Friday, October 8, 2010
Obsession & Addiction on the Mean Streets of San Francisco
Addiction. According to the dictionary definition, it's "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming... to such a state that its cessation causes severe trauma".
How unfortunate that the word itself sounds so innocuous, considering that it refers to something so unpleasant. Far better if it were an ugly word, guttural and harsh... something to be spat out, distastefully.
I don't suppose it really matters what it's called, though--either to the person dealing with the addiction, or to his/her friends and family. As far as the addict is concerned, the addiction is what defines him or her and drives most of his/her actions. For everyone else, it means a grim acceptance of the fact that life can really suck.
Most of us have at least a passing familiarity with some of the more-obvious signs of addiction; it's easy enough to spot the chain-smoker addicted to nicotine, and nearly as easy to pick out the drug abuser or the alcoholic.
Other addictions can sort of hide in plain sight. A gambler or someone with an eating disorder often passes by completely unnoticed. So does a sex addict, who might look like anyone... from the suit on his lunchbreak to the grandfatherly fellow next door to the skeevy oddball you instinctively avoid on the street.
It's the latter, a sex addict, whom we get to know very well in Stephen Jay Schwartz's Beat.
Hayden Glass is a detective with the LAPD's robbery and homicide division. Smart and tough, he has several years under his belt and a handful of commendations and honors to show for them. He's seen it all, working in a city riddled with crime--all the depravity, violence, and ugliness you can imagine. That's his job.
But Hayden has issues of his own. He has difficulty controlling his urges, and on his last case, he finally snapped; he not only killed a murderer in order to save the latest victim's life, he went berserk, completely mutilating the killer's body in a blinding rage. His actions led to public commendation (for catching the killer and saving the victim), plus a private, mandatory six-month leave of absence (complete with psychiatric care).
Hayden also has another, far-more secret problem--an all-consuming addiction. Hayden, the successful cop, is a sex addict... and that enforced "vacation" time is about to introduce him to a whole new outlet for his addiction.
He used to troll the streets during his off-hours, looking for the "working girls" he'd noticed while on the job during the day. Satisfying his need was so easy. This leave of absence is leaving him depressed and cut off from his old life, though, no longer caring about much of anything... until one day, that is, when he sees an advertisement for a private online room while he's surfing the net. That little ad is about to change everything.
The detective becomes obsessed with the new form of gratification he's stumbled onto, and starts spending all his time--and a considerable amount of money--visiting these private rooms, where the women perform sexual acts on camera, on demand. He becomes infatuated with one woman, in particular: a fragile, red-headed beauty named Cora. After becoming one of her online regulars, they arrange for an in-person session... which soon leads to a full-blown obsession. He spends thousands of dollars making frequent trips to San Francisco just to have sex with her. Having sex with her is the only thing he thinks about, and he imagines that she feels the same.
Any happy ending to Hayden's little pie-in-the-sky fantasy life is cut short, though, when he walks in on something very bad one day, which leaves him beaten up and Cora missing. And, just like that, Hayden-the-cop comes out of his depression-induced lethargy, with only one goal in mind--being the knight on a white horse, riding in to save the object of his obsession (or affection, as he sees it).
There's far more at stake than Hayden realizes. The Russian mafia isn't about to let anyone damage their incredibly-lucrative sex slave trade in San Francisco. Corrupt SFPD cops with their hands in the Russian pie are no more thrilled than the mafia is when Hayden starts making waves. There's also the FBI, which has an ongoing investigation into the whole sordid business, to worry about. No one wants the rogue LAPD detective mucking about in things which can't possibly concern him.
A man obsessed isn't about to take no for an answer, though. With only a couple of wary SFPD detectives and an ambivalent local pathologist on his side, Hayden is determined to tackle the sex slave ring, contend with some seriously bad apples within the police department, and rescue at least one woman from an appalling life.
Beat isn't an easy book to read. Apart from the graphic violence you'd expect from a tough police-procedural dealing with murder, prostitution, and torture, it's saddled with an incredibly difficult hero. The descriptions of Hayden's sexual kinks sometimes come across as pathetic, but at other times, they're maddeningly misogynistic. (If he had more remorse for his desires and needs, those sections might be easier to read and identify with, to feel compassion for him... but he doesn't; he revels in the sensations and in his need.) It's a gritty story of an addict spiraling out of control, and the depiction of his downward spiral is just as ugly and seamy as you'd expect.
Contrarily, though, it's that same unlikableness which also makes Beat so effective. Trying to find the good in Hayden forces the reader to look beyond his/her own knee-jerk reactions, to put aside prejudices, attitudes, and personal experiences, in order to find the redeeming qualities within this very-flawed character. (They are there. It just took me a little while to see them.) Hayden is on a painful journey, and I'm anxious to see how it all works out for him in future books.
Of course, Beat works not only as a psychological exercise, but as a gripping thriller in its own right-- fast-paced, exciting, and incredibly visual. Schwartz has concocted a darkly-twisted, devious tale of corruption and greed, cruelty and depravity, obsession and desperation... and given it a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat finale.
I hadn't heard of Schwartz before receiving this book to review... but with his combination of no-holds-barred writing, compelling dialogue, and an excellent feeling for the setting, he has most definitely won himself a place on my list of intelligent and challenging must-reads.
GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4.25 out of 5 mousies