A body is found hanging on a hook above the canals of Amsterdam’s old town, a mobile phone forced into the victim’s mouth. In a remote coastal village, a doll lies in the ashes of a burnt-down house. But the couple who died in the fire had no children of their own. Did a little girl escape the blaze? And, if so, who is she and where is she now? Inspector Jaap Rykel knows that he’s hunting a clever and brutal murderer. Still grieving from the violent death of his last partner, Rykel must work alongside a junior out-of-town detective with her own demons to face, if he has any hope of stopping the killer from striking again. Their investigation reveals two dark truths: everybody in this city harbours secrets – and hearing those secrets comes at a terrible price …
This is the first book in Woodhouse’s Amsterdam Quartet series featuring Inspector Jaap Rykel. Described as a perfect read for fans of The Killing, The Bridge, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Fatherland and equally for fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride et al, I was more than a little keen to read this. Although I normally review in isolation, I will say that having read this as part of a crime book group, I find myself echoing the thoughts of my venerable fellow members, so what did we conclude?
As much as it pains me to write a more negative review of a debut thriller, the general feeling from myself and others was one of disappointment, despite the glowing plaudits this book has received elsewhere. As the scene setter for a proposed series, enforced by the heady comparisons previously mentioned, this was one of those instances when I was expecting something breathless and amazing, but was more than a little disappointed to find that in terms of plot, characterisation and location, it was all rather familiar and pedestrian. Opening with the murder of Rykel’s police partner Andreas in an ongoing investigation into child sex abuse, compounded by both the discovery of a hanging body in Amsterdam’s Old Town, and a missing child after a fire out in the sticks, the scene was set for an interesting overlapping of these separate investigations. With the help of Sergeant Tanya van der Mark, who is investigating the fire and missing child, Rykel and his reluctant and scheming partner (with obligatory drug habit) Kees Terpstra, find themselves embroiled in the shady world of a ruthless Russian crime gang and corruption in Amsterdam…
Unfortunately, throughout the book, Woodhouse did seem to be adhering to the ABC of crime fiction writing in terms of characterisation. Rykel was a bit of a turgid character, where the insertion of his journey to self discovery using Eastern mysticism, most notably I-Ching, and the mildly exciting fact of living on a houseboat, did not exactly make him a compelling character. Even with the reveal of his previous relationship with his dead partner’s other half, the all too predictable outcome of their recent dalliance and with the equally predictable ‘will they- won’t they’ with the fresh faced Tanya (who incidentally had also had a relationship with Kees and a childhood tainted by sexual abuse), the plot did rather descend into a mildly juicy episode of a soap opera. I found all this really distracting, and aside from snorter Kees, spying on Rykel in an effort to curry favour with his bosses, found all this to somehow be the main focus of the book, rather than applying more diligence in terms of the plot development. I did feel the plot was a little patchy, and again familiar, with some aspects of the story and crucial details, getting buried under this intense need to make the characters more interesting. Hence, with the rather workmanlike aspect of the plot, the final reveal of the main bad guy, came as no great surprise to the eagle eyed readers in the group. Shame.
I was also intrigued to see how the location of Amsterdam would be brought to bear on the whole affair, and despite a few references to how this was the Amsterdam that tourists never see, we didn’t see much of it either. The promises of the revealing of the sordid underbelly of one of the most popular European cities, never really came to fruition. Those of us so familiar with Amsterdam, were again, a wee bit disappointed, as aside from a couple of references to the less salubrious aspects of the locale, didn’t really bring anything to the overall setting of the book, and gave it a rather generic feel. Again, shame.
When I haven’t really enjoyed a book very much, particularly the first in a series, the crucial question I ask myself is always would I read the next one? Despite my criticisms and reservations, I would read the next one, as I think that there is a glimmer of potential if Woodhouse can avoid some of the lazy clichés employed in this one. I appreciate that characters do have to be ‘filled-out’ to introduce them to the reader, particularly in the first of a series, but hope that with the lesser need for this in a follow-up, and a greater concentration on plot and location, the Raven’s feathers will be less ruffled…
More reviews of After The Silence:
Jake Woodhouse studied at the Royal College of Music in London and played professionally, doing concerts in the UK and all over Europe. Amsterdam came next, studying for two years at the Conservatorium, making and playing instruments. Then boredom settled in. He decided on a change, decamping to New Zealand to study winemaking which led to Italy where he worked for several years as a winemaker before returning to the UK where he started a wine business. After being hospitalised he embarked on a writing career. He’d been brought up without a TV and always read like crazy so he decided to take on the involving challenge of writing crime fiction. Website: www.jakewoodhouse.com Follow on Twitter @wildgundog
An interview with Jake Woodhouse:
(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)