Category Archives: Nicolas Freeling

Unknown Enemy*

There are a number of ways to build tension and suspense in a crime novel. And that suspense is an important part of keeping the novel engaging for readers. One of the approaches crime writers sometimes use is to include what you might call an unknown enemy.

I’m not talking here of the evil villain out to take over the world. Rather, I mean situations where a character is targeted by an unknown person. If you think about it, that is an eerie feeling. Most of have a fairly good sense of who might be gunning for us. But what if you had no idea who was targeting you? That anxiety, and the wondering whom to trust, would likely add to your unease.

We see that in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger, we are introduced to Jerry Burton and his sister, Joanna. They’ve recently moved to the village of Lymstock, so that Jerry can continue his recovery from a wartime injury. They’ve not been there long when they receive a vicious anonymous letter that suggests they are not siblings, but lovers. Soon, the Burtons learn that they’re not the only victims. Other people in town are also receiving such ‘poison pen’ letters, and it’s got everyone upset. Then, a letter to a local solicitor’s wife leads to a suicide. And then there’s a murder. Miss Marple takes an interest in the case when the local vicar’s wife, who knows her, suggests she might be able to help. Part of the tension of the novel comes from the fact that people don’t know who this unknown enemy is, and why that person might be targeting them.

There’s a similar plot point in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. Amsterdam Inspector Piet Van der Valk is sent to the small town of Zwinderen to help with an unusual problem. Several people in town have received ugly anonymous letters. This is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone, so one’s local reputation matters a lot. The tension caused by the letters is so high that the result has been two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t made much progress, so it’s hoped that Van der Valk will be able to help. And in the end, he and his wife, Arlette, find out who wrote the letters and why. One important cause of unease in the novel is that the local residents don’t know who their enemy is, if I may put it that way.

In Michael Robotham’s The Suspect, we are introduced to London psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. He gets involved in a murder case when the body of a former client, Catherine McBride, is pulled from Grand Union Canal. Detective Inspector (DI) Vincent Ruiz wants whatever insights O’Loughlin may have about this case, so he persuades a very reluctant O’Loughlin to help out. Then, there’s another murder – one that very much implicates O’Loughlin. Now, Ruiz actively wonders whether his consultant may know more about the case than he’s letting on. What’s more, the leads that O’Loughlin has given Ruiz don’t seem to pan out. Before long, it’s clear that someone has set O’Loughlin up, and is framing him for multiple murders. The problem is, O’Loughlin doesn’t know who would deliberately target him. He’ll have to go back to his own past, and go after a very dangerous killer, if he’s going to clear his name. And part of the suspense as he does so comes from the fact that he doesn’t know who’s after him.

Neither does Merete Lynnggard, who is featured in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Mercy (AKA The Keeper of Lost Causes). In the novel, Copenhagen homicide detective Carl Mørck is assigned to head up a new police initiative, ‘Department Q.’ This new department will be devoted to cases ‘of special interest’ (i.e. cold cases), and is at least in part designed as a way to demonstrate that the police take all of their investigations seriously. Shortly after Mørck and his assistant, Hafez al-Assad take up their duties, they begin to look into the five-year-old disappearance of Lynnggard, who was a promising politician. Everyone thought that she went overboard in a tragic ferry accident. But new evidence suggests that she may still be alive. If so, Mørck and Assad may not have much time to find her. I can say without spoiling the story that part of its tension comes from the fact that Lynnggard didn’t even know who was targeting her.

And then there’s Lynda Wilcox’s Strictly Murder, the first of her series featuring research assistant Verity Long. She works for famous crime novelist Kathleen ‘K.D.’ Davenport, who uses old cases as inspiration for her novels. When Long goes house-hunting, she discovers the body of well-known TV presenter Jaynee ‘JayJay’ Johnson. Badly shaken up by the experience, she’s happy on one level to let the police handle the investigation. At the same time, though, she found the body, so like it or not, she is involved. And she’s both curious and skilled as a researcher. So, she starts to ask questions. And it’s not long before she runs into serious danger. More than once in the story, it’s clear that someone is targeting her. And part of the suspense comes from the fact that she doesn’t know her enemy.

There are, of course, a lot of other crime novels in which someone has a secret enemy. That plot point can add suspense, even drama, to a story if it’s done effectively. And it can add to character development.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by CKY.

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Filed under Agatha Raisin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Lynda Wilcox, Michael Robotham, Nicolas Freeling

No One Dare Disturb the Sound of Silence*

One of the major challenges that police and private investigators face is people’s reluctance to talk to them. Sometimes that’s because those people have their own secrets, and they’d rather the police didn’t find them out. Many times, though, it’s because they’re afraid of what will happen to them if they do co-operate.  If there’s a lot of what I’ll call peer pressure not to be involved in an investigation, people find that hard to resist.

For instance, in William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, Glasgow Detective Inspector (DI) Jack Laidlaw is faced with a very troubling case. Eighteen-year-old Jennifer Lawson has been raped and murdered, and her body discovered in Kelvingrove Park. In that part of the city, there is a lot of pressure not to talk to ‘the polis.’ Everyone knows who co-operates with the authorities, and those people are not made to feel welcome. Laidlaw knows this, so he takes a different approach to finding information. He and his second-in-command, Detective Constable (DC) Brian Harkness, pay a visit to John Rhodes, who is unofficially in charge of the part of Glasgow where the victim was found. If Rhodes wants something to happen, it will happen. Laidlaw also knows that Rhodes has a certain ethic. He’s not going to be pleased about the rape and murder of a young woman on ‘his patch.’ So, Laidlaw and Harkness appeal to that ethic, and Rhodes agrees to put the word out for anyone who knows anything to come forward. Sure enough, that strategy turns out to be successful, and Laidlaw gets some useful information.

In Friedrich Glauser’s Thumprint, we are introduced to Sergeant Jacob Studer of the Bern Cantonal Police. He is responsible for the arrest of Erwin Schlumpf on the charge of murdering his sweetheart Sonja’s father, travelling salesman Wendelin Witschi. Studer decides to visit Schlumpf in prison, and arrives just in time to prevent the man’s suicide. He’s developing a liking for Schlumpf, so he decides to investigate Witschi’s murder again. There was certainly enough evidence against Schlumpf to arrest him, but Studer finds that there are other possibilities when it comes to the murderer. He faces a major challenge, though: very few people are willing to talk to him. It’s not so much that they dislike Schlumpf. Rather, they have to live in the small town where the murder occurred, and don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart, especially considering that some suspects have quite a lot of local power.

There’s a similar sort of concern in Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel. In that novel, Amsterdam police detective Piet van der Valk is seconded to the small town of Zwinderen. There’s been a spate of anonymous ‘poison pen’ letters, and the matter has gone far beyond annoying. The letters have been responsible for two suicides and a mental breakdown. The local police haven’t been able to find out much information, chiefly because Zwinderen’s residents are close-mouthed. They have to live in this town, where everyone knows everyone’s business. If anyone is seen as helping the police, there’s immediately talk as to why. Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, travel to the town, and settle in. Because of the natural suspicion, van der Valk pretends to be a bureaucrat conducting a study for the Ministry of the Interior. In that guise, he slowly gets to know the residents; and, in the end, he finds out who wrote the letters and why.

Maureen Carter’s Working Girls introduces readers to Birmingham Detective Sergeant (DS) Beverly ‘Bev’ Morriss. The body of fifteen-year-old Michelle Lucas has been found by a local school caretaker, and the police begin their investigation. One of their first tasks is, of course, to find out as much as possible about the victim. When they learn that she was a sex worker, a natural next step is to talk to other local sex workers and find out about any enemies she’d made. That proves more difficult than it might seem. These women have to live in town and do their jobs. If they’re seen as helping the police, they’ll alienate some of the very people who are their support system. That’s not to mention that several of them work for Charlie Hawes, a dangerous pimp who’s not afraid to use violence to keep ‘his girls’ under control. He’s happy to use the same tactics against anyone else who crosses him, too, so people are inclined to keep quiet. Morriss knows how difficult it’s going to be to get Michelle’s friends and co-workers to talk, so she slowly develops a rapport with some of them, outside of the police station. Little by little, they learn to trust her, and she learns quite a lot of useful information.

Harry Bingham’s DC Fiona Griffiths faces the same challenge in Talking to the Dead. When part-time sex worker Janet Mancini and her six-year-old daughter, April, are killed, Griffiths joins the team that investigates the murders. She tries to make contact with some of the other sex workers in the area, but few of them are willing to talk. They still have to earn their livings. Besides, there are some very dangerous people who might be involved in the killings. It makes no sense to put their own lives in peril if anyone suspects they’ve been co-operating with the police. Still, Griffiths slowly finds out some of Mancini’s background. And she gets some important information about the killings.

And then there’s David Whish-Wilson’s Line of Sight, which takes place in late-1970s Perth. Superintendent Frank Swann’s been away from the area for a few years, but returns when he learns of the death of a friend, Ruby Devine. He soon finds that almost no-one is willing to talk to him about her death, though. For one thing, Swann has convened a Royal Commission hearing to look into possible corruption among a group of police known as the ‘purple circle.’ That’s already made him a marked man. And the people who might know something sill have to live in and around Perth. They have to deal with the consequences if it gets around that they helped Swann. It’s a difficult situation for everyone, but Swann eventually finds out the truth.

And that’s the thing about getting people to talk. The police need to get answers, but the people who could help them still have to go on with their lives, perhaps next door to someone they’ve accused. Or perhaps the next target of someone who doesn’t want to be ‘known to the police.’ Either way, this can make it very challenging to get information.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is line from Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.

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Filed under David Whish-Wilson, Friedrich Glauser, Harry Bingham, Maureen Carter, Nicolas Freeling, William McIlvanney

Yes, I Know I’m Just an Outcast*

As this is posted, it’s the 167th anniversary of the publication of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter. As you’ll know, it’s the story of Hester Prynne, who has a child out of wedlock and is therefore, punished for adultery. There are many themes in the novel – it’s a complex story, really – and I won’t pretend to touch on them all here. But one of them that’s quite relevant to crime fiction is the trope of the outcast.

Different cultures have different reasons for rejecting people and considering them outcasts. But no matter what the reason, being outcast is traumatic. Humans by nature are social. We have a deep-seated need to be accepted. So, it’s especially distressing not to have a group to accept us. That tension can add much to a story, and can add a fascinating layer of character development.

In Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, for instance, Hercule Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny to investigate the murder of a charwoman. Everyone thinks the killer is her lodger, James Bentley. In fact, there’s enough evidence against him that he’s been convicted and is set to be executed. But Superintendent Spence doesn’t think he’s guilty. And if he is innocent, Poirot doesn’t want to see him hanged, either. But Poirot soon runs into a problem as he investigates. Bentley has never really been accepted in the village. He doesn’t have much in the way of social skills, and he isn’t the ‘dashingly handsome type.’ So, he’s become a sort of outcast, although people don’t go out of their way to hurt him. Still, he’s an easy mark when the time comes to arrest someone for Mrs. McGinty’s murder. And most people aren’t really interested in standing up for him. But Poirot perseveres, and we learn, in the end, who really killed the victim and why.

In Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, we are introduced to Jim Haight. He was engaged to Nora Wright, whose parents, John F. and Hermione ‘Hermy’ Wright, are the undisputed social leaders of the small town of Wrightsville. Three years ago, though, Haight unexpectedly jilted his bride-to-be, and left town. That’s how matters stand at the beginning of the novel, when Ellery Queen temporarily moves into the Wrights’ guest house so that he can do some writing. Not long after Queen’s arrival, Haight returns to town. He’s not welcome after having treated Nora as he did. But he and Nora rekindle their romance, and even get married. Then, some evidence comes up that suggests that Haight married Nora only for her money, and is planning to kill her. On New Year’s Eve, there is, in fact, a murder. Haight’s sister, Rosemary, drinks a cocktail that was intended for Nora, and dies of poison. Haight is arrested right away, and because he’s already an outcast, gets no support. In fact, the residents have an almost-vigilante attitude towards him. But Queen isn’t convinced of his guilt. So, he and Nora’s sister, Pat, look into the matter more deeply and discover who the real killer is.

Ann Cleeves’ Raven Black takes place mostly in the small Shetland town of Ravenswick. Everyone in town knows everyone else, and just about everyone stays away from Magnus Tait. He’s an eccentric loner, so he’s not much of a ‘mixer’ to begin with. It doesn’t help his case that there are whispers that link him to the disappearance several years earlier of a young girl. For the most part, he’s not overtly bullied, but he’s certainly not welcome in people’s homes, either. One New Year’s Eve, local teenagers Sally Henry and Catherine Ross stop by Tait’s home to wish him a good year. It’s partly a ‘dare you to knock on the door’ moment, and partly a matter of feeling bad for someone left alone on the holiday. Just a few days later, Catherine is found murdered, not far from Tait’s home. Immediately it’s assumed that he is the killer, and people are only too happy to lead Inspector Jimmy Perez in that direction. But Tait claims that he is innocent. Besides, Perez is a good cop who doesn’t want to assume guilt without the evidence to support that assumption. So, he digs deeper, and finds that more than one person might have had a motive for murder.

Nicolas Freeling’s Double Barrel sees his Amsterdam Police sleuth, Piet Van der Valk, sent from Amsterdam to the small Dutch town of Zwinderen. A number of anonymous, ‘poison pen’ letters have been sent to the residents, and everyone’s shaken up. In fact, one recipient committed suicide; another had a mental breakdown. Matters are not helped by the fact that Zwinderen is a small community, where everyone knows everyone, and where people feel a great need to fit in and be accepted. The local police haven’t made much headway in finding the author of the letters, so Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, go to Zwinderen. It’s not long before Van der Valk discovers that a lot of people think that a certain M. Besançon is the guilty party. He’s somewhat of an outcast, and no-one in the town really likes him much. He lives alone in a house with a walled garden for privacy (something that makes the townspeople quite suspicious). And, he’s not ‘one of them;’ he’s a French Jew who survived the Holocaust and immigrated to the Netherlands.  Van der Valk is soon able to show that M. Besançon didn’t write the letters. But it’s interesting to see how quick the residents of Zwinderen are to blame him.

And then there’s Jodie Evans Garrow, whom we meet in Wendy James’ The Mistake. She has, by most people’s estimation, a perfect life. She’s educated, attractive, and married to a successful attorney. She’s the mother of two healthy children, and seems to have everything going for her. Although she grew up on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, Jodie now lives among well-off, well-connected people who’ve accepted her as one of them, for the most part. Then, disaster strikes. It comes out that, long ago, Jodie gave birth to another child – a child she never told anyone about before. Not even her husband knew. Jodie claims that she gave the baby up for adoption, but there are no formal records to support that. So, very soon, questions start to arise. What happened to the baby? If she’s alive, where is she? If she’s dead, did Jodie have something to do with it? It’s not long before Jodie’s social group rejects her, and she becomes a pariah. As we slowly learn what happened to the baby, we also see how difficult it is for Jodie to be shunned or worse by the very people who once accepted her.

And that’s the thing about outcasts. They often have little in the way of a support system, and that can make life miserable. That tension may add to a novel, but in real life, it’s awful.

 
 
 

NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’ God Help the Outcasts.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, Ellery Queen, Nicolas Freeling, Wendy James

Teach Me to Be More Adaptive*

AdaptivenessSpecies do best when they can adapt to their surroundings. Species that don’t develop adaptations don’t tend to survive. That’s a basic part of the explanation for a lot of phenomena, from humans’ opposable thumbs to the spines on a cactus. Just take the fellow local resident you see in the ‘photo. These lizards are well adapted to living where I live. They don’t need a lot of water, they do exceptionally well in a fairly warm climate, and they move fast, too, so they’re less vulnerable. They’re even well-camouflaged, so they can hide from both predators and prey.

People need to adapt, too, of course, and I don’t just mean in the evolutionary sense. If you look at crime fiction, you can see all sorts of examples of characters who have to adapt to different environments. Some are successful and some aren’t. Either way, though, that process of adapting (or not adapting) can add an interesting layer of character development and tension to a crime novel.

Adaptation, of course, doesn’t necessarily have to mean a character changes everything. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for instance, has lived in London for many years. His first language isn’t English, but he speaks it quite fluently. He’s adapted to English customs, too, and understands the nuances of life in England. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely changed. He isn’t much of a one for the custom of tea (well, at least not as it was at the time Christie was writing):
 

“If one partakes of the five o’clock, one does not,’ he explained, ‘approach the dinner with the proper quality of expectant gastric juices. And the dinner, let us remember, is the supreme meal of the day!”
 

There are other ways, too, in which he has not stopped being Belgian. But I think one could safely say he’s adapted (I know, I know, fans of Nicolas Freeling’s Arlette Van der Valk).

Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee novels take place mostly on the Navajo Reservation, where people have had to adapt to the desert climate – not an easy task. Leaphorn and Chee have had to make other adaptations, too, in order to function within the dominant US culture. In fact, Leaphorn attended a high school where,
 

‘The word was, give up the old ways or die.’ 
 

So Leaphorn did. He still identifies as a Navajo, and respects his people’s traditions. He’s thoroughly adapted to desert life, too, and is well able to deal with its harshness. But he’s quite secular, and his customs are more dominant-culture than Navajo. For his part, Chee hasn’t adapted in quite the same way, although he certainly functions well within the dominant culture. In fact, he has more than one opportunity to join the FBI and other dominant-culture law-enforcement agencies. But Chee is Navajo and doesn’t really belong anywhere else. He’s more traditional in his thinking than Leaphorn, and that makes for an interesting contrast between the two.

Eva Dolan’s DS Melinda ‘Mel’ Ferreira, whom we first meet in Long Way Home, is a member of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit. She’s originally from Portugal, although she’s been living in England for quite some time. She’s had to adapt to much more than the English language (although she certainly speaks it fluently). She’s also had to adapt to all sorts of other English ways, and it hasn’t been easy for her. For one thing, her schoolmates didn’t make life particularly easy. For another, she lives with her parents, who in some ways, have retained their own customs (although her father is determined to assimilate, and uses British wit to try to do so). Ferreria has at times had her issues with life in England, but she’s adjusted, and does her job well.

In Brian Stoddart’s Superintendent Christian ‘Crhis’ Le Fanu series, we see an interesting contrast in the way people adapt (or don’t) to a different environment. The series takes place in 1920’s Madras (today’s Chennai) during the British Raj. Le Fanu is English, and in some ways, he retains his ‘Englishness.’ But he’s adapted effectively to life in India. He’s made adjustments for the very different climate, he enjoys the local food, and so on. He’s also learned to work with the local people to do his job. Here’s an example from A Strait Settlement:
 

‘A senior official eating local food and mixing with Indians bucked the normal pattern.’
 

By contrast, the series also features Arthur Jepson, Madras Commissioner of Police. In several ways, he is Le Fanu’s nemesis, and is all too eager to sabotage him in any way possible. But beyond that, Jepson hasn’t adapted to life in India. He certainly doesn’t mix with the locals, enjoy the local food, or in other ways adjust. And it’s interesting to see the different ways in which the two men react to the environment.

In Paddy Richardson’s Swimming in the Dark, we are introduced to secondary school teacher Ilse Klein and her mother Gerda. They moved from Leipzig in then-East Germany to New Zealand when Ilse was a child. For Gerda, the move represented escape from the Stasi – the East German secret police. Ever grateful to her adopted home, she adjusted to life there, and so did her husband, who’s since died. She remembers what it was like to live under the East German regime, and is very glad she’s adapted to life in New Zealand. Ilse, on the other hand, left Leipzig when she was too young to really appreciate how dangerous it was to live there. She has a different perspective on the situation, and didn’t adapt as easily to New Zealand. Her point of view makes for an interesting contrast to that of her mother. Both views play their roles when Ilse becomes concerned about a pupil, Serena Freeman, who seems to have disengaged from school. What’s especially worrisome is that Serena was one of the most promising students in Ilse’s class, so her detachment marks a major change. Matters get even worse when Serena disappears…

There are plenty of other examples – more than I have space for here – of crime-fictional situations where characters have to adapt. Some do so relatively easily, and some not so easily. Either way, adaptation can add a layer to a crime novel.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Green Finch and Linnet Bird.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Brian Stoddart, Eva Dolan, Nicolas Freeling, Paddy Richardson, Tony Hillerman

The Sins of Amsterdam Were Still a Recent Surprise*

AnneFrankHouseAmsterdam is one of the most international cities in the world. That makes sense when you consider how long it’s been a commercial and banking hub. The city has a rich history of welcoming people from all over the world; as a result, it’s got a diverse population. At the same time, there’s a strong history of Dutch culture as well. And the city itself is beautiful. But don’t let that beauty fool you. There’s plenty of crime in Amsterdam, at least if you read crime fiction. Here are just a few examples; I know you’ll be able to think of others.

One of Nicolas Freeling’s series features Piet van der Valk of the Amsterdam Police. He is married to Arlette, who is French, and who is a match for her husband in terms of her ability to follow leads and solve cases. In fact, this is one of those series where the sleuth relies far more on his spouse for insights and help than on work colleagues. Beginning with Love in Amsterdam (AKA Death in Amsterdam), this series is a ten-novel collection. Only it’s not quite. There are two novels that follow this series, and feature Arlette only. And there’s a case that Freeling wrote later – a ‘recovered’ case of van der Valk’s. Put together, it’s an interesting look at Amsterdam and at Dutch culture.

Simone van der Vlugt’s first novel for adults was The Reunion. In that novel, we are introduced to Sabine Kroese. As the story begins, she is returning to work in an Amsterdam bank after taking some time off to treat depression. When she returns, she finds that things are quite different. Her job and that of her friend Janine have been usurped by a new colleague, and Sabine finds herself becoming the butt of office bullying. She’s already fragile enough as it is, and this just makes matters worse. Sabine’s fragility comes from an incident that happened years earlier, when she and her friend Isabel were teenagers. One night, Isabel disappeared and, despite a massive police search, was never found. Sabine has very few memories of that night, and she’s been working with a psychologist to try to rebuild her life. Her memories begin to return in small bits when news comes of a reunion at the school she and Isabel attended. Sabine decides to start asking questions about Isabel’s disappearance, to see if she can jog her memory and if she can find out the truth. But the closer she gets, the more afraid certain people seem to be of what she’ll learn.

Daniel Pembrey has written a three-novella series featuring Henk van der Pol, an Amsterdam police detective who’s getting to the point in life where he’s thinking about retirement. He and his wife Pernilla have a good life aboard a houseboat, and their daughter Nadia is off at university. So the time may be right for him to let go of his career. But then, in The Harbour Master, he happens to be looking out over Amsterdam Harbour one morning when a dog walker notices that a young woman’s body has floated to the surface. A tattoo on her ankle suggests that she is associated with a dangerous Hungarian criminal gang. But it’s soon very clear that there are plenty of people who don’t want van der Pol to solve this crime. And what’s most disturbing is that it’s not just the ‘bad guys’ in the gang who are against him. As it turns out, there’s some high-level self-protection and corruption involved too. The follow-ups to this story are The Maze and Ransom, which continue van der Pol’s story.

Henk van der Pol isn’t the only fictional Amsterdam detective to live on a houseboat. David Hewson’s Pieter Vos does, as well. When we first meet Vos, in House of Dolls, he’s been away from the police force for two years. He resigned his position after the disappearance of his sixteen-year-old daughter Annaliese, and hasn’t really recovered. He’s currently living on a houseboat in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam with his dog, Sam. Vos brought back on duty when Katja Prins, daughter of the vice-mayor, goes missing. This disappearance bears a strong resemblance to that of Annaliese. In both cases, dolls are used as cryptic clues. At first, Vos doesn’t want to get involved, but it seems that someone is pressuring him to be drawn into the case. In the meantime, the vice-mayor’s campaign to clean up the streets, as the saying goes, is not going down well with some of the local crime bosses, and this political/criminal element plays a role in the story as well.

And then there’s Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which takes place at an upmarket Amsterdam restaurant. Two couples, Paul and Claire Lohman, and Paul’s successful brother Serge and his wife Babette, meet there for dinner. The different parts of the novel are separated by the names for the different courses of a gourmet meal. So on the surface, readers follow the conversation among the brothers and their wives. But as each course is served, the layers of these very dysfunctional characters and their histories are peeled back. So we learn about the families’ pasts, and some very dark secrets, one in particular, that they are keeping. We also learn the real reason for which they’ve met for this reason. Throughout the novel, Koch also shares several aspects of modern Dutch culture and life.

Amsterdam is an international, cosmopolitan city with a rich past, a thriving culture and some beautiful sections. And the Van Gogh Museum. There are wonderful restaurants and fine music, too. And the people I’ve met there have been friendly and helpful. But peaceful? Not so much, at least in crime fiction…

ps. The ‘photo is of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It’s much better than any I could take, so thanks to AnneFrank.org. My visit there was a truly moving experience which I won’t try to put into words. I heartily recommend you make a visit if you can. Learn more about it right here.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Scandinavian Skies.

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Filed under Daniel Pembrey, David Hewson, Herman Koch, Nicolas Freeling, Simone van der Vlugt