SinC25: Simone van der Vlugt, #9 post of expert challenge

Having completed the Sisters in Crime book bloggers’ moderate challenge, I am now working hard on the expert level and believe the end is almost in sight! The challenge:

write ten blog posts about works of crime fiction by women authors. For each, mention three similar women authors whose works you would recommend.

Reading Rich Westwood‘s recent Euro Crime review of Shadow Sister reminded me of the Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt, whose two novels that have been translated into English are both very enjoyable, in a dark, suspenseful way. Shadow Sister (translated by Michele Hutchinson, my review at link) is about twins, one a schoolteacher and the other a photographer. Their different attitudes to materialism, men and the job market first strike one about these young women, but gradually we come to see how their past life when children has affected them. One of the nice things about this book is the unreliable perception of reality, depending on which twin is narrating the story.

The Reunion is the other book by this author that has been translated (again by Michele Hutchinson) and published in English. Again, there is an unreliable, possibly unstable, narrator, Sabine, recently returned to work after a bout of depression. Gradually, we come to learn more about Sabine’s life and past, and it is not pleasant.

Rich’s Euro Crime review of Shadow Sister touched upon the ordinary lives of the characters. He writes: “Its setting in suburban Rotterdam may as well be suburban Slough, and its Further Education college, shopping mall, and nightclubs could be situated in Leicester, Hull or Stoke. The characters are teachers, photographers, software engineers and teenagers, all people that you might find in your local town centre next Saturday lunchtime.” This made me wonder, in the context of this challenge, what other books by women authors use the ordinariness of setting to cover up distinctly non-ordinary secrets, secrets that gradually are revealed? I have to think of three such authors….

Jessica Mann‘s The Mystery Writer is in one respect about an ordinary character (“Jessica Mann”) who is in Cornwall researching a book about a (true-life) disaster of World War 2 – the sinking of the ship City of Bernares as it was carrying evacuees from the UK to Canada. She witnesses the attempted suicide of a woman, which is the start of the gradual revealing of many family secrets and previously hidden crimes, in a very clever set of plots.

Esther Verhoef, another Dutch author, tells the story of Margot Laine in her novel Close-Up. Margot is an ordinary salesperson who has to cope with being dumped by her husband after seven years of marriage, including being looked down on by her own parents and being stood up by a girlfriend when she attempts to take a holiday to cheer herself up. Soon, the insecure Margot is being wooed by a very handsome man, a celebrity artist — but what does he see in her, and what happened to his first wife? Margot is increasingly sucked into a maelstrom that is very far from ordinary.

School is a place that is much the same the world over, one might think. In Yaba Badoe‘s debut novel True Murder, young Ajuba is trying to get over her mother’s death. She lived in Ghana but has been placed by her father in an English school in an attempt to provide her with a “normal” life. There, Ajuba is befriended by Polly Venus and hence gets to meet the Venus family in the school holidays. Another situation that becomes distinctly abnormal as the pages turn!

My previous posts in the SinC25 challenge.

The Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary challenge.

8 thoughts on “SinC25: Simone van der Vlugt, #9 post of expert challenge

  1. I haven’t read much Dutch crime fiction and none of the authors you mention here. I’m not sure what to expect. Nice that an author is setting her books in Rotterdam rather than the capital city.

    • Shadow Sister is a neat little suspense novel, Sarah. I highly recommend it – it is good on Rotterdam and the immigrant communities there. I also very much enjoyed her previous one, The Reunion which has more of an office politics/paranoia theme to it – ends up being more rural-set although parts are in Amsterdam.

  2. Maxine – You’ve made an excellent choice this time. I liked The Reunion very much. van der Vlugt does a very effective job in my opinion of giving the reader a kind of shifting picture of what’s really happening in the story and you’re right; the office politics aspect of the novel is almost creepy…

  3. Thanks for this excellent post, Maxine, as you steam on through the last stages of this challenge. I haven’t read much Dutch fiction, let alone crime fiction, so the recommendation of van der Vlugt is very welcome (as indeed are the other interesting texts you mention). In return, I can recommend The Assault by the famous Dutch author Harry Mulisch (though oh dear not by female author or conventional crime – very good nonetheless!)

  4. Thanks, Margot and Mrs P – and thanks for recommending Mulisch, Mrs P – have not heard of him so will definitely check him out.

  5. Very interesting review and I’ll think about this author. The comparison to Esther Verhoef causes concern, as I did not like Close-up, for one reason, because it contained passages from the murder’s mind. This is not a plot device which I like. I end up skipping sections.
    Is Van der Vlugt sufficiently different in this regard? Jessica Mann’s book sounds interesting, and I’ve had Yaba Badoe’s book on my TBR list since I first read about it. (The library doesn’t have it, so I’m just waiting for a future time when I purchase books online. That one sounds good.)

    • Hi Kathy, Yes, VderV is very different from Verhoef. I don’t recall any “mind of the killer” in VderV’s books, but I may have forgotten.

  6. great post Maxine. I read and enjoyed SHADOW SISTER (as part of the Global Reading Challenge) last year, and have also purchased but not yet read an Esther Verhoef book. Congrats with all the great posts for SinC25 – it’s a cool challenge, and a great way to draw attention to some of the many excellent female crime writers out there.

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