cover image The Executor

The Executor

Jesse Kellerman, . . Putnam, $25.95 (341pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15647-2

At the start of this outstanding novel of psychological suspense, Kellerman's fourth (after The Genius ), 30-year-old philosophy grad student Joseph Geist finds himself at loose ends after being suspended from Harvard (for failing to do any work) and breaking up with his longtime girlfriend. When Geist answers an ad in the Harvard Crimson seeking a serious “conversationalist,” he ends up being paid to debate free will for a few hours a day with Alma Spielmann, an elderly woman of Viennese origin. After the two bond, Spielmann offers Geist free room and board at her Cambridge house, where she lives alone. The sudden appearance of Spielmann's difficult nephew, who relies on Spielmann's financial support, threatens Geist's comfortable relationship with his benefactor. The plot builds to a climax that's as devastating as it is plausible. Few thriller writers today are as gifted as Kellerman at using lucid and evocative prose in the service of an intense and nail-biting story. (Apr.)