Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Janwillem van de Wetering dies at 77

With a sad tip of the hat to Euro Crime comes the news that Janwillem van de Wetering, author of the Grijpstra and De Gier ("Amsterdam Cops") mysteries, has died.

Here's what I wrote about Van de Wetering back in this blog's first post, where I listed the books among my favorite crime fiction from beyond my borders:
This Dutch author has been a businessman, a world traveler, a reserve Amsterdam police officer, and a student at a Zen monastery in Kyoto. All, especially the last three, figure prominently in this series, which includes 14 novels and two overlapping short-story collections.

Detective twosomes are a nickel a dozen; Van de Wetering offers the only three-headed protagonist I can think of: the grumpy Adjutant Henk Grijpstra, the younger and sometimes vain Sgt. Rinus de Gier, and their unnamed commissaris, or chief, an elderly mentor with sometimes excruciating knee pains who is a sly collaborator and a kind of guru to Grijpstra and de Gier. Start with Hard Rain, in part for the larger role it gives the commissaris.

Van de Wetering has an interesting approach to translation: He does his own, and he regards the results as versions, rather than translations, of the original. The one book in the series that I read in Dutch has slightly different chapter divisions from the English version and an opening chapter with more physical description. And the first in the series, An Outsider in Amsterdam, reflects the Dutch language's more frequent use of the present perfect where English would use the simple past. This results in occasional odd sentences such as "I wonder if he has done it."
Van de Wetering wrote several books about his experiences as a Buddhist, and his chronicle of his life in a Kyoto monastery, The Empty Mirror, is refreshingly down-to-earth about the pleasant and the harsh aspects of a would-be monk's life. Van de Wetering's other work included a biography of the Dutch author and diplomat Robert van Gulik, and Inspector Saito's Small Satori, a book of intensely philosophically minded crime stories.

Van de Wetering was indirectly responsible for the creation of this blog. I was dating a Dutch woman a few years ago, so I took special notice of An Outsider in Amsterdam. I soon read the rest of the Grijpstra and de Gier books, most in editions published by Soho Crime. That was my entrée to Soho's fine line of international crime fiction and to interational crime fiction in general. The rest is blogging history.

Click here for an appreciation and here for Van de Wetering's bibliography.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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12 Comments:

Blogger meryl's musings said...

Your post was a wonderful tribute to what sounds like an extraordinary author and individual. I'm glad I happened to check your blog this morning.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

I wondered over on oz_mystery_readers whether you had read them Peter. Of course you had - I should have known better! My library here in Sth Oz even has 7 of them including one in Italian

July 09, 2008  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

We used his books as an intro to the Netherlands before living there for a year. I must say I sure steered clear of the Red Light district for a long time.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Meryl. I've poked fun at some publishers' book-jacket trumpeting of authors' job histories, as if a long and motley resume is itself sufficient to confer wordly or hard-boiled credibility. Van de Wetering's wanderings and experiences, on the other hand, really do come through in his books and lend them their meaning and texture. In some ways, his novels seem to be an accounting for and exploration of his experiences, and I don't mean just in his protagonists.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kerrie, which ones does your library have? My only gripe with the Amsterdam Cops novels is the tendency for some of them to slip into unsatisfactorily explained supernaturalism at a particular point in the story, perhaps even what you might call "woo woo." I think I can guess what Van de Wetering was thinking about at these points, and what he was trying to do, but the elements come across as forced and too carefully thought out.

Hard Rain, on the other hand, pokes a bit of fun at this tendency, which is one of the reasons it's my favorite of the Grijpstra and De Gier novels.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dankuwel voor je antwoord, Patti. Wanneer woonden jullie in Nederland?

Van de Wetering is an interesting choice for an introduction to Dutch life, though I always found Amsterdam's Red Light district benign except for the few street-corner drug peddlers who lingered at its periphery.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

The blond baboon
Death of a hawker
Just a corpse at twilight
Lo strano omicidio della casa galleggiante
The mind-murders
The perfidious parrot
The streetbird

I've requested Death of a hawker

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Kerrie said...

Last time we were in Amsterdam Patti, we were standing at the traffic lights when a young woman slipped her hand into my husband's trouser pocket. Luckily he felt her searching around, although there was nothing in his pocket worth taking. We accidentally stayed at a hotel in the Red Light district once.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An interesting exercise, should you decide to pursue it, would be to read a few of Van de Wetering's books, then some by Robert van Gulik, about whom Van de Wetering wrote a critical and biographical study. The Van Gulik books are worth reading by themselves, too. They are set in T'ang Dynasty China, and Van Gulik's notes about the period and about how and why he came to write the books are short, informative and entertaining. One particular plot point in The Haunted Monastery resonates throughout Van de Wetering's Grijpstra and De Gier novels.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You don't know what temptation you are offering when you say a woman in the Red Light district slipped her hand into your husband's trousers.

I always got the feeling the area was tamer than similar areas in other cities.

July 09, 2008  
Blogger calcio9 said...

A wonderful tribute - I just read all of the Amsterdam cops books and they were so enjoyable.

July 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Not many crime writers would have dared to have their protagonists play music on a discarded drum set and a a flute in the office, but with Van de Wetering, the scenes not only worked, but they were an entirely consistent part of the characters. I always enjoy those scenes.

July 10, 2008  

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