Banged Up - Jack Dickson (Sequel to FreeForm)

Ladymol's review:

This is something new.  We’ve seen all facets of gay sex in the various books we’ve reviewed, but we’ve never seen it used as a weapon before. This amazing novel is unrelenting. We’re as battered and beaten as Jas, the gay cop hero of FreeForm, is.  Now out of the force for two years, Jas works as a Private Detective. But the events of the past are never really over.

You really need to read FreeForm before this novel. It doesn’t entirely stand alone as the events of this novel are formed from the events of that one.

What’s the one place an ex-cop wouldn’t want to go? What’s the one place a gay man should probably never go? Jas is both an ex-cop and gay, so when he gets a remand sentence to Barlinie Prison he knows he’s facing his toughest challenge yet.

Nothing can prepare you for the utter soulnessness of such a place where sex is commodity and the distinctions between gay and straight are meaningless. All the men trade in this valuable commodity, the only thing you need to ensure is that you come out on top—literally.  The strongest are tops and the weakest become their “women”, but if you called any of them gay you’d probably get a knife through the ribs.

Not only does the author pose the same moral ambiguities as in FreeFrom (corruption of officialdom), in this one he presents a whole new one—sexual identity: straight men fucking straight men; gay men trying to pass themselves over as straight in order to survive; straight men who come out as gay men when they experience the sex.  And then, of course, we have Jas, this ex-cop, this gay man, but (as those of you will have read FreeForm will know) Jas has a penchant for rough sex. He plays domination games with his lovers. Pain and fear in other men turn him on. He’s the very last person who should be sent into this seething hellhole.

There are some scenes in this books that left me unable to sleep after reading them, and any one who’s read my stories will know, I’m not easily shocked or upset. It’s a measure of how real the author has made Jas.  There are also some of the hottest sex scenes I’ve read for a while, and not because they are graphic (although they are) but because they are a distillation of everything that is so incredibly sexy about men fucking men: sweat, power, domination, surrender, fear, love and ever the need to prove physical mastery. Two men, sharing a cell hardly big enough for one; violent tempers; tensions building—I swear this novel is almost interactive. You can actually smell the tension.

Ambiguity dominates the whole novel right up to the end. The tension is unrelenting. This novel has gone further than Free Form with a surer hand. If I had one minor criticism, and it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the book, it was over the author’s writing style in this one. Occasionally, his incredibly pared down, punchy prose is just a little bit too staccato to be able to visualise the scene.  It’s as if the action is played out in strobe lighting: flash, dark, flash, dark. In some ways, in some scenes this just notches up the tension, but occasionally I wanted to have more prose and less punch. Lot’s of Glaswegian dialect in the speech, but it didn’t faze me at all and I’m terrible with anything colloquial. It’s all terribly phonetic, so if you forget trying to translate it and just read it, it’s all there. 

I cannot recommend these two books too highly. I’ve read nothing like them before. 

Cerisaye's Review:

I couldn’t wait for this book after series opener, Freeform, and, oh boy, it doesn’t disappoint. Except perhaps that it ends one scene short.  #2 hit harder because I was already involved.  Dickson’s gay antihero Jas Anderson is one of those flawed individuals I can’t help but love, worry about, obsess over…a real man I wish happiness, in the shape of a beautiful lover and life companion- with a liking for SM games.

If Scottish ITV is looking for a Taggart replacement, well here’s the solution, though they’ll balk at graphic male sex so vital to its strength and purpose. Immensely satisfying to read a book that combines pacey crime thriller with erotic writing so hot you expect its pages to ignite- I mean raw sex you can feel, hear, smell and taste, with immediacy, like watching frame-by-frame in real time, mixing description and reaction, that transcends the written word straight into your head, touching heart and parts further south.  Think I exaggerate? Read the book.

Jas Anderson, at the end of Freeform was out on his ear from a police force badly tainted with virulent homophobia and damaged by corruption, at every level.  Two years on he’s made a living of sorts, the usual sources of employment for ex cops: nightwatchman, store detective, bouncer.  Easy work but limiting.  Through determination, and energetic use of his right hand, Jas defies doctors’ prognosis of permanent disability from injuries received in Freeform.  Naturally he turns private detective, though the work isn’t exactly stretching.  He’s moved only a stone’s throw from his old neighbourhood, but it’s another world, another life.  For Jas is lost in that gap between dreams and reality. 

Jas thinks like a cop, observant, filling his head with facts to hold back feelings too painful to acknowledge.  It makes for a stripped down writing style that suits the novel’s intense subject.  Marie, ex snout and prostitute, turns up like the bad penny.  She says he’s not the man he was, no longer caring.  Jas has every reason NOT to trust anyone, Marie in particular.  However, she has a job for Jas that characteristic loyalty insists he take.  The search for missing brother, Paul, takes Jas to places that test every ounce of his strength.  A natural top, hard man Jas uses power and control to stay afloat. How does he react when his props go and he’s vulnerable? Elements of Jas’ past and present collide as Dickson subtly makes sense of what appears misplaced faith, giving insight into a complex character.

Somehow, Jas has retained an optimistic view of justice.  By the end of the book Jas knows which side of the line he’s on, between police and policed.  How he gets there owes much to the inadequacies of a system that puts money before men’s lives.  The book is dedicated to the campaign to reduce criminal offending. Scotland, with a culture fuelled by alcohol and repression, has the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe.  The novel explores serious issues without getting po-faced.  Did I mention the incredible sex?  Sometimes it’s possible to find love in the unlikeliest place.

Not since As Meat Loves Salt has a book had such emotional impact.  I was a prepared, after LadyM’s frantic rush through to get it to me ASAP.  I poured anguish into as-I-read e-mails, whereas she had to go it alone.  After the strongest scene, and nothing could induce me to give details, I had to pour a stiff drink, at 4:00 am., and couldn’t sleep, despite physical exhaustion, so torn up inside. I turned to Dakota Taylor for respite. A restless few hours later I was up, frantic to continue. 

I recommend reading Freeform first.  To understand Jas you need his backstory.  Set aside a block of undisturbed reading time, because you will not be able to put this novel down.  As soon as I finished I checked to see whether the next one is out.  It is, and LadyM has ordered already.

Publisher: Millivres-Prowler Group Ltd IBSN: 1902852044

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