Erotic intrigue, deep-sea diving and clients from hell make for a lively mix in this German author’s fourth novel (In Free Fall, 2010, etc.).
Poor Sven. The German expat runs a diving business for tourists on a Spanish island of volcanic rock in the Atlantic. He’s a superb instructor, never more assured than on the ocean bed; his companion, Antje, handles the admin. It’s a sweet life until his new clients arrive. Jola, accompanied by her older partner, Theo, is a stunning beauty, the star of Germany’s most popular soap. She’s on a mission: She needs to fine-tune her diving skills to land the part of Lotte Haas, pioneer female diver, in an upcoming movie. Signs of trouble between the couple emerge on their first dive. Jola shuts off Theo’s air valve, causing him to panic; Sven is furious and reads them the riot act. Their fights, verbal and physical, illustrate a wretched co-dependency like that of George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. For all her fame, Jola is deeply insecure; Theo, a writer whose one novel was published 10 years ago, is her flawed father figure. Sven gets sucked in: Finding Jola’s appeal overwhelming, he comes close to having sex with her when she offers herself. She’s a manipulator, and we know from her diary entries that Sven’s involvement is crucial to her dark strategy, though she hadn’t reckoned on the long-suffering Antje leaving her mate. Zeh guides us through these developments skillfully, and the underwater scenes are as compelling as those on land; she’s been there. Things come to a head at a dinner party on a tycoon’s yacht, where Jola learns her archrival will be playing Lotte, and Theo taunts her mercilessly. The well-orchestrated climax occurs the next day, as Sven explores an underwater wreck while Theo and Jola assist from a chartered vessel. Mischief’s afoot. Will they all survive?
The gathering suspense is complemented by nuanced characterization in a pleasingly unpredictable work.