As Francesca

Martha Baer, Author Broadway Books $22.5 (288p) ISBN 978-0-553-06754-5
A whodunit with an edge, this debut novel, first serialized in the online magazine HotWired, is a mildly spicy one-night read. By day, narrator Elaine Botsch has it all together as she works hard to scale the corporate ladder. By night, using the handle ""Francesca,"" she cedes all control to ""Inez,"" her online dominatrix. These two sides of Elaine's nature coexist tidily: the more roughed up and degraded she is during her online trysts, the better she performs at the office. She's just about to clinch a promotion when a bonehead move (she forgets to use her alias when logging on) breaks down the barrier between her fantasy life and her professional one. Seizing on Elaine's gaffe, Inez hints that she knows Elaine off-screen, and the process of trying to detect Inez's real identity sends Elaine into a personal and professional tailspin. Unfortunately, the alienation of Internet sex (even zany S&M) and keyboard communication does infiltrate the book. Few of the characters become three-dimensional or interact convincingly. As Elaine sorts through the possibilities of who her dominatrix is, it's as if she's flipping through a Rolodex of stereotypes: the geeky librarian who might be a closet whipmaster; the control-freak boss who might secretly let loose. Only Elaine lifts off the page, and even her Dr. Jeckyl and Ms. Hyde dichotomy is reiterated rather than developed dramatically. But Baer's writing is taut, and her entertaining story comments intelligently--and with a light touch--on the nature of degradation. (Feb.) FYI: Baer is executive editor of HotWired and was formerly features editor at Wired magazine.
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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