Backdoor Politics by C L Mustafic
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Tags: Gay Psychological Thriller, Drama, Fetish/Kink – Humiliation, Orgasm Denial, Spanking, Bondage, Sadism, Masochism. Balkans Setting, Dark & Edgy **Potential Trigger Warnings – On-Page Abduction, Rape, Violence, Torture.
Length: 78,000 Words
Reviewer: Kazza K
Kamal is a by-the-book mercenary and hitman who keeps to himself, dealing with the brutal politics of the Bosnian underworld. He has very few ties to the world around him since the war that left him broken and betrayed by his lover. An encounter with a fellow mercenary, whose job it is to kidnap the son of the only man Kamal ever loved, leads Kamal to do something irrational. In an isolated cabin in the mountains of Bosnia with his hostage, Kamal follows the well laid-out plan of his predecessor, but somewhere along the way things get personal. The boy in his care becomes more than just a stand-in for his father, but a job is a job and Kamal is a professional. When questions and tensions begin to mount, Kamal begins to put the pieces together for himself, and doesn’t like what he finds. Can Kamal get his revenge and the boy or will he have to settle for one or the other?
(M/M – See publisher’s website fore content labels.)
**NSFW. POTENTIALLY TRIGGERING REVIEW
Kamal Hodžić is a mercenary based out of the Balkans, a product of the horrendous 90’s Yugoslav war(s). It’s current time in the region now and forty year old Kamal works for a couple of Russians, Koslov and Demetri, the latter who does the face to face details of the dirty work Kamal initially agrees to. Kamal flicks through potential jobs online like any job seeker, but the jobs he seeks often entail pulling out children’s fingernails, murdering partners/people, and he pays a computer hacker to make sure he’s always secure. After shooting and killing a mother in front of her child, because he needed to give a warning to the husband, Kamal decides to hook up with his lover of eight years, Julien.
Julien’s a Frenchman in the same line of work as Kamal. They hook up before or after jobs when they’re in the approximate vicinity of one another, and they have aggressive sex, each battling for dominance over the other. The only difference is that Julien wants some more connection now, a kiss, with their fucking. Emotion is something Kamal does not do. It’s on their latest connect that Kamal learns Julien has a job he knows nothing about, normally he’d be given a choice on this one too but he wasn’t. The intended target is the son of a politician who the dossier says won’t do what’s required. Whatever that means. Whatever that is. The blue eyes that stare at him off the hit sheet, all the details in the file, go back to Orhan, his first love. To get the job, Kamal will do what he has to, even if that’s a kiss. However, the kiss is anything but ordinary and Kamal dispatches his lover in a harsh fashion, telling Demetri the job is his now and if he knows what’s good for him he’ll keep that bit of information from Koslov. As nasty as Demetri is himself, he’ll still get his payday no matter who does the job.
Kamal follows the plan set in motion to kidnap the boy, his ex lover’s son, twenty two year old Zijad Ferhatović, and fulfil everything as detailed in the file Julien has set up. The job is for a month, an unusually long time for something like this. Normally it’s in, threaten, torture, then out.
Julien already has everything in place for the assignment, including a secluded cabin and all the necessary equipment required to torture Zijad and break him. There are very specific plans from Koslov about this boy. He’ll be drugged, subjected to sensory deprivation, or sleep deprivation blasted with CDs of loud and horrendous sounds. Kamal will pretend to be two different people – bad kidnapper, good kidnapper. The boy will also be taped in compromising sexual positions with the hooded kidnapper degrading him to make sure that his father does as he’s told and also pays a ransom. Whatever the men do when working for Demetri and Koslov it’s nasty and designed to make people toe the line. Not just a one-off either. As long as they want someone under their control they’ll use whatever they have on them. All of the Russian based network and their contractors specialise in dealing with questionable people, like Zijad’s father. They find direct threats don’t work as well as beating, torturing and killing family members, particularly their children, keeping the dirt on them.
Most kidnappings were fairly quick affairs; parents usually did anything to get the kid back which was why it was such an effective tool and also why Kamal thought anyone who ever aspired to be in the public eye should refrain from having offspring.
So it is to be with Zijad – the more degrading the event, the torture, the better for the father to be persuaded. However, it continues to bother Kamal that he wasn’t given an opportunity for this job because he’d ordinarily be the one they would use. Why was it never contracted out and just given to Julien? Why such precisely detailed instructions from the Russian crime boss? Was this what Demetri was trying to mention after Kamal’s last job, and why?
The time spent with Zijad is intense, but Kamal gets off on being sadistic and he gets off on rough sex. He enjoys inflicting pain, to bind his partner in some way, and this is a fuck you to Orhan. He likes to use blindfolds, hoods, cock cages, enemas, vibrating plugs, humiliation and orgasm denial to their maximum effect. He uses a voice modulator to fool his prey into believing the two personas. And rape as a means to terrorise and control. He likes the sounds the young Zijad makes. He likes his lips, his slim body. His ability to take punishment. Mostly his submission. He also enjoys playing “good kidnapper” and the aftercare, which is still not particularly kind. Zijad calls Kamal Šef, boss, and Kamal calls Zijad Mali, little, throughout. Eerily, Mali was a name used by Kamal for Zijad when he was a child and Orhan and Kamal were still friends and lovers.
Kamal thumbed through the stack until he found a picture that held the image of just one handsome young man. His breath caught in his chest when a pair of familiar blue eyes stared back at him from the young face in the photo. “Orhan,” Kamal breathed the name like a benediction.
During the month that Zijad is held by Kamal, something transpires between them. Kamal is affected in some way by Zijad, and Zijad by Kamal. None of it is on the grid of safe or sane. Or functional and healthy. Zijad never sees Kamal throughout his abduction and ordeal because he is kept in a hood and blindfold. Doesn’t know there isn’t two abductors. Just – Kamal – Šef. The word dysfunctional formed the basis of more than a few of my own clipped notes throughout – for pre, during, and post abduction.
This book is very, very dark. I needed to decompress after but others may sail on through. It hits personal hard limits – I am not good with either children or animals being harmed. I am not good with humiliation, but when it’s brutal that is worse still. I’m not good with degradation. One of the best or hardest things for me to deal with is when a fictional book feels real. People like Kamal exist. People in dysfunctional relationships are with them. People like Zijad, who is a case of living, breathing Stockholm syndrome if ever there was one, are in middle of something they don’t realise is unhealthy.
The boss was a rough man and he showed no mercy, but he always made Zijad feel as if he mattered. The man saw him, and thought about him when he was away. Even if it was just for his ass and his mouth, Zijad was wanted.
Having said this, there is a connection formed that I cannot deny. I can see the last few chapters and the epilogue being construed in different ways by different people because this book forces the reader on an intense journey right along with the two MCs. I loved and hated that the whole book was from Kamal’s POV, with the exception of the epilogue. The beauty of the epilogue being from Zijad’s perspective is that readers can discuss or debate the meaning to them. Whether Kamal loved Zijad. If Zijad was better off with Kamal than his own family is something else up for debate. Or that Kamal coming for his boy is proof of affection. Some might even think love. Zijad’s father certainly takes no prizes for friend or father of the year. Still, I struggled throughout with Kamal. He is a wholly unlikeable, unsympathetic lead. The coldness and callousness of his mindset is frighteningly breathtaking.
Bits and Pieces:
Just to recap, nothing intense or nasty is left off page. Not a thing. Everything is in your face and that is not limited to the time spent in the cabin with Zijad.
As mentioned before, Kamal is a difficult man to like and he is the narrator. It’s his past and present and viewpoint the reader experiences throughout the book, barring the epilogue. As a character-obsessive it makes it so hard for me to love a book when I don’t love the main characters. My empathy ran deep for Zijad, I wanted to protect him, but there was a purposeful disconnect from his thoughts and it worked better that way. But I think about the emotion the book elicited, ripped out of me. It was intense. I think about the details of the book – the way it segued from a younger MC in the 90’s during a war that created division in (the former) Yugoslavia to the way Kamal thinks about Orhan, the man he loved who betrayed him – it may have been love initially but it morphed into an angry, idealised obsession. The way Orhan seems to betray anyone who doesn’t serve a purpose is also cold. The way Kamal’s psychology and behaviour does not ever deviate throughout the whole book – not once – is excellent. He does not do a 180 love do-over. He is never particularly moved by someone else. Not moved by the sentiment of love, but as close as he could be, Zijad meant something to him in the most possessive of ways. The most I can say is his obsession with Orhan, through to the actual realisation of what Orhan is, crosses over to Zijad who looks like his father and whom Kamal will never allow to betray him. This time
Orhan his obsession stays. I’m also good with the fact that Zijad mostly behaved like he would given the circumstances he found himself in. I say mostly because he almost certainly would have been more psychologically disturbed given the intense use of Koslov’s isolation and deprivation torture, implemented ruthlessly by Kamal.
This book is truly not for the faint of heart. Not even remotely, and I’m not saying that as a challenge. Definitely know your own limits and if the tags concern you don’t read it. Know that my tags can be a bit general and only cover some things in the book, others are harder to define. I’ve actually read Backdoor Politics twice before reviewing because I needed to pick through the disturbing aspects to see what I felt about other bits and pieces. I needed to review parts that tied into the overall story, and were interspersed via well utilised flashbacks that segued seamlessly to show Kamal and Orhan before and now – which ties in Zijad. Just little details and tells I missed the first time around I picked up the second. As dark as this book is, and it really is, it is well written and edited and stays true to the characters and their individual backgrounds. I can’t fault the calculating and emotionally detached Kamal in staying completely within the parameters set for him early in the book. He is a mercenary. A hitman. He calls himself a psychopath. We tend to romanticise hitmen as sexy alpha men in romance novels, but the reality is they are not fluffy people and Kamal is definitely far from fluffy. I tip my hat to the methodical and intense planning of the author in her writing of this murky and deeply brooding book, and for not giving in to the desire to (suddenly) soften an unpleasant narrator – because some may have been tempted to do so.
This was an experience, and at times I had to walk away. For me this book is about the past and the present colliding, about manipulation, about betrayal and retribution, about nasty head games and dirty politics more than kink. Definitely about psychology. About the state of the world and its constant upheaval by humankind. But for those who like certain fantasies and kink, S&M, humiliation, and hard, hard limits in BDSM without sane, safe and consensual attached, then here it is – Backdoor Politics. 4.5 Brutal Stars!
ARC supplied in return for an honest review