’ Roll is a terribly good title for this gruesome little treat. Female serial killers are not common subject matter since they don’t occur that often, but Kimberly nails it right on the head. Cassie is both mysterious and relatable, sympathetic and frightening. This book is everything its title advertises. I loved it and think you will, too.
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