Friday, August 7, 2015


INTO THE NIGHT by Jake Woodhouse (Penguin, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The second instalment in Woodhouse's 'Amsterdam Quartet' is a very fine European police thriller, with a twisting storyline, fascinating cast of characters, and tremendous denouement. 

A headless body is found on an Amsterdam rooftop, hands blow-torched. Torture, or is the killer trying to slow down identification Inspector Jaap Rykel then discovers something even more chilling: his own image on the victim's phone. What's going on? When the killer publicises another headless body, the media start going nuts. Meanwhile a homeless woman is pushed in front of a train, and some of Jaap's closest colleagues are dealing with some very personal, very dangerous strife. Troubles they're keeping from everyone, even Jaap.

British author Woodhouse crafts an enthralling tale set in one of Europe's most intriguing cities, with a plotline that encompasses violent murder, war crimes tribunals, the drugs trade, kidnapping, and more. Interestingly, although there are moments of pretty brutal acts of violence, it never feels gratuitous. Woodhouse deftly treads the fine line between darkness and dirge. There's a life and forward motion to his storytelling that means I never felt I was wallowing towards 'look at this! - look how far I can take things' violence (or worse, torture porn). Everything felt natural and needed, fitting with the story and its world.

While the storyline thrills, perhaps the greatest accomplishment is Woodhouse's creation of a police squad that includes all the stock-standard relationships, frustrations, and power struggles you'd expect in crime drama, but in his hands it manages to feel fresh and not cliched. Amsterdam coppers Jaap, Tanya, Kees and Smit come across as fully-formed people, not caricatures or moving pieces for the plot. Their careers and personal lives clash; they're not supercops and have very real fears, hopes, distractions, and concerns. Other characters, including Jaap's ex Saskia, a war crimes prosecutor, and others who feature momentarily like drug squad cops, witnesses and villains are also given moments to shine, and not just be wallpaper.

The only minor quibble I have - and it's a small one - is that for much of the book I felt it could have been set in any big European city. There were plenty of mentions of Amsterdam-centric things, from coffee shops to the canals, Dutch names, the drug laws, foods, and much more, but for whatever reason I didn't 'feel' the setting so to speak. I was trying to put my finger on why, and perhaps it's just because INTO THE NIGHT is such a slickly written crime tale, the plot and characters power it forward and it has great narrative drive, that there wasn't time to linger as some writers do in the feel of a place. The setting was brought to life through good description, but I never 'felt' it as texturising the story, or having a character-like shadow.

But I digress. This is a very fine crime novel, full of merit. I was fully hooked by the characters and what was unfolding in both their personal and professional lives. Woodhouse takes readers on a heck of a ride that is as much about the people involved as the intriguing incidents, before delivering a gut-punch of a conclusion that surprises and yet feels so natural and cruelly ideal at the same time. I was left wondering where he'd take Jaap and those close to him next, and very keen to find out. Bring on book three. I'll be reading it.

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