As a narcissistic gynecologist targets his next vulnerable patient, he comes under suspicion by the state medical board’s inexperienced investigator in this novel.
At age 14, Diane Morrell became pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption. Now 16, she continues to see Dr. Hartwicke Zeus, 43, a gynecologist, for vague follow-up appointments at the Christian counseling center where he volunteers. Supposedly, he’s helping Diane deal with the changes to her body and offer advice. Actually, Zeus takes the opportunity to touch the girl sexually and groom her for a relationship. Handsome and married (“Legally, yes. But not really”), the doctor pursues Diane with attention, drugs, presents, and visits to his yacht and condo. For her, the sex is fun, but the way he talks to her is better. For Zeus, it’s all a game: “He wasn’t going to be able to dupe” Diane “like the stupid cunts he’d got off on before. But if he could slowly break her and train her to do what he wanted, it would be ten times the fun.” Meanwhile, Dave Green, 25, new in his job as investigator for the Board of Medicine, learns of Zeus’ past abuses. But when Dave keeps digging, he is forced to confront a rigged system that makes prosecution seem unlikely. These matters of affluence, class, and status also affect Dave’s relationship with his girlfriend; she comes from wealth while Dave struggles beneath six figures in student loan debt. As Dave works to close a legal trap on Zeus, the doctor makes increasingly grandiose, malicious, and reckless decisions that could endanger Diane.
With Zeus, Keech (Hot Box in the Pizza District, 2015, etc.) draws a remarkably accurate picture of an especially dangerous sociopath—not the serial killer of the public imagination but a white-coated, well-educated, and highly respected doctor. Zeus uses his good looks, prosperity, and prestige to molest, drug, and rape his patients, counting on the system and his network of lies to protect him. Keech ably shows the step-by-step process through which Zeus manipulates those around him. For example, with money troubles and divorce looming, Zeus even tells his 12-year-old daughter, Kyra, that the split is because her mother thinks the girl is trying to tempt her father sexually. Keech also is perceptive about what drives Diane to accept Zeus’ suggestions; she’s lonely, feels blame for the pregnancy, and wants to feel good about herself. The story’s minor characters are also well-drawn and contribute importantly to the plot, particularly Robert, a young would-be pastor who keeps pestering Diane because Jesus wants them to be together, and Woody, a high school friend with surprising inner fortitude despite a sketchy past. The book’s strengths include how Dave’s conflict with his girlfriend touches on real-world economic and ethical concerns that aren’t easily solved. The plot moves with energy, building toward a dramatic but believable conclusion. It’s hugely satisfying watching the efforts of Dave and his team as they try to expose Zeus’ lies.
A complex, multilayered, and psychologically acute tale about a predatory physician: well done.