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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Review: Balustrade by Mark Henry

Click here to buy Balustrade by Mark Henry

James and Hilary's marriage is dying a slow death. Quiet resentment and irritation have eaten its way into her love and it's begun to rot. Her agreement to attend a couple's retreat to reconnect is a dutiful, perfunctory stepping-stone toward what she believes is inevitably the end. 

But far from being an emotionally touchy-feely program with primal scream therapy and talking sticks,the Balustrade resort has a sexual agenda with a barely veiled sinister feel.

"Believe me, Hilary, you'll want to be completely alert for this. And afterward, you'll never live outside this level of clarity. It becomes part of you."

Mark Henry has quite few books under his belt. Among the most recent, the book Parts & Wreck comes to mind. I bring this up, because that story had an intimate scene or two in it. I remember that the scenes had good structure but they were a bit formulaic except for a glaringly odd euphemism or two. I remember mentioning in the review that with practice he'd be able to write a pretty good sex scene.

It turns out, he can. My guess is, he had to "clean up" the scenes in Parts & Wreck, and that kind of stifling can really disguise an author's ability. These scenes are integral to the plot of Balustrade, and its characters' development. I can honestly say, I'm eating my words. The scenes are delightfully deviant. With the exception of one line that made me cringe (not from disgust, more from word choice,) they were exactly what one would expect from a polished erotica writer.

Balustrade is beautifully paced. The tension and mystery are artfully intertwined in an almost lyrically written story. Henry creates a quietly sinister mood that underlies everything the characters experience beginning as they approach Balustrade. It's not in your face, but like a shadow late in the evening, it creeps toward you; steadily growing larger and darker.

The characters are perfectly imperfect. Hilary's irritability, petulance, and growing alarm over James' whole-hearted "drinking of the kool-aid" parallel the thoughts of the reader. The light shed on what seem to be her sexual inhibitions and James' role in them was a surprise.

The climax was well-conceived, and it fell in line with the mood; Hilary's actions wrought the truth about Balustrade. It had the same satisfaction one gets from sex on a hot, humid night. You feel a bit dirty and tired, but very satisfied.

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