In Kalergis’ debut novel, a reformed convict is ushered into the New York art scene in grand style.
This energetic, character-driven story follows longtime prisoner Ray Martin, a tall, weathered man who discovers a love for painting while serving 15 years behind bars on a manslaughter charge at the Lorton Correctional Facility in Washington, D.C. His oil-based, abstract work catches the eye of wealthy, world-renowned painter Leonard Hirsh, who goes to great lengths to ensure Martin’s early release. Hirsh invites his latest “significant discovery” to share his home and hone his skills. The novel gains momentum when Martin’s vividly colorful oeuvre has a public showing at the Edison Electric gallery in Soho, and other key characters such as Hirsh’s debutante wife, Nora, and her yoga instructor, Tamara, emerge. After Martin is thrust into the melodrama of Hirsh’s art world, he has no choice but to tell Hirsh the seamy details of his former hard-knock life in the prison system—including his claim that he was framed for a murder he didn’t commit. As expected, things get complicated as Martin’s unfamiliarity with social behavior outside prison walls clashes with his new, elite existence as an emerging, in-demand artist. Soon, several grisly discoveries make everyone question Martin’s acclimation to the outside world, and revelations about Martin’s past and some steamy developments kick the novel into melodramatic overdrive. The novel is curiously narrated by James Bradley, an independent art dealer in the midst of a marital separation who’s assisting Hirsh and living at his palatial country estate rent-free. As an authoritative narrative voice, Bradley capably carries the story, but his character is thin and falters somewhat toward the conclusion. Although the prose can be awkward and sluggish at times, the story has moments of genuine suspense. A better title, however, might have helped garner more attention for this intriguing debut.
A fine novel with a fresh premise and finely wrought dramatic tension.