Piet Barol has always longed to be more than his humble upbringings. He’s searching for a job in Amsterdam in 1907 that will catapult him into the life he believe he’s always deserved. With a letter of introduction in hand, he hastens to the doorstep of the Vermeulen-Sickerts, whose son, a musical genius, refuses to go outside and follows carefully constructed rituals to keep himself safe. Piet lands the job and almost immediately sets about making himself indispensable and liked in the family. His climb to prosperity is both scandalous and gripping, rich with the opulence of the period and the emotional complexities that rise from Piet’s relationships.
This book is not for the sensitive, because as the title implies, it does get quite scandalous, and Piet doesn’t hesistate to trade on his physical appeal to gain traction with the ladies, going as far as he is allowed. There is a lot of tension between him and several other characters in the book, men and women, as his attractiveness and relentless ambition drives him to sleep with anyone despite his own personal preferences.
That isn’t the part I liked about the book, really, although I thought those relationships were well done. I was interested in two other aspects; Piet’s relationship with the smallest member of the Vermeulen-Sickerts family was one that stuck out to me. The poor boy has such a conflict within himself, and while Piet’s relationship with him only pushes him in the correct direction, I still felt quite a lot of sympathy for him.
The other part that I really enjoyed was the setting. In particular, most of the book is set in Amsterdam, and it’s very glamorous at that. I loved hearing about the parties, the usual contrast between the lives of the servants and the lives of the aristocrats, and all of the little details that Mason fills the book with. Later on in the book, Piet heads off on a steamship, and once again we get that contrast; Piet is not in first class, but his connections with a servant friend get him there. Along with him, we experience the huge difference that a change in station entails, and it’s almost too easy to see why he longs to climb the social ladder so deeply.
It’s obvious at the end of this novel that the series hasn’t quite ended yet, and I do believe Mason intends to follow up with more details of Piet’s life. This isn’t going to be a favorite of mine, but I did enjoy the ride. I’d recommend it for anyone looking for an excellent depiction of Belle Epoque Amsterdam, complex characters, and who doesn’t mind some racy scenes in their books.
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