Review: David Swatling – Calvin’s Head

imageOne of the nicest things about appearing on a panel is getting to read other authors’ books. At the recent Iceland Noir, Amsterdam based writer, David Swatling, was a fellow panelist. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his crime novel, Calvin’s Head, in advance of the event. And, once again, I found myself reading a book outside my usual comfort zone that was both entertaining and very dark.

One summer’s morning, Jason Dekker’s dog, Calvin, finds the body of a murder victim in the park. Dekker had come to Amsterdam to do a thesis on Van Gogh and fallen in love with artist, Willy Hart. But he now finds himself homeless and decides to take advantage of the circumstances created by the man’s murder. However, in doing so, he enters the sights of psychopath Gadget who is looking for his next victim.

From the first chapter, Swatling plunges the reader into a world of vicious affliction, setting the scene for Gadget’s violent tendencies. Sections that feature Gadget are tempered by those written from Dekker’s point of view. These have their own edginess to them as they detail, in part, Dekker’s past sexual exploits as part of the Amsterdam gay scene. It’s a clever move on the author’s part as there is a sense in the book that anything could happen. This is needed, particularly towards the latter part of the narrative, when the plot takes an unexpected turn.

There’s also a fair amount of dark humour in the book. The chapters are interspersed with sections written from Calvin the dog’s point of view. Although these took a while to get used to, I found myself looking forward to them as the book progressed.

There’s a fantastic sense of place in the novel and it’s an Amsterdam beyond the usual tourist haunts. It’s hard to compare Calvin’s Head to any other book I’ve read recently as it’s outside my usual fare. This is entirely a good thing and I’ll definitely be reading more from this writer.


12 thoughts on “Review: David Swatling – Calvin’s Head

  1. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – The Amsterdam setting really does appeal to me. And sometimes, a thread of dark wit can make a story that much more appealing. Hmm…this isn’t the sort of thing I would usually read either, but as you say, it’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone at times.


  2. Sarah, Amsterdam appears to be a favourite setting for dark and dangerous tales. I have read novels about drugs and prostitution in this great port city but not about gays which, I think, forms an interesting backdrop to “Calvin’s Head.”


  3. tracybham

    This sounds like a very different book. And like it has lots of elements I usually avoid. The setting, of course, is very interesting. And I like the idea of using the dog. I will keep this one in mind. Thanks, Sarah.


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