Sabine works in an office in Amsterdam as an administrator for a bank. She’s recently had to take some time off work while suffering from depression; while she’s been away her colleague and friend Janine has left the company and the two young women’s’ role has been usurped by newcomer Renee, who is adept at office politics and who wraps Walter, the boss, round her little finger. Her nose out of joint, having to work at a desk in the corner and constantly being criticised for making mistakes, Sabine is at her wits' end. (This part of the novel reminds me of The Exception by Christian Jungersen.)
When she was 14 and living in a small seaside town, a schoolfriend of Sabine’s, Isabel, disappeared in the woods or dunes, and was never found despite a national police hunt and media campaign. Sabine cannot remember much about these events, despite having been Isabel’s best friend at primary school but victimised by her in high school. She has learnt from the psychologist who treated her depression that repressed memories could be at the root of her condition, so makes frequent trips to her dull home town to try to remember what happened on the day that Isobel cycled away, never to be seen again. Sabine experiences flashes of recovered memory, perhaps enabled by the fact that a reunion of old pupils is being arranged at the school.
Sabine makes contact with Janine again, and her life at the office seems to be becoming slightly easier when Olaf, the handsome IT support man, takes an interest in her and asks her out. Although Sabine and Olaf did not know each other when young, they both attended the same school, Olaf being in the same year as Sabine’s beloved older brother Robin. Olaf’s unstable behaviour becomes increasingly suspicious to Sabine, so she determines that she will investigate Isabel’s disappearance herself, in the hope that she will be able to remember what she believes she is blocking out. As she goes to visit the old school caretaker, the local police inspector and the parents of her own schoolfriends, she becomes more convinced that she knows who is responsible for Isabel’s disappearance. Yet why should Robin, who now lives in England but who returns to Amsterdam for a short visit, seem worried at Sabine’s actions? And why did Bart, Sabine’s first love, behave as he did when the two were at school?
Simone van der Vlugt has written an excellent suspense thriller, not only providing lots of clues, red herrings and interesting sidelines, but also showing great psychological insight as to what it is like to be a 14-year-old girl being alternatively bullied and ostracised by others at school, and what it is like to be an insecure 23-year old being victimised by work colleagues with their petty yet hurtful behaviour. I particularly like the way in which the same events (for example Renee's behaviour and actions) seem very different when viewed through the eyes of different characters.
Although when one obvious suspect is eliminated near the end of the book the outcome is relatively obvious, I was not sure which of two solutions was going to be the right one up until the final revelation. There are quite a few threads left unresolved, for example the old caretaker’s names for his cats, yet this psychological suspense thriller is both extremely readable (thanks to an excellent translation) and a satisfying mystery.