'Two bestselling novels from Holland, both about women threatened by stalkers, suggest that Dutch crime writing is enjoying a renaissance. Saskia Noort's first novel, Back to the Coast (translated by Laura Vroomen), is about a single mother who makes a living singing in Amsterdam clubs. When Maria realises she's pregnant, she decides she can't go through with it on her own and has an abortion. Threatening messages start to arrive, but the police say they don't have enough evidence to act. Maria flees to the Dutch coast to stay with her sister, triggering a series of killings and giving Noort an irresistible opportunity to demonstrate her dark view of family life.' - Sunday Times
'It is also the festive season in Amsterdam in Saskia Noort's Back to the Coast but Maria Vos has little to celebrate. The self-centred backing singer in a soul tribute band has two adorable children with different fathers but no wish for a third. However, after an abortion she starts to receive threats that become increasingly terrifying and she flees with her kids to her social worker sister's home, a former boarding house on top of windswept dunes. The persecution does not stop though and she soon starts to fear that she is going mad like her mother before her. This the sort of thriller where the stupidity of the protagonist is necessary to make the plot work but-even the reader knows who the baddy is long before the victim-Noort cranks up the tension with skill to produce a truly gripping nightmare.' - Sunday Telegraph
'Life is rough for Maria Vos, a Dutch soul singer from Amsterdam, in Saskia Noort's Back to the Coast (Bitter Lemon Press). Realizing that her boyfriend Geert is exactly the kind of irresponsible man she doesn't want fathering her children, she aborts their second child together. The ensuing argument leads them to break up. A rough patch in this young woman's life? That's all it seems, until someone begins sending Maria threatening letters in the mail, condemning her decision to have an abortion.
Geert is the obvious suspect, at least as far as everybody but Maria is concerned. She doesn't believe he would ever threaten her like that, not given what it would mean to their son Wolf, or to Merel, the daughter Maria already had when they became a couple. Maria thinks the person responsible might instead be Merel's father, Steve, a vain and irresponsible man who has suddenly reappeared in their lives, apparently tired of residing abroad in America. The threats escalate, with Maria receiving a dead rat after a band gig. So Maria flees to The Netherlands' coast and her childhood home there, now kept by her sister, Ans. Instead of finding it a safe haven, however, Maria finds herself driven literally insane the longer she stays on the coast, to the point where she no longer trusts her sister.
Back to the Coast, the second Bitter Lemon Press book by Dutch author and journalist Noort (following 2007's The Dinner Club), is noir in the classic sense, harking back to the famous 1944 film Gaslight. But whereas that movie's audience knows that Charles Boyer is "gaslighting " Ingrid Bergman, we have no idea who is trying to destroy Maria and take her children away from her. The stalker, who follows Maria to the seashore, is clearly filled with a rage for which the police cannot seem to find justification. If anything, the cops think Maria is slowly losing it. Why shouldn't she? Her mother was certified psychotic and took her own life. There is no shortage of suspects here, either. Geert is everyone's favorite, of course, though Maria dismisses his culpability out of hand. She favors Merel's father, but once at the coast, she also learns that Ans' husband, Martin, has disappeared. Or has he?
Noort writes her story in first-person from Maria's point of view, allowing her to immerse the reader in her protagonist's growing confusion and fear. It also allows Noort to tell snatches of the story through Wolf and Merel's eyes, mostly through their reactions to Maria's increasing blackouts. It's a tricky line to walk for a writer. Noort carefully leaves enough semblance of a story for readers to follow, while the world around Maria makes less and less sense. It's almost like reading James M. Cain through singer Syd Barrett's eyes. Back to the Coast is two parts noir, one part horror fiction, and very well done indeed.' - January Magazine
'Maria Vos is not an overly sympathetic character. She appears to be a self-centered, single mother of two (from two different fathers), bent on self-satisfying experiences. She is a singer, living in Amsterdam, and has just kicked out her latest live-in lover after having an abortion of his child without telling him.
She then begins to receive threats from what appears to be an anti-abortion activist and the police inform her that they can do nothing until some harmful act takes place. She becomes more and more frightened and takes the kids and flees to her sister's home, the scene of their childhood during which her mother suffered from mental disease and attempted to kill her father. Maria begins to fear for her own sanity as well as her life. Her home in Amsterdam burns down the night she arrives at her sister's, and the police believe she's at fault.
The novel is a suspenseful mystery, with all appearances indicating that Maria may be the culprit. Clues are few and far between, while Maria points the police toward her ex-lover and her missing brother-in-law, who is said to have walked out on the sister two weeks before Maria's arrival. The reader really isn't informed of any developments until the final denouement. Written with a sharp pen, it is an interesting and unusual tale, but seems a bit mechanical in the telling.' - Spinetingler
'MARIA has money problems, two children from a failed marriage and a depressive boyfriend. So when she gets pregnant again, she decides not to keep the baby. This is where we come in. She's still feeling groggy and depressed but is sure she's made the right decision. Then the letters start to arrive. Threatening letters from someone who knows about the abortion - something she thought was a secret. At first she thinks they must be from pro-life activists, but then she begins to suspect others, even her boyfriend. She flees to her family home, where her sister now lives. Isolated, set in the dunes of the Dutch coast, redolent with memories of a difficult childhood with a mentally-ill mother - a childhood she does not want to revisit. As the death threats follow her to her hiding place, Maria begins to fear not only for her life but her sanity. Back to the Coast (£8.99, Bitter Lemon) is a suspenseful Dutch murder mystery from Saskia Noort which can be read in one sitting. Maria is a vulnerable, but eventually strong and likeable heroine - an ordinary woman caught up in an extraordinary nightmare. It could certainly be adapted for a one-off TV thriller.' - Newham Recorder
'BACK TO THE COAST is an excellent little thriller, an easy read that can be raced through in a couple of hours and that leaves a haunting impression. The protagonist, a young rock singer called Maria, has a somewhat chaotic life. She has two children by different fathers, and you can immediately tell she's an unconventional person by the names she has given them, Wolf and Merel (meaning blackbird). At the start of the book she's just had an abortion - her boyfriend Geert (Wolf's father), a musician in Maria's band, is depressed and can't get his life together; Maria, who has already watched Steve, Merel's father, ignore his parental responsibilities, just can't cope with the prospect of looking after three young children on her own and decides to break up with Geert who needs too much looking after himself. Maria is struggling to come to terms with her decision and recovering from the operation when very nasty letters and packages start to arrive. The police (rather realistically presented, I imagine) are not interested in these threats in the absence of any crime.
Maria verges from being unsettled to paranoid about who is responsible, suspecting her children's fathers, her band members, even her nosy neighbours, but she's completely thrown when an undertaker arrives at her front door, having been booked to conduct her own funeral. Not only do the police remain uninterested in protecting Maria (they seem prejudiced about her lifestyle), but she herself is sued by the funeral directors for the outlay and the waste of their time.
Unable to continue performing in the band because of her terror, suspicious of all her associates and with no help from the police, Maria decides to flee to the coast - to her childhood home and sister Ans, who still lives there with her husband (and Maria's manager) Martin. There, the tension ratchets up even more, with both Maria and the reader being constantly wrong-footed as yet more nasty and dangerous events occur.
Although it might be obvious to the reader what is going on before it becomes clear to Maria (partly because of a dearth of suspects), this does not one jot spoil the enjoyment of this exciting novel. Even minor characters like Geert, Steve, Martin and Harry (a man who tries to help Maria), are strongly presented, rounding out this deceptively simple tale. The author's ruthlessness and her sharp social observation (particularly her witty dissection of psychobabble, small-town life and the politically correct) combine to make this book a very satisfying read on several counts. At the same time, our prejudices about stereotypes are neatly turned on their head more than once.
The past history of Ans and Maria and their parents (particularly their mother) is gradually and cleverly revealed, leaving the reader, after turning the last page, wondering just how much went on in the family's past that even Maria herself has not realised.' - Eurocrime
'Once I'd decided to start reading a little more crime fiction, it could only be a matter of time before I encountered crime publishers Bitter Lemon Press. Their current lead title, and perhaps the best place to start, is Back to the Coast, a thriller by Dutch author Saskia Noort.
Although it's her second novel to be published in English by Bitter Lemon (following The Dinner Club in 2007), Back to the Coast is actually Saskia Noort's debut novel. (Her third, New Neighbours, has also been sold in English.) It's a strong debut too, and not so much a whodunnit as a whosthreateningtodoit.
Maria is a young backing singer in a nightclub soul band, a mother of two children who's trying not to think about the fact that her ambition to become a successful singer just isn't going to happen. As the novel opens, she's just left the no-good father of her second child and aborted his baby: before long, she's receiving anonymous death threats. As the threats give way to cruel practical jokes, Maria begins to doubt herself and her own sanity; eventually, she decides to get out of town with the children, and go to stay with her sister in their childhood home on the coast.
A good story of any genre should try to do something else as least as well as it uncovers its plot, and the real strength of Back to the Coast is in its examination of family relationships. Maria's conflicted upbringing of her children is very well presented, with all the complexity and ambiguity of such relationships in the real world. As she struggles between her ambitions and her responsibilities, trying to place her children in her own emotional and psychological existence, we can both empathise with her about the difficulty of her situation, and understand the criticisms made by the people around her (and those she levels against herself). Such a duality frequently exists in life but less often in fiction, and makes the story all the more convincing-and disturbing-when Maria begins to doubt her own sanity.
While the characters are often strong, the thriller aspect lags a little in the middle, and the answers to the mystery become obvious rather sooner than I think the author intended; however, the more dedicated a writer is towards depicting her characters and their relationships, the harder it is to keep secrets: five grey faces in a room may have equal chance of being a killer, but it's a little easier to spot the unhinged member of a more distinct and vivid group of people.
Back to the Coast may lose its mystery a little too soon, but thanks to some potent characterisation and steady pacing, it's still a strong introduction to Saskia Noort, and to Bitter Lemon Press.'
- The Fiction Desk
'Single mom Maria struggles to make enough money to take care of her children while trying to make it as a singer. Her boyfriend is not helping her as his depression only adds to her stress especially since she is pregnant with his kid. Reluctantly Maria chooses abortion as she cannot afford another mouth to feed.Not long afterward, she is kicked out of her house and begins receiving anonymous ugly letters accusing her of being a whore and a baby killer. The police offer no help. Accompanied by her children she flees back to coast to the family home where her sister and brother-in-law were residing only he left his wife; a place with memories of her mom's insanity and he dad's aloofness. To her chagrin, her stalker follows and is not easing up on a campaign of terror.
Mindful of the Fontaine role in Hitchcock's Suspicion, fans will enjoy this deep family drama that focuses on "loving " ties that smother and destroy. The story line starts off a bit slow as Saskia Noort introduces the reader to Maria and her feelings of being trapped and overwhelmed by her responsibilities. The tone dramatically changes after the abortion as does the beleaguered heroine who has regrets and guilt but soon fights for her sanity as much as her physical safety. Fans will enjoy this suspenseful dark look at choking relationships that never allow one to breathe.' - Midwest Book Review
'Maria Vos, the narrator of Noort's taut psychological suspense novel, is a bit of a mess. The mother of two children from two different lovers, she decides to terminate her latest pregnancy without telling the father, with whom she performs in a local Amsterdam band. Following the procedure, Vos begins to receive hate mail, complete with graphic images of aborted fetuses. After an undertaker appears at her door to claim her corpse, she takes the kids to stay with her sister on the Dutch coast. While Vos is away, someone burns down her house, destroying the letters that are the only independent evidence of her nemesis. The police,aware of Vos's family history of mental instability, suspect she set the fire herself and imagined the threats. Noort (The Dinner Club) does a splendid job of leaving the reader unsure whether or not to trust Vos's account. Those who appreciate intelligent writing and emotionally plausible characters will be rewarded.' - Publishers Weekly
'Let's put this one in the psychological thriller category, because someone is playing psychological games with Maria's mind and the prose has a pace worthy of a thriller. In Back to the Coast, Maria, an Amsterdam-based singer with a covers band already has two children by two different fathers and then she finds herself pregnant again (by the second). Feeling that circumstances are not ideal to bring another child into the world, she has an abortion. Following this, a set of communication and stalking starts which sees Maria fleeing back to the coast of her childhood and refuge at her sister's, in what used to be the parental B&B of their awkward upbringing, now converted into a family home. Just who is stalking Maria and for what purpose?
It is relatively easy (and quite early on) to determine the main suspect, but this doesn't distract from a good story, confidently delivered. You may work out who it is - odds are that you will - but you will still want to know the outcome and the reasons why. That can only be achieved by reading the book to the end. The children are beautifully depicted and very real. Maria's strength and fear explode off the page. Mental illness and the lack of understanding in a former generation are made true. Survival mechanisms are explored with due regard.
The Dutch trait of directness is in evidence here; bodily functions and a set of bathroom ablutions leave no stone unturned. When it comes to "...squeezing blackheads, cleaning ears, filing nails, pushing back cuticles, removing calluses..." the British reader might recoil with a comment of "too much information". But there is also something refreshing to be found in such openness into the lives of those in the novel.
For a classic irony, I loved this passage:
'...In the end, I switched on the television and watched some stupid reality show about six young people sharing a luxury villa in Spain, hopping in and out of each others' beds and dying to let the whole world know about it. "It's all just a game," an annoyingly self-assured young man laughed. He infuriated me. Everything infuriated me. The guy playing dirty tricks on his female housemates in front of the camera. The people wanting to watch this. The world's progressive loutishness. The fact that mind games appeared to have become a form of public entertainment...'
Let's not forget that it was the Dutch who unleashed the Big Brother TV phenomenon to the rest of the world. (And it's good to read that not all are in support of the result.)
I found this such a good and simple read, direct to the point and entertaining that I immediately ordered a copy of her first translated novel - but second in the original Dutch, as they have been translated out of order - The Dinner Club. Both are published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press and are available now.' - It's a crime.typepad.com
'Saskia Noort is an interesting Dutch writer, described by her UK publishers Bitter Lemon Press as 'a bestselling author of literary thrillers'. I rather liked the first Noort book they published, The Dinner Club, and so I fell upon her new book, Back to the Coast, with considerable enthusiasm.
In fact, as is the confusing way with the publishing of books from overseas, Back to the Coast was Noort's debut novel, originally appearing in Holland in 2003. The English translation is by Laura Vroomen. I'm never quite sure why the work is so often published out of sequence - it's even more puzzling in the case of a mystery series. At least the two Noort books are stand-alones.
The story is told by Maria, a singer with two children and a history of unsatisfactory relationships. At the start of the book, she has an abortion, and soon someone starts to persecute her because of it. Threatening messages are followed by an arson attack on her house. The police are lackadaisical, and soon an increasingly paranoid Maria flees to the coast, to stay with her sister Ans. But there is no hiding place for her. Soon her unhappy past starts to catch up with her.
Strip it down, and this novel fits within the tradition of the woman-in-jeopardy novel. Noort is a trendy writer, but I'm not sure I'd call her books 'literary thrillers' - really, she is updating the work of Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ethel Lina White and Mary Higgins Clark. But this is not a criticism. I find her books quirky and intriguing. Here, I guessed the identity of Maria's persecutor, and the motive, early on. But strangely, this did not spoil my pleasure in a story told in an off-beat way by an appealing and vulnerable narrator. Yet another good book from Bitter Lemon.'
'Soul singer Maria chooses to abort an unplanned pregnancy rather than bring a third child into her already chaotic life. This single action ends up destroying everything in her life as an unknown and increasingly malevolent stalker harasses her for choosing an abortion. Fleeing her life and former boyfriend in Amsterdam, Maria returns to her family home on the desolate seaside to stay with her social-worker older sister, abandoning everything except her children in a desperate bid to escape. In this fast-paced and exciting thriller, Maria's fear and terror are conveyed to the reader through short chapters detailing her increasingly desperate moves. Is Maria sane, or is she having psychotic delusions like her mother? Is she safe anywhere? A best-seller across Europe, Back to the Coast is a perfect vacation novel for those who'd rather read about someone being chased down a beach than go to the beach themselves. Suggest to fans of international crime fiction who liked Petra Hammesfahr's The Sinner (2008) or Gianluca Morozzi's Blackout (2009) for their atmospheric contemporary European settings and possibly unreliable narrators.' - Booklist
'Saskia Noort, the Netherlands' most famous crime writer, is known to the British reader for her excellent second novel, The Dinner Club; but her first, Back to the Coast, is only now available in English. In it she demonstrates a control of mood and tension not usually found in debutants. The highly strung Maria, a mediocre singer with a pop group and an anxious mother of two, falls pregnant and decides that she cannot cope with a third child. Her abortion sets off a series of threatening letters and frightening events, which do not stop when she flees to stay with her sister in what was their old, unhappy family home. No one, police included, believes her story; she starts having doubts herself. Who is responsible, and why? It's a much-used formula but Noort handles it with confidence.' - The Times