Book review: The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt

The_reunion-as222 The Reunion
By Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Michele Hutchinson (Harper Collins)

Sabine works in an office in Amsterdam as an administrator for a bank. She’s recently had to take some time off work while suffering from depression; while she’s been away her colleague and friend Janine has left the company and the two young women’s’ role has been usurped by newcomer Renee, who is adept at office politics and who wraps Walter, the boss, round her little finger. Her nose out of joint, having to work at a desk in the corner and constantly being criticised for making mistakes, Sabine is at her wits' end. (This part of the novel reminds me of The Exception by Christian Jungersen.)

When she was 14 and living in a small seaside town, a schoolfriend of Sabine’s, Isabel, disappeared in the woods or dunes, and was never found despite a national police hunt and media campaign. Sabine cannot remember much about these events, despite having been Isabel’s best friend at primary school but victimised by her in high school. She has learnt from the psychologist who treated her depression that repressed memories could be at the root of her condition, so makes frequent trips to her dull home town to try to remember what happened on the day that Isobel cycled away, never to be seen again. Sabine experiences flashes of recovered memory, perhaps enabled by the fact that a reunion of old pupils is being arranged at the school.

Sabine makes contact with Janine again, and her life at the office seems to be becoming slightly easier when Olaf, the handsome IT support man, takes an interest in her and asks her out. Although Sabine and Olaf did not know each other when young, they both attended the same school, Olaf being in the same year as Sabine’s beloved older brother Robin. Olaf’s unstable behaviour becomes increasingly suspicious to Sabine, so she determines that she will investigate Isabel’s disappearance herself, in the hope that she will be able to remember what she believes she is blocking out. As she goes to visit the old school caretaker, the local police inspector and the parents of her own schoolfriends, she becomes more convinced that she knows who is responsible for Isabel’s disappearance. Yet why should Robin, who now lives in England but who returns to Amsterdam for a short visit, seem worried at Sabine’s actions? And why did Bart, Sabine’s first love, behave as he did when the two were at school?

Simone van der Vlugt has written an excellent suspense thriller, not only providing lots of clues, red herrings and interesting sidelines, but also showing great psychological insight as to what it is like to be a 14-year-old girl being alternatively bullied and ostracised by others at school, and what it is like to be an insecure 23-year old being victimised by work colleagues with their petty yet hurtful behaviour. I particularly like the way in which the same events (for example Renee's behaviour and actions) seem very different when viewed through the eyes of different characters.

Although when one obvious suspect is eliminated near the end of the book the outcome is relatively obvious, I was not sure which of two solutions was going to be the right one up until the final revelation. There are quite a few threads left unresolved, for example the old caretaker’s names for his cats, yet this psychological suspense thriller is both extremely readable (thanks to an excellent translation) and a satisfying mystery.

Read another review of this book at It's A Crime!

Read another review of this book at DJs Krimiblog.

And another review at Crime Scraps.

The Reunion at the publisher's website.

Author website.

13 thoughts on “Book review: The Reunion by Simone van der Vlugt

  1. Maxine – Thanks very much for this terrific review. I think you’ve hit on the best points about this novel; I particularly agree with your point about the interesting insights we gain when we see the same beahvior through different eyes.

  2. A fine and thorough review as always. I like especially that we agree on so many points, e.g. the similarities with Jungersen´s book 😉
    NB: thank you for linking to my review.

  3. I also really enjoyed this book especially the suspense, the accounts of the office politics, and the traumas of bullying at school. Some jobs where you are constantly being tested and have to meet standards, usually set by people who can’t do the job themselves, make you feel you are back at school.
    It was one of my Dartmoor Dozen in the psychological mystery category.

  4. Thanks Margot and Dorte for your nice comments! And thanks also Norman – I am very sorry that I omitted (accidentally) to refer to your review in my post, I have now rectivied my inadvertent omission. Nice that you added a picture of the author to your post 😉

  5. I already had this on my wishlist thanks to Dorte’s review and now it has moved up to the top of the list. How long can I restrain my fingers from heading over to book depository is the question.

  6. Thanks, Maxine. I apologise for not putting a photo of the translator in my N for Nemesis and Nesbo post. ;o)

  7. This sounds wonderful, Maxine. But by god, the tag line — A forgotten past, a terrifying secret — is awful. It would make me NOT want to pick this book up if I saw it in a shop. Why do publishers insist on putting this marketing drivel on their books?

  8. Kim – agree totally. I asked for this book for Christmas on the basis of having read reviews of it – so did not actually see it before owning it. If I had seen it in a bookshop, I’d have inwardly groaned. I hate these tag lines, usually, as they seem to sensationalise even quite good books, on the whole.
    Dorte and Margot- thanks for the awards!

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  10. My 2010 edition has a slightly better tagline: “When the past comes calling, where will you run?” Slightly…

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