CVHS alum tells of experiences writing “The Icon Thief”

The stories of a Russian thief and hit man, an art buyer for a Manhattan hedge fund, and a British police officer are woven together in The Icon Thief,  a compelling, fast-paced novel written by Castro Valley’s own Alec Nevala-Lee.

Nevala-Lee graduated from CVHS in 1998 and went on to study classics at Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. The Icon Thief is his first published novel, although he has been writing  various novels, short stories, and articles since he became interested in writing at age 11.

“As a writer I get the chance to become an expert in many different subjects,” said Nevala-Lee. “It allows me to continue learning as a lifelong student.”

As a student at CVHS, Nevala-Lee began writing articles for The Olympian as a freshman from the encouragement of his English teacher, Linda Little. He later joined the journalism class officially and worked as editor-in-chief for a couple of years.

“Working on The Olympian and having to write articles every few weeks really helped me as a writer,” said Nevala-Lee of his experience on the newspaper staff.

His advice to beginning writers is to complete a rough draft before going back and editing. It doesn’t matter if the first few chapters are perfect if no one gets to even read the whole book because it was never finished.

Nevala-Lee began working on The Icon Thief  about four years ago with the goal of creating an intellectual and engrossing thriller with interesting characters and a great ending. As he began to research the art world, he became fascinated with the mystery around Marcel Duchamp and his closed door piece.

The three main characters live very different lives, but they do have one thing in common: they are all after Marcel Duchamp’s priceless painting of a headless nude woman, titled Étant Donnés. Maddy is an ambitious young woman who is determined to keep her place in the art world. When an unknown Russian collector makes an astronomical bid on Étant Donnés, she resolves to uncover the significance of the ambiguous painting. Criminal investigator Alan Powell is brought into the story with the discovery of a woman’s headless body, and Ilya, the Russian thief and killer, has been hired by the Russian mafia leader to track down the painting.

This masterfully written novel commands attention with unexpected plot twists, action, betrayals, and extensive details about the art world. There isn’t a dull moment as the connections between the murder, the mafia, and the painting are revealed.

At the end of the book is a preview to The City of Exiles, the second novel in the trilogy, which will be released in December.

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