When Paul enters university in early 1970s Pittsburgh, it's with the hope of moving past the recent death of his father. Sensitive, insecure, and incomprehensible to his grieving family, Paul feels isolated and alone. When he meets the worldly Julian in his freshman ethics class, Paul is immediately drawn to his classmate's effortless charm.
Few novelists make an impression as quickly and effectively as Micah Nemerever does in his stirring debut, an explosively erotic and erudite thriller. Kicking off with an electrifying prologue, These Violent Delights is infused with a thick sense of dread and urgency that does not let up until the final page ... Channeling masters of suspense like Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, Nemerever ratchets up the narrative tension at a deliberately agonizing pace as he unspools the story of Paul and Julian’s ill-fated relationship, all leading up to the night teased in the novel’s opening pages. The two young men frequently engage in deeply cerebral conversations ranging from philosophy and psychology to entomology, and the narrative lends itself well to close reading, as often the most critical developments between the two men stem from the subtext of these weighty talks ... Though the escalating relationship between Paul and Julian is mesmerizing in its own right, Nemerever’s novel so effectively evokes a state of unease that many readers will keep turning pages in desperate pursuit of the tension-breaking relief that can only come from seeing the story to its conclusion. Aptly titled, These Violent Delights is exhilarating, but not without pain and peril.
There is a lot going on here. Romeo and Juliet in 1920's Shanghai is an elevator pitch; add in a mystery, a monster hunt, and the complexities of Western imperialism and you have almost more than the elevator can hold. It makes These Violent Delights difficult to classify. It isn't exactly a tragedy, for while many deeply sad things befall its characters, we never linger long upon them. It isn't a romance, despite the angsty tension between Juliette and Roma, because they barely get a chance to stop and feel it. It's one part detective story (with Juliette cast as the weary detective and Roma as the femme fatale) and one part heist as the main characters run around the city with their minions in tow, investigating and snooping and generally causing more mayhem than they prevent. More than anything, These Violent Delights is a rich portrait of a seldom-depicted time and place ... The plot is also a bit tangled up, and at times, the reader is a few steps ahead of whatever discovery the characters are making, creating a bit of a lagging feeling in the pacing. But the characters themselves are interesting, offering queer representation and a lot of moral complexity as they all grapple with the violence that is expected of them. Overall, they are a charming bunch to pass the time with ... I did find myself questioning whether These Violent Delights really feels like a young adult book. The true teenage feels are mostly located in the backstory as we gradually learn of Juliette and Roma's early romance and subsequent falling out. In the present of the story, they both feel more like world-weary adults, wielding their power and accepting the fact that who they really are doesn't matter because their power comes with bleak responsibility. But I think it likely that, in our current, turbulent times, that mood will speak to teen and adult readers alike.