A moderately obscure British freelance writer meets in Brussels with a not-very-famous American film maker. The American, Johnny Vos, has just shot a scene that's a visual quotation from the work of Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux; since Delvaux painted monumental landscapes and street scenes filled with nude women, Vos is finding his extras in Antwerp's busy red-light district. Two -- associated with a internet webcam-filled house -- were found dead shortly after the Vos wrapped the first big shot.
A Spaniard I know once wrote that she'd be glad to find work anywhere in Europe but Belgium, which she found too dull to endure. It sometimes seems that Royle shares her opinion. Places and people alike are strangely flat here, and subplots set in Antwerp's diamond market and in the virtual twilight of an internet sex site are never really exploited. The effect is strange and evocative: Royle creates people and situations that are more interesting than he makes them, giving the book a deeper interior life than it seems to earns.