The Femdom Felony by Thomas Moffatt

The Femdom Felony by Thomas Moffatt, self-published, March 2020, 277 pp., $9.99 (paperback) / $4.25 (ebook). Buy.

By day, Jay Mitchell is a computer technician for the city of Calgary. He keeps his lifestyle as a live-in submissive to a dominant mistress separate from his work life. But when his mistress, the Catwoman, is found murdered, Jay’s lifestyle becomes public knowledge as he turns into the police’s top suspect. Desperate to find the Catwoman’s killer even while being pursued by authorities himself, Jay plays amateur detective as he questions various members of the BDSM community about the last people seen with the Catwoman. But he soon discovers that the crime is bigger than he could have imagined, going far beyond one subculture to involve corporations, nonprofits, and even ecoterrorists.

The Femdom Felony is a fun, richly rendered mystery that is sensitive to the communities it portrays. Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel is its deep understanding of BDSM culture, norms, and safety procedures. Although there is some conflation of kink and sex, Moffatt does a great job of explaining BDSM in a way that’s accessible to vanilla readers who might not understand the philosophy behind power exchange. For readers involved in the community, The Femdom Felony is a refreshing escape: Jay’s deep experience with BDSM community shows through in the way he takes safety and consent seriously, allowing the reader to relax and not have to worry about insensitive portrayals of a community that often faces heavy stigma. Additionally, Moffatt’s decision to add a parallel story about Terry, a trans woman, helping Toni, a young queer man, escape from his abusive situation worked well for the narrative. In showing the horrific abuse Toni endures, Moffatt is clear to distinguish how such abuse is antithetical to the tenets of Safe, Sane, and Consensual BDSM. When those tenets are violated later by the villains, the reader has a full sense of why that violation is egregious.

Moffatt’s characters are richly rendered. I wish I knew more about the Catwoman and was unhappy that she was fridged for the story, but the other characters had well-developed backstories and felt like real people. Jay doesn’t appear to be LGBTQ, but he allies with the community because of the overlapping stigmas they both face. The LGBTQ side characters feel multifaceted, and Moffatt does a wonderful job of providing backstories that involve abuse, homelessness, and other difficult situations without lingering on them as tragedies, or as titillating, voyeuristic looks into people’s lives. Rather, Moffatt’s characters are people who have survived those experiences. They have stories other than “issue stories,” and they all have their own interests, motivations, and personalities outside of the subcultures they’re involved in. Even when they engage in kinks I don’t share, I can appreciate why they gravitate to them, as the characters’ psyches are well-defined. Moffatt not only humanizes people who are often marginalized, but also shows that those facets of a person’s identity are only a small part of their complex lives.

I found myself totally engrossed in the worldbuilding of The Femdom Felony as well. The novel is set in present-day Calgary, Alberta. I use “worldbuilding” here not to mean divergences from our real-life world, as in a secondary world, but rather all the efforts the author has put into establishing a sense of setting. Moffatt’s descriptions of Calgary are vivid and show a deep understanding of the city. I often have difficulty following characters’ geographical and spatial locations when they’re involved in a chase or other action scenes, but Moffatt has no trouble orienting the reader. The details are specific, creating a lived-in sense of place. Even bits of infodump-like exposition were fascinating and showed a love for the city.

The plot itself was easy to follow and well-paced for a thriller. The ending is fairly open, but it suits the narrative. There were only a few things that detracted from the narrative for me. One was that I didn’t appreciate the ableism in the moment when Miss Stacey apologizes for Trixie Torment’s threatening behavior by saying, “She’s bipolar and she doesn’t always stick to her meds.” Moffatt tries so hard to depict the BDSM community as made up of a lot of individuals, including individual bad actors, that it feels jarring to see an entire group of people marginalized with such a dismissive statement. The second issue I had was one that I often run into in real-life BDSM spaces: almost everyone is White. I would have been able to set that aside and ignore it for the sake of the rest of the story, but I was then disappointed to see subtle stereotypes about Asians, first as a group of tourists, then as exploited housekeepers, and finally as servers speaking nonstandard English. Of course, there are indeed Asians who meet all those descriptions, but the overall effect felt like having a few extras in the background of the movie who are thought of as little more than props. Again, a gap that seems incongruent with Moffatt’s otherwise sensitive portrayal of many other groups.

Overall, The Femdom Felony is a fun mystery novel that doesn’t shy away from exploring the repercussions for each character’s actions. The world and people are excellently written, and I love that I now have a great example of a work that respects BDSM and is accessible to both vanilla and kinky readers. I hope to see more erotica mysteries from Moffatt soon.

Review originally published on Reedsy Discovery.