To die alone. No one to care if you’re gone – or not – is a dismal prospect. Sadly though, many do pass away unnoticed. This is what Pieter Posthumus (of Amsterdam’s Department of Emergencies and Internment) job description is all about. He is one of a small ‘funeral’ team who visit the homes of the deceased to determine whether or not they have any family that can be contacted, any savings in the bank to pay for their funeral – and if none of either is forthcoming – then he gathers what clues he can from their possessions to give them a modest but personal sendoff to the next life. He attends to their ‘lonely graves‘. He lives alone. His family – what little he has left – are estranged and he is not very close to his co-workers. He does have a lady in his life, an ex who is now more friend than lover. He has recently become reacquainted with his niece, much to his pleasure. His unfortunate name – given his profession – along with his penchant for being a ‘snappy dresser’ has made him the butt of many jokes.
Like many multicultural European cities, Amsterdam has a large immigrant community. Many immigrants have been there for more than one generation and consider themselves to be more Dutch than whatever their first nationality was… Such is the case of businessmen Mohammed Tahiri. He is an upstanding member of the community, a family man, a Muslim. His son and daughter bring him great joy and pride. Only lately his son has become distant and rebellious which causes Mohammed to worry…
And, like in any large multicultural city in this post 911 world, there is the constant threat of terrorism. Where there is a perceived threat, there are also those who job it is to thwart the threat, and prevent the terrorists from endangering the citizenry.
This novel has parallel story lines. The story of Pieter Posthumus and his work. Mohammed’s story about the Muslim immigrant community in Amsterdam, overlapping with the story of the radically militant and rebellious youth who permeate society in recent years, and, the story of the sometimes ruthless endeavors of those who fight terrorism for a living.
When Pieter Posthumus is called out to visit the apartment of a drowning victim, who just happens to be a young Moroccan Muslim, he finds that he cannot accept the verdict of suicide. His investigations into this young man’s death causes him to be caught up in a terror plot, putting himself and those he cares for in danger.
Because it has a setting in the Netherlands, many of the place names and personal names can be confusing for a reader such as myself who finds them extremely unfamiliar. It was another of those books that held my interest, but I was all the while wishing it were a movie instead of a novel so that I could have visual clues to help me keep the characters identities in my mind. Trust me, this is an Amsterdam that they don’t feature in the tourist brochures…
The novel, translated from the Dutch, was well written and I am happy to have read it. A character driven novel, “Lonely Graves” is the first book in a proposed trilogy featuring Pieter Posthumus. I enjoyed his character enough that I would like to read more by Britta Bolt – with the proviso that the secondary story line in future novels are not quite so convoluted as the ones in “Lonely Graves”.
Note: Britta Bolt is the pen name for author Rodney Bolt and lawyer Britta Böhler.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of the novel.