TORTURE CELLAR... That's where the sadistic Reich kept all his little impliments (sic) of pleasure. The shackles, the cells, the whips. Right there beneath his palatial country estate. And it is so easy for him to find guests to people his weekend orgies. Each of them going through their shameless paces at Reich's bidding, never knowing what exquisite pleasures waited below... pleasures for Reich, that is... as the whip tenses in his hand. Into this hell-hole he blackmails John Thursday... to perform Thursday's special degrading trick on Mae Davis... while all the other changing partners watched in delight...
I've been thinking for some time that I want to write a paper on hypnosis in literature. I have a little reading list prepared, though I haven't been making too much headway thus far. My basic idea is that because hypnosis exists somewhere between the mystic and the scientific (and later, between folk psychology and Freud) that a critical survey of representations of hypnosis would likely reveal an interesting mess of other interrelated themes. There's more common between Trilby and The Lust Sleepers than the professions of the protagonist.
Since I want to remember this one a bit more closely, the plot summary that follows doesn't leave much to the imagination. Fair warning.
The Lust Sleepers is the second hypnosis sleaze book I have read. Despite a strong scent of amateurism, I found it rather entertaining. John Thursday is a traveling private hypnotist, who has aspirations to use his abilities to help people but mostly hypnotizes women to perform lesbian acts for an audience. His somewhat implausible career is one of several plot points left barely explained. In the first scene, he hypnotizes a women who is sexually repressed. She strips down but starts to panic, and when Thursday brings her out of the trance, she leaps to her death from floor twenty. Thursday regrets this, but his immediate move is to run. He catches a plane for New York, thinking about what went wrong with the woman.
On the plane, he happens to run into Rita, his former lover that he walked out on without saying goodbye five years ago and hasn't talked to since. She is a little miffed but immediately moves to rekindle their romance. Women, right? Rita sees a news article about the woman and figures Thursday was involved, but is unfazed. Thursday realizes that he is still interested in Rita, and they go to a hotel to consummate their interest. After playtime, the phone rings. Somebody wants Thursday to meet them in the lobby. It's Carter, assistant to Reich. He tells Thursday he's got a great business deal and to come along. When Thursday protests, Carter recounts Thursday's biography, up to and including the woman's suicide.
Well, Thursday figures he'd best go along. He is taken to meet Marty Reich, who wants to know where his competitor Melvin Davis is getting loans from. Reich says that he's throwing a party. Davis' wife Mae is a nympho, and so Reich suggests that Thursday should get her alone, hypnotize her, and have her reveal the source of the loan. Reich will pay $10,000. In the course of making the offer, Reich demeans Thursday's talents and suggests that all hypnosis is good for is getting broads to peel. During the interview, Reich's young son walks in. He is one weird dude, and Thursday immediately diagnoses him as suffering from mental illness. He is sympathetic to the boy.
Reich's secretary shows up, too. She has an exhibitionist compulsion and is wandering the grounds of Reich's enormous estate in the buff. She is getting flirty with Thursday when the boy pokes her in the ass with a stick. He hates her and does what he can to bother her. Thursday switches to hanging out with the boy. He is nine years old and homeschooled. Thursday is horrified to find out that he likes Henry James more than Mark Twain. The boy expresses some weird opinions: "Birds like to peck your eyes out." Thursday hypnotizes the boy and puts him at some ease, though at the end the boy makes a reference to beating somebody to death. He goes to attend a geranium. Thursday wanders the ground and sees the single geranium. It is on top of a six foot mound that Thursday thinks looks a lot like a grave. And where is the child's mother?
Thursday takes a nap, has an impotence dream, and wakes to the sound of two beastly and mostly naked men duking it out on the lawn outside his room. They beat each other brutally. Thursday is disgusted when Reich walks out and does nothing to break up the brawl. Carter comes in and explains that the guests had a score to settle and that Reich doesn't interfere with things like that. Thursday walks around at the party, feeling out of place. Everyone ignores him. He runs into Mae Davis, who is turned on by the fight. She quickly seduces him and they have sex outside. She is pretty drunk and he considers probing her about the financial stuff but decides to hold off.
Thursday talks to a blond at the poolside who is an unattached gold digger, willing to sleep with any man, even a married one, for a little money and adventure. Then Reich calls him in, gets on his case about helping his son, and promises to give Davis a mickey so as Thursday can have more time with Mae. That night, he gets Mae to come to his room so he can hypnotize her. She is a willing subject, and he reflects on his remarkable prowess as a hypnotist before having her crawl on the floor like a dog just to prove to himself that he is able to. He gets her to reveal the name, then wakes her up and sends her along without even a lay for the road.
Thursday walks around and finds four women beating up the gold digger he met earlier. She puts up a fight but they pummel her and leave her naked, bound to a tree. She rejects Thursday's help when he approaches, concerned that Thursday will rape her. He is disgusted. After he frees her, he asks what sort of crowd she's been running with that she is so expectant of rape, and she bursts into tears.
Thinking about it, Thursday can't figure out why Reich is willing to pay ten thousand for the name of the lender. He suspects that there is more to it and that he can play the game for higher stakes if he plays it smart. Then he goes to grave again, finding the boy there. They have another heady conversation. Thursday meets Davis in the bar and has a talk with him before he passes out, trying to get him to hint why the name is so valuable. Then he goes to the pool, where the party guests play a libertine pool game and disgust Thursday.
On the hunt for more clues, he goes over to a gas station. The owner makes his teenage daughter leave when he reveals that he has come from Reich's place. He is a religious man who knows nothing of great utility. The daughter, seventeen years old, is waiting outside. She is lonely and attracted to Thursday. She has never made love before, and she wants him to make love to her. He kisses her before realizing that he believes it'd be wrong of him to take this girl. He reflects more on his unusual animal magnetism.
When he returns to the estate, he decides to dig up the grave. He's barely put the shovel in when Reich arrives bearing a whip. Reich is a real whip virtuoso. He eventually makes Thursday strip and whips him in an odd homoerotic scene. Reich shoves him into a room where he has imprisoned Mae and Melvin. To Thursday's surprise, Reich's wife is chained up on the wall, emaciated and naked. Melvin explains that Reich caught his wife cheating on him at Melvin's cabin. Reich killed the man in a fit of rage and took his wife to the dungeon. Melvin happened to see and blackmailed Reich, who believed that the lender held a letter of protection that would have incriminated him if he ever did away with Melvin. This was a total lie, though -- there is no lender. Carter comes to kill the three of them, but Mae seduces him instead. Thursday wrestles his gun away and shoots him in the leg. Reich arrives, bearing the whip. He starts sobbing when he sees that Thursday has the gun. Melvin wants to kill him but Thursday has him call the police instead. The police question Thursday and send him to jail for five years for his role in the woman's suicide. He is happy with this result. Rita sobs, saying she will wait, and Thursday tells her that he loves her and that he will wait too.