Book Review: The Harbour Master

September 11, 2014 By Meher Fatma 0 Comments

Meher Fatma reviews the Amsterdam-based crime suspense novella, "The Harbour Master," including an interview with the author, Daniel Pembrey.

"The Harbour Master" drops its anchor in the gorgeous canals of Amsterdam and sets ashore a crime suspense drama that unfolds in the dark alleys of the city's red-light district.

It is a quick fix for thrill seekers, virtually of course. I carried my copy on my phone and grabbed my rare moments of free time dwelling on the cynicisms of an eccentric cop and his quest to put tattooed gang lords to justice. Set in Amsterdam, English author Daniel Pembrey's crime suspense novella "The Harbour Master" is a short and crisp treat. Shorter than a full-length novel, it is a good companion for a quick evening read and can come in handy while you wait for your child's activity class to finish, like in my case.

The plot unfolds when the dead body of a young woman is fished out of Amsterdam's old harbour front near Prins Hendrikkade. Henk van der Pol, an aging cop who is contemplating his retirement, is quick to realize that he may be the only one looking for the woman's murderer. Working through the odds, Henk puts up a bold fight against tattooed pimps, corrupt politicians and higher-ranking officers who can't be bothered with the case. Within its pages, Pembrey's lifelike character sketch of this middle-aged cop with natural flaws helps the reader get emotionally invested in his pursuit for justice amidst a power game and political drama. After all, he lives in a houseboat, has a teenage daughter who is busy finding her own foothold in the city, and a wife who wouldn't agree on a bike trip to Denmark.

The beautiful arch bridges and the famous rustic canals do not find a glorious mention in "The Harbour Master." What makes most of Pembrey's vivid description of this city is its infamous red-light district - tacky sex shops, neon-lit windows, and young Eastern European sex workers in fluorescent bikinis.

Pembrey's novella won't have you dawdle on the characters until the 400th page and be fatigued by the end of it all. It holds the middle ground. While the plot steers further from the compact punch of a short story, it lends an air of anticipation and slowly unfolds the mystery with a surprise twist in the tale, just in time to wrap it all up within its 60th page.

When Pembrey decided to pen his second crime suspense thriller, he says it was the lack of crime mysteries based in Amsterdam that drew him to this city. "I was surprised to find so little crime fiction based in Holland, especially when compared to the Scandinavian countries. Amsterdam struck me as a location that lent itself very well to the genre."

Daniel Pembrey and his niece, Saffron"I’ve always loved stories that grow organically from their settings. My sister moved to Amsterdam with her husband and now she is a proud Amsterdam Mama! I visited her often to see Saffron, my niece." When it came to writing "The Harbour Master," Pembrey spent several months living in Entrepotdock in the docklands, "trying to catch the local ‘voice’ in bars and cafes – not to mention standing beside the harbour at dawn!"

And in late 2012, research for a newspaper article about sex trafficking took him on an undercover operation into the Amsterdam red-light district with the Dutch National Police Agency. "That experience gave me the inspiration for the character and story that became The Harbour Master," he says.

Currently working on a sequel to "The Harbour Master," Pembrey's next outing with Henk will bring on some bling with a lethal combination of diamonds and drugs. The story will be based in Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Brussels. "I want to explore Holland's place in Europe (and the rest of the world). The story involves diamonds, drugs and other high-value merchandise flowing through these major hubs, Amsterdam included — plus the power, crime, and corruption that goes with," says Pembrey.

More information about Daniel Pembrey is available at danielpembrey.com.

Buy The Harbour Master at Amazon.co.uk


Disclaimer: Amsterdam Mamas received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


 Meher Fatma is a first-time mommy to an adorable and strong-willed little girl. Currently on a career break from journalism, she now writes in her free time when she's not negotiating a compromise with her toddler or watching crime thrillers post-midnight.

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