Arthur Nersesian, . . Akashic, $25 (374pp) ISBN 978-1-888451-30-6

Nersesian (Dogrun) starts this erotic thriller with a bang when rich, middle-aged lawyer Leslie Cauldwell accidentally strangles his wife during a bout of rough sex, but the novel degenerates into a long, labored account of Cauldwell's obsessive relationship with a porn star named Sky Pacifica. The protagonist's creepy intensity builds in the chapters immediately after the death (which takes place during his youth in New York City in the early '80s), particularly when he hooks up with a gorgeous dominatrix named Cecilia and the lovers concoct an extortion scheme to blackmail a libidinous judge. But the tight, tense narrative unravels in a hurry when Nersesian turns his attention to Cauldwell's relentless pursuit of Sky, and the story becomes downright listless when the author describes their brief but tumultuous midlife affair. Nersesian has some solid moments in which he nails the noir elements of his whacked-out story line, and his characters have more than enough erotic foibles and flaws for a gritty suspense story. But Cauldwell's twisted neediness devolves into a series of rants about sex, aging and the marketing of beauty in the world of pornography. The subplot in which he pretends to be a fashion photographer and stalks Sky and her daughter proves to be little more than a lurid tangent. Nersesian has developed a cult following based on the underground success of his previous books, but this flaccid, erratic effort is forgettable despite some promising characterizations and plot lines. (July)

Forecast:Quirkily packaged in a videocassette case, this novel should do best in New York City, Nersesian's hometown and the setting for all his books.