NELLA by John Godey
Kirkus Star

NELLA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Godey's best novel by far since The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, this slightly overlong Manhattan thriller gives some nice juice and bounce to a basically familiar kidnap scenario. Godey starts out in the midst of a kidnap/ransom crisis-NYPD's Detective Roehmer has just received the severed finger of kidnap victim Nella Massey in the mail--and then goes back in time to recount the genesis of what is, in fact, a fake-kidnap extortion scheme. Nella, you see, is the divorced, mixed-up, sardonic niece of rich, possessive, old Uncle Julian (a famed architect whom she blames for her father's suicide and her own aborted ballet career); and one night, after a violent row with ""Tsar Julian,"" she goes walking in her childhood neighborhood and allows herself to be picked up--a funny, sexy sequence-by gorgeous bodybuilder Wally, an earnest, narcissistic type with dreams of physical-culture school and touchingly pathetic pretensions to classiness. So it isn't long before Nella, living with Wally and his creepy roommate Richard, decides that she'll pretend to be kidnapped: they'll demand $I million ransom, Wally will get his school, and obsessive Nella will have the pleasure of watching Uncle Julian squirm. Unfortunately for the schemers, however, the cop on the case (once Julian gets the kidnap announcement) is Roehmer, a sad fellow who--presumably because of his long-ago affair with a high-society-type lady--has a special intuition into Nella's case. . . and suspects that it's a fake. Thus, the cops (in uneasy tandem with the FBI) adopt a go-slow-and-stall strategy--which unnerves Wally and enrages Nella to the point where, to prove that she's really been snatched, she orders Richard to cut off her finger with a cleaver (an effectively unsettling scene). It must be said that Nella's craziness sometimes lacks credibility, as does the accuracy of Roehmer's hunches when--though taken off the case--he catches the kidnappers in mid-payoff: a bloody, ironic finale. But Godey does a solidly gritty job with the detective legwork here, spicing the proceedings with downbeat humor (sometimes reminiscent of Ruth Rendell) and offbeat characters (Julian's tart wife-nurse, Nella's professor ex-husband). And though the final chapters do descend into fairly routine ransom-payoff action, this is superior suspense overall--a shrewd, lightly black-comic blend of psychological thriller and police procedural.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
Publisher: Delacorte