Book Debrief: A look inside the scintillating psychology of The Flesh Cartel by Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau
The Flesh Cartel by authors Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau should not be considered a romance. It is a brilliantly crafted work of dramatic fiction about human sex trafficking, based on real psychology and a fairly plausible chain of events. This story is not for everyone, and readers will react to it in a variety of ways. It is brutally honest in the telling, and the resolution at the end of the story is just as compelling as the complete absence of hope throughout its middle. The Flesh Cartel was originally released in the serial format, in nineteen individual novella-length segments over the course of nearly two years. This delivery in itself is brutal, considering how impactful and addicting each “season” is. After reading the first few installments, I knew I’d have to wait ’til the very end to write my final review.
Reviewing a story like this is somewhat of a personal risk, due to its sensational and taboo nature, much like writing it must have been for the authors. You see, a piece of work like The Flesh Cartel addresses some extremely sensitive topics and digs deep into the psyche of the characters. I became so immersed in the story that just about every new chapter had me crying and flinching along with the fresh horrors – some physical and some mental – visited on the Carmichael brothers. What happens to Mat is downright vicious since he is intentionally allowed to keep his self-awareness; it’s important for his spirit to remain unbroken so that he still cares about staying alive when they fight him like a dog and subject him to the most atrocious tortures. Doug’s experience, while more pampered – if you can even call it that – is much more traumatic psychologically, as he is completely mentally reconditioned and nearly irrevocably changed as a person.
I found myself fascinated by the brilliance of the psychological manipulations inflicted on the slaves (particularly the various and subtle ways the brainwashing was seeded and reinforced for different character roles and situations) and even turned on by some of the voyeuristic scenes, and this is where recommending or promoting this story gets dicey. Whether or not someone may like The Flesh Cartel is so personal that I can really only relate my reading experience. Almost everyone has kinks, some mild enough to not actually be considered all that ‘kinky’ by mainstream society, some very extreme and generally deemed socially unacceptable, and many spanning the spectrum between. Some kinks can be linked directly to personal experiences and some simply just are. Society tends to judge things it doesn’t understand or agree with, and The Flesh Cartel is full of – and based upon – taboo topics. For a fascinating look into writing non-consent fiction, check out this article on author Heidi Belleau’s blog; you can read a little of her story and why she choses to write what she does. From Heidi’s post on non-con, linked above…
So how do I justify writing non-con? I acknowledge that it’s not a zero-harm enterprise, although I wish it could be. I wish I could write about these topics that excite and intrigue me without ever contributing to the harmful miasma of rape culture. I wish I could write them without ever causing a moment of hurt in other rape survivors who may find my stories exploitative or triggering. So why just not do it? Why not keep my fantasies in my head?
Honestly? Because sharing them lessens the load. I’ve often described the process of writing my non-con series The Flesh Cartel as an exorcism. Writing it gets it out of my head, so my mind can move onto other things. Having other people read it and discuss it makes me feel less alone. […]
The Flesh Cartel and King of Dublin are definitely written for the thrill. Some people read them as erotica for sexual pleasure, while others read them as horror and thus are looking for the visceral (and sometimes sexual, but not wholly or always) reaction they get to being disgusted or frightened or anxious. Either way, it’s about a satisfying emotional/gut response for the reader.
Is this story right for everyone? Absolutely not. Many readers may have trouble getting through the violent and exceptionally abusive nature of the events to see the underlying messages of perseverance, love, hope, family, and respect.
Some people will have suffered past personal trauma, and the events in this series will bring it to the fore. Whether that is ultimately healing or hurtful is an individual decision for each reader, but the warning is there. For me this story was a harrowing journey that frightened, disgusted, intrigued, fascinated, aroused, and finally brought a warm feeling of joy to my heart.
This is the story of just how monstrous the human psyche can become – how well it can bend to justify any and all acts of depravity – and how buoyant the human spirit is, to be able to recover from such a deeply damaging ordeal. Parts of The Flesh Cartel will be very difficult for some readers to get through, and some may elect not to finish it at all. Others may find themselves inexplicably drawn to it, uncomfortably aware of new desires and personal realizations.
This book covers some very dark territory but that increased emotional range also allows the authors to connect with readers on a deeper, more visceral level. Fans of Captive In The Dark by C.J. Roberts will probably enjoy The Flesh Cartel; both are about sex trafficking and psychological reprogramming, include a romantic element, and are brutally descriptive in their portrayal of the trade. This might also be a good fit for fans of Cherise Sinclair’s Masters of the Shadowlands series who enjoyed the rougher elements of the Harvest Association plotline.
The Flesh Cartel is one of the most memorable stories I have ever read and has stuck with me all these months (seriously, all twenty-freaking-two of them!) while i waited for each new chapter to released (and this is why I dislike serials, hah! They make me crazy with the waiting!). There were times when thinking about these characters and the atrocities each new episode visited upon them consumed me to the point of being unable to sleep. Despite the violence and abuse that defines the story – or, perhaps, because of it – I thoroughly enjoyed the read and wish I could start it all over again for the first time. Kudos to authors Rachel Haimowitz & Heidi Belleau for being willing to take a risk on writing such a boldly compelling story.