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Published by Faber & Faber, 1 May 2014.
An old man is found dead in a park in Amsterdam. There is
evidence of severe injuries to the body so there is a possible link to several
sado-masochistic murders that have recently occurred in the city. But the only
clue to his identity is a name and a telephone number; they belong to Jon Reed
who lives in London.
He identifies the man as Jake Colby, an elderly homeless man whom he had
briefly befriended before Jake disappeared. Both Jake and Jon are Jewish and
coming to terms with Jewish identity and history is a theme of the book. Jake
had only just learned that he was Jewish; his natural Dutch-Jewish father had
given him to his business partner who had brought him up without telling him
even that he was adopted let alone of his true identity. Jon's own family had
rejected totally their Jewish identity and Jon knows little of his people's
tragic history. In Amsterdam Jon formally identifies Jake and meets Ronald van
Hijn, the detective nominally in charge of the case. But van Hijn has his own
problems; his father, once admired as a fearless Resistance wartime fighter
against the Nazis, has recently been revealed as an arch-collaborationist, and
his colleagues are using this as an excuse to oust him. Van Hijn warns Jon to
stay away from the investigation particularly since he believes Jake's murder
and that of the other victims may be linked to snuff movies. He says,
'Éspecially in this town, snuff of one kind or another . . . a lot of people
will pay for.' Nonetheless, Jon decides to stay on in Amsterdam
and at least to visit the Joods
where Jake had told him he had spent time researching his family; moreover Jon
is curious on his own behalf about Jewish identity and history. While there,
Jon gets to know the American girl Suze who is researching the life of
Charlotte Salomon, a talented young artist who died in Auschwitz.
But Suze has another side to her, or rather two: she is a member of a group
called The Revised Council of Blood, a secret organisation which devotes itself
to exposing how photo-journalism of scenes of carnage and war crimes by
aesthetizing such scenesanaesthetizes
them. And she herself has a taste for sado-masochitic sex. Suze and Jon
together try to establish why Jake had returned to Amsterdam, what secret from his own past or
another even more dreadful past had called the old man to his death. And so
they are drawn into Amsterdam's
corrupt underworld where sexual tolerance gives way to sexual violence and
first reaction to this book was one of revulsion, and there is a great deal to
be revolted about. So much violence, so much perversion, so much cruelty, all
so (apparently) lovingly described. Yet I wonder if the underlying message of
this book, as with many others of this type, is perhaps deeply judgemental: the
truth, however horrible, should not be hidden and the crimes of the past,
however dreadful, should be confronted. Recommended – with an X Certificate!
Reviewer: Radmila May
titles by this author: The Black
Monastery, A Dark Redemption, Eleven Days.
Stav Sherezis the author of two previous novels. The Devil's
Playground (2004), his debut, was described by James Sallis as 'altogether
extraordinary, it introduces a major new talent', and was shortlisted for the
CWA John Creasy Dagger Award. His second novel The Black Monastery (2009)
was described as 'dynamite fiction' in the Independent and 'spectacular'
by Laura Wilson in the Guardian. You can find him on twitter