Body Art: A Thriller by Jordan Castillo Price
Source: Review by Request
Audio-book Provided by the Author
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Does everyone have a certain “type” they end up with…whether they want to or not? If Ray Carlucci’s ex is anything to go by, Ray likes his men gorgeous, rebellious, and chock-full of issues. But now that Ray is single again, he has a shot at a fresh start—a very fresh start, since his tattoo shop was gutted by repo men and he can fit all his belongings in the trunk of a taxi.
Ray’s shiny new chauffeur’s license lands him a job as a driver for an elderly couple on Red Wing Island. It’s a cold fall, and since the Michigan island is the summer home to snowbirds who fly south for the winter, it’s practically deserted—save for Ray’s new household and a sculptor named Anton Kopec, who works day and night twisting brambles and twine into the distorted shapes of macabre creatures. Compelling, bizarre, and somewhat disturbing…not just the sculptures, but the artist, too. Ray has a feeling Anton is just his “type.”
Despite their scorching chemistry, when a dead body is unearthed by some workers and a freak ice storm traps them all on the island, Ray can’t say for certain that his new flame isn’t capable of murder.
Much more than a Murder Mystery!
Starting over, Crazy Romance, Tattoos, Artists, and a killer on the loose…
Everything was too new. This room, this man. This island. Me. Seven years to shed my cells and become a new person? Hell, I was a different guy than I’d been seven months ago. I looked down at my tiger and eight-ball to reassure myself that I was still me – because lately, when I’d glanced down and seen the buttoned cuff of a white oxford dress shirt instead of the studded bracelet and ink-smeared latex glove, I’d felt like a ghost who was too stubborn to move into the light and ended up possessing some Mr. Average America who’d been too oblivious to notice the hijacking of his own body.
I went into this book blind. That is to say, I began this book without knowing anything about it or reading the blurb thoroughly. I didn’t need to. I knew everything I needed to know from the start:
1. This was a Jordan Castillo Price story
2. The audio-book was narrated by Gomez Pugh
I’m starting to feel like those two qualifiers are more than enough to ensure that I’m going to enjoy myself.
A few notes specifically about the audio-book and I’ll move on to the actual story: Regular readers of my reviews know that I have a rough time with audio-books, but Gomez Pugh has been a beacon of light in an otherwise (for me) lackluster medium. His narration is phenomenal, and the style is unique with each series and character.
Body Art had a particularly huge hurdle for Mr. Pugh to overcome – though the story is told 100% from the point of view of Ray Carlucci, there are THREE prominent female characters in this book. Anyone who has listened to a male-narrated audio-book knows that female voices are hit and miss for performers. The result is often a falsetto inflection which borders on mocking.
I’m delighted to tell you that Gomez Pugh conquered this challenge beautifully. Each woman had a wonderfully unique tone and cadence. It’s one of the many reasons Mr. Pugh had me sucked into the story within the first few lines. I enjoyed his performance so much, I immediately restarted the book after finishing.
Of course, the best performance means nothing if the content isn’t extraordinary… But this is Jordan Castillo Price. Readers familiar with her work know that we’re going to be taken on an entertaining ride… Even if the path is a little too twisted and dark to see what’s coming.
My previous experience with Price has been exclusively in the realm of Paranormal fiction. Body Art contains no ghosts, vampires, or psychics, but it has all the fabulous storytelling I’ve come to expect from Price – filled with intriguing characters, great dialogue, lush details, and (of course) fabulously sexy moments.
I’m not a people person, not like Johnny, who’d had so many friends he couldn’t begin to count them all. (Though you have to wonder how many of those were friends and how many were people he got high with.) I was no social butterfly, but I wasn’t a loner either. Tattoo art isn’t solitary. Once you’ve inked everything you can reach on your own body you’ve got to start working on other people.
Here I had only the Whites, Melita, and Marnie for company.
And Anton. Assuming he wanted to see more of me, which seemed premature. And exciting.
Ray just got out of a toxic relationship. His ex-boyfriend spent all of Ray’s hard-earned money on drugs and drink, leaving Ray in financial ruin. His tattoo parlor was forced to shut down, repo men took his equipment, his truck, and all the frivolities he’d spent his money on while blissfully ignorant of Johnny’s shenanigans…
Ray found himself living on couches with nothing to show for a career spent creating stunning tattoos for grateful customers. He’s lost it all, and still the collectors are chasing him.
Time to start over.
Ray lands himself a job as a live-in driver for a wealthy couple on Michigan’s Red Wing Island. He packs his meager possessions into a couple pieces of mismatched luggage, and spends the very last of his money on a cab ride to his new gig.
To say that Ray is out of his element among the opulent White household is an understatement. He traded his motorcycle boots for shiny shoes, and covered his tattoos with thrift store button-downs and secondhand ties, but clothes do not make the man.
It quickly becomes clear that there’s more to his new job than was in the description. His new employers are expecting Ray to go above and beyond his position as chauffeur.
Red Wing island is filled with opulent estates, but those properties are completely empty during the winter. The island is isolated and empty… Except for one odd neighbor…
I realized I felt alive when I was with him. Maybe not always in a good way. Sometimes I was spooked, and sometimes I could smack him. But whatever was going on inside me, when we were together, good or bad – it was always vivid.
What a curious character – Much like Ray, the reader isn’t sure what to make of Anton’s bizarre behavior throughout most of the book. He’s flighty in a way that only and artist can be.
Anton has a singular focus on experimentation and creation. He uses his natural surroundings to create (sometimes unsettling) sculptures which his sister sells to wealthy collectors in larger cities like Detroit. Anton might be the toast of the art world, but his sister keeps him hidden away in her guest house on Red Wing Island.
The locals know Anton as a kooky artist – less than mentally stable. The ward of his wealthy sister. Ray sees the opportunity for companionship in the midst of isolation.
Ray has a proven track record for being attracted to the wrong guy. Anton is the only other young(ish) man on the island, he’s breathtakingly gorgeous, he lives art in a way that fascinates Ray. Even though his behavior is questionable, he seems perfectly harmless.
Until a dead body is unearthed on the island.
Ray doesn’t know who to trust.
Nobody knows who might be next.
There’s only so many people on Red Wing island.
Someone has got to be the killer.
Body Art was a fun Murder Mystery nestled inside the story of one man’s personal renaissance. There was danger, adventure, naked octogenarians, ice storms, romance, and art.
It was lovely.
Driver, Red Wing Island. Must speak English and have current Michigan chauffeur license. Room, board, and stipend provided. Single gentleman over 35 preferred. Smokers need not apply.
Was it still legal to discriminate against smokers? I wasn’t sure, but I thought it might give me an edge. I read the ad through again. I had a brand-spanking-new piece of plastic that entitled me to drive a cab, bus, or limousine. I was also flat broke, in debt up to my eyeballs, and I sorely needed somewhere to stay. Oh, and I spoke English too.
I’d followed the Guide to Gainful Employment to a tee. New haircut. New shirt. New slacks. New tie—new to me, anyway. Even polished my shoes for the first time in my life. The final tip, according to the Guide, was to be sure to address the interviewer by name, using a mnemonic device, if necessary, to do it.
It hadn’t mentioned what to do if there were two interviewers. Damn.
Two women turned up for the interview in the back office of the employment agency. There was an old one—eighties, I’d guess—and a younger one, a handful of years older than me. Maybe forty or so. A stocky, sturdy forty, with hair cropped short and gray at the temples. No makeup. The daughter? Maybe. She didn’t look like an accountant or a lawyer, that’s for sure. She glanced down at her paper, and asked me, “If a drawbridge does not have a signal light or attendant, how many feet away must you stop and check if the draw is closed?”
That was just on my test. “Fifty.”
I’d been so excited to know the answer to that one that I’d leaned forward and allowed my tie to slide out of place. The missing button midway down the shirt gaped. I hadn’t noticed it at the thrift store. I’d just been glad to find a dress shirt for less than three bucks that didn’t need to be ironed. I covered the buttonhole with the tie. And then I realized the gesture had caused my sleeve to ride up and show a glimpse of my ink. Damn it. Maybe they hadn’t noticed. They were looking me in the face, weren’t they? Both of them? I hoped so—the kind of hope where your stomach twists up and squeezes itself ’til you’re sick. Because I really, really needed that job.
The old woman, Mrs. White, which was easy to remember—white hair, white pearls, Mrs. White—reached over and tapped the other one on the forearm. My guts twisted against themselves harder. She’d seen. And decided I wasn’t the sort of man she wanted living under her roof.
I couldn’t dream up a neat mnemonic trick for the younger woman, Ms. Friedman, but I figured I could handle two names. She nodded vaguely and shuffled her questionnaire. “Do you have any family nearby, Mr. Carlucci?”
I itched to tell her to call me Ray, since I was only “Mr. Carlucci” to the legions of bill collectors I’d been picking off my sorry hide over the last year, but I figured it wasn’t my place to dictate who was called what during the interview. “Parents in Florida.”
Mrs. White spoke up. “Any wife? Children?”
And then I remembered the ad. Single gentleman preferred. Which seemed about as politically incorrect as specifying a nonsmoker. “No. Never married. No kids.”
Queer as the day is long, actually. But right now? A single gentleman. It made me sound a lot ritzier than I was, but I supposed I fit the bill.
“On your application,” said Friedman, “you wrote down ‘business owner’ as your last job. What was that?”
An answer I’d prepared for. “Custom art.” Because tattoo parlor didn’t have quite the same ring.
“And you list the reason for leaving as financial.”
I did my best to sound mild, but inwardly, I steeled myself against the possibility that they’d poke at some old wounds that hadn’t quite closed yet. And I reminded myself to take it like a man, sit up straight, and make sure that damn buttonhole didn’t show.
Friedman said, “I had a catering business before.” Her gaze went inward, just for a second. “So much work—sixty, seventy-hour weeks. And then the check for a wedding bounced….” She spread her fingers in a “poof” gesture. And I looked at her, really looked at her, and nodded again. Because I could tell she understood that sometimes we fail—grandly, spectacularly—through no fault of our own. It gave me hope.
I didn’t feel like I could afford to cling to that hope, though. I nodded.
Friedman’s cheeks flushed. “Those are all the questions I have.” She turned toward Mrs. White. “You?”
White leaned forward and squinted. Her eyes had the cloudy, watery cast of age. “He looks fit. How tall are you?”
“Six-three,” I said. Not one of the interviews I’d sat through in the past several months had asked me if I had kids or how tall I was.
None of them had called me back afterward, either. Until this one.
About the Author:
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price writes paranormal sci-fi thrillers colored by her time in the midwest, from inner city Chicago, to rural small town Wisconsin, to liberal Madison. Her influences include Ouija boards, Return of the Living Dead, “light as a feather, stiff as a board,” and boys in eyeliner.
Jordan is best known as the author of the PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who’s plagued by ghostly visitations. Also check out her new series, Mnevermind, where memories are made…one client at a time.