BLOOD ACRE by Peter Landesman


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Some dazzling verbal and atmospheric effects distinguish, but don—t entirely redeem, this highly pitched portrayal of a corrupt attorney’s descent into a maelstrom of his own making: the second novel from the author of The Raven (1995), which won a Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction. The story begins on a high point: the discovery of the body of Isabel Santos, secretary and sometime lover to Nathan Stein, a lawyer whose derelict and incorrigibly criminal clients pay him with cocaine, protection, and entree to the more lucrative levels of New York City’s thriving drug trade. Evidence immediately points to Nathan as Isabel’s killer, but his intricate connections with powerful people (notably Stein pere, also a notoriously connected attorney) and the mixed feelings that torment NYPD detective Errol Santos, Nathan’s old law school classmate (and Isabel’s brother), leave Nathan free to wander the city’s mean midnight streets in a fog of guilty recollection. Landesman glides forward and backward in time, exploring the disturbed consciousness of Nathan, Errol, and also Claire Proffitt (!), an embittered paralegal who was once Stein’s mistress and fiancÇe (and the mother of his malformed baby) and is now Santos’s lover. Other coincidences and dark secrets abound in a feverish melodrama that features arresting imagery (storm clouds are “dark horses rearing up”; in a hospital morgue, “fermenting corpses stretched out like loaves in their individual ovens”) and emotionally overloaded scenes (Nathan’s belated visit to the dying mother of his other illegitimate child; a chilling Rikers Island interview with a murderous drug-dealer/godmother; a climactic fire at the Steins’ East Hampton mansion). It all frets and struts impressively, and Landesman comes through with a stunning explanation of his story’s central mystery, capping it with a terrifically bleak, sardonic denouement. Still, the novel feels willfully obscure, as well as over- indebted to obvious models (Chinatown, William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness). Bold, often enthralling stuff—but one guesses the gifted Landesman can do better.

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-78181-9
Page count: 260pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998