"My childhood echoed with the sound of whispering. The servants
believed that I was conceived by the moon, born in the thirteenth
lunar month. How the wet nurses feared me. Crossing themselves,
garlic cloves pinned to their aprons, they would watch me creep
about my cot, eyes still closed, mewling like a newborn pup."
Amsterdam has a certain dark connotation in the minds of many --- a
place where every vice is readily available, every desire
entertained. Despite the fact that it's one of Europe's most
beautiful cities, the images of life in 17th century Amsterdam that
flow throughout THE COMPANY will do little to elevate that grim
perception. On the contrary, the narrator, Jeronimus Cornelisz,
alludes to the rampant vulgarities of the city --- its lust for
gold, its appetite for pleasure --- and he speaks with authority.
Pampered and privileged as a youth, Cornelisz moved in the most
sordid circles of Amsterdam, honing his skills in avarice and
perversion, and mastering all forms of illicit chemistry. Finally
banished from his homeland, his life intersected with the
unfortunate passengers of the flagship Batavia, and he
became the mastermind behind one of the most grisly series of
murders in maritime history.
In this fictionalized version of that fateful voyage, Arabella Edge
brings the demon Cornelisz into full focus, as he enumerates his
deeds from birth to gallows, giving the reader a sense of what
might have evolved in his unbalanced mind. It's an unusual and
quite remarkable feat of prose --- revealing both historic detail
and a chilling profile through the villain's own voice. His
motivation is simple. He wants to steal the Company's cache of gold
and silver from the ship's hold and establish his own decadent
dominion. His vanity and arrogance are beyond belief as he sizes up
passengers and crew, determining who he will corrupt and who must
die. He uses cunning and gifts of opium to persuade a group of
young Company boys to become his conspirators, molding them into a
band of killers for his own entertainment.
History records that the ship was tragically wrecked on a coral
reef, and those that drowned in the stormy seas were perhaps
luckier than those that survived. During the 40 some days they were
marooned, Cornelisz began systematically eliminating the survivors
--- approximately 250 men, women, and children. His inhumane
methods are sickening to witness, and his fixation on a beautiful
young woman equally chilling. Her staunch determination to thwart
his advances and test his authority both baffle and enrage
"Beneath the mosquito net, my [Lucretia] lies slumped on the bed.
Catatonic witch. I have wooed her with fond, flattering words and
caresses. Not used harsh words or chastised her. I have acted the
perfect gentleman, chivalrous to the end. I have also safeguarded
her privacy. She finds solace in solitude and has no reason to
believe there are spies among the shadows, spiders waiting in the
Was he a product of a wanton upbringing? An ordinary man who
succumbed to the madness of the moment? Or a twisted psychopath
from birth, who found an opportunity to test the extremes of
behavior? Edge suggests the latter, and it is in that context that
the horrifying events of 1629 take place before our very eyes.
Ironically, it is through his merciless leadership that the people
are forced into community survival tasks that ultimately result in
saving some of their lives.
Arabella Edge has taken this tragic page from history and fashioned
a riveting character study as Cornelisz waffles between the roles
of enslaver and pursuer, destroyer and protector. Gruesome and
disturbing, her novel digs deeply into the depravity of every human
soul and mirrors the age-old struggle between good and evil. Should
you find yourself able to endure through the last chapter, there
are some brighter moments to be found in the author's notes
reflecting the outcome for the few who survived and the final
justice exacted upon Jeronimus Cornelisz.
Reviewed by Ann Bruns (BkPageWC@aol.com) on January 21, 2011