4 of 5 stars bookshelves:
(nb: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley)
Be forewarned: “Domino” has some very erotic scenes.
I mean, seriously, SERIOUSLY, capital-E erotic, complete with BDSM elements (BDSM=Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism).
It’s not just an idle experiment in literary erotica, though. “Domino” ends up being an engaging thriller as well.
Nancy Delaney is a Senior English major at Case-Western in Cleveland. Her dream is to make her mark as a journalist.
One night, her roommate Hannah–chief midwestern correspondent for the magazine “Art News Now”–talks Nancy into subbing for her at a local gallery opening. Nancy dreads the assignment. Gallery openings are not her thing, but she can use both the cash and the experience. Nancy has worked hard all the way through college, spending hours reading books and writing papers, working hard as a cocktail waitress three nights a week, and writing newspaper and magazine articles where she can.
Her time is precious, and Nancy has had very little time for a social life. In fact, she’s still a virgin, a fact that causes nymphomaniacal Hannah no shortage of bafflement and worry. (God forbid Nancy remain a virgin, and end up an old cat lady.)
The gallery showing features several nudes, many in different degrees of bondage. Nancy starts to feel an odd twinge. When the night’s feted artist promptly binds her wrists together with a plastic wire-tie, she panics, but feels even more odd twinges–the pain is kind of delicious to her. By the time the night’s piece-de-resistance is revealed, Nancy is pretty well inflamed with lust, the object of which quickly becomes the exhibit’s featured artist, Peter Rostovich.
Soon, Nancy finds herself engaging in some very un-Nancy-like behavior. She feels an entirely new side of her personality blossom, even as the enigmatic Rostovich deflects her questions about his background. Rumors abound that Rostovich has ties to the Russian mafia, and Nancy can’t reconcile the suave, attentive man she likes with being a goonish underworld kingpin.
One day, she and Hannah are suddenly kidnapped, and Nancy finds herself embroiled in the Ukrainian human trafficking racket. Despite her strong feelings, she wonders just how deeply involved Rostovich is. It’s an aspiring journalist’s dream lead, a lead that just might get Nancy and her roommate killed. All she has to work with are her sharp reporter’s mind and the strange new appetites she’d had awakened just a few nights before.
Somehow, author Jill Elaine Hughes has found a way to blend erotica and romance with an international crime thriller, and she pulls it off wonderfully. The story would not have worked had it not been told from Nancy’s point of view. Seeing her awakenings from inside her head, we can believe what she does later, trying to keep herself and Hannah alive.
A side-effect of this point-of-view is that Nancy’s thoughts are a little talky at the beginning. Before the opening, she is talking about how hard she works, and how being a virgin doesn’t bother her. She thinks she’s essentially asexual. During and after the gallery opening, we are treated to frequent updates on the, er, heat and humidity of certain Nancy-parts.
Not to say that the early narration is boring. Nancy Delaney makes an excellent protagonist, in large part because she IS so self-aware. Her college years juggling work and school have taught her discipline and given her strength. She has confidence in her mind, and watching that confidence manifest in other areas is one of the book’s highlights.
Again, there is a lot of erotica in this book. Even when Nancy isn’t describing her post-gallery activities, the gallery opening itself leaves her hot and bothered. Sex, and thoughts of sex, work their way into some odd situations, but it rings-true within the book’s world.
One other thing to know: “Domino” is the first book in a trilogy, and there is a sudden cliffhanger ending. It didn’t annoy me as such endings sometimes do, but rather left me hungry for book two.
In “Domino,” Jill Elaine Hughes has created a beautiful trap. She lures readers in with steamy trysts, and sensual, erotic prose, then hooks us into the thriller. As I mentioned, odd though it may sound, the two worlds mesh beautifully and without contradiction. Her challenge will be to maintain in books two and three the same alluring blend of erotica and suspense that make “Domino” so damned-near impossible to put down.
Highly recommended (Unless you are easily offended by very frank, descriptive sexual activity, especially those activities involving restraints and the odd spanking device)