Dutch crime solver Jaap Rykel is back for the final heart-stopping instalment of Jake Woodhouse’s Amsterdam Quartet. Wrestling with inner demons, a fraught past, and a newfound temptation to say goodbye to his policing career altogether, one last mysterious case draws him back to the world of cadavers and killers.
A seven-year-old case has haunted him since Rykel put a man away with dubious evidence, and his suspicious instinct is seemingly confirmed when another body is found that matches the previous murder’s twisted MO. With PTSD threatening to take him out of service for good, Rykel races against the clock, and his heart, to right a potential wrong and catch the real killer before it’s too late.
Characteristic of my eager reviewing style, I agreed to take a look at Woodhouse’s upcoming publication having not realised that it serves as the conclusion to a pre-existing quadrilogy of crime novels. Jaap Rykel was completely unfamiliar to me, and my hurry to get my hands on any review copies I possibly could had every chance of backfiring. I took a look at the synopsis, and was met with very standard police procedural, serial killer on the loose sort of fare, and assumed this would be a breezy airport read that didn’t hinge too heavily on the recollection of prior entries.
Thankfully, the story itself does indeed work as is. Drawing from Phillip Marlowe, and any number of pulp crime heroes, Rykel narrates self-centredly, amusing himself by treating the readers and most of his supporting cast as if they’re a few rungs lower on the intelligence ladder.
Each new character is introduced with a scathing personality assassination whether they’re recurring from the previous books or not, so it never becomes difficult to ascertain who’s who. There were occasional moments of rather bemusing levity bred from hierarchical friction that I assumed followed a similar throughline throughout the quartet, but Woodhouse always takes care to employ a withering aside to ensure forgetful (or, in my case, plain ignorant) readers that we’re supposed to dislike certain characters along with our protagonist.
Rykel spends much of the novel fumbling through leads, stakeouts and interrogations in a cannabis-induced semi-stupor. The action taking place in Amsterdam, the student in me immediately leapt out as soon as the troubled sleuth began dragging from a marijuana-fuelled vape, and I anticipated a hazy, hallucinatory adventure through seedy backstreets and imagined conspiracies.
But, refreshingly, The Copycat doesn’t go the way of Inherent Vice. Woodhouse makes a rather strong case for cannabis’ legality in Amsterdam, as well as effectively illuminating some lesser known judicial aspects of the drug’s role within the city.
Cannabis is a vice for Rykel, certainly, but, unlike the self-destructive nature of cigarettes and whiskey we’ve seen in countless Humphrey Bogart movies, the drug actively aids in our protagonist’s efforts to counter his demons and handle his trauma. The prose will inevitably spin into sly tangents, and find unexpected humour during one of the darker murder mysteries I’ve encountered, but this is far from a hazy trip through stupors and bong rips.
Beyond the machine gun idioms and witticisms of the appropriately acerbic narration, my investment eventually began to run out of steam, but I can only really blame my lack of knowledge. Jaap Rykel was a revelatory new hero for me, inwardly like a Dashiell Hammett, rough and ready supreme detective who can solve any case with a sardonic attitude and a couple of drags of the good stuff, but Woodhouse effortlessly combine layered prose to develop shortcomings and insecurities.
The very best moments of The Copycat arrive in the form of Kush, a huge, black Alsatian of some sort who inadvertently accompanies Rykel on the case. So named after he playfully toys with a baggie of cannabis, Kush becomes affable comic relief, a signifier for trustworthy and not-so trustworthy companions along the way, as well as representational of Rykel’s inner torment.
As his psychological conflict manifests into startling imagery involving two wolves, black and white, vying for mental supremacy deep within Rykel’s subconscious, Kush threatens to become a bleak reminder of his past failures. While the unearthed killer case is nothing we’ve not seen in countless easy read thrillers before, Woodhouse supplements a clear cut narrative with a raw take on trauma that more than makes up for its lack of ‘wow’ moments.
Jake Woodhouse clearly knows his stuff, and my first foray into the Amsterdam Quartet may have started at the end, but it’s definitely far from over. With a sharp combination of poisonously cynical humour and modern empathy, Jaap Rykel has become a character to watch, and Amsterdam a surprisingly compelling setting for a thoroughly page-turning thriller.
If you’re new to the series, you’ll rip through all four of these in a week. Maybe you’ll regret not slowing down to take in the scenery, but crime thrillers are supposed to be inhaled, not absorbed, and Woodhouse concocts a very fine strain indeed.
Written by Lucas Hill-Paul
A copy of The Copycat by Jake Woodhouse was provided by Penguin Random House for the purpose of this review.