Book review:
The Certainty of Doing Evil by Colin Falconer

Reviewed by Sally

Mr. Falconer has written a murder mystery in which the plot turns on the mores of the BDSM scene and community. The treatment of BDSM is interesting and is both more thoughtful and more sympathetic than the cover blurb and the forbidding title would suggest.

The book opens with police inspecting a crime scene. A woman lies dead on a bondage table and the officers are mentally reaching for the usual stereotypes. For an knowing reader, this suggests an irritatingly ill-informed book, but the text moves rapidly to contradict this. As the early chapters unfold, we learn first that the dead woman is a pro-domme (raising the question, lost on most of Falconer's readership no doubt, of why she is in bondage rather than applying it), and then that she has recently become a switch. This is the cue for further naive assumptions by the police, but by this stage Falconer is filling out the characters and it's clear that they've misunderstood; something more subtle is going on. With the ripening of the plot, the text follows the investigation away from the scene players and into the criminal world where real violence lives. Finally, in the climax of the story, Falconer does us the honour of a favourable comparison between the safe and consensual play in the sphere of pro-domination and the atrocity of uncontrolled impulse in the wider world. Ultimately, the only fault held against the practice of BDSM is that concealment, untruth and pretence allow true evils to fester unseen.

It is hard to pigeonhole this novel. It's not an erotic book (unless your kink is for autopsies or pretty policewomen at the end of their emotional resources). Nor it is really a whodunit in the traditional sense; there isn't enough loose information to deduce the details of the case before Falconer reveals them. For the most part, the book is a continuing character study of the protagonist, DI Madelaine Fox, whom Falconer has introduced in a previous novel, and as such, it's a curiously incomplete story when read by itself.

I would not recommend this book as a good read for people inside the scene, but it is interesting to mentally trace Falconer's apparent lines of research. The first victim (there is a high body-count by the end) works under the name Kitty, has dark, bobbed hair, and is strikingly beautiful. This is surely lifted from a certain web advert... (I do hope Falconer asked before using these details; it's rather disturbing to read of oneself dead, even in fiction.) There is a slightly wooden scene where Fox interviews the owner of a dungeon where Kitty has worked. This is factual, and may be a direct transcription of what Falconer asked and was told. Finally there is a wonderful scene where Fox, who has gone to a play party in search of understanding and inspiration, watches a public session and achieves enlightenment:

"A large red candle was burning on a wooden table in the middle of the dais. The man picked it up and held it over his partner's supine body for a long time, then slowly tilted it on its side. The woman mewed and squirmed as the hot liquid wax spilled on her torso, cooling rapidly to leave a red streak like blood along her flanks. Fox thought of Kimberly Mason's dead body. Her mouth was suddenly dry. It was hard to swallow. [...] The man on the stage had withdrawn the candle again, and she realised, with sudden clarity, that he was not master of this tortuous choreography.  His eyes did not follow the intense journey of the cooling wax but were intent on the woman's face; and when the pain was too much he raised the candle a little and waited until the grease had cooled before he began again. It was the woman who controlled her torturer's hand."

With accurate insights like that, I would value this book as something to give to a friend who was trying to come to turns with my kinks and predilections. This work might prove valuable to our cause and status, if only we could get people read it with an open mind.

The title, by the way, is from Baudelaire: "The unique and supreme pleasure of love lies in the certainty of doing evil." How ironic then that evil and sexual love are here seen to be so starkly opposed.