William D. Prystauk’s BLOODLETTING: a Hardboiled Detective Novel

Bloodletting by William D. Prystauk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Denny Bowie, a young investigator for a Chicago law firm, risks everything to return to New York City to prove himself as a private investigator by solving the murder of a fetish photographer, Tommy Heat. A childhood friend, Tommy might have had something to do with the death of a female classmate of Denny’s.

Once on scene in Greenwich Village, things get complicated for Denny. Tommy’s death is just one of a string of serial murders involving masochistic men. The NYPD detectives on the case are skeptical of Denny’s talents and abilities, especially because of his punk-rocker attitude and his alternative sexuality. They’re only coordinating with him on the orders of Captain Dallion, the father of Penny Dallion, the Goth-girl of Denny’s dreams.

On the upside, Denny’s able to consummate his repeatedly frustrated yearning for Penny and also captures the attention of the hot and androgynous Erin Marr, a local dancer who’s Penny’s friend as well. Despite the joys of this menage a trois, Denny soon sails into dangerous waters while researching the case in the Village’s fetish and BDSM community. A masochistic nun’s bizarre death by crucifixion complicates the case, which now appears to point to a vampiric conspiracy that might even involve Penny. When Denny is targeted by the killers, everything he cares about is on the line. If he can’t solve the case, it just might be the end of everything for him, Penny, and Erin.

This is the first published novel from the man behind a well-known online persona. Also known as Billy Crash (proprietor of the Crashpalace), William D. Prystauk is an English professor, horror film critic, and podcaster based in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He is also an award-winning filmmaker and a published poet and essayist. He adapted BLOODLETTING from a screenplay of the same name, which took Second Place at the Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest in 2006, where it was the leading piece in the mystery category.

Having lived in Manhattan from the mid-80s to the mid-90s (most of it in the Village, some of it commuting to Newark via PATH train for work), this reviewer can testify to how authentically Prystauk renders his setting (on both sides of the Hudson). He also gives the reader a window on the fetish/BDSM scene in the Village. Unlike this reviewer, who experienced that world only voyeuristically (no pun intended), Prystauk writes like one who has “been there, done that.” His descriptions of Denny’s fetish and BDSM experiences are honest and straightforward in their eroticism. Likewise, his rendering of Denny’s private eye work shows that he has done his homework on crime scenes, police procedure, and murder investigations. All of the action is presented as if through the lens of a noir film director with an eye for the quirky and offbeat.

Most importantly, his characters — particularly his protagonist, Denny — are very developed. After the first few chapters, the reader will feel as if they are friends of his or hers — and will react accordingly, as Denny, Penny, and Erin go deeper and deeper into their alt-noir nightmare. The dialogue is spot-on, which is not surprising given that the story was first written as a screenplay (one which, it should be added, needs to be produced soon).

Continuing with filmmaking metaphors, Prystauk has no problems with second-act doldrums or a story buildup that disappoints in the third act. This is a story that flows effortlessly, yet also repeatedly surprises the reader with its twists and turns. The reader will not be able to guess how it will end. This reviewer won’t spoil the ending, but will only state that it’s a satisfying one that leaves enough loose ends for a sequel. Can anyone say “tentpole”? Most readers will probably agree that a sequel would be most welcome.

This contemporary noir detective novel with a fetish/BDSM twist should be on the reading list of anyone who likes crime and detective fiction. Published by Booktrope Publishers, it is available now on Amazon in e-book and paperback formats.