A few months ago at the Oh Get A Grip blog our weekly topic was the importance of location in fiction. Kathleen Bradean (who happens to be the female alter-ego of Jay Lygon) wrote about two novels, both entitled Personal Demons and both set in the city of Los Angeles. One was Jay Lygon’s third book in the Chaos Magic series, focusing on the D/s relationship between Sam Dewey, the God of Sex, and his leather daddy master Hector, the God of Love. The other was James Buchanan’s erotic thriller featuring Chase Nozick, a world-weary FBI agent tortured by the past, and Enrique Rios-Ochoa, the LAPD detective assigned to be his partner.
I was fascinated by the strange coincidence: two M/M erotic novels with the same title, set in the same city. I requested review copies from Lygon and Buchanan, curious to compare the two.
For those of you who are short on time, let me summarize my conclusions.
Similarities: Both are engaging and well-written. Both feature steamy male/male sex.
Differences: Just about everything else.
Jay Lygon’s characters live in an LA that’s slightly skewed from reality. Lygon’s city boasts the fabled beaches and fern bars, glitz and gridlock. It’s a haven for beautiful people, movie stars and wannabees. All this fits with my own recollections of my two years in Los Angeles. Lygon is pitch perfect in her portrayal of a city in love with its own image. What makes her city unusual is the fact that certain inhabitants also happen to be gods. Angelena, the Goddess of Traffic, should perhaps be the patron deity of Lygon’s LA, but we also meet Deal, the Goddess of Negotiation (wearing Prada of course) and hip-swiveling Alberto, the God of Fame. (Crash,the God of Computers, doesn’t put in an appearance in this installment of Sam’s and Hector’s story.) If you haven’t read any of the trilogy, you might think this conceit silly, but Lygon makes it work. While Sam and Hector are gods, but their relationship is just as tangled by jealousy, dishonesty and insecurity as any couple’s. Their powers, if anything, just make things worse.
Lygon’s characters are middle class. They belong to a gay BDSM subculture that’s probably fairly accurately portrayed (though I can’t testify to this personally). The conflicts in her story are mostly internal―Sam’s struggles with his lack of self-esteem, Hector’s irrational jealousy. Sam grows up in this novel; his transformation from a somewhat flighty pretty-boy into a man with principles and surprising backbone is plausible and satisfying. Hector matures, too, when faced with the loss of the “boy” he loves so deeply.
Hector and Sam share an affinity for pretty extreme BDSM scenes. Sam craves pain and punishment; Hector is only too happy to mete it out. Some of the sex in Personal Demons might squick readers who think a blindfold and a light paddling is kinky. Lygon never loses touch with her characters’ emotions, however. Their rough games support their relationship. One of the most revealing encounters in the book involves Sam and Ophir, Hector’s former slave who is now a dominant. Lygon skillfully dissects Sam’s motivations in a scene that involves heavy pain, but no sex.
Whereas Lygon’s LA offers elements of glamor and fantasy, Buchanan’s city is gritty and violent. Chase’s and Enrique’s search for the sadistic thug who killed Chase’s partner take them to desolate industrial wastelands, chintzy bungalows and the almost-empty concrete-sheathed channel of the Los Angeles River. Buchanan captures the hell of driving on packed freeways and of doing a stake-out in a hot car, hour after hour without relief. She’s possibly at her best depicting the ridiculous and burdensome bureaucracy and constant infighting that plague both the FBI and the LAPD. Her description of the disintegrating, overcrowded police headquarters where Enrique works is a marvel all by itself.
Although Buchanan’s approach to her story borders on noir, her Personal Demons also includes supernatural elements. A ritual murder leads her heroes to the conclusion that their case involves Santeria, a voodoo-like folk religion popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. They visit a spiritualist and participate in an eerie ceremony to honor the Orishas―the gods or saints of Santeria. These scenes are as convincing as the sections on police procedure. Chase in particular is a determined materialist, but his experiences in the LA underworld of ritualism and black magic shake his view of reality.
In Buchanan’s novel, external conflict drives the plot―a race against time to rescue a woman before she’s tortured and killed. Chase, however, has demons of his own. He’s literally scarred from his previous encounter with the man they’re hunting. Physical pain, loneliness, cynicism and guilt have turned him into an alcoholic loner who repeatedly jeopardizes his burgeoning relationship with the handsome, buff, insightful Enrique.
Enrique, on the other hand, is a bit too good to be true. His competence, generosity, poise and sense of humor make him an appealing character but I found his patience with Chase stretched my belief.
Buchanan’s Personal Demons is a romance, however, and ultimately Enrique’s role is to save Chase from himself. In contrast to the world in which they work (not to mention Sam’s and Hector’s relationship in Lygon’s book), Chase’s and Enrique’s sexual relationship is wholesome and fulfilling, without any hint of violence. The sex scenes are graphic yet somehow gentle, and often leavened with humor. They are a welcome relief from the tension in the rest of the novel.
This was the first thing I’d read by James Buchanan and I was very favorably impressed. I suspect that I’ll be enjoying more of her work. Meanwhile, I’m always eager to read anything by Kathleen Bradean/Jay Lygon, one (or is it two?) of my favorite erotic authors.
Take your pick: Personal Demons by Jay Lygon, a hard-core BDSM comedy of manners, or Personal Demons by James Buchanan, gritty noir lightened by hot, sweet homoerotic sex. You won’t go wrong with either one.
© 2010 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.