BEING A READER, Crime books

Dutch crime writer Janwillem van de Wetering’s offbeat cops

Janwillem van de Wetering was up against it. Not only did he write in a language other than English (initially at least), but his crime novels are something of an acquired taste. It is a taste worth acquiring though, and Van de Wetering had significant success in his lifetime.

My library service recently seems to have made the decision to dump all their Janwillem van de Wetering novels, which is sad. The good news is that I was able to pick up a fair number of them for next to nothing.

His main series of books features four cops of the Amsterdam municipal police, where the author himself worked part-time. The commissaris, whose name is never given, leads the murder squad. He suffers from rheumatism and doesn’t suffer fools. Wise and detached, he is the guru of the team.

They are supported by the young Cardozo, who tends to be in the background, doing the less glamorous work.His supporting team includes Grijpstra and De Gier, the two main characters in the series. Grijpstra is middle-aged, heavy-set and had dreams once of being a painter and jazz musician. De Gier is young, strong and handsome, a womaniser with a yen for Zen. (Van de Wetering was a Zen Buddhist acolyte in Japan for some time.)

The Amsterdam series, as the De Gier and Grijpstra novels are often referred to, usually features less violence than you’d expect in a typical American crime novel, and proportionally more reflection.

Much of these Dutch crime books are taken up by conversations, especially between Grijpstra and De Gier. These tend to go off on tangents. The two cops are as likely to discuss philosophical attitudes as the facts of the cases they’re trying to solve. And when the team does solve a case, it is often by very unorthodox means, meting out their own form of justice.

If you don’t keep your wits about you, these conversations can become confusing, with the result that the characters blend somewhat. In this sense, they are the most significant weaknesses of the Grijpstra and De Gier crime series. But they are also what give these books their charm.

Personally, I find Janwillem van de Wetering’s Amsterdam crime novels a welcome respite from the mindless violence that seems so prevalent in crime writing. I make a point of reading a Grijpstra and De Gier novel every now and then. If you haven’t tried one of this Dutch writer’s books, do yourself the favour. And read with relish.

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