I’m a big fan of Jaffe’s work. From the serious grief of The Limits of Pleasure to a young Jewish boy’s sexual awakening in Yeled Tov to his last collection of short stories, Foreign Affairs, you never know quite what you’re going to get, and I love that. I’m not keen on authors who write the same book over and over but with different characters, and although Jaffe has themes to which he returns–primarily the intersection of gay and Jewish identities, the depth and breadth of his stories are admirable. And he’s pulled out all the stops for the hysterical and heartfelt The Grand Sex Tour Murders.
Paulie Hahnemann has a plan that will set him and his partner up for life. A sex tour of bathhouses in European capitals complete with eight hot contestants in a sort of gambler’s reality TV show livestreamed from the bathhouses. Men can bet on their favorite studs while said studs plow their way through the population of Europe, racking up the sex points with $250,000 on the line. The only catch is the serial killer that’s taking the boys out capital by capital. But Paulie even has a plan to make that work to his advantage. Until it doesn’t anymore.
Jaffe is clearly having a ball here. He’s coming at it from a number of viewpoints: organizer Paulie, the serial killer, hidden camera transcripts from the boys in their hotel rooms–and as he’s a master at voice, you don’t need a chapter marker to tell you whose head you’re in. Paulie is sort of a schlub, but great at the planning thing, the serial killer is an effete snob, and the boys are…well, naive. Jaffe pokes fun at reality TV at the same time he’s paying homage to the now-dying bathhouse (there were three in Denver before COVID–now, there are none), and the result is a lovely wake. It’s witty and worldly; domestic, yet oh so continental.
But of all the voices here, I can just about guarantee the serial killer’s will stick with you the most. He’s pompous and arrogant, yet always brought down to the lowest common denominator by his lust for blood. He’s chillingly matter-of-fact, which is what makes him so wonderfully evil and gives the book those moments where the tongue-in-cheek aspects fall away and give us a bald, brave look at psychosis in action. The murders themselves aren’t as lurid as they are diabolically purposeful. And the contrast between that and the comic elements are what gives this book layers.
And, of course, such an intelligent, fascinating book must be banned. So, as the publisher informs us, Facebook has banned its sale on their Facebook page, and it’s also been banned by a service that buys books for libraries. My fear is that this is only the beginning rather than an isolated incident. In either case, it’s a good idea to buy directly from the publisher’s link above.
Jaffe has come up with yet another winner, leaving you wondering what genre he’s going to write in next. No matter what it is, I’m in. Banned or not. Highly recommended!
© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler