Richard Chapman hosts a bachelor party for his younger brother Philip. The entertainment for the evening, provided by one of Philip’s friends, turns out to be two young prostitutes, Sonja and Alexandra, who arrive with their bodyguards. An orgy ensues, and the evening ends with the bodyguards being killed by the young women before they flee. The novel then focuses on the aftermath of the party. Richard, who almost had sex with Alexandra, has to deal with the impact of his decisions on his marriage and family and job.
The narrative is split between Richard (and the consequences he faces because of what happened at the party) and Alexandra (and the chronicle of her sex enslavement). It is Alexandra’s story, narrated in the first person, which is most intriguing. Her experiences serve as an exposé of human trafficking. In comparison, Richard’s plight arouses much less sympathy. Though he does not escape unscathed by any means, he has the resources, financial and otherwise, to help him mitigate the worst consequences of his stupidity.
It is this stupidity that is Richard’s outstanding trait. Knowing his brother, he still agrees to host Philip’s bachelor party? A man with a wife and a 9-year-old daughter is fine with strippers being in his family home? Then he proceeds to behave like Philip and his friends instead of being a responsible host concerned about his house and the welfare of his guests? His lapses in judgement are just too many to be credible. Then he continues to have lustful thoughts about her even after learning she could be underage? Of course, the reader is to believe that eventually he begins to recognize his role in Alexandra’s victimization, but his change is not convincing. And don’t get me started on his behaviour at the climax: “not caring. Not caring at all. So be it.” The climax seems contrived to have Richard wearing a superhero cape.
There are other things that are incredible in the book. Kristen, Richard’s wife, agrees to have her brother-in-law’s party in her home, even presuming that at least one stripper will be present? Considering her doubts about the nature of her husband’s intimate encounter with Alexandra, is her behaviour at the end plausible? Certainly, some anger towards Alexandra and Richard’s choices and actions at the end would be appropriate. Alexandra is very wary and thinks she sees a black Escalade following her but she “didn’t think cue-ball-head babies would be so smart”?! Alexandra, despite having no formal education in English, speaks the language so well, almost too well, yet inconsistently drops definite articles? A lawyer would actually advise a client to pay a blackmail demand?
There are some writers who like to choose a controversial issue and make it a central topic in his/her books. Jodi Picoult is one who comes to mind. This novel strikes me as being in the same vein; it uses human trafficking/sex slavery to draw in potential readers. Bohjalian undoubtedly did research on the subject and informs the reader about sexual exploitation, but he seems to have paid less attention to character development and the fine points of good-quality fiction writing.