'The Dinner Club is another quality offering from Bitter Lemon Press, this one from the Netherlands. It is a well done translation by Paul Vincent from its original Dutch edition.
Life in the suburbs of Amsterdam can be comfortable but also restrictive. When Karen and her family move there for a more peaceful place to raise the children she finds it a lonely existence. Used to her busy days working and taking care of her family, Karen is disturbed by the lack of activity and friends in this small town. So she is thrilled to get to know some of the other women who also live in the area. They quickly become a social group, a dinner club of 5 women and their husbands. They are the upper class of the neighbourhood, the comfortably elite with assets and attitude. But when one of the men dies when his house burns down and one of the women falls off the balcony of a hotel, it begins to look like it is not such a happy group after all.' - Front Street Reviews
'This thriller is set in an affluent Dutch village, where several married couples, refugees from the tawdriness of Amsterdam, get together for food-and adultery. When one of them is burned to death in his bijou villa, with wife and kids barely escaping with their lives this idyll looks doomed, especially when another of the group falls to her death from a hotel balcony. This smart, disillusioned stuff has been a bestseller in the Netherlands.' - The Scotsman
'A runaway success in the Netherlands, this is a playful murder mystery which, as the publisher's blurb asserts, is redolent of Desperate Housewives-and about as insightful. Five bored, thirty something, comfortably-off suburban women form a dinner club to exchange the kind of gossip about children's schools, husbands' jobs and clothes that bores most people to death. Indeed, funnily enough, shortly afterwards one of the husbands dies in a mystery fire at his house and one of the women has a fatal fall from a hotel balcony.
Consternation breaks out among the 4x4-owning, claret-swilling clique (an astounding number of drinks are consumed per page) and it soon emerges that not everyone is as friendly-or faithful-as they once appeared.' - Daily Mail
'A group of women in an upscale Dutch country town form the titular clique in this engaging crime novel, the first English translation from Noort (Back to the Coast). Karen, who narrates, bonds with another Amsterdam escapee, Hanneke, an interior designer, and together they recruit Patricia, Angela, Babette and their husbands to drink, dine and enjoy one another's company. But when Babette's husband, Evert, begins having psychological problems and apparently commits suicide by burning down his home, their group begins to fracture amid allegations of infidelity and shady financial dealings. From an innocuous social gathering to a group mired in extramarital affairs and distrust, the disintegration of the "dinner club" unveils the web of deceit among friends. Sensuality and intrigue propel the novel to its shocking conclusion, when Noort reveals that no character is exactly who he or she seems.' - Publishers Weekly
'Karen and her husband leave Amsterdam for a new life in the country. At first, she's lonely, missing life in the city where her husband still works, but after a while meets other husbands and wives from the village, and together they form a dinner club. Drinking like fiends, the couples dance a strange sexual saraband together, and it's obvious that secret liaisons are the order of the day. Then one of the men kills himself and attempts to take his family with him. Karen is convinced that suicide is not the true verdict, so she decides to investigate herself, with tragic results. This is a fine whodunit, claustrophobic and depressing in the extreme, as these beautiful, young and successful people fall apart in front of our eyes. Don't expect to finish this book feeling better than you started.' - Independent on Sunday
'Several isolated yuppie women begin meeting on a regular basis in an effort to make new friends in a trendy Dutch country town located a couple hours out of Amsterdam and manage to forge strong bonds based on husbands, children and alcohol. Their world is shaken with the burning death of Evert, Babette's husband and father of two boys. Everything about the fire is suspicious, from the drugs found in their drinks to the way it started and points to Evert's complete mental breakdown. The group begins to fracture amid personal recriminations about missed signs, allegations of infidelity and shady business deals. With the shocking falling death of another of their group, it becomes increasingly obvious that there is something seriously wrong within their tight little clique, but who to trust? It soon becomes clear that everyone in this group has their secrets and in a community where appearance is everything, it could be that no one is exactly what they make out to be. A bit slow at the start as one follows the initial club formation and begins building up speed throughout. There are times one wants to give the characters a big shake and wake them up with a reality check as they appear to be oblivious to everything but their own myopic concerns but then, that's what makes this such a finely crafted piece.' - monstersandcritics.com
'Saskia Noort has crafted a delicious melodrama that is part murder mystery but more interestingly a meditation on modern suburban friendships. Focused tightly on the intermingled lives of five thirty-something couples in a village outside Amsterdam, The Dinner Club exposes all the secret longings, complicated coincidences and dangerous temptations that can develop when a group of people end up together more because they think they have a lot in common and not because they actually do. As children we become friends so easily; is that something we can still do as adults or should we all be a little more careful about who we choose to spend our time with? This is the question at the heart of Noort's tightly crafted novel and one that the main character, Karen, discovers is at the source of her family's sudden and complete despair.
The story begins with a tragic fire that throws the group into a tailspin of doubts and recriminations. Noort then flashes back to Karen's arrival in the village with her husband Michel and their daughters. Like many people fleeing urban crime, the Brouwers are hopeful that their new scenic home will be the answer to all the big city's problems. Soon enough they find their Amsterdam friends visiting less and less frequently and Karen in particular feels the absence of the city's sights and sounds quite deeply. She finds herself overjoyed when the mother of one of her daughter's classmates shares a laugh with her one morning and quickly embarks on a new friendship. Hanneke, an interior designer, introduces her to some of her clients and soon Karen is having dinner with her and Angela, Babette and Patricia. The women bond over food and complaints about village life and although the comments are barbed a few times, Karen is delighted to find someone-anyone-who seems like her friends back in the city. The group decides to form a dinner club with their husbands and frequent social occasions follow. It seems perfect but as the story flashes back and forth in time, between the apparent suicide of one of the husbands and guilty departure of one of the wives, it becomes clear that what was going on behind closed doors and in parked cars was as much a part of the club as their boisterous dinners. Everyone lied it seems, and suddenly Karen finds herself on the defensive among the women she once thought were her friends.
On a dime her whole world turns upside down and even Michel does not know her anymore; no one knows who Karen has become or why she changed so much in the first place.
Noort keeps the tension razor sharp, and like the best written mysteries, readers will be guessing until the end just who did what to whom. There is more than one victim here, more than one villain, and more than one reason to question every member of the club. As Karen slowly unravels the threads of the relationships that surround her, she learns that she and her husband have drifted into a sea of suspicion and carelessness; a place where trust and even love seem to be in short supply. It is uncertain that anything will be salvaged from the club's toxic environment by the book's end and solving the mysterious death in the opening pages is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what has really been going on. What's so fascinating though is not who was doing what to whom but why they were doing it; how easily they all found themselves entangled in the kind of subterfuge that none of them really wanted, but all found so much better than the reality of their own lives. Here, for example, is Karen thinking about Michel who commutes to work in Amsterdam while she stays behind to work from home and take care of the children:
He just laughed at my suggestion that he try swapping with me for a day and then seeing if he preferred being at home at the table instead of in the snarl-up. It was no wonder that we women at home abandoned ourselves to fantasies about other men, seeing that our husbands abandoned us daily. And of course these things get out of hand, hungry for attention as we were.
The two of them drift apart at first because of the long hours spent separated but later, as their friendships and interests become more individual, they can not even remember what drew them together. They are no longer Karen and Michel but just Karen; and also Michel. The children and dinner club become what they have in common and that is not enough, and even worse, it is dangerous.
We went on outdoing each other with wisecracks, our laughter becoming even louder and shriller, in an attempt to drown out the strange kind of uneasiness that had taken hold since Evert became ill. It was desperate laughter, full of longing for the intimacy and trust we had once had, and I wondered where it had gone, that intense feeling of closeness. The shine had come off, and I found myself wondering more and more often what our friendship was really based on, whether it really existed and whether it had the same value for all of us. Perhaps in my head I had made more of it than was really there, because I had yearned for it so much.
By the final chapters as Karen finds herself in a race to save her marriage and her life, The Dinner Club becomes far more than just a mystery and instead a very real picture of how friendships can dissolve so mightily, and the tragic mess that can rise up in their wake. This novel has everything: sexual tension, violent crime and social satire at it most biting. Noort has written a daring play not only on how men get along with women, but also on how the two sexes can circle and bite at each other in games of one-upmanship that always leave someone bloodied and broken. This is the writing that Desperate Housewives longs for and a startling look at just how much we will sacrifice in the search for friendship.' - Eclectica Magazine
'Some of the tastiest new crime comes in translation, and here's a particularly good Dutch treat. No cops with miserable home lives (well there is one, but she's a minor part), no gory serial killers, no parading of police procedure. Instead, a story. Its resonance for British readers come s from the heroine quitting the metropolis for provincial life. Familiar reasons - Crime Time
'Karen has moved out of central Amsterdam with her family in search of a better life in the suburbs. But it doesn't work out quite the way she hoped. Her friends no longer viist and then her school-aged children start leading a better social life than her. She responds by joining a dinner club, five wives whose husbands have business links. It all seems a good idea until a series of strange deaths see Karen's life spiralling out of control. Excellent and a former No.1 best-seller in Holland.'- Nottingham Evening Post
'Saskia Noort's The Dinner Club is what Desperate Housewives wishes it could be. I can't remember the last time a mystery had me stumped until the very end but the real kicker is that these people were all friends. Until some of them started dying, that is. Bitter Lemon Press is just a great indy mystery publisher and I am really looking forward both to reviewing this book and passing it along to my mother - she will love it.'- Chasing Ray
'Some of the tastiest new crime comes in translation, and here's a particularly good Dutch treat. No cops with miserable home lives (well there is one, but she's a minor part), no gory serial killers, no parading of police procedure. Instead, a story. Its resonance for British readers come s from the heroine quitting the metropolis for provincial life. Familiar reasons :better house, better life for the kids--but familiar downside: no buzz, no street-life, and a cloying parochial attitude. Karen is drawn into the only smart set--wives parading their husbands' incomes--while her husband Michel is dependent on the local big-shot, Simon, who has everything: money, good looks and perhaps your wife...One of the husbands commits suicide, and tries to take his family with him. Why--and was it suicide? Next to die is one of the wives. It's a worthwhile mystery, brightly told, but the triumph of the book is the sharply drawn portrait of provincial life, smart but brittle, unjustly smug. Fast, absorbing and thoroughly enjoyable read.' - Crime Time
'One very welcome invader from Europe is Dutch journalist Saskia Noort, whose thriller The Dinner Club is published here in January by those wonderful people at Bitter Lemon Press. I think this is the English debut for Saskia, although her novels are published all over Europe and it comes with the hype "Desperate Housewives scripted by Patricia Highsmith. "Hmm; well I don't know about that but certainly The Dinner Club was a success in Holland when it came out in 2004, selling over 300,000 copies. I suspect this is more down to it being a clever social satire on the Dutch suburban middle-classes, rather than a classic crime chiller, although it does deal with numerous crimes (and many misdemeanours)on the way to a snappy bit of violence at the end. The Dutch title was De eetclub, which you would have thought the publicists could have had a field day with. But then perhaps not, as the first rule of eetclub is never to talk about eetclub…' - Shots Magazine
'Suburban discontent turns deadly in this Dutch best seller by Noort (Back to the Coast). Soon after five women-all in their mid-thirties, with two or three children each-organize a dinner club for companionship in their village outside Amsterdam, they are regularly convening with their families for birthdays, parties, and barbecues. Also, their husbands' businesses are thriving, thanks to the financial backing of Simon, the group's wealthiest member. But there are cracks in the happy façade-too much drinking, increasing infidelities-even before tragedy strikes. First, Evert dies in a house fire (presumably of his own starting, after having drugged his wife and children); days later, Hanneke (Evert's former lover) is fatally injured in a fall. Suspicious that her best friend's demise was neither suicidal nor accidental, narrator Karen (who has just succumbed to Simon's charms) risks more than friendship to assist police investigators. While there are echoes of Desperate Housewives here, this is closer to Mary Higgins Clark and is a good bet for her fans.' - Library Journal Review
'Dutch crime writers known to British readers are not thick on the ground. There was Janwillem van de Wetering. Full stop. (Nicholas Freeling, the creator of the Amsterdam cop Van der Valk, was English). So Saskia Noort might well become the second to intrude into our consciousness. In The Dinner Club (translated by Paul Vincent) a bestseller in the Netherlands, five bored and restless wives meet to exchange gossip and complaints. One of the husbands dies in a fire at his home; soon afterwards one of the wives falls from a hotel balcony. Are they suicides or murders? A tangled web of deceit, adultery and financial shenanigans emerges. The book is ambitiously described as "Desperate Housewives scripted by Patricia Highsmith ". The first part is vaguely accurate.' - The Times
'The Dinner Club is a savage little story of middle-class mayhem in a trendy village near Amsterdam. Karen and her husband have moved out of the city with their young children and, after initial feelings of isolation, make friends with four similar couples, all well-to-do thirty somethings. Soon they are playing tennis and holidaying together, dropping in for coffee and holding dinner parties, where they show off their superiority over the rest of the village. Karen is thrilled to be part of their group. Then two of them die in separate violent incidents and the bonds of friendship start to unravel as hidden secrets surface. It's sharp, sexy and a riveting read.' - Sunday Telegraph
'Draws us instantly into someone else's darkest dream, one that soon becomes our own... a writer of the heart as much as of the mind, a balance that marks her work with a flesh-and-blood humanity.' - Andrew Pyper, author of 'The Wildfire Season'
'After Karen moved into the village from Amsterdam with her husband, Michel, and their two daughters, it took her a while to make friends. But finally she found Hanneke, and through her three other woman, and the five of them became fast friends. They dubbed themselves "The Dinner Club" and became a mutual support group--they drank and ate and vacationed together, watched one another's kids. Their husbands did business together. But when the book opens one of their houses is on fire. Someone dies. And the tragedy, together with another which follows shortly afterward, lays bare various truths, among them that the relationships among the members of the Club are more superficial than Karen had supposed. Nor were the members' five marriages as happy as she had supposed.
Saskia Noort's The Dinner Club follows the downward trajectory of the Club's relationships. As things disintegrate, Karen comes increasingly to suspect that the fire was fueled by something more than middle-aged angst and alcohol. The book is filled with a quiet menace, and Noort does a great job of keeping us guessing, our suspicions alighting now on one character, now another. After this slow, steady build-up of tension the book's conclusion, an explosion of violence, is jarring. It doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the book. The conclusion also left me thinking I might have to re-read some chapters to figure out what, precisely, was the truth behind the complex of relationships among the five Dinner Club members and their husbands.
The Dinner Club, which was originally pubished in Dutch in 2004, has been a best-seller in the Netherlands, and film rights to the book have been sold. It would, I think, translate well to the screen.' - Book-blog.com
'In a novel that embodies the best in Eurocrime, Dutch thriller writer Saskia Noort turns a conventional mid-life crisis into something more sinister. After leaving Amsterdam for the countryside, committed urbanite Karen van de Made despairs of ever making new friends. When she finally tracks down a group of like-minded women, she finds herself admitted to the heart of a dangerously incestuous social circle. A series of flirtation-fuelled evenings leads to a string of tragic deaths. Paul Vincent's unobtrusive translation is spot on.' - The Independent
'Saskia Noort's The Dinner Club became a best-seller in Holland, where it was published in 2004. In a wealthy commuter village outside Amsterdam, five ladies-who-lunch meet for raucous dinners and become fast friends. Their husbands are all doing very well, though-as it transpires-much of their apparently disparate businesses are tied intricately together. Affairs, deceit, manipulation, tax dodges and murder-there's nothing Noort shies away from stirring into the mix, nicely showing off the sinister side of the suburbs.' - Time Out