This one definitely is not for everyone. Disturbing, compelling, erotic, graphic, and sometimes way over the top in its descriptions of sadomasochistic behavior and beyond. Having said that, the story keeps your interest and is a good mystery/thriller including the obligatory "red herring." The story of Franny and her degradation by M. was sometimes hard to read and it was hard to imagine that someone could get pleasure from the abuse that was heaped on her! I also found it a little hard to believe that Nora would get involved with M. when she suspected him of murdering Franny - talk about risky behavior. And then to actually get into the masochism was a little far-fetched. Although I couldn't relate very well to the graphic sadomasochistic sex, I did relate to the setting of the novel in Davis, California. I lived in Sacramento about 18 years ago and some of my work took me to Davis frequently - the descriptions of the area were right on.
TOPPING FROM BELOW focuses on a sado/masochistic relationship between a journalist, Nora, and a music professor, M. Nora's sister, Franny, has been horribly murdered and the police have no clue to the identity of the killer. From reading Franny's diary, Nora is shocked to discover that her sister was involved in an S/M relationship with M. Franny had always been shy, somewhat plain and overweight. She didn't get many dates. So it was easy for M to lure Franny into playing the masochist to his sadism. Franny's needs for love and attention, especially from a man, has her descending into a hellish relationship where she ends up doing whatever M requests of her. He humiliates her over and over yet Franny can't let go of him.
Nora, living a life totally apart from her sister, seeing her for dinner once a month, is totally unaware of Franny's liaison with M. After her murder, Nora decides to start her own relationship with M and they end up agreeing that she can reenact Franny's experiences with M. M promises Nora that after a pleasing experience or 2, he'll reveal more about Franny's relationship with him. Despite warnings from Joe, the detective on the case, and Ian, her normal boyfriend, Franny jumps into a relationship with M thinking she will have the upper hand since she believes he killed her and thinks she can stay objective. But M is an extremely bright man and turns the tables on Nora. She begins to deteriorate morally, emotionally and spiritually. It's only at the end of the book does Nora regain her inner strength, guided by rage as M's depravity is starkly revealed to her. Makes for a surprise ending.
Yes, there's lots of eroticism in this book but it's more about humiliation than violence. I found myself annoyed at times with Nora. She allows her obsession about Franny's murder to overrule her logic and common sense. She listens to no one, not even Joe. This reminds me of some women I know and many I've read as "heroines" who say "I can take care of myself" before going out to walk a dark, crime infested street or camping alone in the woods in an area where a serial killer was last seen. With M, little did she realize that as she was trying to trap the monster, her own monster would emerge.
I could barely make it through this book, and that's because I had to force myself finish it after the halfway point. I thought this would be an interesting novel about the intensity of BDSM relationships, but the author seemed to forget the "make it interesting" part. I found the writing beyond abysmal. M. was the more interesting character because he was the only one who didn't seem completely one-dimensional, but it still wasn't enough to make this a good book. At least I didn't have to buy it to read it, otherwise I would have been really upset.
Nora's sister Franny gets murdered. After reading Franny's diary, Nora discovers she had a relationship with a man, Michael, who was into BDSM. She feels Michael is who killed Franny based on what she read in the diary. The police can't find enough evidence to get Michael.
Here is where it gets as stupid as possible.
So, Nora decides what she should do is SEDUCE the man who she believes killed her sister!?!?
Yes, that's right. She decides her plan of action is to have sex with the man. She appears to think if she has sex with him then he will tell her everything.
So if you don't find anything wrong with a story about a woman who would sleep with a person she believes murdered her sister...
Oh, also. The characters are not written well. There is nothing believable or real about them, except Michael who I liked above anyone else. There is no depth, and nothing to make you care about them. I frankly didn't care what happened to Nora as she was so dry. I felt like Franny was the real heroine in the story and wished she had lived and Nora had died. Of course, Franny wouldn't have thought of sleeping with her sisters possible murderer as she likely would have actually been grieving and not thinking about sex.
It is written in the present tense, such as, "I am walking down the street at a leisurely pace", vs, "I walked down the street at a leisurely pace". That won't matter to some people but I can't stand it so felt I should mention it in case that bugs anyone else.
From Publishers Weekly
The title of this devilishly pornographic,albeit literate,novel is taken from the argot of sadomasochism and refers to a rebellious dynamic in which the dominant partner (the "top") is subtly manipulated by the submissive partner (the "bottom"). After her young sister, Franny, is found murdered,bound, gagged and mutilated, Nora Tibbs, a journalist for the Sacramento Bee, discovers in Franny's computer a diary that details her brief affair with "M.," an arrogant music professor in his late 40s. Cruelly exploiting the overweight, love-starved woman, M. forced Franny to submit to a humiliating gamut of outre sexual practices. Convinced that M. is Franny's murderer, Nora sets out to prove his guilt by pretending to submit to his depraved aberrations. But, to her astonishment, she discovers a dark, pagan side of herself when M. enthralls her with intense, if perilous, sexual pleasure. Graphic descriptions of exotic sexual practices... accumulate, counterpointed by Nora's sweetly romantic relationship with a fellow reporter. The suspense, a bit attenuated by thin secondary characters, also is muted by artless foreshadowing, but the conclusion is satisfying in a savage sort of way and Nora's plunge "down, all the way down" under M.'s manipulations will keep most readers gripped even as they're aware that Reese's shameless pandering is manipulating them in turn. Comparison to Story of O is well earned. 100,000 first printing; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates.
After her sister is murdered, Nora Tibbs moves to a small college town near Sacramento. She believes that Franny's lover, Michael, is responsible for her death. Nora becomes entangled in a vicious web of wanting to know more about her sister's life and the dark fascination that Michael holds for both sisters. In her first novel, Reese explores the ghastly realm of women who, through some quirk of nature, allow themselves to be physically brutalized in order to feel loved. She writes well, using succinct prose, and in the process creates a neat little suspense novel. Be forewarned, though: explicit sex, sex with animals, mutilation, and torture are all here for the asking, as is the harsher reality of sadomasochism in all its pain, degradation, and domination.
I have read some hardcore risque books.... But I draw the line a bestiality and description of child molestation... Story could have been very good with a bit more character development. But I quickly lost interest after the description of the molestation of a 9 year old girl...quickly followed by the sex with the great dane. Just yuck.
I'm not really an S & M reader and this is way beyond the pale. I don't like murder mystery. This is one of my favorite books. It's a good read it draws you in and kept me guessing. I want to thrilled with Panic Snap but this one is fantastic.
an interesting, somewhat disturbing book, even for me. What I didn't like is that I could not relate to or understand what kept the female characters interested in the man - there was really nothing about him that would have kept me tied in. Also, the whole idea of the main character discovering her true self in the end just became a morality issue. Even the solving of the murder that drives the story turned out to be sort of boring.
As I said, an interesting book, but not really a good one.