cover image Survival Instincts

Survival Instincts

Marissa Piesman. Delacorte Press, $20.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31358-2

In Nina Fischman's fifth outing (following Alternate Sides), the neurotic, Manhattan-based lawyer, having just ended a relationship and returned to the city from L.A., suffers the indignity of moving in with her mother on the Upper West Side. While Nina is figuring out what to do with the rest of her life, Andy Campbell, a brilliant research scientist, is murdered, apparently poisoned, and Nina's brother-in-law, Ken, is under the slightest suspicion. Throwing herself into finding the killer gives Nina an excuse to postpone her job search, even if it means spending time in one of the dreaded outer boroughs, in this case, Brooklyn. A large life insurance policy casts suspicion on the widow, while a complex clause in a real estate partnership is what makes Ken look plausible. A radical animal rights group called SPASM (Society for the Protection of All Small Animals) is in the running, too--they had previously threatened Andy because of his lab work with guinea pigs. Piesman conveys a real passion for urban life, although readers who don't know the neighborhoods she describes will miss some of the inside jokes and readers who do know them them may question her accuracy. Her insights on the angst of giving up a parking place are right on target; her observations about widowhood and loss are not nearly as sharp, which keeps her tale generally engrossing but somewhat superficial. The writing is snappy but sets readers' ears buzzing--as though they were cornered at a cocktail party. (Feb.)