By K. Robert Einarson

Renata or 'Rennie' is a prostitute. She enjoys it and it's who she is. Julie is her next-door neighbor in the hotel they both live in. She is an aspiring novelist, trying to prove to her father that she can survive on her own and isn't sure if she is in love with Rennie. Rennie has a number of clients but one, Richard, wants to be far more. His life is in a holding pattern with a job and wife he wants to leave behind and he wants Rennie to be part of that change. Both Julie and Richard want to help Rennie to change into their vision for her and they both think they are in love with her. Francisco is a male prostitute and a kindred spirit to Rennie and one of the few people she depends on.

Hendricks has a talent for vivid descriptive prose that is rarely matched in the genre today. The comparisons to James M. Cain's style are very appropriate.

But as with many books that are hybrid genres, one genre dominates the work. In the case of Cruel Poetry, which is classified as erotic noir, the erotic is the most dominate. The sex scenes are vividly described and proceed in a slow measured pace. This is Hendricks at her best. When the novel moves to the noir side of the story however, the pacing becomes erratic; at times racing ahead and other times stalling. This was especially evident with the ending where the tension was just deflated and it ends.

The central issue I had with this book was the characters. The characters of Richard, his wife and Julie felt stereotyped. I was never surprised by anything they did and that reduced my enjoyment dramatically. With the character of Renata, I would have found her actions more believable if she was a drug addict. She seemed to be in a semi-oblivious dreamy state. The events around her never seemed to affect her much.

It felt to me that she was written as an idealized image of a pleasure driven woman and therefore no real harm should come to her. Others would give up their lives to protect her because she was perfect in their eyes. But I just felt it rang as false.

Hendricks can write and does so very well but this novel just doesn't seem to showcase that talent.

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