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The Dutchman's Grave

Nicholas Horwood

United Kingdom


Police Constable Knut Field returns to Svalbard, where he was born, to start a new job. Field’s family left Svalbard when he was a child, following the killing of his brother by a polar bear, an event that still haunts him.

Shortly after his arrival, Field is sent to investigate a report that a group of tourists have made a shocking discovery in an ancient Dutch whalers’ graveyard. What the tourists have stumbled upon is a recently decapitated human head.

Later, Field is visited by a Dutch woman who enquires about an investigation into the disappearance of her journalist brother, missing whilst researching a story. Field finds no record of an investigation into the missing Dutchman. When he also finds the report into the discovery of the human head has been suppressed, he realises there is a high-level conspiracy to conceal both the murder and the identity of the victim.

Knut starts a private investigation and uncovers clues that point to the existence of a serial killer. But in order to find him, Knut must first confront the demons from his past and go against his own people. For there are many secrets in Svalbard, and some people will stop at nothing to ensure they stay buried.


There are many elements to The Dutchman’s Grave that would lend themselves to a compelling thriller: the characters of Knut Field and Hans Berg, the discovery of the human head (that creates a dramatic and memorable catalyst for a thriller) and the unique geography of the story that serves as an extraordinary backdrop against which to set a story of murder and obsession; a story in the spirit of The Silence of the Lambs and Insomnia.

Story wise, I want to build on the foundations of what is a simple and linear narrative and create something more dramatic and complex. The setting of the story lends itself, like a lot of Scandinavian film and television, to an existentialist journey of survival, interwoven with the themes of community, alienation and isolation.

The novel concentrates on police procedure in a way that I do not believe would keep the audience on the edge of their seat. I have decided to create a conspiracy and a trail of clues for the protagonist (Knut Field) to follow that will test his resolve and his sense of duty, and create the maximum dramatic tension. I have also created a back-story for the protagonist: his brother was killed by a polar bear and Field is plagued by guilt because he could not save him - and haunted by nightmares of the savage animal itself. This makes Field’s return to Svalbard as much about confronting his demons as confronting a murderer.

The novel has many characters, too many for a feature film, so I want to combine many of them and ignore others, focusing on the characters of Knut Field, Governor Berg, Helena Joost (the missing journalist’s sister) and the serial killer. In the novel the killer is revealed to be Hans Berg, but I would rather create a more colourful murderer; someone who shares the hero’s obsession with polar bears, but who considers them to be gods, not monsters, and who sacrifices his victims to them.

The polar bear itself is an important part of the story. A ferocious and dangerous animal whose existence (and its environment) is being threatened by human habitation. The polar bear symbolises both killer and victim, and links Knut Field and the serial killer.

The main character in the novel, however, is Svalbard itself, and The Dutchman’s Grave is the first of a series of novels by the author and scientist/explorer Monica Kristensen, which follow the adventures of Knut Field in Svalbard. There is a great opportunity with this project to create a franchise in the very popular genre of Nordic Noir.

In the frozen land of Svalbard, bodies never stay buried. And secrets last forever.
Nicholas Horwood