Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What knowledge does a detective gain ...

... by solving a crime? If you answer that he or she learns who did it, odds are that the most recent crime fiction you've read was not by Janwillem van de Wetering, particularly not his 1985 collection Inspector Saito’s Small Satori.

Van de Wetering, author of the Amsterdam Cops novels and stories, travels to Japan for these tales, and his protagonist, a brilliant young police inspector, is even more prone than are the three Amsterdam cops to amused – or bemused – contemplation of his own existence and the jobs he must carry out:

"He had, in a way, been promoted. He was still an ordinary inspector, of course, but he had been nudged up the ladder. And the door had his name on it – SAITO MASANOBU – in bright brown characters.

“He sat down and frowned. It would be nice if he had something to do.”
Saito is stationed in Kyoto, city of Zen Buddhist temples, at one of which Van de Wetering himself studied for two years. The Zen program apparently involves much meditation and, though Saito himself does not practice, he seems to have gained such insights as meditation might bring.

A monk in the collection’s title story, confronted with evidence that he has murdered a woman, says quietly that he wishes to kill himself out of shame. Saito replies just as quietly, in essence, what would that solve?

“`Yes,' Ohno said. `You were right, Inspector-san. It was silly of me to consider my shame and to respond to that shame. I am what I am and I will continue from the point where I find myself. … There will be good points later on, and they won’t matter so much either. Ha!'

“Saito grinned. The priest’s words had helped him to make the grin break through … And he realized that he didn’t care about his successful investigation … The priest’s shame was as much of an illusion as his own fame. He felt much relieved, lightheaded. The grin spread over his face. ‘Ha!’ The laugh was as carefree as Ohno’s laugh has been.”

The mystery, in the traditional mystery-story sense, is not the real mystery – and this in a story that meets all traditional mystery requirements.

And now, readers, your question: Van de Wetering’s stories offer an insight into an unfamiliar way of thinking, or at least into one man’s wrestling with such thinking. What crime fiction has given you similar insights?

(Photo of Ryoan-ji, the Temple of the Peaceful Dragon, © Copyright 2007 Roy Tennant,

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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