Book review: Little Sister by David Hewson

Reopening an old and disturbing murder case brings more questions than answers for Amsterdam police detective Pieter Vos.

Tuesday, 24th May 2016, 10:00 am
Little Sister byDavid Hewson
Little Sister byDavid Hewson

Did two 11-year-old sisters, the surviving pair of a set of triplets, really murder the man accused of slaughtering their family and, if they were capable of such brutality, can it be right to release them?

Little Sister is the third book in David Hewson’s gripping and atmospheric Pieter Vos series which this time leaves the bustling cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam for a thrilling murder mystery in nearby Waterland, a rural area of dykes and dams which comes vividly alive in the hands of this clever, accomplished author.

For Vos, a city boy out of his comfort zone, it’s a tough call to head out of town but for his sidekick, Laura Bakker, a country girl at heart, the backdrop for their investigations is very much a home from home.

It’s ten years since 11-year-old Kim and Mia Timmers were locked up in Marken, an island psychiatric unit which houses a handful of the most disturbed juvenile criminals in the Netherlands. They were accused of murdering Rogier Glas, lead singer of world famous pop band The Cupids, in the Dutch fishing village of Volendam.

The girls believed he was responsible for killing their fisherman father Gus, their mother Freya, who sang in local bars, and their beloved triplet sister Little Jo at the family’s shabby, black-timbered cottage.

The evidence – they were found near Glas’s butchered body with a blood-covered kitchen knife next to them – seemed irrefutable at the time and Kim and Mia were locked away and largely forgotten, mainly because of ‘an unspoken sense of communal guilt.’

But now they are due for release and Vos is forced to re-open the case when the girls disappear along with male nurse Simon Klerk who is responsible for escorting them to a halfway house in Amsterdam.

When Klerk’s body washes up on the beach at Marken, it becomes clear that the girls’ former unit holds the key to the investigation. And it seems that Vos’s boss, Frank De Groot, has something to hide which is relevant to the case.

The inquiry moves up a gear when another body is found and various members of The Cupids are implicated in the murder of the Timmers family. But why is someone is posing as the third sister, Little Jo, and is there a cover-up at a higher level?

With the consummate skills of an experienced and powerful storyteller, Hewson manages to endow each of his standalone Netherlands thrillers with exciting new themes and undercurrents as Vos and the team, each member perfectly and individually delineated, delve into the dark side of the human psyche.

Little Sister abounds with menace as Hewson transforms the pretty fishing villages of the Waterland into a place of brackish water, a world where herons ‘stood like grey guardians, spear-like beaks at the ready’ and where ‘life teemed beneath the emerald surface and nothing was quite what it seemed.’

Underneath this ‘tamed’ former expanse of ocean is a swirling tide of dark secrets and guilt which prove to be uncomfortably close to home for the Amsterdam police team.

Hewson provides a cast of fascinating suspects and some haunting imagery and motifs as Vos wades through the murk and mud to a thrilling and unexpected denouement.

Crime writing from a master of the genre…

(Macmillan, hardback, £14.99)