Okay, so this is a little bit of trivia (or literary minutiae, if you will) that is likely to only appeal to librarians, or people who work in libraries and are familiar with the process of cataloging books. But here goes anyway. Janwillem van de Wetering, the Dutch author who published more than a dozen mysteries featuring Detective-Adjutant Henk Grijpstra and Detective-Sargeant Rinus De Gier have their own Library of Congress subject headings. Yes, if you look in the authority file, there they are in all their literary glory. I can see the excitement on your face! All silliness aside (though really, it is a big deal that they have their own subject headings, basically searchable tags--not every fictional character gets one), they are a pair of quite famous, very much established detectives working in Amsterdam's Criminal Investigation Department (CID), otherwise known as the Murder Brigade. And my first impression is that they are both interesting and likable fellows.
After reading The Amsterdam Cops: Collected Stories, which contains all thirteen short stories they appear in, I'm not sure that Amsterdam has such a thriving criminal culture. I mean there is crime, and there are murders, but if the stories are anything to go by, Amsterdam is probably a fairly safe city to live in. The sort of criminality that seems most common has to do with drugs, prostitution, and theft in regards to the vast number of tourists that flood the city every year. Early on de Gier says, "nothing ever happens in Amsterdam, and when it does, it all fits together immediately." I certainly found that to be the case in these stories. They are a hodge podge of cases that fall somewhere between traditional detective work and a traditional crime story--not really in the vein of cozies but also not overly dark, noir tales either. Of course I have only short stories to go by, so maybe once I begin reading ven de Wetering's full length mysteries I'll find the stories are quite different. I told you they are likable fellows?
"De Gier said his colleague Grijpstra was the good cop, too. He told the foreign visitor that the bad-cop/good-cop combination is not used much in The Netherlands. All Dutch cops are expected to respect their clients. The practical reason for Netherlandic-cop goodness, de Gier explained in fluent English, was lack of jail space. No use going all out to make arrests if you can't put the bad folks behind bars anyway."
And it's not just that all the many cells are filled to overflowing. No, the state simply didn't give them too many to begin with. They build other facilities with the taxpayers' money, you see. A soccer field here, a swimming pool there. De Gier and Grijpstra?
"So we try and mediate, be reasonable, to use the maximum benefit of all possible doubts. Our practice aims at getting people to quiet down a bit, so they can go fishing, watch their savings accounts grow, play with their kids, visit their parents."
The stories are mostly imbued with this light-hearted playfulness, though there is lots of seriousness going on as well and maybe even the occasional moment of darkness. But mostly the pair seem pretty laid back.
"'We,' Grijpstra said gruffly, showing the visitor his uniform hat, decorated with a bronze crown, 'we, the police, represent the crown, which is worn by the queen, and the crown represents the Netherlandic Idea of God, who, we assume, is forgiving rather than vengeful'."
'''That's the theoretical aspect.' De Gier smiled. 'It's mostly applied in Amsterdam. In the provinces the Dutch divinity may be seen as sterner'."
That sets the tone, don't you think? On more than one occasion their dialogue elicited a chuckle or two. But this is a crime novel, and there are moments of taciturnity, cantankerousness and a pair of cops, who go by the nicknames Karate and Ketchup, who are only too ready to break heads (of men and women alike), use their weapons and let fly whole strings of particularly descriptive profanities.
There is lots I can tell you about Grijpstra and de Gier, however. Grijpstra is the older of the two. He's "bulky", grey haired and wears a "forbidding suit", has been married "too long" (but over the course of the stories I think he either must divorce or simply has affairs), as he does not hold his wife in high regard. I might even call him borderline a-tiny-bit-misogynistic, but I think he appreciates an attractive woman, just doesn't have a happy relationship with his wife. He drums and is a good painter and is known to partake of Jenever on occasion.
Now de Gier? He would be a most 'crushable' character were it not for his mustache "modeled on those high-ranking cavalry officers a hundred years back". In contemporary terms he is what is known as a 'hottie'. Tall, narrow-waisted, broad shoulders, large brown eyes "softly pleading", thick curly brown hair and pronounced cheekbones. It's obvious the stories were written over many years and not for one collection as descriptions of the two detectives are often given, particularly of Rinus, who is quite the natty dresser and a Judo champion. He's the Hollywood guy in terms of looks-his handsomeness always seems to precede him. And he's a sensitive guy, too, feeling sorrow for his intrusions of the lives of private citizens. He doesn't want to own a car, and the big selling point for me--he owns a cat called Tabriz. Although his girlfriends are often referred to, he doesn't seem to have one special significant other. I told you, definite 'crushable' material.
The pair are exceedingly pleasant men (even when Grijpstra is complaining about his wife). And they prefer their wreck of a Volkswagen when out on cases even though it is dented, tiny and old. Occasionally there is mention of a Fiat, but they love their Volkswagen. I have learned a lot about the men and can describe them in great detail as you can see, though at the same time I feel like I don't necessarily 'know' them at all, if that makes sense. Again, I am looking forward to reading the first mystery now.
I won't give a run down of plotlines for the stories, but I think you might have a strong sense of what they are like even without knowing what each story is about. In some stories both detectives are there from start to finish and in others appear only at the end or are merely mentioned. Several are about crimes concerning tourists. Some are fairly traditional whodunnit-like stories and others seem only peripherally crime related. In a way they are very much about the psychology of either the criminals or the detectives (as any good crime story should be in my opinion), yet the psychology (and I am borrowing from one of the cover blurbs) is most Zen-like. There is a symmetry to the stories and they are graceful. I liked nearly each story, though a few were less to my taste, but as a collection, I have to say this has been a wonderful way to be introduced to Grijpstra and de Gier. It is another case of getting a strong sense of place in my reading and I know the descriptions must be accurate as van de Wetering was born in Rotterdam, though he also lived abroad (including in Maine in the US).
As mentioned, I am already looking forward to the first van de Wetering mystery, Outsider in Amsterdam. I had all but decided my next read would be Simone van der Vlugt's Shadow Sister (I read her book Reunion several years back and enjoyed it very much) but now I am wavering. Will have to pull both books out this weekend and do a reading test to see which one grabs me most. Just how many books can one person read at once? (Don't answer that, you already know what a pushover I am when it comes to books).