Maria sings in a cover band, The Healers, but has just broken up with bass-player Geert, father of her second child. Her first was fathered by Steve, a singer who gave her her start in another covers band, the Sex Machine. Her life is chaotic, and when she gets pregnant in a brief reconciliation with Geert, she goes for an abortion. Not only is Geert furious, but soon she’s receiving threatening letters, which escalate rapidly. But there’s nothing the police can do, so she takes her kids and flees to her sister, who still lives in the seaside bed and breakfast her parents ran, converted back to a house for herself and her husband, who has just run off.

As the sisters bond, the harassment becomes more serious, and suspicion begins to fall on Maria herself, who may be losing her mind in much the same way her mother did.

This was Noort’s first novel, published in the Netherlands before The Dinner Club, which was her first to be translated and published here. It’s strongest point is the characterisation of Maria, who’s not really very likeable, but she is very convincing. It’s as if the chain-smoking Theresa Russell of Track 28 had been dumped into a rehearsal for The Commitments, and in fact, commitment is a lot of what this book is about. Being a pop star, even a wannabe, is never having to say you’ll stay. It’s also very good in getting the atmosphere of the seaside resort, especially in the off-season, and tracing her parents’ marriage and her mother’s breakdown.

But it’s on the suspense itself that Noort finds it harder to deliver. Although she sets up a couple of red herrings, the real villain is pretty obvious early on, and probably should have been to Maria, if she could just stop lighting up and staring at her navel. There’s an element of Hitchcock’s Spellbound to this as well, but evocative as the prose is, in the end it doesn’t really surprise. But as a first effort, it puts Noort well ahead of the game; releasing it after her second novel is bound to seem a disappointment.

Michael Carlson

Back To The Coast

Saskia Noort

Translated from Dutch by Laura Vroomen

Bitter Lemon £8.99 ISBN 9781904738374

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