Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Molly Lane was a photographer and a restaurant critic who died at only fourty-six year old due to cancer. Clive and Vernon are among her former lovers. Molly suffers a painful death, having experienced a sharp mental decline at the end of her life. Molly's death plays an important role in the narrative of Amsterdam, as how the other characters react to her death sets the plot into motion.
Clive Linley is a composer nearing the end of his career, and Molly was once his lover. Distressed at the prospect of dying under similar circumstances to Molly, Clive and Vernon make a pact with one another that if needed they will travel abroad to arrange euthanasia for one another, to avoid suffering the same fate as their former romantic flame. Clive is busy trying to finish his Symphony, as he is scheduled to perform its premiere in Amsterdam. But he still needs to discover a theme for the finale. Clive sincerely loved Molly and, on the surface, would appear to be a kinder person than Vernon, as he considers the idea of publishing potentially scandalous photographs found in Molly's possession after her death to be a serious betrayal. But looks can be deceiving.
During a walk, Clive stumbles upon an idea for the theme, but at the same time, he witnesses a violent struggle between a man and a woman. Clive does not help the woman, instead focusing on writing out his idea for the theme. Vernon later tells Clive that the man he witnessed was in fact a serial rapist. As Clive did not report the man to police, the man was free to rape another woman only days later. Clive turns on Vernon and eventually comes to believe he is presenting signs of having a terminal illness. Vernon believes the same thing about Clive. So they travel together to Amsterdam to pursue euthanasia.
Vernon is one of Molly's former lovers, and he works as an editor at a tabloid newspaper. He forms a kind of suicide pact (in the case that they become seriously ill) with Clive following Molly's death. In the wake of Molly's passing, photographs of Julian Garmony, the highly conservative British foreign secretary, are found among Molly's possessions. Julian was once Molly's lover, and the photographs depict him in drag. During the novel, Vernon contemplates whether he should publish the photographs in his tabloid or not. Vernon has a history of embarrassing other public figures through his newspaper.
The friendship between Vernon and Clive sours over time. Vernon uses Clive's confession of his failure to report witnessing an attack on a woman to threaten him, ultimately causing Clive's symphony to remain unfinished. In the end, Vernon's plan to publish the photographs fails spectacularly, as Julian's wife stages a press conference informing the public about Vernon's attempts to commit blackmail. The tide of public opinion turns against him, ruining his career.
George Lane was Molly's husband, and he is a rich publisher. George is the one who discovers the photographs of Julian among Molly's effects. At the beginning of the novel, George decides to postpone his wife's funeral service so he won't have to deal with the presence of so many of her former lovers.