Nick and Clay, the antiheroes of Christopher Bollen's diabolical, entrancing fourth novel, A Beautiful Crime, are a pair of hustlers in love, fleeing New York for Venice armed with a crafty get-rich-quick scheme that is illegal and almost certainly doomed.

When the two first meet, Nick is a handsome white Midwesterner skating by on his looks and charm, living with and working for his older boyfriend, Ari, a silver dealer with a shrewd eye for men and antiques. At the funeral for a friend of Ari's, Nick meets Clay, the friend's heir, a seductive younger Black man Ari believes is up to no good. Nick falls for Clay, and they soon hatch a plot to be together, beginning by scamming an expat millionaire living in Italy. The resulting caper is Patricia Highsmith by way of Alan Hollinghurst: morally gray, utterly mesmerizing, and intensely erotic.

Beginning with his 2011 debut, Lightning People, Bollen has displayed a fascination with how power works in America; his newest is an astute meditation on the ways financial inequality and racism affect one's sense of identity and interactions with others—including romantic partners.

And Bollen loves keeping the reader off-balance: Only a few pages into A Beautiful Crime, we begin to wonder who are the good guys and who are the bad. Nick is not the naïf he pretends even to himself to be, and he sees Clay as an entrée into a more glamorous and sexually satisfying reality. Clay doesn't appear wise enough to protect himself from the Nicks of the world, yet he tests his new lover again and again.

What unfurls is an intriguing cat-and-mouse game in which it's never quite clear who will be the one to pounce.

Review first published on Christopher Bollen's A Beautiful Crime Is a Cold-Blooded Yet Seductive Novel


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