On Research by Jake Woodhouse

Written by Jake Woodhouse

Jake Woodhouse has had a variety of jobs which have included a musician, winemaker and entrepreneur. After the Silence is the first in the “Amsterdam Quartet” featuring Jaap Rykel. More information about Jake Woodhouse and his work can be found on his website and you can also follow him on Twitter @wildgundog.

About midway through my first novel, After the Silence, I decided that I needed to do some research. After all, I’d lived in Amsterdam so knew the city well, but I’ve never been involved in law enforcement (quite the opposite in fact…) and I felt I should probably get a taste for what it was really like. 

So I started badgering the Netherlands Police who quite rightly ignored my requests. They’ve got enough on their hands without answering questions posed by a, as then unpublished, English novelist.

And I should have left it at that. But there was something about their silence which spurred me on, and, calling on some old contacts I had in the city, I managed to finally track down someone who was willing to talk to me.

So I flew out, expecting to meet an office-bound officer who would politely answer some questions, and then show me the door. But when I landed, and called the number I’d been given, I started to get the feeling that things might be turning out otherwise.

The first thing the voice on the phone said was that I wasn’t allowed to use his name, to which I agreed. The second thing he said was more of a surprise, he asked for my chest measurement, something I have no idea of. He gave me a location and a time and hung up.

The next morning I left the hotel early - a cheap place located south of the Concertgebouw with, unaccountably, a massive plastic tropical plant in the room, its leaves coated with dust - and walked through the canal district, a sense of excitement starting to pulse inside me. I’d always loved walking round the centre of Amsterdam - the canals so much more intimate than Venice, and less pungent too – and had spent hours just wandering when I’d been living in the city, always something new to see. The lack of traffic in the canal district, crazy bikes aside, makes this one of the most walkable cities I know of.

I made it to the square we’d agreed to meet at with twenty minutes to spare, and sat on a bench, watching for any signs of a police car. It was early December and the weather was stunning, bright blue sky but with a breeze which could slice you like a knife. People walked, talked and biked. A small child threw bits of food at a cluster of birds. Tram bells clanged and I felt expansive, a moment of peace, at one with the world.

I heard the siren well before I saw the car skid round the corner, scattering a flurry of tourists. Heads turned, all watching as a policeman got out, looked around, then headed right towards me.

Of course, I’d agreed to meet a cop here, at this very place and time, but as he walked towards me, people’s eyes swivelling my way, I felt like I was watching a movie. One that didn’t end well.

He introduced himself, how he picked me out I’m not sure, and invited me back to his car where hepulled a stab vest off the back seat and made me put it on. It was way too big, but by folding some of the Velcro tabs back we were able to get it to fit, just. You see people wearing those things all the time, in films, police at airports etc, but you never realise just how heavy and cumbersome they are.

But it wasn’t so much the discomfort which I found disquieting, it was more what the stab vest represented – Pieter, not his real name, was clearly not the office-bound type.

He was however talkative, in the very direct way the Dutch sometimes have, and we covered basics, before moving quickly onto the, for me anyway, more interesting stuff. Pieter talked about some of the murder cases he’d been involved with recently, some of the details stomach churning, and a case which had involved a truck full of eastern European women which had crashed just outside of the city.

Then it happened, we were cruising down Van Baerlestraat, a street I knew well as it used to house the Conservatorium (now a very high-end hotel) where I’d studied when a call came in. Pieter hit the siren and lurched the car forward. ‘Now we have some fun’ he said.

We pulled up at a house in a residential area close the World Trade Centre, and I could see there were two patrol cars already there, police tape strung up across the front of one of the houses. It almost looked like a stage, set just for me.

I watched as Pieter entered the property - he’d told me to wait and I’d not argued - a square, flat-roofed brick house with large picture windows. A pine tree stood in the tiny front garden, the ground covered in light brown needles. Neighbours were starting to gather, and a lone officer kept them well back from the police tape. It was clear he kept being asked what was going on, but was only giving out platitudes. Probably as he didn’t know himself.

Ten minutes or so later Pieter and another officer walked out, guiding a cuffed man to one of the patrol cars. He didn’t seem in the best frame of mind. He didn’t seem like he wanted to go.

Once they’d secured him Pieter came over, cracked open the car door, and told me to follow him.

Amsterdam has the dubious honour of placing first in the list of Western Europe’s murder capitals, and whilst I was sure Pieter wouldn’t be taking me into a murder scene I was feeling nervous as we stepped through the front door.

I followed him down a short, dark corridor, the air almost unbreathable from stale cigarette smoke, and out into a back room overlooking a small patio area which was concreted over. Small mounds of dog shit studded the concrete.

To my relief there was no dead body; instead the room was filled with cardboard boxes. Pieter pulled one off a pile near the door, and opened it up, gesturing for me to look inside.

It took me a moment to work out what I was seeing.

‘You see this?’ asked Pieter. ‘This is the kind of shit we have to deal with.’

Inside the box were multiple pairs of shoes, women’s shoes. I didn’t recognise the brand.

‘Fakes,’ said Pieter. ‘But still worth a fair amount of money.’

Back on the plane home I had mixed feelings, I’d come to do research, investigate the dark underbelly of Amsterdam, discover how the police coped with working in a city where for every one hundred thousand citizens four are murdered each year, and instead I’d watched the police arrest a man dealing in fake high-heels.

But as the plane landed at Heathrow I realised that was the point of research; finding out surprising details, finding out stuff you’d not expected to see, finding out that, in the end, the job of the police is more varied, and bizarre, than it’s often portrayed as.

After the Silence: Inspector Rykel Book 1 (Jaap Rykel 1)
Pbk Original £7.99
Published: 24th April 2014

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