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Novel set in Amsterdam (Poppen Huis)

18th May 2014

The House of Dolls – fiction set in Amsterdam. By David Hewson.

I quote from David Hewson’s website…

‘The world is a vital component, one I need to establish before anything else. There’s a simple rule I apply to all my work; is it transferable? In other words could I take the same characters and narrative and move them from, say, Rome to Vienna. If the answer’s yes then something’s wrong.

A story world has to embrace everything in the book. Both the characters and the events they encounter need to be tied to the location where they take place. For that reason I choose my canvas as carefully as I do my plots’

IMG_1445Absolutely a man after our own TripFiction heart! Choosing a book that is strong on location is a wonderful way to connect with a place. Authors can invite the sights, sounds, and feel into their writing – which, in turn, allows the reader to experience a locale in a unique and fascinating way.

Before writing a word of any book, Hewson (a former Sunday Times journalist) spends plenty of time getting to know a place. Before starting on the first Nic Costa book, he relocated to Rome and even attended Italian classes. The people he was going to write about were locals, not tourists – and he wanted to get under their skin. Likewise he spent much time in Copenhagen while researching Sarah Lund and The Killing.

He did exactly the same when planning The House of Dolls, set in Amsterdam. He explored, and spent time in, Jordaan – a run down formerly working class district, where Pieter Vos (the key character of the drama) lives on a dilapidated houseboat with his fox terrier, Sam, for company. [Sam, incidentally, breaks a rule of Hewson’s – never model a character on a real ‘person’ – Sam is modelled on his own fox terrier, Eddie… to whom the books is dedicated]. He experienced the rest of the city. Location is important to the book. In the edition I read, there is a map of Amsterdam with the key locations that feature in the book marked on it – and on Hewson’s website there is a much larger interactive map to play with. You really get the impression that he wants you to be a part of the place.

The book is an absolute cracker – combining (as did The Killing) both crime and political intrigue. It is stated to be the first in the Pieter Vos series, and the others are clearly going to be well worth waiting for. Pieter, an ex crime buster with the Amsterdam police force, ‘retired’ a few years back to live on his houseboat – shaken by the kidnapping, and apparent murder, of his own daughter… and by his frustration at being unable to solve the case. He is tracked down in the Rijksmuseum by Laura Bakker, a young trainee detective, who reports a copycat disappearance of Katja Prins – the daughter of Wim Prins, the leader of the city council… and key architect of a plan to crack down on the activities of De Wallen, the red light district. Pieter is brought back into the police (not to the joy of all…) to help solve Katja’s disappearance – a disappearance which her father believes may be a hoax to extract money from him (Katja is an addict with a history of scams). Added piquancy is brought by the fact that Wim’s current wife is also Pieter’s ex partner – and the mother of his missing daughter. The relationship between Pieter and Laura (she is a quite difficult foil…) is one of the highlights of the book. She is bright, but a little inexperienced in the ways of the big city – heading, as she does, from Friesland in the north of the Netherlands… and is thought of by many of her colleagues as a bit of a country bumpkin.

Theo Jansen completes the list of main characters. He is a gangland boss, just out of jail. His daughter (who ran the business while he was inside) has also been murdered. He takes revenge on the boss of a rival Surinamese gang – only to then have doubts. He and Pieter go way back to when they were sparring partners on the streets. The solving of their varying mysteries overlaps – and complete the personal, the political, and the gangland nature of The House of Dolls.


photo courtesy hotelswelove.com

Ah yes, The House of Dolls. When Laura first encountered Pieter, he was – as he often was – sitting in the Rijksmuseum in front of The Dolls House by Petronella Oortman convinced that it has something to do with the disappearance of his daughter. Which it has. The House of Dolls was not a pleasant place…

All in all The House of Dolls is a quite excellent read that really brings Amsterdam to life. The atmospherics ring true, and the plot is fast moving, bizarre, and yet somehow believable. I absolutely recommend it, and look forward very much to the next tale in the series.


Tony for the TripFiction team

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