REVIEW: “BAD BOY BOOGIE” BY THOMAS PLUCK
DOWN AND OUT BOOKS
AVAILABLE MARCH 20, 2017
AMBER LOVE 10-FEB-2017 Content like reviews are supported by donors at my tip jar on Patreon.com/amberunmasked. You can also buy my books like Cardiac Arrest: A Farrah Wethers Mystery (Book 1) and share the links. This review is also made possible by NetGalley and Down and Out Books.
It’s extremely important to me to let future readers know that the plot of BAD BOY BOOGIE is a revenge story filled with flashbacks of child molestation, sexualized teen bullying and assault, and rape/sodomy.
There were multiple times when I struggled to finish this book because of the content. Knowing the author as I do, he would’ve told me, “Stop reading it then!” but it was important to me to see with my own eyes how he handles the subject matter. I’ve reviewed friends’ books plenty of times and I’ve trashed specifically one because of a careless approach to rape culture.
The reasons why Pluck’s version of these sickening subjects stands out is because he clearly pays attention. He looks at experts like Andrew Vacchs and edits the PROTECT anthologies (vol 2 $17.73) which are to help the organization seeking the best possible laws for keeping children safe from abuse. Pluck has spent years honing how to write these stories with purpose, even though they are brutally graphic.
When I wrote my three piece manifesto on handling sexual abuse in fiction, I made bullet points of specific ways to get it right. How do the victims react? Do they have PTSD? How does the PTSD manifest? Did they seek help? Do they feel they’ve had justice? How have people around them reacted?
Pluck addresses all of the things I look for in telling a story that’s not solely for shock value or sheer laziness in writing which is most often the case (gee, how else can we care about this character unless they’ve been raped?). Virtually every character from the core group of friends, ex-friends, and villains has faced some kind of abuse.
This book also addresses racism, classism, and ethnic competitiveness (white on white ism?) in regular ordinary New Jersey neighborhoods and the tough prison system.
When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.
But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?
Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.
I’m no stranger to THOMAS PLUCK. He’s been a friend and mentor to me for years and introduced me to people at Bouchercon who have been a part of my daily life since. He also posts a lot of cat pictures so that seals the deal that he’s a big ol’ soft teddy bear and an A+ guy in my book. He is entirely capable of ass kicking having been a student and teacher of fighting techniques which have most definitely aided in his ability to tell a story like BAD BOY BOOGIE riddled with aggressive and defensive ass-kicking action.
This is the hardest, dirtiest, meanest noir I’ve ever read. BAD BOY BOOGIE is the story of Jay Desmarteaux coming out of prison after twenty-five years for murdering Joey Bello, an asshole in his own right who also had an evil father. Jay takes full credit for the murder and justifies it because, “Joey needed killing.” However, Jay wasn’t alone.
“The friends he’d saved from the rotten son of a bitch’s rape and torment had either been too afraid to speak the truth, threatened out of doing so, or in one case, had twisted things around to ensure Jay’s imprisonment. But that didn’t change the fact that Joey Bello had needed killing.” ~ Bad Boy Boogie
Jay’s teenage group of friends were the constant victims of Joey Bello, his best friend Nick, and a couple others. The one who got abused the worst was Brendan, a gay boy and the twin to Billy (sons of a cop being blackmailed by Joseph Sr.). Since Senior Bello owned the town, especially the police force, there was never going to be justice for Brendan or anyone else Joey and Nick assaulted.
Have you watched The Making of a Murderer on Netflix? I hope you have, because you’ll see exactly what police interrogations of dumb young boys is really like. They have techniques for getting the answers they want and convictions and it’s not always about the truth; about it’s winning the case and making someone pay. Well, that’s exactly what happened when teenage Jay Desmarteaux trusted his friends and their cop father. He confessed to the crime and the rest of them left him high and dry saying they weren’t involved.
At the heart of Jay’s return from prison, is that he just wants to go home. He wants to find his parents and the girl he loved, Ramona. Unfortunately, Ramona is married to one of the ex-friends. She’s a piece of work. She leads Jay on constantly and then says, “but I’m married,” even after rekindling their fiery passion. Being the most visible of the female characters, Ramona is hard to hate exactly, but I have little respect for her. On the one hand, I understand her not wanting to give up luxury because I’ve never had it, but at what cost? A loveless marriage where they are more like sparring partners than soulmates?
No one wants Jay back in Nutley, New Jersey. They would rather pretend that Joey was some poor victim (even gave him a big stone memorial) and that his father had his heart torn from him. Jay reminds them about the truth that bullies come from other bullies and unless they’re stopped, they will keep winning. In a couple cases, the adult bullies came from being victims and grew up to wield their own misplaced power.
“They say it gets better,” Brendan said, eyeing the room. “That’s a load of shit. It gets bitter, if anything. You get used to it. Most people turn into bigger versions of the little assholes they were in school.” ~Bad Boy Boogie
Each character has a story and readers get to know them well. Whenever Jay thinks he knows something and has the right information, it’s all toppled upside-down. Jay’s journey is a fluid wushu style fight of his flexible willingness to break the law and the smoothness of transitions from present time, his prison time, teen age years, and childhood flashbacks. The scene breaks dance with grace moving readers through Jay’s tormented life.
Though it’s filled with examples of toxic masculinity, Pluck uses realistic character diversity such as two transwomen (one from Jay’s time in prison that he protected), Brendan who is openly gay, several male figures who are closeted gay/pansexual; ciswomen who range from loving to abusive to manipulative. The abuse of transwomen of color in the prison system is as graphic in detail as the rest of the rape and sex scenes. Yet, Pluck takes that low and brightens the subject of transgender lives to show a transwoman named Raina; Jay doesn’t balk at the transition of someone he knew pre-op.
There’s complete clarity in how Pluck lays out steamy, erotic sex scenes compared to the vicious assault scenes. The loving sex between teenage Jay and Ramona and their grown up selves, shows two people absorbed into each other. Unfortunately, Jay loves her more than she ever loved him.
BAD BOY BOOGIE mostly delves into male-on-male assault, but even Ramona has a history of older men preying upon her. First, she feels her sense of victimization. Then she shrugs it off as attention and believes she wanted to do those things.
In those consensual male-on-male sexual encounters, the author addresses something social that’s been around forever, but only recently being openly discussed. In places like New York Magazine or Jane Ward’s Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men ($24.98), the idea of tough masculine men pleasuring each other has become known as “bud sex” or “dudesex,” basically the all-male equivalent to friends with benefits.
“A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities.”
“The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men.” Science of Us. New York Media LLC., 18 Dec. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.
While I will say, read with caution because of the content, Thomas Pluck treats the subject matter of sexual abuse respectfully. BAD BOY BOOGIE earns the highest marks for technical effort too because of the constant flashbacks transitioned perfectly between scenes.