A gay cop is found hanged. Was it suicide, murder, or kinky sex gone wrong? Street-smart Minneapolis police detectives Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska, back on the beat after Ashes to Ashes (1999), learn a lot about autoerotic asphyxiation while trying to crack the case.
Sam and Nikki remain tough but likable protagonists as they investigate a long list of possible suspects: the victim’s alcoholic father, a partially paralyzed cop; a jealous older brother with a taste for violence; a mysterious blond socialite of amazing strength; a hero cop turned crime-show host; and so on. But the detectives also view a home video unwittingly left to posterity by a hapless devotee of self-stimulation through suffocation that suggests the possibility of accidental death. (The author points out, somewhat in the style of a public-service announcement, that many teenage suicides by hanging may well be experimentation of this kind gone tragically wrong.) Unlike the sadistic sexual practices on display in Ashes to Ashes, this particular perversion is more pathetic than titillating, although Hoag tries hard to crank up the suspense. Energetic, down-to-earth prose and realistically gritty dialogue help push the workmanlike plot to its complex conclusion, but a notepad and pencil may come in handy to remember who shot whom, when, and why. Unfortunately, the author has chosen to write about a milieu with which she is clearly unfamiliar: urban gay life (here, exclusively male). Not wanting to offend or get too far into the seamier side of gay culture, Hoag settles for bland political correctness and a balanced ratio of 50 percent good gay guys to 50 percent bad gay guys. In dramatic terms, they cancel each other out, and none of them is particularly believable. For all the double-crosses, dire threats, and crashing around with guns, the story just isn’t thrilling or chilling. But it does move—and fast.
Clear directions, but don’t try the rope trick at home.