Let them eat tulips: The Tulip Eaters

The Tulip Eaters starts out with any parent’s worst nightmare: their child has been kidnapped. And then it becomes every reader’s worst nightmare: plot inconsistencies, poorly developed characters and plenty of other stuff to complain about. 

Pediatric surgeon Nora de Jong returns to her Houston home in 1980 to find her mother murdered, her six-month-old baby missing and the body of an unknown man in her house. De Jong sets aside her own grief and trauma to travel to her parents’ homeland of the Netherlands to rescue her child and find the killer.

The stakes are high and the opening has potential but as Antoinette van Heugten immediately solves the mystery she created. In Chapter 4 the author lays out the entire violent encounter and the book then alternates between the bizarrely motivated killer/kidnapper and De Jong’s hamfisted attempt at playing detective.

As the novel progresses, the characters make increasingly incomprehensible decisions. The police officer responding to the emergency call returns to flirt with the traumatized mother. De Jong travels to Amsterdam to track down the violent perpetrators herself. Her boss keeps threatening to fire her if she doesn’t return to work within two weeks of the tragedy. (Given this book is set in the United States, that might not be unrealistic.)

The kidnapper changes the baby’s name but then continues to call her by her previous one. Somehow an adult man boards multiple international flights with a six-month-old baby who has no identity documents without raising suspicions. The book ends, of course, with the baby’s safe return to her mother, who then refuses to contact the police, despite the open murder investigation back in Texas.

Van Heugten wrote the book in English, with a smattering of Dutch for effect. The Dutch terms seem stilted and poorly chosen. In one instance, a character refers to a meal of kabeljauw as though it’s an exotic Dutch fish instead of widely eaten cod.

Published in 2013, the book was translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands in 2015. The Dutch publisher went with the much better title Verzwegen Verleden or Hidden Past for the translated version.

The thriller is the second book from the lawyer turned writer. Her first novel, Saving Max, was published in 2010 and was a runaway hit, selling more than half a million copies.

If you’re willing to overlook the poor writing for a high stakes plot, pick up The Tulip Eaters at the American Book Center.

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