One of the essential elements that strong fiction writing usually has in common with good screenwriting (whether for films or television) is that steering characters into conflict or danger as soon as possible is a sure to hook the audience. Right off the bat.
Furthermore, if the conflict or danger has something to do with a romance gone wrong or desire gone haywire, so much the better. It’s a given that any sexual angle will spice things up as well—thus risky or erotic business creates plot points.
So far, so good. Now, if you can overlay all the above with a bit of mystery (let’s say, a detective story) that ropes in a lawyer or perhaps a doctor and, of course, the dead body of someone elusive (it helps if that character was a beautiful, sensual female) then as a storyteller you are holding all the aces. A winning narrative hand, indeed.
What makes David Pinto’s debut novel, Nemesis, so startling is that he deftly invokes all the above not just in the first few chapters of his riveting noir-style novel, but, he does so within the first few pages—actually, he hits the bull’s-eye on page one.
Readers are as impatient as moviegoers. That’s why screenwriters are compelled (almost always) to make the first ten minutes of the film (known as “the set-up”) as captivating as can be. Similarly, writers are wise to waste none of the reader’s time.
Well, novelist David Pinto may have set a record for narrative lapel-grabbing. Here is how Nemesis begins :“Police station?”
“You must come immediately,” Elliot Barrett II implored his lawyer and best friend.
“What in the hell are you doing in a police station?” Ted Lapoltsky shouted.
“Can’t talk out here.”
“Just tell me if you are in some kind of trouble.”
“I think it’s a mix up.”
“Elliot, listen to me. Don’t say anything to the police without me there to represent you. It’s very important.”
“Just hurry up!” Elliot urged impatiently.
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes, you know how Manhattan traffic is. And remember, not a word to anyone.”
After getting off the phone, Elliot found himself handcuffed by a police officer and led through long, iron-gated corridors to a small cell with a bunk bed in the right corner. There were no windows, and bright fluorescent lights revealed walls full of scratches and scribbles etched onto the dirty gray surface by its previous prisoners. Elliot’s throat was dry, and he felt a twisting pain in his stomach. He looked frequently at his watch, as if that would bring Ted faster. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what to tell him.
He must sound convincing, he knew, to himself and to everyone else. He could not afford to ruin his life and reputation as a senior doctor on staff at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He would not be able to face his wife, Ruth, and his two children. He didn’t want to compromise his father and mother’s status in high-society Boston.
Deftly using dialogue to establish tension, danger, and inevitable conflict, the author has also managed (with no meandering back-story padding) to introduce his two primary male protagonists—and with one being a lawyer and the other a doctor, it’s safe to assume that there will be a boatload of upscale crime and passion revealed.
I won’t let spoilers ruin the reading experience awaiting anyone who picks up this spellbinding novel. Nonetheless, I will concede that the entire narrative turns on the incrementally revealed sexual choreography that’s unfolded in the lives of these two upstanding, solid citizens.
They come to discover (pun intended) that the dead woman about whom the police have questions (and whom the police assume was murdered) is, in fact, the same woman that each man, unbeknownst to each other, has exploited as a mistress.
Elliot Barrett II and his devoted attorney friend, Ted Lapoltsky, in addition to being two ideal, top-tier white-collar professionals (fat incomes, skinny wives, fast cars, summer homes—you know the type), are also philandering husbands whose careers and families are drastically imperiled.
A tight, cinematic, onrushing narrative flow carries the story throughout its 200-plus pages, and Pinto’s skill with dialogue and details is robust each step of the way.
This novel has the simmering heat of up-market erotica a’ la 9 ½ Weeks and the excruciating, white-knuckle legal machinations of Scott Turow’s best works.
Nemesis reminds us that powerful storytelling is always a royal seduction.
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