Lives Lost – Britta Bolt

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imageA minute can make all the difference…

Pieter Posthumus is enjoying a quiet drink in his favourite bar when the screaming starts. A minute later, the owner of the guesthouse next door rushes in: one of her tenants has been murdered.

Marloes, the guesthouse owner, is an odd but kind soul. Posthumus cannot believe it when she is arrested – for both her tenant Zig’s murder and another death years before. He knows there are questions unanswered: what is the link between the two cases? Why are people so keen to think Marloes is guilty? And why did Zig paint just one picture every year – a copy of a Dutch master, but with one peculiar twist?

As his investigation progresses, he comes to see that a few minutes can mean all the difference in the world: between saving a life and taking one; between innocence and guilt. And that sometimes asking questions leads to a truth that’s hard to bear.

Absolutely loved it….

Lives Lost is the second part of a trilogy featuring protagonist Pieter Posthumus, but if you haven’t read Book One, Lonely Graves yet, don’t worry.  Lives Lost stands well on its own, there is enough detail in there to make you determined to go back and pick up the first book, without spoiling it for any reader, and  trust me, if this is your first Posthumus novel, not only will you go back, but you’ll be pre-ordering the next book too.

Set on the outskirts of Amsterdam’s red light district, the sense of camaraderie amongst the main characters is fantastic, making the best of their community, and of those who come and go amongst them.  The humanity of the whole setting is one of my favourite things about this series, from Pieter, who loves to cook, Cornelious, the poet and art lover, to Anna the bar owner of generations past and Marloes the mother hen, every character has been depicted brilliantly, to just the right degree that no one feels like they’ve been exaggerated in any way.

Clearly torn between following his instincts and supporting his friends, when Posthumus does begin to investigate the mystery at the heart of Lives Lost he shows himself to have a keen eye for detail, a remarkable mind for making connections and an enlightened view of memory which works well to ensure that you can follow him through his deductions to the, by then, inevitable conclusion.  The whole ‘investigation’ feels natural, perfectly paced, with real doubts and deductive leaps, it never once leaves you feeling like it’s ‘just a story’, and any crime writer worth his salt will tell you that, that’s what makes it worth it….

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Britta Bolt, Brown Cafés and Amsterdam.

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Britta+Bolt-detailIt’s been around 18 years since I last wandered the streets of Amsterdam for Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) but the imagery in Britta Bolt’s Pieter Posthumus novels brings the memories flooding back….

Writing here for LifeOfCri.me, Britta Boehler and Rodney Bolt, the duo behind Britta Bolt talk to us about Amsterdam’s ‘Brown Cafés’

The ‘brown café’ or ‘brown bar’ is an Amsterdam institution. De Dolle Hond, in our Posthumus books, is a fine example. The ‘brown’, people will tell you, is because of tobacco smoke that has for eons stained walls and ceiling. Shift a picture frame in an old establishment and the chocolate-coloured wallpaper appears white beneath it. Some of these bars – like de Dolle Hond – date back to the Golden Age, when the Dutch had a saying: “If a Hollander should be bereft of his pipe of tobacco he could not blissfully enter heaven”. In today’s more healthy world, the dark wall-colouring is more likely to be the result of a coat of paint. But the basic ingredients of a brown café remain: wood-panelling, dark wooden furniture, a burnished bar. Décor is unfussy – though sometimes it’s been around for centuries, so you might be sitting beneath a priceless lamp, beside a time-stained oil painting. Something startlingly modern may join the flotsam and jetsam of past years, but the word ‘designer’ is anathema. There’ll be wooden barrels along one wall, perhaps, old prints, posters for a local theatre, quirky bric-a-brac reflecting one person’s obsession with football, love of Amsterdam, or downright curious taste – for these cafés often belong to the individuals who serve you. Some have been in the same families for generations. All very like De Dolle Hond. Among our real-life favourite brown cafés are De Dokter, which Rodney found closed one evening because the owner was at home putting up Christmas decorations, and De Englese Reet, which, because the eldest sons of each successive generation of the owner’s family are all given the same name, has had a barman called ‘Teun’ for nearly 100 years.

 Published by Mulholland, Lives Lost is available to buy now.  Read the LifeOfCri.me review here….