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Wednesday, 19 August 2020

‘A Death at the Hotel Mondrian’ by Anja de Jager


Published by Constable,
7 November 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-47213043-3(PB)

A Murder at the Hotel Mondrian takes place in Amsterdam. Very early one morning Lotte is temporarily standing in for her colleague Ingrid Ries who is part of a team investigating a series of vicious muggings in the city’s red-light district when she discovers a man badly beaten up and robbed in the street. She arranges for him to be taken to hospital and is herself on the way there to meet Ingrid when she is stopped by a passer-by, a middle-aged man, who assures her that he is not dead, and goes on to tell her that he is Andre Martin Nieuwkerk and that he is staying at the Hotel Mondrian.  But how can he be Andre Martin Nieuwkerk who was murdered 25 years ago when he was a teenager. This man is about the right age that the murdered man would be if he was still alive, but at the time when the remains were discovered they were skeletal careful examination of which established to the satisfaction of the authorities (before DNA was used in such examinations) that it was the missing man. The case, which became known as The Body in the Dunes, was never solved although the media at the time named a geography teacher, Paul Verbaan, as a likely suspect; later Verbaan committed suicide. At the moment, however, Lotte assumes that the passer-by is actually one of the mentally disturbed people who are occasionally encountered in the city’s streets; she is more focussed on the enquiries into the victim of the mugging.

However, she later thinks she will just make some enquiries at the Hotel Mondrian, and she discovers that whoever  he is he is calling himself Theo Brand, who has been living in London for many years and has taken British nationality. More than that: the mystery man (Andre/Theo) is now dead. Lotte’s curiosity is aroused. And if he really is Andre Nieuwkerk who was the nameless person buried in the dunes? And why did he kill himself? She begins by trying to contact 4 people whose names and telephone numbers are listed in the dead man’s diary. This leads her in turn to an-ultra orthodox Dutch Calvinist community which represses any form of deviation or dissent, then to a flat in London (Putney), then back to Holland to follow a twisting line of clues through long-hidden family secrets to Andre’s psychologically tortured life before he took that fatal overdose.

Although I lived in The Hague for several years, I frequently visited Amsterdam and I can certainly vouch for the authenticity of the author’s convincing and lively portrait of Amsterdam with its medley of ancient and modern buildings set alongside the numerous canals which form the arteries of the city past which Lotte, like most of the Dutch, cycles to work. Lotte herself, who is often driven by her conscience to do what she considers to be right irrespective of what her superiors expect, is an attractive character as is her supportive boyfriend Mark; luckily for Lotte, who is hopeless at cooking, he is happy to prepare delicious meals for them both. And Lotte and her mother, despite the latter’s prickly temperament, clearly have great regard for each other.  Highly recommended.
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Reviewer: Radmila May
  
Anja de Jager is a London-based native Dutch speaker who writes in English. She draws inspiration from cases that her father, a retired police detective, worked on in the Netherlands. Currently she is working on another Lotte Meerman novel. There are now five books in the Lotte Meerman series.  The sixth Death at the Orange Locks will be published in October 2020.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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