Dark Soul Vol 1
by Aleksandr Voinov, contemporary (2011)
Riptide Publishing, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-937551-07-0

I've long been aware of Aleksandr Voinov's reputation as a writer of gay romantic noir fiction, and given my love for mad, bad boys, I should be devouring his books like a starving chocoholic on a dessert binge. So I have no excuse, other than to say that I didn't have a mobile reader back then, to let Dark Soul Vol 1 haunt my hard drive for so long. This is like stashing sacks of gold in my basement while I subside on instant noodles all year long, because this one is fabulous. It's not for everyone, as my synopsis of the story will tell you, but it's fabulous to me.

Stefano Marino is the boss of the West Coast crime gang. Recently, the boss of all the crime gangs falls ill and it looks like he may croak soon. Of course, there will be plenty of sneaky maneuvers and even outright power grabs once that fellow croaks, and like all sharks drawn to the scent of blood, Stefano leaves behind his wife to pay his "respects" to the dying man.

And who should he meet buy Silvio Spadaro, the assassin known as the Barracuda. Silvio is determined to break all rules, openly flaunting his interest in men when the default dress code of the Mafiosi is homophobia and black tie. And to Stefano's dismay, he finds himself very interested when Silvio makes his interest in that man clear. But is it safe? Homophobia and black tie, after all. And Silvio belongs to one of the most powerful Mafia bosses in town.

First things first: this is the first in a series, and it ends with on a "to be continued" note. So prepare yourself - don't be like me, gritting my teeth and trying not to go "Aaaarrgh!" because I need to read more.

Okay, let's get the problems I have with this short story out of the way first. While I have a great time immersing myself in this world of guns and sodomy, I do have some issues with Silvio. More specifically, when he starts lecturing Stefano and me about things like the meaning of ephebophile, the story abruptly morphs into a gender study class, and I am forcibly pulled out of the story. Would a crazy rebellious assassin who likes pain even care about all these big words? Sure, there are some gangsters who can quote Ray Blanchard, but up to such a point, there is no indication that Silvio is that kind of person. He's just some guy who likes pain with his pleasure, so to have him go all college lecturer on me ruins the immersion effect of the story.

These moments aside, this story is gorgeous. Stefano is on the surface a rather stereotypical straight-acting dude, although his marriage is a bit different from the "shag every woman I meet" thing typically associated with this stereotype. But his sexual awakening is just delicious to follow, and I especially adore that scene where he, ahem, puts a gun to good use on Silvio.

Honestly, the story is too short for any of these characters to develop into well-rounded types, but this is the first installment of what seems like a dark and delicious sexy noir and I find myself eager for more of all that crazy-sexy-nasty stuff. Gangsters and guns - this, I think, is going to be a fun ride.

Rating: 84

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