REVIEW: Mistress Murder by Mark Ramsden

Susie Godly is many things to many people. Lover, daughter, mother, ex-wife, entrepreneur and – in her guise as Mistress Murder – one of the most in-demand dominatrixes in London. Susie has bought herself a first-class ticket on the hedonism express and shows no sign of slowing down for anyone or anything. Yes, her marriage ended badly – sure, it’s fair to say she’s probably doing a few too many drugs – and yeah, most people would agree her love-life sits at the more ‘complicated’ end of the spectrum – but it’s nothing Susie can’t handle, right?

As she does her best to ride the wave of joyous mayhem she’s created, Susie’s attempts to live her best life are thwarted by the appearance of a mysterious stalker who seems infuriated by both her and her lifestyle. Susie’s dealt with stalkers before of course – they’re par for the course in her business – but this one operates on a different level of malevolence, and she is forced to take desperate steps to ensure her safety and the safety of the people she loves.

Warnings: Violence, Mentions of rape, Mentions of suicide, Stalking/death threats, Sex-worker-phobia, Transphobia, Homophobia, Sexism/Misogyny

Category: M/F, F/M, F/F

Oh boy. Very rarely do I read a book that I so vehemently disliked. While I’d like to try to be impartial, Mistress Murder is patently offensive in its pursuit of edgelord humour and irreverent realism. In order to discuss this book I will need to cover its content so I will give this review a huge transphobia warning among… other things. Feel free to skip it entirely. I’ll also give you a spoiler warning because I’m going to discuss the ending but I cannot stress enough how much I do not recommend this book so don’t worry too much about being spoiled.

WRITING
While I expected this book to be more… murder mystery thriller featuring dominatrix, it’s in fact much more of a, um, slice of life drama veering into crass comedy. The writing style manages to actually be fairly engaging in fact- the irreverent narrator Susie is a disillusioned 30-something dominatrix that hates everyone in her life almost as much as she hates herself. If you like that kind of very dry, self deprecating and misanthropic humour, I can see how this could fit the bill nicely. There’s a rhythm and flow to the prose that feels like real internal monologues, bitter and griping. The story follow Susie who is being harassed, stalked, and sent death threats by an unknown aggressor, as she navigates her life and relationships in the midst of it all. Obviously, this could be a seriously troubling narrative for a lot of people, though I don’t necessarily think a thriller about a woman being stalked couldn’t be done well. However neither she nor anyone in her life tend to take it very seriously, so it gives the story a strange, disturbing vibe that I couldn’t quite get my head into.

EMOTIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Emotional engagement, since it isn’t very plot driven at all, is the main bulk of the book, and if it were a better book that could have been really amazing. Most of the prose is about her relationships, her thoughts about them, her feelings about them, her desires. It’s written like a diary, and we get a lot of emotional content from here accordingly, fleshing her out as a really organic character. It’s just such a shame then that she is abysmally awful, and not in an interesting to read way. She is constantly disparaging the people around her, including her boyfriends and her clients, and is just in general extremely unlikable. Her thoughts are mercurial in a way that makes me think she’s more what the author thinks women must be like than feeling like a well fleshed out actual woman. Spouting cliches about men, about women, about what women want from men, all of it serves to make the experience of reading, while certainly emotional, abysmally frustrating and unappealing. She’s a dominatrix that really wants to be dominated, and a bi woman who hates lesbians, and a sex-worker who resents her clients! Oh boy!

WORLDBUILDING
Coming to the worldbuilding, we enter the realms of pro-dominatrix kink and fetish sex work. And this is where we get really dicey. Since she is a dominatrix that offers forced feminization services, this means a lot of transphobia. I have honestly never read a more transphobic piece of garbage. She consistently misgenders her clients in her interal monologues and waxes on about how they are ‘entitled men’ who want to steal the identity of womanhood from women, or depraved perverts who want to live their fetishes. Of course she often follows this up by hastening to add addendums like “I’m not talking about all trans people of course just my clients so don’t cancel me” which frankly does not make this drivel any better, sorry. And of course the big end reveal is that her death-threat issuing stalker turns out to be a trans man instead of a trans woman, surprise! A trans man who, prior to coming out, had dated someone she dated and had it out for her for being a sex-worker. I’m sure this book thinks this was a very clever little twist considering how often she reflects on how trans women are mentally ill and violent, but it just isn’t. It’s just absolutely terrible.

STEAMINESS
Let’s talk about the sex in this book, of which there is plenty though it is not explicit at all. The main character goes through her pro-domming scenes with various clients, pegging or fisting or whipping them. Throughout these scenes we are privy to her internal thoughts about the acts, in which she consistently describes her clients as unattractive, as pathetic, as disgusting to her or a nuisance. She does it for money, or for drugs, or because it’s the life shes entrenched in, but she certainly doesn’t do it for her own enjoyment or thrill. The constant describing of submissive men as being less-than, or internal monologues about how she wants a “real man” instead who could dominate her, is exhausting and ends up feeling very derogatory about pro kink, and sex-work in general. And despite this, the book has the gall to have some moments where she talks about “the kink community” as though it is something important to her, as though she loves being in it, as though the book were a representation of “real kink”. It tries to contrast itself to 50 Shades of Grey as though Mistress Murder is somehow a better, more accurate depiction. Barf.

All in all, please give this book a skip. There are so many better books about kink and fetish and sex-work that we don’t need this crap. What distresses me is how the reviews praise it for its dry and gritty stylistic prose and edgy humour, despite being horrifically offensive to practically everyone. Well, perhaps everyone except for straight cis men. Seriously, don’t read this, I read it so you wouldn’t have to.

Have you read Mistress Murder? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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