Sabine Kroese, the narrator of The Reunion by Simone Van Der Vlugt, remembers little of the day nine years ago when her classmate, 15 year old Isabel Hartman, disappeared. As the story opens 23 year old Sabine returns for the first time in seven years to the small Dutch coastal town of Den Helder, 55 miles north of Amsterdam, where she grew up and went to school and from where her friend vanished. She has seen in a newspaper the notification of an upcoming school reunion and has begun to think about the past.
We learn that Sabine is about to take up her job at The Bank in Amsterdam again after some kind of mental breakdown, and it is not a happy return: her friend has moved to another job and a dictatorial co-worker has been promoted above her. Sabine feels isolated and ostracised, but takes comfort finding that an old schoolmate of her brother's is now working at The Bank too.
After seeing a recontsruction of Isabel's disappearance on TV, Sabine is haunted by the feeling that deep in her memory may be important information about the case, and she feels compelled to use the snatches and details she recalls to try and find out what happened. These clues lead her deep into the heart of the mystery where she uncovers several suspects, and gradually reveals to the reader the truth of her own childhood and the force which makes her so determined to uncover the truth.
The Reunion is Van Der Vlugt's first novel in the crime genre, and I was so engrossed in the story that I read it in a day. I don't always enjoy 1st person narrations, but this one worked very well, and I look forward to more from this author.
Among the many pleasures of the book is the author's evocation of this little seaside town in the off-season: the flat landscape, the lead-coloured sea and salty wind. Sabine doesn't look back on it fondly: it's a place for old people, sailors and tourists, she thinks. Den Helder is at the tip of the North Holland penninsula, and is the site of a large naval base, as well as being a tourist destination for both Dutch and foreign visitors. Not only does it boast a magnificent beach and sand dunes at Huisduinen, but woodlands, hiking and biking paths. Huisduinen is also famous for its lighthouse - Laang Jaap (picture above). The Dark Dunes, which feature prominently in the story, are a real and much visited location - click on the map at the bottom for WhereDunnit's The Reunion locations map.
The Frisian island of Taxel, another lovely and windswept destination, is a ferry-ride north of Den Helder - read about it here. Although I've visited the Netherlands a few times, I've never been to this penninsula - it's certainly on my wish-list now!