Family saga set in Iceland and Cambridge
Daniel Pembrey explores the Jordaan in Amsterdam of 1983
27th April 2018
Initiation: Amsterdam, ’83 A Henk van der Pol short novel. Daniel Pembrey explores the Jordaan in Amsterdam of 1983.
“..the search for a Dutch-speaking middle-aged man..”
Daniel’s short novel opens with ticking tension….Freddy Heineken, who is business royalty, has been kidnapped, and Henk van der Pol is sent to investigate. The novel is based on a true story.
The book is neatly set in the 1980s, when people still smoked more than they do today and when mobile phones were a distant dream. Opel Kadetts at the time were as ubiquitous as the Fiat 500 is now. A time when the Red Army Faction and the Baader Meinhof groups were very active….
Even in this short book – a Kindle Single – the reader gets to know Henk van der Pol on both a professional and personal level. He is only a week out of training and to be involved at any level in such a big case, so early in his career, is quite something. There is of course a love interest brewing for him in the form of journalist Petra but she maybe has more of an eye on a story than on him. He is not, however, easily deterred.
There are quite a few chases – out to Eindhoven and back – in search of the kidnappers, including a Dutch-speaking middle-aged man. Gradually van der Pol sees that the net stretches much wider and further than even he could have imagined.
The author is really skilled at bringing his characters to life, with little quirks and mannerisms. The setting, too, makes for an atmospheric backdrop, with the misty streets and the flying Dutchman (aka van der Pol on his bike) navigating the Jordaan on his bicycle…. as he enters Eerste Boomdwarsstraat he notes the beauty of the scene as the street lights atmospherically casting their shadow. He stops for a beer or cafe at various venues, which Daniel mentions below. The author’s work is absolutely what TripFiction is about and perfect for armchair and actual travel. On my next visit to Amsterdam I will certainly be tracking down some of van der Pol’s steps and checking out some of the venues mentioned!
Over to Daniel for a bit about the story behind Initiation: Amsterdam, ‘83 and some great tips for a visit
The Heineken kidnapping is one of the most famous crimes in modern Dutch history. On a cold evening in November 1983, shadowy assailants abducted Alfred Heineken, the head of the namesake brewing corporation, and drove him away at speed into the night. For several days it was unclear whether this was a kidnapping for ransom or there were other forces at play. Were German terrorists involved?
I’d come across the case while researching my first Amsterdam-set novel featuring Detective Henk van der Pol. In that book, The Harbour Master, Henk is nearing retirement – but I mention that he worked on the Heineken case at the start of his career. By chance, I then met a Dutch publisher at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival who had published an account of the kidnapping by Gert van Beek, one of the real life detectives co-leading the case in 1983. The publisher introduced me to Gert, who kindly gave me a tour of the relevant Amsterdam landmarks.
Amsterdam is famous for its pretty bridges, canal-side houses and art museums, but in 1983 it was a different city – a grittier world characterised by squats, open drug use on the streets and a far greater chance of finding danger. Much of the action in the Heineken case centred on the Jordaan district. This is an area transformed – home to multi-million-euro canal-side house and some of the city’s most desirable hotels, restaurants and boutiques today, whereas in 1983 it was a blue-collar area in which key members of the kidnapping gang had grown up.
Certain spots can still give you a flavour of the atmosphere and action from that era. Café Papeneieland is a bar at the corner of Prinsengracht and the Brouwersgracht, near my detective’s flat share. It dates to 1642 and serves his favourite gin, Van Wees, which is distilled locally. Café Papeneieland is where Henk van der Pol first meets his wife, hears about his future home (a houseboat in the docklands area) and has a pivotal encounter with his criminal nemesis, Frank Hals.
Henk first observes the suspected gang members at Café Arie on Westerstraat (today the bar is called De Blaffende Vis, The Barking Fish; the address is Westerstraat 118.) In the story, Henk follows the suspects to atmospheric Rembrandtpark, wich remains one of the least known yet largest parks inside the ring road. You can get a good overview of the terrain from the 17th floor terrace-bar of the Ramada Apollo Hotel.
In 1983, Henk was working at the police station on Lijnbaansgracht. It is still there, as is the famous Melkweg (Milky Way) club opposite. But Henk dreams of joining the elite detective bureau at the nearby main police station on Marnixstraat. If you look up at its north end, you will see an elaborate crest that translates, “authority to protect against evil and unrest”. Henk is a week out of training school; the Heineken case is far beyond his rank and yet his instincts tell him to do everything in his power to help solve it – even if that means putting his own life at risk.
A key inspiration for the story – beside the location – was Michael Connelly, who I was lucky enough to interview for the Daily Telegraph in Los Angeles last year. He took me to a “war room” at the LA police headquarters building displaying the motto of his Harry Bosch character, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.” For me, it goes to the heart of these archetypal police detective characters and their appeal. Maverick though they may be, they are guided by a moral compass that points ‘true north’.
I hope you enjoy the story,
Thank you so much to Daniel for the interesting backstory and tips. You can of course buy all his books from your preferred bookseller through the TripFiction database and do follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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