I have to admit I'm still reeling over the demise of Black Lace. One moment the UK boasts a prestigious publishing house of superlative erotic fiction, written by women and written for women. The next moment, the doors are being metaphorically closed and the publisher is explaining that the list will be closed for at least twelve months. Knowledgeable industry insiders have already pointed out that this is as good as the publisher's putting up a sign saying they've closed the shop for this particular imprint.
There have been some authors who argued that the Black Lace ethos of only publishing female authors was somewhat sexist. Regardless of whether a body is discriminating against men or women, it's still discrimination. To that end I can sympathise with that point of view, even though I think, in this instance, it had its advantages. Black Lace was an icon of female-friendly erotica and, in a society where women are still undervalued in the battle for equality, I was always in favour of a publisher who thoroughly supported female authors and offered a comfort zone of erotica that female readers knew had been written specifically and exclusively for them. Maybe it did have overtones of political correctness taken to a ridiculous extreme. However, if it gave just one reader an opportunity to enjoy well-written erotica through providing a safety-net of assurance that had been produced by a female writer, then it's served a valid purpose.
Dark Obsession by Fredrica Alleyn is a perfect example of why Black Lace should not have closed its doors. Dark Obsession is an erotic bildungsroman novel that explores Annabel Moss's journey from work-obsessed young-womanhood to sexual understanding, awareness and maturity. The content is explicit, arousing and stylishly written.
We open the story with Alleyn building background as Annabel is introduced as the rising protégé of two successful gay interior designers. Annabel is young, attractive and solely focussed on her work. She is trying to shy away from the responsibility of taking on the Leyton Hall contract but her employers believe she is more than ready for the challenge that this will present. Consequently, Annabel is shipped off to a large country estate where all manner of sexual shenanigans are taking place.
The hedonism within Leyton Hall is representative of the hedonism that the Black Lace imprint perpetually exuded. The sex takes place in a variety of decadent locations, from stables through to stylish stately-home bedrooms. There is a suggestion of borderline incest between the incumbent brother and sister-in-law that borders on being a revisitation to Wuthering Heights but with orgasms. There is an air of cool distance between the reigning couple who head the household, reminiscent of something from John Updike. And there are a wealth of salacious romps between minor characters as they revel in the general bonhomie of being centre stage in a well-written erotic masterpiece. Again, if we're going for a literary precedent, lets put this in the milieu of John Cleland.
As the story progresses, Annabel succumbs to the atmosphere of sexual egalitarianism that abounds at Leyton Hall. Because the majority of us mature into our sexuality it is only fitting that the character in this story develops her awareness of her place as a valid member of society through her developing interest and exploration of sex and sexuality.
As stated previously, the sex is constant, exciting and exquisitely written. Fredrica Alleyn knows how to press buttons. Fredrica Alleyn knows how to put a light to the blue touch paper and then stand back so we can enjoy the fireworks.For those who've never encountered a Black Lace novel before, Fredrica Alleyn's story would have previously been described as an ideal place to begin. However, now that Black Lace is no longer there, Dark Obsession has to be described as one of the last remaining chances to see the superlative standard this publishing house used to produce.