Fictional characters are good people to know. They’re like our friends, share many of our milestones in life – those we meet at school, those in classic novels, the first person we admire and want to be, the person who teaches us about life and those that give us a sense of adventure…
Here we’ve chosen four characters as represented on book covers. Fictional friends and people we admire and want to spend time with for various reasons..
A Childhood friend – Moon Face from Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Wood series
The stories take place in an enchanted forest in which there is the most magical of trees called the ‘Faraway Tree’.It’s very tall and the top of it disappears into the clouds. Many characters live in the cave like dwellings that are carved into its trunk. When Jo, Bessie and Fanny move into a house nearby and meet Moonface, one of the characters in the novel, I wanted to be his friend and have adventures in the Faraway Tree. He has rounded furniture and a magic slide that goes all the way to the bottom of the tree. How I wanted to go on that slide!
A friend to introduce you to a new world of intrigue -Nella from The Miniaturist – Set in Amsterdam
The Miniaturist was the hit book of 2014 and deservedly so as this novel, set in Amsterdam 1686 had such an amazing premise of a miniaturist who predicted events in the small objects she created, was an immediate draw. Nella is portrayed on the front cover which I just really wanted to climb inside and explore along with the others in the story. But it was Nella and her journey I wanted to go on – despite the difficulties and heartbreak she suffers as it was her spirit and personality I liked and I wanted to befriend her pet Peebo as well if I’m honest. Put Marin in her place as well perhaps. And furnish that exquisite dollshouse! A world to disappear inside – rather like that in the novel itself.
Tough friend you need when in trouble – Vera from Ann Cleeves crime fiction novels set in Northumberland
Vera doesn’t take any prisoners – well she does in her job since she’s a very effective police Detective, but in her coarse comments and witty but gritty asides, you know where you stand.
This is the kind of person I would love to meet for she would be loyal yet honest, brutally so perhaps but you know you can always depend on her and she always gets the job done. She might rub you up the wrong way, like the creases in her raincoat, but you know what you are getting from Vera. No nonsense results and a loyalty that you will never forget.
A friend to go travelling with – Passepartout from Around the World in 80 Days
Passepartout was my inspiration for everything – from booktrailing to learning languages, this guy has been my lifelong travelling companion. As I followed him and his ideas around the world and even studied French to be more like him. What started as a childhood adventure has taken me to so many places and languages via books and for real and for that I can consider him a friend in a million who I would love to meet for real and shake his hand. He represents travel, adventure, the sense of never giving up and solving problems for his friend Phileas Fogg and I would love to go travelling with him.
Today I am standing in a marbled hallway, paintbrush in hand, floppy artists hat on my head as I wait to meet Kim Devereux, author of the new and amazing novel about Rembrandt and the women in his life. I’ve been instructed by a man in a cape to stand very very still, hold this bowl of oranges in one hand and a paintbrush in the other whilst looking into an ornate mirror hanging on the wall. It will allow me to see inside the world of Rembrandt I am told. I’d rather just meet Kim, I reply. He laughs, disappears with a flourish of cape and paint splatters but not before leaving this behind –
As I marvel at the food, a curtain swishes before me and parts theatrically. Then the faint noise of a trumpet and I am invited to enter Rembrandt’s rooms to meet Kim –
Hi Kim – It’s so nice to meet you! Thank you for giving us an insight into the world of Rembrandt. How did you research your novel?
I’ve been fascinated by Rembrandt’s works and life since my twenties. I studied his art as part of my history of art degree and then also while working in television. I researched a documentary proposal about Rembrandt. This is how I met experts, such as Ernst van de Wetering the chair of the Rembrandt Research Project and archivist and historian Bas Dudok van Heel. I was struck by how everyone seemed to have a slightly different take on Geertje Dircx’s character. She was his house keeper and dry nurse to his son Titus. Most seemed to blame her in some way. I also empathized with her but perhaps in the end I too became so enamored with Rembrandt that I too did not portray her very sympathetically. It is interesting to think what the story would be like if told from her perspective.
As regards Rembrandt I was particularly influenced by Ernst van de Wetering. He had studied Rembrandt’s works, for over thirty years. He told me to be careful and not perpetuate the many false myths that abound about Rembrandt, for example that he was no longer famous or highly regarded when he died. Rembrandt, for example, still received a visit from royalty, Prince Cosimo, a few years before his death. Perhaps movingly of all, the South German art-lover Bucelinus commented on the fifty-eight-year-old Rembrandt with the words ‘The miracle of our Age.’ He did so in his list of ‘The Names of the Most Distinguished European Painters’. Rembrandt’s was the only name out of 166 to attract such a tribute.
Ernst also influenced me with his emphasis, as he put it ‘you must be cold and methodical’, in other words not to romanticize things. However, a few sentences later he said, ‘What a blessing, each time I see one of his works.’ I have tried not to write anything in contradiction of the fact but perhaps I have added emotion. My own sense is that the purpose of a historical novel is not just an entertaining way of re-iterating facts but to also explore a human question and in order to do so one has to imbue each and every character with life.
Another very important source is a book called ‘The Rembrandt Documents’. It list the hundreds of documents associated with Rembrandt’s life, legal documents and the list of his possessions for example.
I read of course widely about Rembrandt and about his time. I visited Amsterdam several times and I went to see the paintings themselves, forming my own opinions about them.
They inspired the novel just as much as the historical facts. I also read a lot about Samuel van Hoogstraten, especially a book by Thijs Westerstein called The Visible World.
What did you find out about Rembrandt that shocked you? Surprised you?
I was shocked that he had Geertje, his housekeeper locked up in the equivalent of a lunatic asylum. I was even more shocked to find out the lengths to which he’d gone to keep her there. Although it has to be said that there was a process involving witnesses that one had to go through to have a person confined to a Spin Huis. However, it is impossible to say if the witnesses were swayed by Geertje’s brother. What surprised me was the sheer volume of legal documents, disputes, financial complications. Rembrandt was still mired in legal wrangles for years after his bankruptcy trying to ‘rescue’ Titus’ inheritance. It must have been quite debilitating. What surprised me the most though, and what fuelled the writing of the novel is his late works. They communicate, even exhude emotions of love and forgiveness. I could not understand how after going through so much he could create not only masterpieces but images that, I feel, can only have been created with a mind and heart that was open, present and deeply aware of what matters in life. The novel was my way of understanding how he got to this point.
You cleverly tell the story via the paintings and so both the story and history of Rembrant’s world comes to life. Do you have a favourite Rembrandt painting. What is it about it that you like and admire?
I have three favourites: The Kennwood self portrait (Kennwood House, Hampstead Heath), Isaak and Rebecca and Woman Bathing in a Stream.
I will tell you about Woman Bathing in a Stream. We do not know for certain but I believe it depicts Hendrickje. Love the way the brushwork is so free and bold, but what I like the most is how she is depicted. When Rembrandt depicts women they are never objectified. I would go as far to say they are always first and foremost a human being, whose emotions are available to us in a way that compels us to empathize.
It’s as if he does not look at her but he is with her. If a man were to look at me, that’s how I would want to be regarded. That is not to say that it is not a sensual portrait too. It is, look at the way the water laps at her ankles or how her body is revealed and yet hidden by the simple shift she is wearing. Her beauty is seen but at the same time she is free to be perfectly herself. I cannot think of many examples of photography of women or indeed portraits of women that navigate this balance between the human being and her allure as a woman so perfectly. So perfectly in fact that you find her beautiful for who she is (not everyone finds her beautiful, but I do). The other thing is that the women Rembrandt painted are not free from blemishes. They have garter marks on their legs, creases, bellies (which were a sign of beauty.) In short they were real women. How different would our world and life be as women if everyone depicted women the way Rembrandt did?
What do you admire most or dislike most about Geertje and Hendrickje. It must have been so difficult to have been a woman in those times?
Well, perhaps in some ways it was easier, (see question 4). I admire enormously the way Geertje stood up for her rights despite not being able to write. We know much less about Hendrickje, so I am answering this question about the character in the book. I admire the fact that she dares to love him despite the risk and that she has a curiosity that just will not be stifled. I like the way she goes from a guilt ridden Calvinist mentality to embracing her sexuality and refusing to subdue her senses. One theme of the book is about how attitudes to sex, women and love have been shaped by church doctrine, teachings and upbringing. I think it must have been very difficult for women in those times to embrace their sexuality in a positive and guilt free way. Even today it can be difficult.
Do you think Rembrandt was misunderstood?
Yes and no. Perhaps his greatness was not as widely recognized as it deserved, towards the end of his life. This was due to the fact that fashion changed and many preferred a finer, more detailed style of painting. But not all, he still received commissions and sold works. What I admire about him the most is that, I don’t think, he ever compromised as an artist, nor was he swayed by convention. I sometimes get the impression he did not even notice the conventions. This perhaps may have led to some misunderstandings and contemporaries being affronted by his art or behaviour. One example is the vast work of The conspiracy of Claudius Civilis. I was rejected, perhaps a bridge to far. It is so bold and extraordinary almost modern.
At the same time I think he was actually given quite a lot of slack, considering his financial shenanigans which bordered on fraud. Others would have had to leave town. There is, by the way, an interesting theory advanced by Paul Crenshaw that Rembrandt went to England for a year.
And with a flick of the paintbrush she is gone. Kim Devereux has shown me a world of art, of Rembrandt and of the world he lived in with several strokes of the pen and a flash of inspiration. Have you ever seen the worlds of art and literature mix quite like this?
Rembrandt’s Mirror explores the three women of Rembrandt’s life, and the towering passions of the artist, seen through the eyes of his last, great love, Hendrickje.
Rembrandt was a man of pained passion, obsessive love for his art and a confused and tortured soul. If you want to know the man’s story then you have to look at his paintings for they are his mirror The chapters named after titles of his painting show how he came to paint them and see his story unfold…
Some of the paintings and characters in the novel revealed by his paintings..
The Jewish Bride(c1665–1669), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Also known as Isaak and Rebecca
What a way to see the world through Rembrandt’s eyes, not only the city of Amsterdam and the lives of the women he loved and lost, but also via his world of art and painting. Each chapter reveals a new layer of paint, a new angle of the world that we think we know from Rembrandt’s paintings but in reality there was a lot more hiding underneath each layer and each brushstroke.
Turns out each painting was done to show a part of his life – a snapshot of life before cameras were even invented. Who are the people in his paintings,what is the meaning of certain objects in paintings and who was the man they called Rembrandt?
Kim Devereux paints quite the picture – transports you to a time and place and puts you right at the spyhole in the house so you can see everything going on as if you were there for real.
What a world to witness via paintings and fiction mixed into a single tantalising palette of colour and richness
The story of the man behind some of the most famous paintings in the world from the women who knew him the best.
Story in a nutshell
Rembrandt’s wife is dying and her final days continue to haunt the artist long after her death. Geertje is his housekeeper and ultimately secret keeper for there are many secrets in that house and within the man himself that no-one not even those closest to him can break.
For when Hendrickje, a girl from a strict Calvinist family comes to work there, she sees the sexual relationship develop between Rembrandt and Geertje. Shocked and excited by what she sees, she is drawn to the man herself and soon she will discover if her involvement with him will be her downfall or her salvation.
Place and setting
Rembrandt’s Amsterdam is one of hardship and debt. He sees his first wife Saskia die and then is tormented by his relationship with Geertje. Her story is a hard one and his treatment of her forces her from her home and her life with him. Troubled, she sums up her knowledge of Rembrandt-
…It;s not always easy to make sense of his majesty”
The man himself is veneered in many Amsterdam circles– this man in the shabby tabbard and paint on his clothes –
There was nothing about his appearance or his demenaour that suggested he was a master
But then there is Hendrickje, a girl from the provinces who finds that ‘ the whole of Amsterdam was like Rembrandt’s workshop, with all the workers dedicated to making it run smoothly. And I too was a mere cog in the giant mechanism….”
Geertje on the other hand tries to warn Hendrickje of her master. She is said to be the subject of the painting Woman in a bed currently in the Scottish national gallery
Rembrandt comes to life of the page and you can smell the paint of the workshop, feel it on your hands as you turn the page, the sweat and toil of his work, the pain of his suffering when Saskia passes away and the threat of the plague.
This is also a very visual and sensual novel – you can smell both the canals and the tulips in the city, both revealing their secrets, the earthy perfumes pervading every word,…
The owners would have to keep a watchful eye on their pricey flowers for they were a thief’s favourite (Winter painting)
What kind of life did these women have in Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, his house and ultimately his bed?
Rembrandt has painted his city in all its colours and this is the literary version of that artwork.
Bookish musings – Susan
Oh the writing is like the sweeping brush strokes of an artist who paints with words. When I read that the author is an award-winning short-film director and producer of documentaries, then you can definitely see this in the writing an the cinematic feel of the novel.
Like many people I admit to knowing little of the man himself but by weaving fact and fiction together I could visualise everything about his life and the women he loved. The man behind the mirror – whose painting reflect everything he saw felt and imagined, telling his story via the paintings and showing how he came to paint them and know the people in his life, who them became his subjects– is a very unique way of allowing us to meet the real Rembrandt.
His world is one of debauchery, debt and hard living but also one of art and all that his paintings entail. He teaches whilst feeling tortured at home. I was in Saskia’s shoes, and then Geertje’s and then finally Hendrickje’s and it was like walking through one painting to another and seeing behind them, inside their world, seeing what Rembrandt must have seen.
Fascinating and a remarkable read. So evocative of time and place but also another world. Luckily evoked in paintings around the world and now in this novel.
Fancy a piece of Amsterdam Noir? Daniel Pembrey is your guide to the dark places of the city
Story in a nutshell
Cop Henk van der Pol is an experienced and dedicated police office but with recent changes at work, he’s seriously contemplating retirement. But when a woman’s body is dragged from the harbour, he can’t help but get involved and when he suspects foul play, he wants more than ever to solve the crime.
Trouble is he feels sidelined at work as his bosses seem hell bent on picking cases to work on which will suit and further the city’s political agenda and this one womandoes not fit in with that.
Henk carries on with the case but some evidence seems to be going missing, something is wrong, and is his family safe if he goes too far?
Place and setting
What do you think of when you think of Amsterdam? The canals? Narrow alleyways? The Red Light District?
In Daniel Pembrey’s Amsterdam, the canals reveal floating bodies, the alleyways hide people you really don’t want to meet in real life and as for the Red Light District, this is not the side the tourists see in the windows…..
Henk van de Pol, an ageing cop, loves Amsterdam and its mysterious canals. He even lives on a houseboat as it reminds him of his ancestors who were fisherman and also of the port workers and others who work on the canal side and down by the docks, day in, day out.
The canals are akin to Dutch veins – whose sea faring ways are in their blood-
We Dutch remain at heart a seafaring people: a small but proud collective who once traded with the farthest reaches of the globe…
So, Hank delves into a case which starts in their murky depths and which ends up in a much darker place. The murky world of power and politics await – like the canals, Henk realises that the murky swirls can either bring you down or you can fight the current and swim against the tide..
The world of human trafficking and the plight of the young women who fall prey to greedy and self serving men isbrought out from the shadows. There are many layers explored of this problem which affect every level of society to the highest to the lowest and everything in between.
Welcome to the murky side to Amsterdam
Booktrail review – Susan
A cracking start to the trilogy anda great guide to the city, culture and history of Amsterdam. Maybe not the kind of tour that the tourist centre would have on offer but it evokes and immerses you in every street, where you can smell the waffles in the air and hear the canal water lapping at your feet.
This isa dark Amsterdam with a great hero in Henk Van der Pol. I enjoyed getting to know him – and getting to know him is exactly what I mean, in the way we meet him on his houseboat, in his favourite pub, as if you were there in person.
A very vivid and immersive novel where Amsterdam itself plays a leading role. A great story too which rattles on at a fine pace, with enough thrills and spills to knock you off course. And atthe length of a novella, this is no mean feat.
I’ve read all three now and it is best to start with this one. When there is a line ‘The low flatness of Holland could make a man mad’ near the end though, you just know part two is going to be good.
With the Britcrime festival now only two days away, we meet another author on the ‘Quick Brit tour’ as we’re calling it and introducing you to crime writer who sets his novel The Harbour Master in the grim and grimy canals of Amsterdam. Talk about atmospheric and evocative!
So what’s it all about? –
The Harbour Master Trail
The Harbour Master is a Dutch detective series featuring maverick cop Henk van der Pol. It grew out of author Daniel Pembrey’s search for crime fiction set in Holland (in English translation) while visiting a close sister living there. Compared to neighbouring Scandinavia, Holland has produced relatively little crime fiction – which is surprising, given how suitably atmospheric its locations are!
All of Book 1is set in Amsterdam. Henk is thinking about retirement there when he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Harbour. His detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his case. But his bigger challenge is deciding who his friends are – not to mention a vicious street pimp who is threatening Henk’s own family …
Book 2starts in Rotterdam, and moves to Brussels and Antwerp as Henk investigates a maze-like set of cases involving diamonds, fine art, drugs and high-class prostitution. What connects the cases, and what risks must Henk run to uncover the criminals? Impeding him is his rival and boss Joost, who has an equal but quite separate interest in the investigation’s outcome …
The finale starts in Brussels, before traveling to Oslo, The Hague, Amsterdam, Noordwijk and Leiden. A powerful Dutch politician is hijacked, bearing parallels with the 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. Henk, who worked on the Heineken case at the start of his career, is now operating outside of the official investigation.
Henk becomes imprisoned himself in Leiden, and, with rival cop Joost emerging as the winner, Henk must navigate dark currents at the highest level of Dutch society.
Daniel Pembrey will discuss the Harbour Master series on July 12th, at the BritCrime online festival hosted by Helen Smith. Alongside him will be the acclaimed authors Quentin Bates, MJ McGrath and KT Media. For more information about this exciting event, please visit www.britcime.com.
The return to Amsterdam to meet up again with Inspector Jaap Rykel and the city that has more secrets than canals…
Story in a nutshell
A body is found minus its head. Both hands have been blowtorched.
Enter Inspector Jaap Rykel who is quick to realise that this is nothing like he has ever investigated before. Unusual and overly violent– just who is this man?
A question all the more urgent and personal when Rykel finds photos of himself on the dead man’s phone. Some madman seems to know where he lives and who he is. How did the victim have these messages about him?
The phone rings. It’s the killer with another message….
Place and setting
Amsterdam is once again awash with criminals and strange goings on but to best understand the dynamics of the police force in charge of these crimes, we advise you read the first book in the series After the Silence as it does introduce the playing field, characters and the city of Amsterdam in its leading role.
Inspector Rykel lives on a houseboat on an Amsterdam canal. Something unusual perhaps but then again this is Amsterdam. What is unusual is that this one has appeared in phone messages and pictures on a murder victims phone.
A homeless woman falls to her death in front of a train and it seemsthat she was pushed – What’s more, the man in the grainy CCTV footage appears to be wearing a police jacket.
The Amsterdam police
Struggling with personal and professional relationships the insides of the police station reads like a who’s who of Amsterdam bad guys or bent coppers trying to beat each other to a promotion. This is no ordinary police team and the dynamics can be tricky at first.
The international Court of Human Rights
Rykel used to be in a relationship with Saskia, a lawyer and she is now involved in the prosecution of war criminals at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. One of these names is a well known Bosnian Serb leader by the name ofZamir Isovic. And so when Zamir escapes, more than hell breaks loose. This is a dangerous world they live in.
The rest of Amsterdam – nice….
As well as the gritty side of the city and its outskirts, we are also introduced to its more well known and pleasant locales. Take the Van Gogh museum for example and the many canals noted for their atmospheric walks. And the Anne Frank House is mentioned
But the overriding sense of this city here is one that most tourists don’t see – the drugs scene and not just the dodgy coffee shop culture but the more gritty and raw drugs trade such as the cannabis farm the police find out at Nieue West, an immigrant area west of the city. Or the trade of something else entirely at the glass fronted houses in the city centre’s red light district.
Amsterdam reveals itself in layers here, one dirty, regretful layer at a time. Amsterdam apparently also has the dubious honour of being Western Europe’s murder capital….
Amsterdam and the Netherlands may well already be on your literary map but what better day than King’s Day to celebrate the great literature that sets the scene quite literally of the wonderful sights, sounds and cultural insights of that wonderful country?
This is our literary path –
The Anatomy Lesson
The rich detail in this novel coupled with the historical fact bring 17th century Amsterdam to life – re imagining the life of rembrandt’s first major painting and this makes for a thrilling journey back in time to a significant time in Dutch history!
The life and times of Adrien Adrianenzoon, the cadaver in the painting – Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulpcan and should be seen in The Mauritshuis museum
The compelling story of classic Dutch actor Pierre de Vries and a richly detailed portrait of modern Amsterdam.
This book takes you not only around Amsterdam but around the theatres, then backstage so you can smell the greasepaint and feel the heat of the lights on your face. WE picked out our favourite theatre of them all in Amsterdam which is a definite must see your next time in the city.
What an amazing premise for a book! A miniaturist!! If you have ever seen an antique dolls house in a museum like Petronella’s house in the Rijksmuseum and wondered about the story behind it then this is the book for you! The real dolls house actually exists -look and wonder of the story behind it. And if you ever receive a small parcel through the post ….
And if its the idea of a dolls house in the Rijksmuseum that you’re after, why not try an even darker take on the mysteries of Amsterdam guided by the able and knowledgeable guide of Mr David Hewson –
If it’s location you’re looking for then this book has got it in bucket loads as this is a great read to bring the city of Amsterdam to life – not just the streets but the ambience, the dark corners, the bridges over the fog covered canals..
So many more books set there so if you can’t get there yourself, just pop down to your library or bookshop, dressed in orange of course to celebrate the city’s colour code of celebration and have a literary party Netherlands style…
A character by the name ofPieter Posthumus works to provide identities and backgrounds to unknown corpses found in Amsterdam
Story in a nutshell
The Lonely Funerals team is responsible to make sure all those that die lonely do not die alone
and without an identity of their own do not go on their final journey anonymously. Pieter Posthumus takes his job very seriously and so when a young Moroccan is found dead, case closed, he is keen to find out who this person really was. Was it really suicide as the police are insisting? Or was it something else. Turns out that the Secret Police were also investigating Moroccan nationals about terrorism offenses. Just what is Pieter getting himself into?
Place and setting
Amsterdam may be the city of canals and charming bicycle rides but this is a side of the city that really delves into the underbelly– we visit the red light district, the immigrant areas, the possibility of a terror plot bubbling under the surface and some dark dealings down on the dank canal sides.
Strong currents push down a wide waterway, thrust up a narrower one, circle back along another,sending the young man jerking and threshing through the canals, limbs flailing in a manic underwater dance.
The canals take on a much darker tone when the immigrants body washes up in the Prinsengracht canal for example. As do the coffee shops and residential and industrial parts of the city that on a normal visit to the city you would probably never visit.
The most fascinating discovery is of course the Lonely Funerals team– which the author mentions in a note that it is in fact true. What a poignant and yet very sad fact that someone would die so anonymously in this interconnected world we live in. Fascinating to learn about the people who do this job though.
..the centuries old obligation on the Burgermeester to take responsibility for unclaimed corpses within the city limits. these days, that mostly meant tramps and junkies, lonely old men and women, people rejected by their families, the odd tourist who dropped dead in the street or one of the window-girls with false papers.
How sad that people should die alone and have no one to claim them. No matter who they are and how they came to die.
I found this fascinating that this is a real group of people who work in this way –
The story is dark and some of the issues regarding immigration and the way people die in the city, the sex trade and all that is associated with it are difficult subjects yes, but this was a completely new view and insight into the issues. Terrorism is also a difficult subject to tackle but this provided some of the most visceral and informative parts of the novel. A dark dark world that’s for sure.
But this is the first in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see it develop further…..