Ri­valry turns deadly in David Pinto’s com­pelling, un­pre­dictable ‘Neme­sis’

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A friendly ri­valry turns deadly in “Neme­sis” by David Pinto.

El­liot Bar­rett’s life is an en­vi­able one. He’s a pres­ti­gious physi­cian with a thriv­ing prac­tice, a well-ap­pointed home in New York City, a devoted wife, and two lov­ing chil­dren. He risks it all when he be­comes ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with Lind­sey An­der­son, the se­duc­tive daugh­ter of a pa­tient. When she turns up dead, the po­lice im­me­di­ately blame El­liot. There is in­con­tro­vert­ible ev­i­dence plac­ing him in her apart­ment and damn­ing if cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence sug­ges­tive of a sex­ual af­fair. El­liot de­cides to deny the tryst and en­lists the help of his best friend, Ted Lapolt­sky, a suc­cess­ful lawyer, to de­fend him. Un­be­knownst to El­liot, Ted also had an af­fair with Lind­sey and wanted to leave his wife for her, a de­sign she squarely re­jected. Ted and Lind­sey had be­come locked in a pas­sion­ate ar­gu­ment about it, and when she re­vealed she was also see­ing El­liot, Ted grabbed her in a jeal­ous fury, caus­ing her to hit her head and sink into un­con­scious­ness. While Ted de­fends El­liot, he’s care­ful to avoid even a hint of self-in­crim­i­na­tion. He also revels in the op­por­tu­nity to see his prud­ishly judg­men­tal ri­val pub­licly dis­graced. El­liot’s world be­gins to crum­ble around him. His wife’s trust wanes, his fam­ily is mor­ti­fied, and his pro­fes­sional rep­u­ta­tion’s tar­nished. De­but au­thor Pinto metic­u­lously con­structs a view of Ted’s long-stand­ing envy. He worked in­de­fati­ga­bly to rise above his in­aus­pi­cious be­gin­nings while El­liot was born into priv­i­lege — and yet Ruth, El­liot’s wife, looks down on him as a coarse ca­reerist. The prose is plain but the plot a com­pelling one; it’s con­sis­tently tense and de­fies ex­pec­ta­tions. How­ever, Pinto has a grat­ing ten­dency to pro­vide far too much ex­plana­tory com­men­tary, ap­par­ently re­luc­tant to al­low the reader to draw their own in­fer­ences from the ac­tion: “How ironic that El­liot had to meet Lind­sey to in­tro­duce him to the temp­ta­tions he was preach­ing against. Ap­par­ently El­liot was af­ter this hor­mone ef­fect also. How odd that we both ended up en­joy­ing the same woman. El­liot had fallen un­der her spell.”

“Neme­sis” is a cap­ti­vat­ing le­gal thriller that’s im­pres­sively un­pre­dictable.

(Pinto will speak and sign copies of his book start­ing at 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at BookPeo­ple. Free to at­tend; only books pur­chased at BookPeo­ple are el­i­gi­ble for sign­ing. In­for­ma­tion: bookpeo­ple.com.)

Pleas­ing to the eye, en­gag­ing to the heart

A strange en­counter with the nat­u­ral world ig­nites an artist’s ca­reer in Har­riet Paige’s “Man With a Seag­ull on His Head.”

On an English beach one oth­er­wise un­re­mark­able day in June 1976, Ray Ec­cles is struck on the head by a plum­met­ing sea gull. That mishap in­ex­pli­ca­bly trans­forms the fur­loughed lo­cal gov­ern­ment The Austin Amer­i­canStates­man has teamed with Kirkus Re­views to bring you se­lect re­views from one of the most trusted and au­thor­i­ta­tive voices in book dis­cov­ery. For more re­views from Kirkus, visit kirkus­re­views.com. pho­to­copy ma­chine op­er­a­tor, so des­per­ate for stim­u­la­tion he be­lieves an un­ex­ploded bomb be­neath the sand “might be good com­pany,” into an ac­claimed artist, ob­sessed with cap­tur­ing, in a se­ries of por­traits all en­ti­tled “She,” the im­age of the un­known woman who was the sole wit­ness to the star­tling event that trig­gers his me­ta­mor­pho­sis. Paige’s slim de­but novel is the ele­giac story of the enig­matic Ray and the hand­ful of char­ac­ters who grav­i­tate to his equally mys­te­ri­ous work. They in­clude Ge­orge and Grace Zoob, so­phis­ti­cated col­lec­tors of out­sider art, who dis­cover Ray’s “in­ti­mate, mag­i­cal and strange” paint­ing when he’s first pro­duc­ing it only on the walls of his small home in Southend-on-Sea, us­ing every­thing from food to his own blood and se­men; their daugh­ter, Mira; and Jen­nifer Mul­hol­land, Ray’s in­ad­ver­tent muse, who’s trapped in a com­pan­ion­able but ster­ile mar­riage, her quiet de­spair only deep­ened by the mem­ory of the mo­ment her life col­lided with Ray’s at the sea­side. Whether it’s Grace, who “felt her­self be­ing filled in, fash­ioned anew, a sec­ond, truer skin knit­ting it­self around her like a heal­ing wound” as she mod­els for Ray, or Jen­nifer, aching with the re­al­iza­tion, when she re­flects on her long union, that “the longer they were mar­ried the less they knew each other,” Paige ex­er­cises im­pres­sive re­straint in her emo­tion­ally pre­cise por­trait of or­di­nary peo­ple grop­ing for some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary to fill a hole in their lives. Only some of the novel’s prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters even ap­proach that goal, but as Paige de­picts it in a mov­ing cli­max at Lon­don’s Tate Mod­ern gallery, great art can serve as a “di­rect, sen­su­ous re­sponse to the world” that’s not only pleas­ing to the eye, but also pro­foundly en­gag­ing to the heart.

Paige’s de­but is a gen­tle fa­ble about the mys­tery of artis­tic cre­ativ­ity.

“Neme­sis” by David Pinto

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