Reviewed by Elysia Brenner
Lonely Graves by Britta Bolt opens with a literal splash – a body drops in the first sentence, and the rest of the tightly paced opening follows its unlikely progress through Amsterdam’s canals. It’s not a spoiler so much as a favor to warn you that this scene is a flash forward, and you won’t see this body again until you’re about one third of the way through the book. Now you can enjoy the pleasantly leisurely pace with which the book builds toward this moment. You’re welcome.
The story of Pieter Posthumus, a wannabe detective responsible for seeing unidentified bodies to dignified graves (apparently a real thing in Amsterdam), parallels an investigation into a potential terrorist cell in the Moroccan community, and characters’ plotted paths cross repeatedly – often without their knowing. The dialogue is deliciously Noir, but sometimes unconvincingly so –translated to English from the original Dutch with perhaps too much color for your average Amsterdammer. Still, the zippiness of the opening sequence is largely missing from the rest of the novel.
The plot’s steady, somewhat casual pace is actually quite suited to Amsterdam. In fact, the city is the book’s most enigmatic and deeply developed character. Every local will identify with the description of the shifting, turning map of streets that sees you go a different way to work than what you take home. Those from outside the city might, however, feel a little lost at times in the winding streets and cultural details. Plus, as the opener to a trilogy, not all the plot points are tied up by the end.
But the ultimate test of a first book in a trilogy is the question: do I want to read on? And, yes, I am curious about these characters… how their paths will continue to cross and how we might get to know them more deeply. And hopefully, as the next two novels progress (#2 has already been released in Dutch), that zippiness will creep back in. Chances are good, if the decision by UK’s Endor Productions to already snap up the English TV rights to the trilogy can be trusted.
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Part 2 is out as Vastberaden in Dutch; no publication date has been set for the English-language version yet.