This patchy, illogical, curiously unmelodramatic novella sits art forgery expert Tess Chase down at a cafe across from the Empire State Museum of Art just as Howard Lenz leaves the building to become a hit-and-run victim, and a thin man with an El Greco face scoops up his briefcase and takes off. Tess follows him, of course, watches him die as well, bashes his murderer, and snatches up that briefcase, which turns out to contain a Raphael painting. Wait, there’s more: Two goons arrive and escort Tess and the painting to the Bravanno compound on Long Island, where she and the beauteous Jacqueline exchange sultry glances while the lady’s husband appropriates the paintings and spews lies. Back in the city, Jacqueline’s brother turns up to enlist Tess in his battle for the Raphael. But Tess retreats to the Island, where soon she and Jacqueline are sprawled across lust-heated sheets. A swap of the painting for megabucks is arranged, but a double-crosser is on hand in Central Park to kill a couple of the participants before Tess is rescued by the feds and the tale screeches to a halt—along with any trace of common sense.
The principal joy of reading Lustbader is in seeing how over-the-top he goes. Alas, here he gives his imagination, his kinkiness, his purple-prose bravura a day off. There’s not even enough excitement to generate a really big yawn.