Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tantric Zoo: A Bud Warhol Mystery by Rob Loughran

At a Tantric Sex retreat in 1987 a participant is murdered and buried by the other campers. The body isn't discovered until 2008. Enter Forensic Anthropologist Bud Warhol who tracks down the murderer and also discovers how two decades of guilt have affected all the characters in this Tantric Zoo.

Reviewer: avidscribe
I submit this review with the remembrance of not liking Rob’s other book, Teenage Pussies From Outer Space and I said so, loud and clear, not considering for a moment that there’s a person with a vested interest and feelings behind the words.

I felt such remorse when he so very kindly responded to my review thanking me anyway. It takes a strong and healthy ego to stand up to a negative review and I was much touched by his gentle words. When we were approached to do another novel of his, I begged to be the one to do it, wanting to give him another go. I had hoped the first book was simply a bad fit for me, which I can testify now that it was. This second book is a more serious novel and, while it had its wry moments (and what I now feel is his inherent dark, off center humor), it is more an involving story about the corrosive quality of guilt and the unraveling of the lives suffering it.

This is a two part story with a murder and a mystery.

Part 1—CRIME—is set in 1987
What starts out as a diverting weekend for eight couples spending a weekend together to explore their relationships and get in touch with their sexuality turns deadly. The Sexual Therapy and Exploration Retreat at Tantricity Hill under the leadership of April and Altair aka William McCormick brings together eight couples, all strangers to one another, together for a three day sex seminar in California.

The price is steep, the resort secluded. April and Altair run this retreat with the canned theme that love is a gift to give to each other. Two couples are there to explore themselves, each one there for different reasons. Helena, facing down 52 and a recent widow, is there with Blake, her paid escort, a much younger man who needs Viagra to achieve an erection. Missy and Arnold are there to rediscover each other after her miscarriage and the collapse of his business. It’s been over a year since the devoted married couple have made love.

Enter Devon and Debra. A Hollywood Power Couple, Debra has come to obtain the fortitude to tell Devon she wants out of her fishbowl existence. She feels like she hasn’t been authentic with herself for years. She thinks she curses men who cleave to her and means nothing but ruin for their lives. She bonds instantly with Missy who she sees as a kindred spirit. Devon is secretly gay and his selfish pursuit of a film script cost the life of his lover and rendered him impotent in guilt. Unknown to Debra, he, too, wants out of the relationship.

The weekend spins dangerously as April and Altair worry that the Hollywood couple could expose them as fakes and destroy their livelihood. Their camp has been an indulgence for bored upper middle class Americans and now is breaking down. Two people decline to disrobe, wearing disappointment and tragedy on their faces truly expecting the weekend’s activities can alleviate their pain. It cannot. Altair questions whether Helena has paid Blake to come with her and worries they are there only to revel in activities they probably wouldn’t attempt with someone they love, respect or even tolerate.

Kinship between the couples soon forms as they divide themselves up and divulge their reasons for coming to retreat with their new friend. With so many secrets spread out on the table, the author throws in a Hollywood gossip reporter following a tip that Devon and Debra are at this retreat, a story that could prove a bomb to their careers. The reporter's appearance is a surprise and a welcome addition to the storyline. She takes her photos, and, with the damaging snaps, heads back to California thrilled with her success.

Shortly after, Debra discovers Devon is dead with his head bashed in. It wasn't Debra who is horrified and admits she thought he was simply sleeping so hadn't disturbed him. It could be ruin for all so a plan forms and the group buries him in a makeshift grave and quickly depart the retreat, agreeing to silence the whole affair.

Part 2—PUNISHMENT—2008
The land has passed hands and now belongs to the Poemo Tribe who were its original settlers. The sacred land is barely under construction for a big-ass casino when a backhoe dredges up poor Devon’s bones. Bud Warhol, forensic anthropologist, comes to investigate to decide if the bones are human or animal, if this is a missing persons case solved, an ancient burial site or a crime scene.

It’s a crime.

Not much has changed in the intervening years. Altair has a cult following with his book God is Voyager and runs a clinic called Journeys which is eerily like the retreat at Tantricity Hill but now with muscle and religion. April is now his ex-wife and runs a cafe on her own. Secrets from the ‘80s start to unravel as the reporter has now published the photos. If those bones belong to Devon who is the Devon that Debra is still with? The question is answered a few pages later as we read a conversation between April and Altair. Blake is now passing as Devon! The seven strangers are still bonded by this murder because of a secret pact. Despite the pact, Missy reveals all to Bud when he makes the journey to visit her. It is somewhat disappointing a reveal as it was too early in the read and makes Bud seem inadequate as a forensic anthropologist as his character has not been allowed to make any conclusions beyond the identity of the body. This is followed by a confession and we are given the connection between the murderer and Devon. With that sorted out, Bud goes to question the man at the center of this—Altair—and we get a hell of a twist to the story I didn’t see coming. Nicely done! Altair is murdered and there is a new who-done-it as Bud winds up getting arrested but quickly gets himself released from all charges. Finally in his element, Bud reaches more conclusions as he ably solves the second murder.

I give this a solid three stars. I enjoyed the concept of the story and the characters were engaging and very fleshed out. The pressures of their lives are sensitively and believably drawn and the dialog is witty and often hilarious. However, the story dragged between the reporter's arrival and the murder of Devon and I struggled through it. The mystery isn’t revealed until much later in the story. I lost my suspension of disbelief with the reporter, I admit. Why wouldn’t Debra or Devon have sued or tried to close down the website they were posted on? I’d also like to add that I’d hoped for a more dramatic reveal of the murderer after there was so much build-up to the moment. Still, an excellent story and well written.

A suggestion to the author is that he includes his story in the subgenre of Erotica. The tag of sex I would contest is not telling enough what with positions of the Kama Sutra being performed with descriptive narrative accompanying it.

Publisher: Bubba Caxton Books: a Division of Foul Mouthed Bard Press


Unknown said...

Thanks for the Three Solid Stars. From an unbiased reviewer I take *** as a successful review. Thanks also for the constructive criticism: I knew I was risking the loss of a few readers by not introducing the detective until page 106, 20 years after the murder.

And I considered listing TANTRIC ZOO as Erotica but I didn't for one good reason. The movie "Cabaret" is a musical, but doesn't stretch credulity because the characters are cabaret performers and it's their job to sing. "Sound of Music" is also a musical but we are forced to accept the false premise that whenever words don't suffice to convey emotion humans burst into song: with perfect accompaniment from an invisible orchestra. The sex in TANTRIC ZOO is a "natural" occurrence--given the fact that the boys and girls are at a sexual workshop. This is opposed to the Erotica genre where a man shares a taxi with a girl and they do it in the back seat. A pizza delivery boy drops off a pie at a bachlorette party and...etc.

Thanks for the stars, thanks for giving me another try.

The best to you,

Rob Loughran
Windsor, CA

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