Thursday, August 20, 2015

Double-BarrelDouble-Barrel by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

"I was sure she was telling the truth."

For once I am enjoying an opportunity to poke fun at one of my most favorite author's work. The silly sentence quoted above comes from Nicolas Freeling's "Double-Barrel" (1964), the fourth entry in the celebrated Van der Valk series, commonly regarded as one of the best detective series in the history of the genre. Well, while Gun Before Butter and A Long Silence are indeed masterpieces of psychological crime drama, this book is a failure and for a writer of this caliber, I would call it a catastrophe. Mr. Freeling does as bad a job here as his detective who can determine whether a suspect is telling the truth just by listening to her. Depressingly naive, like the amateurish psychology in 99% of the mass-market crime novels.

Inspector Van der Valk is sent to Zwinderen, a small town in deeply provincial Holland, where two women committed suicide and one was driven to mental illness as a result of anonymous letters campaign: the letters accused them of misdeeds and threatened with consequences. Since local police have failed to uncover the letter writer, the talent from Central Recherche is needed. Indeed, our good inspector manages to clear up the case; well, as a bonus he even succeeds in solving a huge international mystery. Ha-ha, I still am unable to believe how ludicrous the second thread is!

The main problem is that in "Double-Barrel" Mr. Freeling lets Van der Valk narrate the story while the inspector does not have that much interesting to say. Most everything that I love about Freeling's books is gone: the spectacular fireworks of his idiosyncratic, digressive, and erudite prose are totally absent. The only interesting things in the novel are Mr. Besançon's character and the portrayal of the little-town atmosphere of Zwinderen: puritanical, oppressive, and full of hypocrisy. Van der Valk and his wife, Arlette, compare it to the atmosphere in Salem, Massachusetts, in the time of witch trials. Alas, the inspector does not have even an iota of Mr. Freeling's expressive talent.

For any other author, I would probably assign two and a half stars; after all, objectively, this is just a typical, average-quality mystery. But since it is Nicolas Freeling who produced this disaster, my rating - which I will later round down - is

One and a half stars.

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