Frederik Baas

Diary From the River

An addictive game as the engine of a plot

Every thriller needs an engine that will get the plot going and maintain the tension. In his debut thriller Diary From the River, Frederik Baas comes up with a marvellous device: a diary fished out of a river.

Architect Barbara is on holiday in the Ardennes with her eight-year-old son Rens and her new boyfriend Robbert, a publisher. They have rented part of a farmhouse through one of Robbert’s authors. After writing a bestseller about the death of his mother, the writer has withdrawn to the Belgian countryside. For the past several years he has been writing his second novel, about a Dutch girl who disappeared without trace in the same region some years back, but he has become hopelessly bogged down. He is the narrator of the story.

Robbert, who has brought a lot of work with him, isolates himself from family life in order to read manuscripts. Barbara, feeling ignored, spends time with the writer. She is interested in his work and asks to see the room where he writes. He would never allow the publisher in, but in her case he has no objection. On the wall he has stuck up all kinds of cuttings about the disappearance.

Her son is bored – they have mislaid the charger for his tablet – so the mother thinks of a game. When she goes out for a swim in the river with the writer and her son, she uses the fact that they need sunblock as an excuse to walk back to the farmhouse. Just as she approaches the water again, several sheets of paper float by. They look like pages from the missing girl’s diary, but actually they have been fabricated by the mother and thrown into the water further upstream. Based on the invented clues provided by the diary, the three of them set out to solve the mystery.

This changes everything. The approach- ing calamity that casts its shadow over the apparently normal holiday fun is subtly introduced by the prescient words that Baas interpolates into every chapter. The playing of the game increases the tension with every page. At a steadily accelerating pace, Baas draws us on to his highly original resolution.

Baas builds the tension and suggestiveness, the way a beaver builds a dam: steadily, ensuring it’s watertight, with an astonishing result.

Peter Buwalda

As with the boy in the book, an addictive game is played with the reader. A brilliant idea in a powerful thriller. Baas has mastered his trade!

Peter Terrin


Frederik Baas

Frederik Baas is the pseudonym of Jan van Mersbergen (b. 1971). He made his debut as a crime writer with Diary From the River (2017), followed a year later by Herberekening (Recalculation). The Last Straw is his third thriller. Van Mersbergen’s work has been published in translation in France…

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Dagboek uit de rivier (2017). Fiction, 215 pages.
Words: 54,786

Themes: crime


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