Initiation: Amsterdam, ’83 by Daniel Pembrey

I’d like to start off by saying ‘Happy Publication Day’ to Daniel Pembrey for Initiation: Amsterdam, ’83 which is published today by Amazon Publishing. I’m going to tell you more about the book but first, I thought it would be good to hear from Daniel. When his last book, Night Market, featured on my blog, Daniel gave us an introduction to shopping in Amsterdam. This time, he serves up some tasty treats that you can find in the Dutch capital.


Dutch sweet treats for you


Nothing easily compares with Joy Kluver’s scrumptious cookies [of course not, Daniel!] but to mark the occasion of this new Henk van der Pol story, I’ve selected some Dutch treats that may intrigue. A lot of Dutch desserts –  say pannenkoeken (larger thin pancakes)  – are known to us in the UK. So here, I’ve focused on more distinctively local treats, with the help of Mila van Egmond, a wonderful Amsterdam-based photographer who provided the images below:

Oliebollen are spongy and sweet like doughnuts. They are deep-fried, often made with sultanas, and coated with icing sugar. The essence of comfort food, this seasonal temptation is best savoured hot from a street stall alongside champagne / cava / prosecco. Oliebollen are most often consumed in December, especially on New Year’s Eve.

1. Oliebollen_Mila van Egmond
Photo by Mila van Egmond



Poffertjes are eaten year round, but again mostly on fun occasions – at fairs and street parties. They are little fluffy pancakes cooked in special pans. Like oliebollen, poffertjes have a spongy texture and are served with icing sugar, butter and sometimes syrup; they are even more dangerously moreish, so once you start eating them . . .

2. Poffertjes_Mila van Egmond
Photo by Mila van Egmond



Finally, tompouce: cream-filled, squishy and icing-covered like mille-feuille, these sweet delights are nigh impossible to eat elegantly so best not to try. On Koningsdag (King’s Day), the icing is often orange. Dutchies love tompouce. I like it with a cup of strong black koffie but don’t hold back on something stronger still (jenever or a similar spirit), should the mood take you; Van der Pol would approve.

3. Tompouce_Mila van Egmond
Photo by Mila van Egmond


Wow! Those looking amazing. Not sure if it’s good to be looking at them post-Christmas but at least I’m just looking! Thank you Daniel and Mila for sharing these wonderful Dutch treats with us.

But let’s not forget why we’re really here – there’s a book to tell you about. Daniel Pembrey is the absolute master of the novella and his new one is no exception!


The blurb


In autumn 1983, Henk van der Pol is twenty-three years old and just one week out of police training. His dream is to be admitted to the elite detective bureau of Amsterdam’s police force, but he knows he needs to prove himself as a uniformed officer first.

That is, until he is sent to interview witnesses of an audacious kidnapping in the city centre: Alfred Heineken, head of the brewery corporation, has been snatched by shadowy assailants and driven at speed from the scene. Is this really just about a ransom or is there any truth to the rumour that West German terrorists are involved? The case is far beyond van der Pol’s rank but his instincts tell him to do everything in his modest power to solve it—even if it means putting his own life at risk.

From the bestselling author of The Harbour Master, Initiation introduces Daniel Pembrey’s beloved detective as a green young officer at the very start of his career, determined to outwit criminals and his superiors alike, in a first case that could well have been his last.


My review


When you create a character, you have to think about lots of details and age is an important factor. When we first meet Henk van der Pol in The Harbour Master, we’re made aware that Henk is not far off retirement age for the Dutch police force. In Night Market, he’s changed his job a bit but all his experience comes into play for his new role. For the latest instalment, Daniel Pembrey has created a prequel and takes us back to 1983 when Henk first becomes a police officer. Initiation: Amsterdam, ’83 is based on a true crime from that year – the kidnapping of Freddy Heineken, the CEO of the Dutch brewing company. Using careful research, Pembrey has fused fact with fiction very successfully. Henk is a rookie officer who’s sent initially to the scene. He’s side-lined when the seriousness of the incident is revealed but that doesn’t stop Henk searching for the truth and Heineken. In doing so, he meets a young, ambitious journalist – Petra – who’s equally determined to find the truth.

Henk’s age isn’t the only thing that’s different in this novella. Amsterdam in 1983 was very different to how it is now. This comes across well in Pembrey’s descriptions of a city in desperate need of redevelopment and regeneration – ‘The row of houses to my right stood almost in the shadow of the Rijksmuseum. They were grand and solid on the outside, yet dark within – derelict and decaying. Earmarked for redevelopment of some kind. Demolition even.’ Definitely not the shiny Amsterdam we know today.

We meet Henk’s friends and possible enemies and of course, we meet Petra. As it is a novella, the pace is fast and Daniel Pembrey has managed to pack a lot in. It reminds me a lot of Endeavour, the prequel for Inspector Morse, in the way that we seen Henk’s early life, knowing how it’s going to turn out in the future. I do hope that Daniel will write more of the young Henk van der Pol as he is just as fascinating in 1983 as he is in later years.

I’d like to thank Daniel Pembrey for letting me read an advanced copy. You can buy Initiation: Amsterdam, ’83 here.


The author

Daniel Pembrey author photo_new

Daniel Pembrey grew up in Nottinghamshire beside Sherwood Forest. He studied history at Edinburgh University and received an MBA from INSEAD business school in France. Daniel then spent over a decade working in America and more recently Luxembourg, coming to rest in Amsterdam and London — dividing his time now between these two great maritime cities.

He is the author of the Henk van der Pol detective series and several short thriller stories, and he contributes articles to publications including The Financial Times, The Times and The Field. In order to write The Harbour Master, he spent several months living in the docklands area of East Amsterdam, counting De Druif bar as his local.

To receive occasional email updates and offers of free exclusive content, please sign up at Daniel is also on Twitter, @DPemb.



First blog post of 2018 but it’s not about books…

Today is the first day of 2018 that my house is empty and quiet. Youngest child went back to school this morning and I have space to breathe again. Don’t get me wrong, I love having everyone home but we’ve had an incredibly busy Christmas and New Year. I would normally tell you at this point about the books I’ve read over Christmas but I haven’t finished the book I started before the holiday! Although I have also read a snappy, little novella that I’ll tell you more about closer to publication date. But, I did go to the theatre three times in five days so I’m going to tell you about that instead.

Mischief Theatre

First up, for my birthday treat, we went to see the Mischief Theatre Company. You may have seen them on TV last Saturday with A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. If you did, then you know what to expect from them. Except that what we saw was a bit different. It was called Mischief Movie Night and we, the audience, got to decide what the actors would perform. It was improvisation at its very best (much in keeping with Whose Line Is It Anyway?). As an audience, we chose hospital drama for the genre and the title was CPR or Die! What followed was hilarious and very clever. One of the actors was the director and every so often he would freeze the action and pick up on something that was said or done, e.g. one of the characters was called by another as Dr Simon but then someone else referred to him as Dr Simons. “Wait a minute,” said the director, “is he called Dr Simon Simons?” From then on, everyone had the surname Simons. Now, I won’t tell you everything but even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. Each show is different but they’re full of laughter, songs and slapstick. Mischief Movie Night is on at the Arts Theatre until January 27th.

Jack & the Beanstalk

Secondly, it’s not Christmas if you haven’t been to a panto! I grew up going to a pantomime every year (often for my birthday) and as a child, I mostly went to Richmond Theatre. With my children, we’ve swapped between Richmond and Wimbledon and this Christmas, we went to see Jack and the Beanstalk at Wimbledon Theatre with Al Murray and Clive Rowe. I think it’s fair to say that Al Murray and Clive Rowe carry the show as they have the majority of the lines. More could have been made of Fleshcreep, the Giant’s henchman who was admirably played by John Jack. Overall, I found it a bit hard-going at times. I think my 8 year-old hit the nail on the head when he asked me after about the third or fourth scene, “When are we going to get to the story?” Jack and the Beanstalk isn’t the longest pantomime so does require some filler scenes. They were funny but they were also a bit too long and pushed the gags a bit too hard. The humour was directed more at the adults and I was aware of restless children. The 3-D element in the second half was excellent though and most importantly, my family enjoyed it, especially my older two children. Aged 16 and 13, going to the pantomime isn’t always cool. Jack and the Beanstalk is on until January 14th.


As I didn’t know what to get my daughter for Christmas, I booked tickets to see Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre on Tuesday 2nd January. I’ve never been to the Savoy Theatre before and it’s quite strange as you head down three flights of stairs to reach the Stalls. But it’s very elegant inside. The set is simple but that’s a good thing. It allows you to focus on the acting and singing. I only knew a few songs already (all sung by women) so it was good to see some of the numbers done by the men. Standout performances came from Joe Aaron Reid playing Curtis Taylor Jr and Tosh Wanogho-Maud as Jimmy Early. Curtis Taylor Jr is the manager of the Dreams. Joe Aaron Reid may sing like an angel but he plays a devil of a character.  Jimmy Early is a comic/tragic character and Tosh Wanogho-Maud has got the balance just right – he knows when to play for laughs and when to play it straight. He’s also an excellent singer and dancer and I hope that one day, he’ll be the lead in Thriller.

But if you know anything about Dreamgirls, then you know that it’s the women who take centre stage in this musical. Effie White, Deena Jones and Lorell Robinson are the Dreamettes – a girl group full of promise. Meeting Curtis Taylor Jr brings them happiness and disappointment in equal measure. I won’t tell you anymore than that about the storyline. Now, I’ve been to lots of musicals over the years, but the singing at Dreamgirls is out of this world. There are three actresses playing Effie White and I’m fairly certain we saw Moya Angela. Her main song is And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song sung with so much passion before and it brought tears to my eyes. If you love musicals then this is a must-see show. Just wonderful and my daughter was very happy with her present. Booking is available until June 2nd 2018.


Normal book blogging will resume in the next couple of weeks! Happy New Year to you all.