A Long Silence by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"His wife's smile, and the smell of mimosa vividly pictured and for one instant recaptured, would be the last thing in his life. That, and the moisture on his loden coat, and the dead leaves, and a wet leather glove: the smells of Holland."
Nicolas Freeling's "A Long Silence" (also published as "Auprės de ma Blonde") is the most extraordinary crime novel I have ever read. I do not really mean the best one - some weaker spots can be found - but I challenge anybody to find a more unusual mystery. Let's see:
This is the ninth novel in the series featuring Piet Van der Valk, first an inspector, finally a Principal Commissary of the Dutch police. Well, there is no tenth book in the series as he is killed while conducting a private investigation. In the remainder of the novel, it is Arlette, Van der Valk's widow, who is the principal character, and who completes the investigation. Sherlock Holmes also dies in one of Conan Doyle's stories, but he gets resurrected later. Nicolas Freeling is cooler than that; he knows that death is irreversible. I love Van der Valk, but I totally admire Mr. Freeling's courage for doing away with the protagonist of his series, and I just wish authors of other series would do the same.
When Van der Valk dies, Mr. Freeling, the author of the novel himself, appears in the novel. The author's emergence is seamlessly woven into the story. There is not a single false note in this meta-fiction experiment.
Finally, and most importantly (at least to me), the first 80+ pages of the novel are exceptionally well written. I do not mean "well written for a crime novel". J.M. Coetzee, James Joyce, or any other great author could not write better than that. It is high-class literature, simply breathtaking. Nothing is said to the end, things are just hinted at, exactly as in real life, where we just think we understand what is going on. Also, Larry Saint is one of the most vividly drawn characters in world literature.
The remainder of the novel is perceptibly weaker - the whole concept of a group of amateurs planning revenge is rather ridiculous. There are too many dialogues, whereas Mr. Freeling is an absolute master of narrative prose. I also find the ending disappointing. Still, the weaknesses of the latter part only accentuate the absolute greatness of the first third of the novel.
Four and a half stars.
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