Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Domination, by Michael Cecilione
December, 1993 Zebra Books
Melding vampires and the s&m bondage scene, Michael Cecilione's Domination certainly packs a wallop, but a wallop that's a bit lost amid a cluster of too many characters, too many subplots, and too many pages. This hefty mass market paperback comes in at well over 400 pages, and would benefit from a bit of editing. But still, if you're into vampires and you're into the dominatrix whips-and-chains thing, the book will be right up your sordid alley.
There are a lot of characters here, but the protagonist is Kelly, a Manhattan-based reporter who works for a small-circulation newspaper that's notorious for tackling odd stories. Kelly's story right now is on the recent explosion of bondage-themed clubs in America, filled with leather-clad dominatrices who work a small clientele of men. These men, usually close-knit corporate types, pay good money to go into swank little clubs where they can be tied up and/or forced into all sorts of compromising positions. Kelly's research has so captivated her that she's managed to piss off her boyfriend, a detective in the NYPD, so much so that he breaks up with her.
Meanwhile, vampires are afoot. The primary one is a female whom Cecilione refers to in the narrative just as "The Vampire." The idea is she's the original model; another character later tells a story that she has been around for eons, with sundry famous vampire protegees, among them Cleopatra and Shakespeare. And of course we learn that "her hand" has been in all the major massacres of our day, including the Holocaust. Man, how I hate it when horror writers do that -- insinuate that it takes some sort of supernatural power to make mankind do unspeakable things. Hitler and the Nazis knew what they were doing. It didn't take some vampire to whisper the idea in their ears.
The vampires here are portrayed as invincible creatures who mentally enslave humans with ease. There is no defense against them, and they especially enjoy taking on vassals who are already twisted. A primary example here is Hillary, a middle-aged wife of a senator who is in the running to be the next Democratic president of the US(!). If only Cecilione had gone all the way and named Hillary's husband Bill! And guess what, Hillary is actually the cruelest character here, getting off on capturing girls off the street, drugging them, masking them, and then taking them to abandoned warehouses where she tortures them to death.
The reader must be prepared to endure some harrowing scenes in this novel, of helpless characters trussed up and tortured to death. The idea is that this bondage revival is sort of a blanket indication that mankind actively seeks to be dominated, punished, and ultimately killed by a stronger being, and Cecilione follows his theme through to the sadistic end. Personally this wasn't my idea of a good reading time. I kept wanting the poor captives to break out an Automag and shoot their torturers in the face, but that's what happens to you when you read too many men's adventure novels...you start wondering why the characters in regular novels aren't packing heat.
Speaking of men's adventure novels, one of the minor characters here appears to have walked out of one: Connor, a martial arts living weapon who works (or at least he believes he does) for a shadowy occultic agency called The Craft. Connor is basically Sapir and Murphy's The Destroyer, only more magically inclined. Without question his scenes are the most interesting in the novel, as he meditates on chakras, kills people with a single punch, and gets his assignments from telepathically-speaking seals. His latest assignment has him shadowing Kelly, who apparently has some sort of fated link with The Vampire (whom the characters refer to as "Monica," that being her latest name). Soon enough the two become an item, though strangely, for a novel focused on leather-wearing bondage gals, there's basically zero sex in the novel.
There's also a vampire-turned-priest who is going about New York City killing off vampires newly created by Monica and her latest vassal, Hillary. The cops are on his case, Kelly's ex-boyfriend chief among them, finding several mutilated, headless bodies, their blood drained away, of course not realizing that they were already dead when they were "killed." This for me by the way has always been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of horror fiction, that learning curve the characters must face before they realize they're in a horror novel. I mean, we readers already know there are going to be vampires, thanks to the back cover copy. It's like you want to yell at the protagonists after they've witnessed the latest decapitated, bloodless body: "They're vampires, you idiots!"
But as mentioned, there are more characters besides, and Cecilione hopscotches from subplot to subplot, to such an extent that the main thrust of the novel is lost. In addition there's also way too much stuff about the s&m scene, with frequent trips to various clubs that trade in bondage. Monica even runs one, the titular "Domination," a trendy invitation-only club in which people are actually crucified and killed on stage, though the audience thinks it's all just staged theatrics.
There are a few action scenes amid all of the squirm-inducing torture-porn scenes. Connor gets in a few fights, particularly at the end where he comes to the rescue, though Cecilione proves he isn't a full-time action writer when he has Connor checking the silencer on his revolver, something that cannot possibly exist. The ending is pretty climatic, too, with Kelly (who has discovered her ties to this eternal war between the vampire priest and Monica) trussed up in the Theater of Pain, and Connor blitzing his way through a few guards, both human and immortal.
Sadly though the novel ends on that '90s mainstay: the cliffhanger. Cecilione closes the tale with many questions unanswered, in particular what happened to one of the villains -- one you waited the entire novel to see destroyed. That being said, though, his theme of dominance and submission is played out to its fullest extent through the novel, which itself was a refreshing thing to see in what would otherwise have been just a quickie horror novel.