Saturday, August 15, 2015

Love in AmsterdamLove in Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"I don't want it particularly accurate; my whole idea was to write about Europe in a European idiom. Something that has a European flavor and inflection."

"Love in Amsterdam" (1962), Nicolas Freeling's very first novel, was retitled "Death in Amsterdam" in the U.S.; how's "Death sells better than love" for a snide remark? The fragment quoted above is uttered by Martin, the novel's protagonist, a Dutch writer of sorts, but it aptly describes Freeling's own writing. His entire opus, all about Europe, all with distinctly European flavor and inflection, has been written in a European idiom.

Martin's ex-lover, Elsa von Charmoy, is shot and he is the obvious suspect, since on the night of the murder he was seen close to the place where Elsa lived. Yet inspector Van der Valk does not quite believe that Martin is guilty, and works hard to find other suspects. His clever scheming leads to a lively finale, a bit too lively for my taste.

The novel is divided into three parts: while the first and the third are captivating psychological procedurals (with the third offering a glimpse of the Dutch judicial system, quite different from the British one), the middle part is a vivid portrayal of Elsa and almost a clinical study of Martin's infatuation with her. "[Elsa] blossomed on dramas and scenes, loved upheavals, denouncements, tremendous rages, weeping reconciliations." I feel as if I have known her forever. Had I been in literary criticism instead of applied mathematics, I would have written a paper entitled "Portrayals of Women in Nicolas Freeling's Books". Maybe when I retire...

This is Van der Valk's first appearance in one of the most famous detective series in the history of the genre. Critics often compare Freeling's work to Simenon's. True, the psychological depth and the authentic European flavor are similar in both authors' works, yet I much, much prefer Mr. Freeling for his inimitable prose, rich, convoluted, and multilingual, full of quirky digressions and virtuoso passages depicting streams of consciousness. Already in this first novel we are offered a spellbinding account of Martin's galloping thoughts, while he is in the grip of neurosis, afraid of losing his sanity.

"The man paced up and down the cell.": With this sentence, the literary career of the most erudite, literate, and idiosyncratic author of psychological crime novels began in 1962, the career that ended 40 years later, with his memoir The Village Book and the final mystery, "The Janeites".

While not a masterpiece like other Van der Valk's novels A Long Silence and particularly Gun Before Butter , "Love in Amsterdam" is a wonderful psychological drama, and a very good mystery

Four stars.

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