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M.J. Rose
The Delilah Complex
Reviewed by: Terry Weyna © 2006

MIRA Books
U.S. Mass Market Paperback
ISBN 0-7783-2215-7
Publication Date: 01-01-06
384 pages; $6.99
Date Reviewed: 06-08-06

Index: Mystery  General Fiction  Horror

M.J. Rose is the sort of author success story one rarely hears about these days. Her first book, Lip Service, never found a publisher, so Rose did what many do: she self-published on the Web. But rather than watch her novel sink into the sea of websites, Rose relentlessly marketed her book, got plenty of sales, and ultimately found herself a traditional publisher. Ever since, she’s had no apparent difficulty in finding publishers for her erotic novels, both mysteries and straight fiction with a particularly velvet touch, and is now a staple in most bookstores.

Rose has been exploring some dark corners in the mystery field, venturing where most writers fear to tread in a field filled with cozies on the one hand and horrific serial killer thrillers on the other. Her mysteries are erotic — sometimes uncomfortably so, especially if you happen to be on public transportation when the words start firing up your libido. Rose’s three mysteries star Dr. Morgan Snow, a sex therapist employed by the Butterfield Institute. I started reading with the middle book, The Delilah Complex, but you can be assured that The Halo Effect, the first in the series, is winging its way to me via Amazon, and the third, to be published this August, I’ve already reserved. The Delilah Complex is delicious — sexy, with a good mystery and a charming, insightful and capable protagonist.

Dr. Morgan Snow is a savvy, principled character. She struggles with ethical problems, and always takes the hard way out, keeping true to her clients even when doing so places her own life in danger. She works hard to resolve questions that require weighing the confidences of her clients against their safety or the safety of others — not easy questions in the best of circumstances, and considerably more difficult when Dr. Snow’s boss and dear friend tries hard to always put a thumb on the scales in favor of confidentiality. She listens well and gives good advice, the kind of therapist anyone who had any sexual kinks to work out would want.

In The Delilah Complex, Dr. Snow is approached by a group of women who want her to treat them together, in group therapy, in enormous secrecy. In addition to her professional responsibility to keep silent about their confidences, these women also want her to sign a separate confidentiality agreement, a legal binding document whipped up by one of the women in the group who happens to be a lawyer. In fact, all of these women are fairly high-powered types — lawyers, doctors, businesswomen, all at the tops of their fields, and all having struggled through decades of sexual discrimination in order to get where they are. And their dirty secret? The Scarlet Society, a place where they can act out their favorite fantasy in real life, with no one the wiser.

The problem is that a man who is involved with the Society has disappeared, and is presumed dead — a presumption that arises from the delivery of several very erotic, violent and frightening pictures of his body are delivered to a newspaper reporter. Only one of those pictures appears on the front page of the paper: a photograph of the soles of his feet, with a bright number “1” on each foot. That “1” implies a “2”; is a new serial killer working in New York?

We learn much more about the Scarlet Society and its sexual purpose, as well as more about how it affects the individuals who participate, both men and women, and what it does to their relationships outside the Society. We learn about how power and sex interact, and what love has to do with it. And we find out what has happened to the hapless men whose pictures arrive regularly at the newspaper offices with numbers on the soles of their feet, whose bodies can’t be found, and whose disappearance is throwing the Scarlet Society into a panic.

The puzzle itself is fair, but this isn’t one of those books that requires a reader to unravel clues in order to enjoy it. The story is enjoyable on its own terms, with complex relationships between the characters (including Dr. Morgan’s own odd and compelling romance) spelled out in tense, engaging dialogue, and the erotic descriptions of the activities of the Scarlet Society are enough to make your toes curl. This mystery is unlike any other I’ve ever read for its willingness to explore normal sex along with the pathological sort, all the while pulling the reader along with a taut plot. M.J. Rose, please don’t stop!

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