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Friday, 17 February 2017

‘The Harbour Master’ by Daniel Pembrey

Published by No Exit Press,
10 November 2016.
ISBN: 078-1-84344-877-8 (PBO)

Amsterdam, at 6am on a misty March morning, and almost-retired detective Henk van der Pol is just sitting on his favourite seat by the harbour, contemplating breakfast with his journalist wife, Petra, when a woman’s body is found. It’s not his jurisdiction, and his boss is determined to keep him out of the case ... which makes him all the more determined to find out just how high the cover-up goes ...

This cracking PP is split into three parts: The Harbour Master, The Maze, and Ransom. The overarching storyline is continuous, but each part also features a separate investigation – it’s all cleverly, satisfyingly plotted. The first focuses on people-trafficking, the second on the death of a diplomat and a stolen painting, and the third involves the kidnap of a Brussels bureaucrat. Henk van der Pol is the narrator throughout: shrewd, cynical, a man who knows his patch of Amsterdam inside out, who’s not afraid of taking risks, yet who also knows when it’s time to draw his neck in, instead of sticking it out – one of the extra dimensions of this novel is the sense of realpolitik throughout. To continue in office, Van der Pol is forced to come to terms with the politics of cronyism, and his subordinates, geeky Stefan and newly-engaged Liesbeth, later have to choose between helping him solve a crime and protecting their jobs. Van der Pol is a maverick policeman, but in this real world the maverick doesn’t come out triumphant. The Amsterdam setting is a presence throughout, and we also get the sense of the European world, with van der Pol shuttling to and from Brussels, and his daughter going to Paris and Russia with her new, suspicious boyfriend.

A cleverly-crafted and unusual PP dealing with real issues in a vividly-evoked setting. Recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Daniel Pembrey grew up in Nottinghamshire beside Sherwood Forest. He studied history at Edinburgh University and received an MBA from INSEAD business school. Daniel then spent over a decade working in America and more recently Luxembourg, coming to rest in Amsterdam and London — dividing his time now between these two great maritime cities.  He is the author of the Henk van der Pol detective series and several short thriller stories, and he occasionally contributes non-fiction articles to publications including The Financial Times and The Times. In order to write The Harbour Master, he spent several months living in the docklands area of East Amsterdam, counting De Druif bar as his local.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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