This book is written by one of the author participants of the BritCrime Online Literature Festival – one of the first of its kind and a massive success! Daniel has since become a good friend of mine, after I was lucky enough to give his whole Harbour Master collection a read.
Book 1 synopsis:
Maverick cop Henk van der Pol is thinking about retirement when he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour. His detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his case. But his bigger challenge is deciding who his friends are – not to mention a vicious street pimp who is threatening Henk’s own family…
Book 2 synopsis:
Henk roves further afield to Rotterdam, Antwerp and Brussels – investigating a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. What connects the cases, and what risks must Henk run to uncover the criminals?
Book 3 synopsis:
A powerful Dutch politician is hijacked, bearing parallels with the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. Henk, who worked on the Heineken case a the start of his career, is now operating outside of the official investigation. He becomes imprisoned himself, and, with rival cop Joost emerging as the winner, Henk must navigate dark currents at the highest level of Dutch society.
I read The Habour Master Collected Edition as one novel, which worked as perfectly as if I had read them as three separate stories. To say that I enjoyed this book to the point that I didn’t want to put it down at night is no small matter as I don’t tend to read a lot of this genre. But wow, did this book teach me a lot!
Each narrative winds its way through, and drew me into, a society completely alien to me – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels – and taught me a lot about the different sides of society in each city. It also opened my eyes to the kinds of corruption and crime that I just would not have contemplated before, which makes it more fascinating. It also contrasts the normality of Henk’s domestic life with his professional life to great effect. It serves to remind the reader that Henk is a normal, everyday family man as well as an impressive, dedicated but troubled policeman. He is also not immune to vulnerability and victimisation himself, which makes the book a lot more realistic than some thrillers which portray the main character as an unlikely untouchable hero.
Henk is surrounded by a number of colleagues and friends who, on one end of the spectrum show deep loyalty to him, and on the other pose a real threat to his career and safety. What makes the book particularly interesting is how Henk deals with each of these characters, especially those such as his devoted colleagues or corrupt but friendly politicians.
I love that these books portray Henk’s wife as a powerful character, with just as much influence and talent as her husband. She is not the damsel in distress who constantly needs protection from her husband – although there are times when her safety is put on the line alongside Henk’s – but rather a useful and important asset for Henk’s investigations as well as his life partner. The literary world needs far more of this kind of female character.
I would have liked to have experienced a little more of Henk’s emotions as well as his sharp and enquiring mind. However, I don’t feel like anything was taken away from the book. On the contrary, it retained the correct level of entertaining mysteriousness and complexity without completely losing me. This is no achievement to sniff at, as I must admit that although I am an intelligent woman, often detective novels tend to run away from me and weave too complicated a web for me to follow. Not so with The Harbour Master. I understood perfectly what was going on while being kept intrigued and hooked.
The Harbour Master combines all those features that one would seek in a thriller – colourful and varied characters, an air of mystery and corruption, fast-paced action and scandal, and of course a little bit of violence thrown in. There are a number of threads and layers to each story which means that the outcomes are far from predictable, adding to the excitement of the reading experience. Rather than having to wade myself through, I felt that I was being carried along by the narrative, and that, to me, is a literary job well done.
I very very much look forward to the next instalment of Henk’s story, hopefully with even more action this time around.