THE MISTRESS by Philippe Tapon


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A nest-of-vipers melodrama set in German-occupied France near the end of WWII, from the young author of last year’s debut novel A Parisian from Kansas. The story begins in 1944 in Paris, where “stomach doctor” Emile Bastien, assisted by his beautiful secretary-nurse (and mistress) Simone Givry, maintains a thriving practice during the lean Occupation years by numbering Nazi officers among his patients. Emile is separated from his wife Marie, from whom he has hidden a fortune in gold ingots—presumably somewhere on the family’s country vineyard currently occupied by the embittered Marie. An extended flashback to 1942 explicitly links the Bastiens’ willful daughter Paulette and resentful son Rene to their parents’ past and present machinations—though it interrupts, and somewhat diffuses the main plot, which develops from Emile’s vengeful surgical mistreatment of ulcer patient Heinrich Schrodinger, an SS major who has smilingly threatened, while describing his symptoms, to appropriate the stoical Simone. As Paris is liberated, Tapon pours it on: the melodrama rises to—well, risible levels. Emile is arrested by French authorities for having “aided Nazis.” Simone, desperate to retrieve the “dowry” she knows he’s hidden, contrives to visit Emile in prison by seducing a brainless guard (“She had never felt stronger, had never so dominated a man”). A confrontation during the reading of Emile’s will puts Simone and Marie into collusion against the defiant Paulette; a discovery is made in the Bastien country house’s cellar; and there’s a savage sudden twist at the end. If all this sounds a bit overloaded, be assured that it is: Tapon seems to have intended to marry an ironic study of wartime mentality and morality to a sleek, sexy “Diabolique”-like suspense tale. Tapon can do better but very possibly didn’t want to this time around. The Mistress reads like a screenplay, and the movie version can’t be far behind.

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-94461-3
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998


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