23 Seconds

Anne Lieftinck grew up in Amsterdam’s Red Light District where twenty years ago her mother, who was a sex worker in one of the window brothels, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Haantje, a boy living nearby at the time, was charged with the crime. He had the motive, means and opportunity – Anne’s mother was constantly slandering him, and his fingerprints were found on the hammer.

Original title
23 seconden
Kees van Beijnum

Anne, who overcame her humble beginnings, has become a well-known writer and is working on a book about her mother’s murder. One day she is asked to write a contribution for a book of photographs commemorating her high-school boyfriend Hayo, who died in a bombing in Afghanistan. He’d lived on Anne’s street and wasn’t afraid of anyone – undaunted, he made a career for himself photographing squatters’ riots, drug addicts and, later on, war zones.

Her research increasingly leads her to doubt that Haantje is really guilty of the crime. The excerpts from his journals that she gets to read paint a picture of a somewhat naive boy who likes to draw and is trying to escape the suffocating Salvation Army environment that his mother is immersed in – not someone who’d be capable of such a brutal murder.

On that fateful evening, Anne had heard a voice in the house and smelled after-shave. Was it Hayo, hiding in her mother’s bedroom? She is determined to find out the truth by talking to as many witnesses as possible. Van Beijnum skilfully conjures up a cast of different shadowy characters – a motley chorus that accompanies Anne on her dangerous quest.

Van Beijnum grew up in Amsterdam’s Red Light District himself and he paints a visceral portrait of the area as a separate community, governed by its own social codes. Every move the characters make turns out to be another cog in the plot of this gripping novel, building towards an ending that leaves no one untouched.

An accomplished, powerful portrait of the Red Light District – a place that’s difficult to get away from, where you’re at risk of getting pulled under by the self-destructive current that seems to be prevalent there.

De Telegraaf

23 Seconds sounds like a thriller, but it’s much more than that. It’s an intriguing portrayal of a certain era, of a certain place and the oftentimes disturbed relationships between people. Love, betrayal […] Van Beijnum describes it all with ease, without resorting to clichés.

De Zondag
Kees van Beijnum
Kees van Beijnum (b. 1954) originally worked as a journalist, but after reporting on a case of murder in Amsterdam-Noord, in 'Over het IJ' (Over the IJ Water, 1991), he opted to become a full-time writer.
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