Jake Woodhouse, author of the Inspector Rykel mysteries, introduces his series detective and tells us where he found inspiration for his character.
Way back, before I had much thought of being a writer, I spent two years in Amsterdam. I was studying music at the Conservatorium which, at that time, was located just across the street from the Van Gogh museum. I remember them as heady days; I was young, doing what I loved, and living in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
After long rehearsals or concerts I’d walk back through the city to the rooms I rented, and the route often took me past a specific houseboat. Looking back, I can’t even remember what it was that drew my attention to it – Amsterdam’s canals have many houseboats after all – but I do remember being drawn to this one.
It wasn’t a purpose-built houseboat like some, boxy things with large glass windows which look like they’d sink if ever faced with a wave on open waters. No, this really was a boat, a long barge which had been converted into something liveable.
There were a couple of chairs on the roof, empty plant pots dotted around, and sometimes the lights were on, port holes on the boat’s long hull glowing at night. There was a figure too, a man who I only saw a couple of times, once walking quickly across the small gangplank, and another time sitting in one of the roof chairs, the tip of a cigarette glowing in the dusk.
The final time I saw him was just a few weeks before I left Amsterdam for good. It was dark and foggy and up ahead I suddenly noticed the distinctive flickering blue of police lights parked by the houseboat. From the looks of it his front door had been forced open. As I passed there were two uniformed officers on deck, talking to the man who lived there. But it was the way in which one of the uniforms was addressing him which made me take notice. For some reason I got the impression they knew each other, or could even be colleagues and I briefly wondered if he was a detective of some sorts.
Of course, I forgot all about it until years later when I finally sat down to write and that scene came back to me, a cop’s own home being broken into. From that came the opening scene of my first book, After the Silence, and the character of Jaap Rykel. I wanted to know how he’d react. Would he laugh at the irony of it, or would he be especially affronted, and go about finding the perpetrator with unusual vigour? Or could the break in have been something more sinister. Could it have been a warning…?
So I started to write and Inspector Rykel began to reveal who he really was, through the decisions he made and the actions he took. Now, after three books where he has been put through the mill, he’s facing his biggest challenge yet.
In The Copycat Rykel is done with being a cop, the price he’s paid over the years is just too high. So he spends his days alone on his houseboat, self-medicating, and wondering what he’s now going to do with the rest of his life until the phone rings and he’s dragged right back into Amsterdam’s dark heart.
So I can only apologise to the man who lived on that boat. Because whilst I never met him or even learned his name, I feel like for years I’ve been torturing him from afar.
How many of Jake Woodhouse’s Inspector Rykel books have you read? Let us know in the comments below!