Translated by Laura Vroomen. 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.