Flesh Gothic

Flesh Gothic - Edward Lee Flesh Gothic came recommended as a steamy horror book. It's very accessible and I was able to read it quickly. This is the first Lee book I've read, and I will definitely be reading more.

It's your basic haunted house story, painted with a Philip Marlowe style protagonist. Despite the standard tropes being trotted out yet again, Lee makes it work with an involved plot and characters that are unique and quirky. After a brutal mass murder with overtones of occult ritual, a disparate group of people are paid exorbitant sums of money by the eccentric widow (she's the beautiful, dangerous client) to live in the house and discover the truth about what happened. There's the fanatically loyal houseservant, the manipulative bombshell, the hardboiled cop and the innocent witness etc. Most of the other characters are psychics with varying areas of expertise, but of course not all is as it seems. As they spend time researching what happened a picture of satanic worship and drug fueled orgies quickly surfaces. Sexual tension abounds, aided by the fact that each character has some sexual trait that drives their interactions with each other and the supernatural goings-on.

The story took a while to get going; I was about 25% of the way through it before I felt like the plot really started going anywhere. This is because Lee drops a lot of background on most of the characters, which in retrospect I appreciate, since the characters drive the plot later. Don't give up on this book too early. The investigation part of the book moves right along, aided and abetted by the sexual tension and my own fascination with things macabre and erotic. The ending, however, was a bit of a letdown. I hesitate to use the term "premature climax", but there you have it. That's exactly what it felt like. The twist was hardly surprising, but well played.

This book is a very quick read. It seemed he sacrificed a lot of descriptive opportunity for the sake of telling the story through character's actions and dialogue. For example, the sense of smell is used descriptively at most about half a dozen times, and most of those are describing women's hair. It seemed to me that while they're out wandering around in the woods in the Florida spring that the air would be alive with bugs and flowers and trees and dew. This is exemplary of the book; Lee is visually vivid but I never felt like I could put myself into the setting. There are a lot of overtly sexual situations, but the sex itself could have been much more explicit IMHO. Reading this for an erotic charge is like watching latenight softcore: it's specific enough there's no question about who's doing what to whom, but it's vague enough you'll have to fill in all the details yourself.

Overall, I liked the book and as Lee covers a lot of territory that interests me in his other books, I'll definitely be reading more of him. I would recommend this book for people who like occult, macabre and erotically charged stories and are looking for a couple of hours of fun if not especially innovative entertainment.