The story is gripping and beautifully complex, with DeKok's character a subtle mix of psychology, history and intuition that make him a sleuth many compare to Maigret. I like him a bit more than Maigret, though. He is a maverick, a Luddite and, most of all, a compassionate man.
Nicolas Freeling has some 37 books to his credit, and my favorite is Gun Before Butter. This book won the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française and was shortlisted for the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association. It is perhaps one of Freeling’s best known. The title paraphrases an old 1960s slogan "guns and butter" that echoes back to WWII and refers to the economy and governmental choices about which product to produce more of, especially during a time of war. Hermann Goering said that guns would make the Germans powerful, while butter would make them fat. (And who would know that better than the man often called Fat Hermann?)
Inspector Piet Van der Valk of the Amsterdam police would rather be in Amsterdam than anywhere else. He had just come back from the country and had his fill of fresh air. The first case he is told about is that of a young girl involved in a public fracas. Her name was Lucienne Englebert. It came to his attention because Van der Valk was known to be a character who was sometimes quite rude about Dutch provincialism and isolationism. He was a nonconformist, but because he was good at his job, he had license to be a maverick at times. In revenge, his co-workers treated him like a buffoon. He was given the odd jobs; anybody with a funny name or a funny business came to him to be straightened out.
The affair of “The Diamond Cutters," which was his private name for the case, was at its base a romance, because he fell for the beautiful Lucienne. Years later, as he pondered the mystery while he relaxed with a good meal, he remembered every time he saw Lucienne. He said the case was like a diamond, which while able to cut others into facets, could throw out light and sparks and strange fire.
Critics have also compared Van der Valk to Maigret, partially based on the fact that he liked to think and eat. Well, so do I.
One series that I have read in totality is Janwillem van de Wetering's. Outsider in Amsterdam, the first, is based on the characters of Adjutant-Detective Henk Grijpstra, and Detective-Sergeant Rinus de Gier. Grijpstra is heavy, middle-aged, and not happily married. He is the senior partner of the team. He is a Frisian who, in his youth, dreamed of being a jazz musician or a painter, and when a set of drums mysteriously appeared in police headquarters, he appropriated them.
|Janwillem van de Wetering|
The third character present in all the books is the elderly Commissaris, almost incapacitated by arthritis. He supervises the investigations, providing key insights into the cases. He is never named, except by his wife, who calls him Jan. He is fond of jenever (gin) and small cigars.
The cases are all very intriguing and unusual, but they play second fiddle to the relationships that develop and the interaction of people. Often, an interrogation between the detectives and their suspects wanders into philosophical or ethical ruminations. Van de Wetering himself studied Zen. At one point in his life, his alcoholism interfered with his work and he stopped writing until he sobered up. After that, in the books de Gier also gave up alcohol.
Most of these books by Freeling, van de Wetering and Baantjer were written in the '60s and '70s and they may appear dated to the modern reader, but I never found them so. Another excellent writer from the Netherlands is Robert van Gulik, who writes about Judge Dee, who lived during the Tang Dynasty in China in the 600s. If these writers are an example of what comes out of the area, I hope some readers can suggest more for me to look into. Perhaps something written in the recent decades.