Monday, September 21, 2015

The Lovely LadiesThe Lovely Ladies by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"But there was the delightfully haphazard feeling that is so different from Holland; that things are no longer cut and dried; that one does not know quite what will happen next and neither do the Irish, but they will improvise and the improvisation will be brilliant; the sensation one has in France which is so agreeable, of a clown's nimble sloppiness.... He would like Ireland."

Nicolas Freeling paints a wonderfully vivid portrayal of Ireland and its people in "The Lovely Ladies" (1971), the ninth installment of the celebrated Van der Valk series. The Commissaire - who will famously get killed in the next novel, A Long Silence - is his own non-conformist self, and Mr. Freeling lets us vicariously enjoy the charms of Dublin locations in Van der Valk's company.

The plot begins in a provincial town in Holland where the good Commissaire supervises the criminal brigade. When an elderly man, Mr. Martínez, is stabbed in the street, Van der Valk rushes to the scene but manages to catch only the victim's dying words - "The girls...". Mr. Martínez 's three daughters live in Belgrave Square in Dublin, and the investigation reveals that one of the last people in contact with the victim was a young Irish man, the son of a powerful Irish senator. Van der Valk is sent to Ireland to exercise his tact in questioning the young man, and to prevent diplomatic repercussions. The young man is nowhere to be found, though, and once the Commissaire meets the lovely ladies, things do not go smoothly.

Alas, this is not a novel of the caliber I have learned to expect from Nicolas Freeling. While the depiction of Ireland and the Irish is first-rate and two or three sparkling passages of prose are breathtakingly captivating, the book also contains several long and insipid fragments, for example, the maritime adventures towards the end of the novel. The Van der Valk's "bebitchment" thread and his "sentimental seducation" ring awfully false to my ears. Maybe it is because the ladies do not come through as real people; their characters feel underdeveloped. The mystery of the Lovely Ladies fizzles.

Two stars.

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