Written by Jake Woodhouse — Bleak, pre-Christmas Amsterdam. The twinkling of fairy lights in festive windows does nothing to hide the obscenity of the body found hanging from a pulley above the frozen waters of a canal. Inspector Jaap Rykel, fresh from the indignity of having his houseboat broken into, attends the scene with his distinctly flaky subordinate, Kees Terpstra. When the emergency services haul the dead man – identified as businessman Dirk Friedman – back into what was his apartment, they discover that there is a mobile phone wedged into his very dead mouth.
Both Rykel and Terpstra have an abundance of their own personal problems – enough to occupy a legion of counsellors and therapists for the forseeable future. Terpstra has a tetchy and temperamental girlfriend and is more than partial to the odd line of cocaine. Rykel has a chequered history which includes a complete break from police work due to stress, when he travelled to Japan to seek solace among the mystics. Things go rapidly downhill for Rykel when he hears that his working partner, Andreas Hansen, has been found dead with the back of his head blown off by a soft-nosed bullet. The situation is hardly helped by the fact that Hansen’s pregnant partner, Saskia, was once Rykel’s girlfriend.
In an apparently unconnected tragedy way off in rural Friesland, Sergeant Tanya Van der Mark is called to investigate a fire. There are two charred corpses, but Tanya is disturbed to find a child’s doll in the bushes beside the remains of the home. As the dead couple were known to be childless, she senses that there is something wrong. When she discovers CCTV footage of a car driver sporting an unusual tattoo, she traces the suspect back to Amsterdam, and contacts Rykel for help.
As Rykel, Terpstra and Van der Mark struggle to unravel the complex knots of the case, they’re drawn along a murky trail involving child pornography, extortion, people trafficking and casual murder. The three investigators have their own demons to face. Terpstra seems totally unable to resist any temptation which comes his way, whether it is of an erotic or narcotic nature. Van der Mark has battled to put a childhood of abuse behind her, but as the evidence in this case piles up her own psychological equilibrium is severely challenged. Rykel is haunted by an equally traumatic past, and a present where he is the subject of malicious scrutiny by fellow officers who will seize on any weakness or error to bring down his career.
This is a great debut from an author who has packed more into his relatively few adult years than some of us have achieved in a whole lifetime. His Amsterdam is vivid, icy cold, and not the best place to be if you don’t appreciate snow-melt seeping in through your shoes. My only reservation is that there is an almost overwhelming cast of characters, and on a couple of occasions I had to retrace my steps in the book, and turn a few pages to remind myself who was who. There are occasional slow passages in the middle section too, but the story gathers pace and the last 20 pages or so move at a breakneck pace. Although perceptive readers might get a hint quite early in the piece about the true villain, Woodhouse saves a big – and happy – surprise for the very end.
Jake Woodhouse spoke to us about his work and influences here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars