Lonely Graves
PublisherMulholland Books
Date Published08 May 2014
Price£ 13.99

Lonely Graves

by Britta Bolt

Pieter Posthumus’s job is to trace the families of people who have died in Amsterdam. He gets caught up in the death of a young Moroccan immigrant and a suspected terror plot.


Pieter Posthumus (yes, he’s heard all the jokes) is an odd sort of chap. He dropped out, kind of dropped back in again, but is definitely one of a kind. He was moved sideways from his previous municipal job for being too thorough – now he and two colleagues try to trace the families of people who have died in Amsterdam and to ensure that the deceased are given a decent funeral.

It’s a novel use of the amateur sleuth – and one who really does have a reason to dig into people’s backgrounds. Yes, he’s faintly eccentric, but not unbelievably so, and he’s treated by his supporting cast with amused indulgence. And he has a varied bunch around him – a bar owner, a journalist and a poet.

Lonely Graves is the first in a trilogy and is apparently a collaboration between South African-born novelist and travel writer Rodney Bolt and German former lawyer Britta Boehler. And it’s a highly-readable and accomplished book that paints a vivid picture of Dutch society, racism and of young men being radicalised. But it manages to show both sides of Islam with a degree of subtlety and the presence of normal families leading every day lives.

And this is down to us being presented with characters you really care about, from the dogged Piet to Mohammed, the hard-working father who feels like his family is slipping away from him.

Alongside Piet’s plot line of trying to find out the background of a young Moroccan lad’s death is the more usual thriller fare of the spooks. Lisette Lammers is the much put-upon leader of investigation team C. She has a boss she can’t trust and a team who seem to be pulling in different directions. There’s enough action here to keep the reader hooked, but it’s not difficult to see how the plotlines will meet – fortunately this is well enough handled that it doesn’t jar. But Piet steals every scene he’s in.

Lonely Graves is a most impressive novel that shows a different side to Amsterdam. There’s a subtly-drawn palette of characters, and the city itself, with its canals, narrow streets and bikes, is almost a lead character in its own right. And apparently the city really does give ‘lonely funerals’ for anonymous corpses found within the city limits that include music, a poem written for the deceased, flowers and coffee.

Oh, and I am seriously coveting Piet’s apartment!

Reviewed 13 June 2014 by Sharon Wheeler