Written by Daniel Pembrey — Amsterdam copper Henk van der Pol is old school. Now in his 50s, his daughter is away at university, and all around him bright young things are moving up through the police ranks. He has been an institution man for much of his working life – he is a former soldier. As a youngster, his family was moved around all over the world by his father, a merchant seaman who was suspected of murder. Retirement does not appeal to van der Pol, and is feathers are ruffled even further when his boss suggests that his leaving date could easily be brought forward.
When the bloated body of a young girl is fished out of the water, the only possible clue to her identity is a mysterious tattoo. Visiting Amsterdam’s notorious red light district with his partner, van der Pol walks down the narrow, neon lit lane called Molensteeg, but better known to the locals as Little Hungary.
One of the prostitutes he interviews, Irina, clearly knows about the dead woman and is about to say something, but she looks over the policeman’s shoulder and is suddenly too terrified to speak. Working on enhanced CCTV images, van der Pol discovers that the cause of Irina’s sudden reticence was a sinister pimp called Slavic. When Irina turns up later at a women’s refuge, beaten within an inch of her life, van der Pol knows he is on to something.
Things go from bad to worse for van der Pol when an attempt to arrest Slavic goes badly wrong and the pimp is soon back on the streets. The copper and his journalist wife Pernilla are disturbed by intruders on their houseboat home, and their daughter Nadia receives a sinister anonymous phone call. On top of all this, van der Pol is warned off the case by his superiors, and when he attempts to fight back by visiting a powerful city politician, he is suspended from duty. When Nadia goes missing, van der Pol has to take the law into his own hands, and those hands are now empty of both badge and gun.
This is a well written novella, with pace and a distinctive style. One joy is that Pembrey makes no attempt to phoneticise the dialogue. He tells us the story is set in Amsterdam and trusts us to know that the characters are speaking Dutch never needing to drop hints every now and again. On the downside, the actual plot is a very familiar one. We have the maverick cop who is a bit out-of-time, with possibly corrupt senior officers. There are prostitutes, being run by ruthless East European gangsters, and the book is shot through with the familiar sense of the old order spiraling out of control. The Harbour Master is a very quick read and I feel there’s so much more to know about van der Pol and his family. We are only given the briefest of thumbnail sketches. I would love to think that there might be a full length van der Pol story somewhere on the horizon.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars