Dear readers, It’s quite an honour to receive the protagonists of the Amsterdam Assassin Series for an interview, since both are known to be notoriously reticent to talk about themselves. For this interview we have left the usual couch behind, and meet them at Katla Sieltjes’s new office in the Kavallerie Kazerne near Artis, the Amsterdam Zoo. Katla’s boyfriend, Bram Merleyn, is already there, cleaning his tenor saxophone. His distinctive looks, especially the scarring on his face caused by the shrapnel that blinded him, make Katla look especially nondescript in her appearance. Katla often remarked how her bland appearance was an asset in her occupation, so I asked about that first.
Katla Sieltjes: Unlike most of my girlfriends, I didn’t really want to stand out with my appearance. I often dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and I wasn’t curvy, so some people even confused me with being a boy.
Assaph Mehr: Why didn’t you want to stand out?
Katla Sieltjes: Fits best with my nature, I think. I tend to be an observer more than a participant. I guess you could call me an Einzelgänger.
Assaph Mehr: A loner?
Katla Sieltjes: (shakes her head) Loner carries many negative connotations. I prefer to be my own company. I never feel alone or lonely.
Assaph Mehr: You were an only child, is that right?
Katla Sieltjes: Yes, but that has nothing to do with preferring a solitary existence.
Assaph Mehr: So you don’t have difficulty sharing?
Katla Sieltjes: Sharing my life? I’m sharing my life with Bram, right now.
Assaph Mehr: (turns to Bram Merleyn) You have siblings, don’t you?
Bram Merleyn: I have a sister, yes. Bianca. She runs a diner in the Nine Streets.
Assaph Mehr: From what I gather, you see her almost every day.
Bram Merleyn: When I’m busking, I often take my lunch break at Bianca’s, yes.
Assaph Mehr: What is your take on Katla’s solitude?
Bram Merleyn: I think many people would find it difficult to relate to Katla on a deeper level. When she drops her masks.
Assaph Mehr: You think she’s wearing masks?
Katla Sieltjes: Everyone wears masks. Most of the time, I’m quite congenial.
Bram Merleyn: She’s right. In general, we only drop all our masks with the people we trust unconditionally.
Assaph Mehr: Katla, you used to be a corporate consultant, before you became a special consultant to the Dutch secret service. Can you tell us more about that?
Katla Sieltjes: Not much to tell. Sometimes, corporations have to take actions that need to be disavowable, so the actions cannot be traced back to them. I got the desired results, so I built a career on being a freelance corporate troubleshooter. I was approached by the previous special consultant who was looking for a successor. The AIVD is like a corporation. They have in-house consultants, but sometimes they need freelancers like myself to view situations from another perspective.
Assaph Mehr: (turns to Bram Merleyn) And what is your role?
Katla Sieltjes: Bram is a strategic genius.
Bram Merleyn: (smirks) I wouldn’t say genius, but Katla often consults me on matters of strategy. But I’m not on anyone’s payroll.
Assaph Mehr: Because of your Yakuza connections?
Bram Merleyn: I live in a Japanese club, where I treat members with shiatsu. Some members are Yakuza, but it’s not a Yakuza club. If a doctor treats a criminal for physical discomfort that is unrelated to crime, the doctor wouldn’t be considered a criminal.
Assaph Mehr: Didn’t they pay your recent trip to Japan?
Bram Merleyn: My martial arts instructor provided airline tickets. I had to go to Japan to take a few exams in shiatsu and martial arts.
Assaph Mehr: Didn’t you also meet with members of the Yakuza?
Bram Merleyn: (shrugs) Possibly, but I can’t see if they’re Yakuza or ordinary Japanese.
Assaph Mehr: I’ve seen surveillance photos where you wear a Yakuza lapel pin and dine with members of the Yakuza.
Bram Merleyn: The lapel pin was a gift from one of my patients. He told me the pin would ‘open many doors of fortune’, so I thought that pin was supposed to bring me good luck. It did open many doors that are essentially closed to non-Japanese. Anyway, I prefer to be independent, so I merely extend the favour of my expertise to my friends.
Assaph Mehr: Your strategic expertise.
Bram Merleyn: I can often provide a different perspective. And that can be useful, especially in complicated situations.
Assaph Mehr: (turns to Katla Sieltjes) You seem to get into complicated situations a lot.
Katla Sieltjes: (shakes her head) Most of the situations I get in are pretty straightforward, but they become complicated because of the fluke factor. You can plan everything to the minute details, but life has a tendency to be unpredictable.
Assaph Mehr: You do have unusual solutions to these complications.
Katla Sieltjes: I try not to go the obvious route, but Bram provides me with strategies that are truly uncommon, so a lot of the credit should go to him.
Assaph Mehr: I read some of the Killfiles, which present case files from before you met Bram. You show quite a bit of ingenuity in handling those cases.
Katla Sieltjes: Well, I almost get killed in one of them, and the others also carry a lot of risk. Bram’s strategies are often better from a risk-management perspective. Although it’s rare to exclude all risks, especially with my hands-on approach.
Assaph Mehr: You seem to have attained a great variety of skills. What can you tell us about them?
Katla Sieltjes: I’ve always been curious, especially in technical things, so I work on improving motorcycles and cars, and I used to work as a locksmith’s apprentice until I got my own license. I specialise in opening doors without damaging the locks.
Assaph Mehr: And you’re into sports.
Katla Sieltjes: No, I’m not. Close quarters combat is not a sport, and I’m a professional diver. I train a lot to keep fit and flexible and to keep up my skills, but I don’t compete in sports.
Assaph Mehr: So you’re like Bram, in that aspect?
Bram Merleyn: That’s right. Aikido has not competition, and I don’t participate in demonstrations of koryu bujutsu.
Assaph Mehr: What made you take up koryu bujutsu? Isn’t that like training to be a samurai?
Bram Merleyn: Koryu bujutsu means ‘ancient school in the techniques of war’. In feudal times, the members of the warrior class would send their children to these schools to teach them how to survive on the battlefield. I’m not training to be a samurai, because I can never become one – only Japanese who were born in the bushi class could become samurai if they’d find a master. If they couldn’t, they’d become ronin.
Assaph Mehr: But what made you want to study these ancient techniques of war? Aren’t they ancient, and therefore outdated?
Bram Merleyn: There’s a physical and a mental aspect to the study. The physical training strengthens the mental capacities. And the mental warrior attitude never becomes outdated, which is why the teachings of Sun Tzu and his peers are still studied by modern day strategists.
Katla Sieltjes: Plus he just likes to dress up and swing swords around.
Assaph Mehr: You seem to have a predilection for sharp objects yourself. And a distaste for guns.
Katla Sieltjes: Guns have their uses. I know how to handle a gun now, but they’re unsuitable for my purposes. Too noisy and not always accurate or effective. I prefer a more subtle approach.
Assaph Mehr: I hope to keep enjoying your adventures. The fourth novel in the series has just been published, but can we expect to read more of your endeavours?
Katla Sieltjes: As far as I know, a fifth novel is in development, but I can’t say too much about that. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Martyn V. Halm lives in Amsterdam, with his wife Maaike, two children, two cats, and countless imaginary characters vying for attention. Martyn always enjoyed stories about assassins, and has done in research about them – research took him right up to Nietzsche’s abyss.
You can find Katla and Bram on the pages of Reprobate and the rest of the Amsterdam Assassin series.
Next with we will host a midshipman from the fabled HMS Daedalus, who will tell us about their encounter with the mythological sea serpent. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right), via Twitter or like our Facebook page to be notified when the next interview is posted.