Friday, March 13, 2009


Sabine, an attractive 23 year old, returns to work in her office after a long break caused by a nervous breakdown. The atmosphere is totally different from when she was working  previously and she finds that Renee has become unofficial head of department. Renee had been recruited and trained by Sabine but now she acts like the captain of the ship delegating to her the worst jobs in a bullying manner, and undermining Sabine at every opportunity. 

An upcoming reunion at her old school in Den Helder reminds Sabine of her childhood when Isabel once a close friend in Primary school had turned on her later making her life a living hell. Then nine years ago Isabel, who suffered from epilepsy, had gone missing cycling home from school and Sabine can only remember the briefest of incidents from that day. 
Sabine begins a relationship with Olaf the handsome IT man at the bank, who was a friend of her brother at school. 
Olaf, Sabine's brother Robin, and Sabine's secret boyfriend Bart were all possibly involved with Isabel, and Sabine wonders if this is the reason she has repressed the memory of that day.

A number of young girls have gone missing in the Den Helder area and as Sabine delves back into the past to see if she can jog her memory  she learns that the old school caretaker Mr Groesback has named his cats after those missing  girls. But then she discovers that the very possessive Olaf has a both fierce temper, and a history of violence towards past girl friends. 

Simone Van Der Vlugt lives in Alkmaar, a great cheese making town, and this is her first psychological thriller translated into English by Michele Hutchinson. Simone is better known in the Netherlands for her children's books but she has certainly made a very successful jump across into the crime fiction genre.
The story is told by Sabine in the first person narrative with the majority of the book in the present tense and I think it could only be told in this way. It certainly works and at just under 300 pages I read it easily in a couple of days. Definitely a gripping page turner.

The book has plenty of psychological tension and several red herrings but even though I had narrowed the perpetrator down to two strong possibilities quite early in the story I enjoyed reading right to the very end.

Simone Van Der Vlugt has a talent for creating flawed but memorable characters, and an unsettling sense of menace from seemingly rather mundane situations. 
I will definitely look forward to more of her books being translated into English.

[Thanks to Harper Collins for providing the book]


Blogger crimeficreader said...

I rather enjoyed this novel, as I'm sure you are aware, Norm. Looking forward to reading more from her.

That said, the latest (in the UK) from Saskia Noort arrived yesterday and I skimmed the beginning when I went to bed. So I now have a Dutch author comparison to try out.

It's interesting that these novels from the Dutch are shorter too. It's the promise of a decent bit of entertainment in a relatively short space of time, without too much labouring and diversion. (And for me in particular: without too much descriptive narrative!)

11:01 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I am tempted to read the first Saskia Noort as it has been described as "Desperate Houswives [which I have never watched] scripted by Patricia Highsmith". Not having watched Housewives I am not sure what that means but it sounds promising.
I need an antidote to the Nazi related heavier stuff I read sometimes.

3:28 AM  

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