In this disquieting novel from Koch (The Dinner, 2013, etc.), sex, celebrity and medical ethics become inextricably tangled as a summer idyll goes nightmarishly wrong.
Dr. Marc Schlosser is a Dutch physician to the stars. Creative types seek him out because he’ll turn a blind eye to their excesses and is liberal with prescriptions. His cynicism ensures a booming practice until one of his patients, a famous actor named Ralph Meier, winds up dead. Cornered by the authorities and Ralph’s furious widow, Judith, Marc looks back to the previous summer, building suspense as he tries to pinpoint when and how everything went so awry. Crucial is his decision to take his wife and beautiful blonde daughters, ages 11 and 13, to stay at Ralph’s summer home on the Mediterranean. Judith and the couple’s two boys are also there, along with Judith’s mother and a leathery film director with a scandalously young girlfriend. Despite the usual group vacation tensions—marital tiffs and glances that linger where they don’t belong—sundrenched days are spent frolicking beside the pool. Then Marc’s eldest daughter goes missing. In the shocking aftermath, he’s left trusting nobody and bent on revenge. There is plenty to unnerve here. Marc seems far from reliable as a narrator, never mind a doctor, and sociopathic instincts underpin his stinging social observations. Larger-than-life Ralph, meanwhile, is a man of such rapacious appetites that even a trip to the beach sees him emerge from the waves brandishing a giant octopus for the grill. He actually licks his lips when he gazes at Marc’s wife. Most disturbingly of all, amid distinctly European attitudes to nudity, Koch probes the way in which men—including those with daughters—look at young girls.
A sly psychological thriller lurks within this pitch-dark comedy of manners, yet its ending manages to raise far more questions than it solves.