Obsession by Shakir Rashaan is one of those books you wait for if you are an erotica reviewer. The sex is hot and kinky with variants for all sorts of appetites and imaginations from the playful to the gruesome. But better still is the fact that the author has taken us out of the grinding bourgeois redundancy of most erotica plots. His book is not about middle class ennui or angst. It’s about “the flying underbelly’ -- as Amiri Baraka put it in Dutchman -- of Atlanta life.
Atlanta is a city of diverse communities that negotiate a separate peace with each other. Not surprisingly, the city reflects the deep racial divisions that pervade the state of Georgia, and an extreme disparity of wealth and poverty is inescapable to the visitor. The very poor live in restive proximity to the most blatant conspicuous consumption. The streets of the city of Atlanta are deserted of pedestrians after dark, and the feel of the place is like an uneasy truce.
“Obsession” presents that world well. It’s hard to say precisely who is obsessed with what in this book as almost every character – kinky or vanilla -- has one or another absorbing compulsion. They are the denizens of the interior BDSM world of Atlanta, a city that seems bent on presenting itself as Scarlet O’Hara in a thong. Thus Obsession is a pleasant relief from all that glossy coffee table hype. What’s more it is a truly grizzly detective novel of the old school before crime fiction was coerced into a long series of cozy Miss Marple clones.
To me the author most invokes the “alls-fair-in-love-and-crime” cheerful detachment of Phillip Marlowe created by the immortal mind of Raymond Chandler. His characters are fair-minded, but often brutal when necessary to make a point. They are urban and hard, but accept the dynamics and limitations of other people. They are the best of what it is to be street smart.
Most of them are black and most of those characters are into kink of one sort or another. The author is scrupulously and effortlessly careful to circumscribe the kink world from the series of psychotic murders that drive the plot of the novel. Here too, the author shows himself an able player. He writes convincingly about cops and police procedure through the voice of the novel, an ex-cop turned PI who has a passion for domination. The hero is also a caring, likable guy who is highly evolved in his perception of others as well as himself.
The best thing about the book is that it sorts out the various rule systems to which the hero has to conform, those being the law, the street, the cop world, and the inner hierarchy of the BDSM community. Far from being inhibited by all these interlocking matrices, the hero seems to thrive on working through them. As such, he is an urban American Renaissance man.
This novel is really an inspired act of invention in the field of erotica. The author captures both the view of the inner world of BDSM and the viewpoint of those who fear it, or simply don’t know what to make of it, on the outside. The writing is competent and consistent, and the plot details scrupulously researched and detailed. Rashaan knows the world he is writing about at all its levels, and he tells a good story in the process. If you miss the hard ass crime fiction for which Americans were once famous, you cannot go wrong with Obsession.
Oh that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2
The Hamlet quote from above flashed through my mind when I first started turning the pages of Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld. I have always perceived these words as being Hamlet’s desperate cry for God to strike him down and end his suffering. That was certainly the reason why I bellowed them to the empty heavens. And, just like with Hamlet, my cries for mercy remained unheeded.
Hamlet ended up with the misery of family death, torment and a country’s suffering. I ended up having to read Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld. I can’t decide which of us got the worst deal. Of course, I’m joking with that last line. I’m fairly confident I know which of us got the worst deal.
If it sounds like I’m being harsh, that’s only because I am. Let me state before I go any further that Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld is clearly fueled by a powerful imagination. The story is delightfully complex and the characters are fully rounded. However, it’s difficult to appreciate those intricacies because the standard of writing makes the narrative inaccessible.
This is from the introduction to Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld.
Now, to give you a premise for the book you’re reading now, Legacy.
With Amenhotep gone from the local POC scene, however, a transition begins, and everyone in the community is trying to get used to the idea that the balance of power has shifted within the Atlanta BDSM POC community. Some were okay with it, others obviously not, but that’s how the scene goes sometimes. The only thing I could do was keep on my toes and make sure that no one tried to slip in and try to throw a monkey wrench in the plans that I had. What plans might that be? Well, I guess you’ll have to find out, won’t you?
In the meantime, I guess I need to leave you now. I have a few business ventures that need to be checked on and a collaring ceremony to prepare for.
I’ve reiterated this passage so that those readers with an interest in this title can appreciate the quality of the writing. By contrast with the opening lines of this review, I’m sure we can all see that it’s not Shakespeare.
I could be hypercritical and discuss the need for some elegant variation (Now, to give you a premise for the book you’re reading now…), or suggest a requirement for pruning extraneous words (“With Amenhotep gone from the local POC scene, however, a transition begins …”). I could just be snide and suggest that it would have helped to employ an editor. But I sincerely doubt an editor could have done much with this title.
The book opens with the following sentence: I felt like the headset I was wearing had become a chain. This is wrong as a statement. Consider what is being said here.
The phrase ‘I felt like…’ forewarns a comparison.
‘…the headset I was wearing had become a chain.’
This is a delightful image, worthy of the metaphysical poet George Herbert with his classic metaphor description ‘chain of sands.’ However, it bears no correlation to the comparison preceding it.
The opening three words (I felt like) suggest that we are about to be given access to the feelings of the protagonist. But, instead of being told about the protagonist’s feelings, we’re given a piece of stark metamorphoses-esque imagery.
This could be construed as a clever blending of the abstract with the concrete. But we all know it’s not. Most likely it’s just a mistake.
Perhaps the first word should be ‘It’ instead of ‘I’ – that would make more sense. “It felt like the headset I was wearing had become a chain.” But if that’s the case, it suggests that the editor had given up on this book even sooner than I admitted defeat.
In many ways this is a shame. Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld, has clearly been inspired by a vivid imagination and a furious desire to share a full and exciting story. The sexual shenanigans are arousing and entertaining but they are splattered across the page without the finesse or style of a competently constructed narrative.Some careful revisions and a harsh edit could have made this book compelling.