Daniel Pembrey

The Harbour Master


Canal. Amsterdam. Netherland

The discovery of a sex worker’s corpse in Amsterdam harbour opens a Pandora’s box of troubles for detective Henk van der Pol, who is closing in on retirement after 30 years of solid service with the police.

The problem with Henk who is based at the IJ Tunnel 3 station, and the source of the antipathy between himself and his superiors, including the blatantly ambitious Sebastiaan Bergveeld, is his curiosity.

He doesn’t let sleeping dogs lie, and inevitably his wrecking ball approach to following up leads both antagonises the criminal underworld with ties to Hungary, and ruffles the preened feathers of the political and police elite.

It is not, fortunately for the reader, in Henks’ nature to look the other way, although his journalist wife and student daughter, Nadia and Petra, must often wish that he would refrain from bringing his work home – which is a barge – or on holiday – Brussels.

Labelled by some as the Henning Mankell of Amsterdam, Daniel Pembrey, who grew up in Nottinghamshire and divides his time between London and Amsterdam, hasn’t lumbered Henk van der Pol with the introspection or the Scandinavian angst of Inspector Wallander. Henk van der Pol, au contraire, is reasonably content with his lot, and his only vice is the odd beer and dodgy choice of music.

The essence of a crime novel is the intricate web of intrigue and mystery which untangles with the closing of each chapter, and Pembrey does so with guile.

The Harbour Master reads as two short novels segued by a common thread: in this instance, the Tozser brothers, on a collision course with Van der Pol once he sticks his nose into their hobbies: prostitution, blackmail, fraud, extortion and intimidation. They are, however, mere seeds in a plot which, a few deaths later, spreads like ink on cotton.

A stolen painting, the murder of a diplomat, the kidnapping of a politician, the fate of a blood diamond and a woman beaten black and blue in a hotel, conspire to remove Van der Pol from the insufferable claustrophobia of Amsterdam’s Rosse Burt, and an international dimension is added to his probing.

More seedy than dangerous, unless you are one of the barely clad unfortunates behind a window being ogled by tourists, the Rosse Burt is never in danger of being a scene stealer whenever Pembrey the stylist unpeels Amsterdam, but you can see the promise of this notorious district in future Van der Pol investigations. For most of this engaging novel, Henk van der Pol is on a fast moving train without brakes, short of likeminded colleagues but not friends, and his denouement in The Harbour Master is handled with aplomb by Pembrey.

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