Sunday, February 22, 2015

Because of the CatsBecause of the Cats by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nicolas Freeling's Van der Valk novels "A Long Silence" and "Gun Before Butter", which I have recently re-read, are masterpieces of the crime novel genre (see my reviews here and here . Alas, the most recent re-read of what I remembered was one of my favorite Freeling's novels, "Because of the Cats", has been quite a disappointment. Maybe because this is just the author's second published book (but quite likely the first one that he wrote), out of about 30, and although it is an unusual and engrossing mystery as well as a vivid portrayal of a well-to-do segment of an European society in the early 1960s, the writing is not yet as exceptionally good as in the later novels and the characterizations are not as sharp.

Chief Inspector Van der Valk investigates a series of Amsterdam break-ins apparently committed by a youth gang from an affluent Dutch seaside town. The boys burglarize homes and businesses, destroy property, and even rape a woman (the woman later reports that one of the perpetrators said to another that "the cats won't like it", hence the title). The suspects - apparently well-brought-up sons of some of the most influential figures in the bourgeois town and students at a university - are quite easy to find, yet Van der Valk has serious difficulties in obtaining a proof of the boys' complicity and in establishing the motive. Meanwhile, one of the boys dies in suspicious circumstances.

Van der Valk's tense conversations with the boys' parents are highlights of the novel. While successful businesspeople are total failures as parents, the youths, in turn, are completely alienated from their parents and from what is really important in life. Not much has changed since 1960s, after all. On the other hand, I find two threads rather cheap - one features Feodora, a whore with a heart of gold, the other has the father of one of the boys helping Van der Valk. They would belong in a bestseller rather than in a serious mystery book.

Three stars.

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