I’m really pleased that author Valerie Poore is once more visiting my blog as a guest reviewer and this time is reviewing a Dutch crime fiction series.
Val lives in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time.
De Waal and Baantjer: DI Van Opperdoes, his side kick Jacob, and a loving ghost
In the past few weeks, I’ve neglected all the books I’ve got on my Kindle and I’ve been reading Dutch crime fiction. The thing is it’s quite addictive, so when I bought a compendium of three books through our Dutch version of e-bay recently, I knew my Kindle wasn’t going to be opened for some time, despite there being several books on it that I really want to read.
I think it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love crime fiction. I’ve long been a fan of the genre and I have several favourite authors. The one thing that will put me off, however, is if the books contain too much graphic violence and overblown goriness. I like my detective novels to be about the puzzle of solving the crime and not too much about the criminal mind and psyche behind it. People who plan and commit murders have to be sick and I don’t want to read too much about what they are thinking; it’s much too disturbing for my peace of mind.
So what are these books that I’ve discovered? Well, they’re by a writing duo, Simon de Waal and Appie Baantjer, the latter being already famous for his De Kok series that was serialised on Dutch TV for years. The series I am reading centres on a different character, DI Peter van Opperdoes, a somewhat senior detective who has recently lost his beloved wife. To escape his desperate loneliness, he asks for a transfer to the Raamport Police Station in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, where he believes life will be more peaceful than at his previous base but will still provide him with the diversion he needs to keep his mind off his loss. The first of the books I read would have had the English title of ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’. It caught my attention because it starts with the discovery of a body in one of the Amsterdam canals, so being water oriented as I am, I read further.
DI Van Opperdoes and his partner, Jacob, a likable young officer, find they have any number of possible suspects when they establish that the drowned victim was one of a sizable group of students used by drug runners to courier packages and messages to clients. There are other suspects too, like the boyfriend of the girl the victim was courting, as well as his university professor, who has been accused of plagiarism and suspects the victim has evidence to prove it.
It is a puzzle that weaves its way through the gracious but dangerous quarters of Amsterdam, a city known for its organised crime. But eventually, through his ability to put two and twenty together, Peter van Opperdoes (with plenty of healthy good-humoured and lively support from Jacob) works out ‘who dunnit’.
Another aspect I liked was the slightly paranormal element to the book. The old DI had quite involved and real conversations with his late wife who popped up at sometimes inopportune moments to whisper small wisdoms in his ear. There were some quite tart remarks flying between them, but she always had the last laugh and knew when to make her exit. I enjoyed this unusual sub plot to the story, as well as the fact that Jacob was in on the relationship too and totally accepted her ‘presence’ in his partner’s life.
But story telling apart, ‘A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ had such a wonderful sense of place and I became so fond of the DI and his partner that I decided I wanted to read more of the series, hence the compendium. I have just finished the second, A Russian in the Jordaan, and have started on the third, A Body in the Cupboard. De Waal and Baantjer’s titles are not exactly sophisticated, but then the stories might not be either. This is crime fiction in the Morse and Lewis tradition, or maybe even earlier. The stories are about ordinary people and their weaknesses, the stuff of crimes that happen as often by accident as by design, but still take a good deal of unravelling when it comes to motive and evidence. When scared people try to cover up their misdeeds, the red herrings they lay can be as challenging as the crimes of a professional killer.
I haven’t found any of the Van Opperdoes and Jacob books translated into English, but I know Baantjer’s De Kok series has been. However, it doesn’t matter too much to me. It takes me ages to get through each one as I need so much concentration to read in Dutch. There are still plenty of words and idioms I don’t know, so it takes me a while to work things out, but I’m not sure I’d want to read them in anything other than their original language. It might somehow seem out of place to read about detectives in Amsterdam in English and for now I’m not going to try. I’m loving them as they are and it’s definitely good for my efforts to learn this complicated but descriptive language.
Thank you Val. For my sake I wish they were translated into English so that I could read them. I remember Van Der Valk, the books and the TV series about a Dutch detective in Amsterdam. It was very popular at the time and I can still remember the music from the opening sequence.
About the authors:-
Simon de Waal
(Via Wikipedia) Simon de Waal (born in Amsterdam in 1961) is a Dutch writer.
He has specialized in television and film scripts, he won the Golden Calf in 2000 (grand prize for the Netherlands Film), for best screenplay for the film Leak.Leak also won best film, best director and best actor, and several international awards, making it one of the most successful Dutch films. Several of the series he wrote, were either nominated or awarded with prizes for best television series in the Netherlands, for instance Unit 13, Bureau Kruislaan and Baantjer. Baantjer won the ‘Golden Televizier Ring’ for best series, after being nominated for it twice.
(Via Wikipedia) Albert Cornelis “Appie” Baantjer (16 September 1923 – 29 August 2010) was a Dutch author of detective fiction and police officer.
He is mainly known for his large series of detective novels revolving around police inspector De Cock (also translated as DeKok) and his side-kick, sergeant Vledder.
The novels have spin-offs in the form of a motion picture and a long-running TV-series entitled Baantjer. Both are named after the author, rather than the main character(s). This led to screenwriter Berend Boudewijn’s bitter statement in a Dutch TV guide (VPRO Gids, 11 November 2005) that “Baantjer is the only TV series in the world that is named after a writer, even though it is not written by him.” (This is not entirely true: The Belgian TV series Aspe is also named after its writer, Pieter Aspe, who wrote the first season but not the second.)