Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Death in Amsterdam: Nicolas Freeling

Death in Amsterdam is the first book of the Van der Valk series by Nicolas Freeling. The novel was originally published in 1962 in the UK with the title Love in Amsterdam and is better known under that title.

The story opens with Martin in custody in a jail cell in Amsterdam. His ex-mistress, Elsa de Charmoy, has been murdered and he is being held for questioning. He has been there two weeks. There is no real evidence to prove that Martin is the killer but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence and no other viable suspects.

This book was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be a fairly conventional police procedural but it was quite different. Martin is the focus of attention for much of the book. The detective, Inspector Van der Valk, is only shown in conversations with Martin, and all we know about the investigation is relayed to us during these conversations.

Since Martin is in jail for a good bit of the story, he spends a lot of time thinking about his past with Elsa, and his relationship with his wife. This introspective aspect of the story may not appeal to all crime fiction readers. But I liked this approach.

Per the Kirkus review:
The comparison to Simenon is inevitable. The pace, the investigatory technique, the relationship that builds up between investigator and suspect -- all are here.
I have not read any books by Simenon for years so I cannot say if that is true, but I thought it was an interesting comparison.

I also enjoyed learning about the judicial system in The Netherlands at the time the book was written.

The story seemed like it would make a good movie, and it was made into a British film titled Amsterdam Affair in 1968. Inspector Van der Valk is featured in twelve more novels and there was a British TV series titled Van der Valk that aired in the 1970s and the early 1990s, starring Barry Foster as Inspector Van der Valk.


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Publisher:  Ballantine Books, 1964. Orig. pub. 1962.
Length:     188 pages
Format:     Paperback
Series:      Van der Valk, #1
Setting:     Amsterdam
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:     Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2016.


16 comments:

  1. I'm glad you found things to like about this, Tracy. This series isn't for everyone, but I think it's quite well done. As it goes on, you also see that Van der Valk's wife, Arlette, plays an increasingly important role, and I do like her character, so I hope you'll enjoy that.

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    1. Margot, when I first read about the series it mentioned Arlette prominently, so I was surprised that she wasn't in this book. But I am sure I will get to one of the books that includes Van der Valk's wife soon.

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  2. I haven't read any of the books, but I think I'll give Freeling a go. I really enjoyed the series on TV in the 1970s.

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    1. I had read a little bit about the series, Katrina, but had not heard of it before. It would be fun to watch.

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  3. I remember enjoying this book very much. It is indeed quite reminiscent of Simenon's Maigret work.
    Since you liked this one, I would very much recommend another early entry in the Van der Valk series, "Guns Before Butter."

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    1. I did like this book a lot, Christophe. I enjoy books that surprise me and tell me the story in a different way. I do have that book you recommend and also the 2nd one, Because of the Cats. Now I just have to find one of them.

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    2. Because of the Cats did not resonate with me at all, very much unlike the other two.

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    3. I will keep that in mind, Christophe. If I end up reading it next, I won't let it deter me from trying others in the series.

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  4. I have read one of these and was a bit indifferent if I'm honest. Maybe I'll give them another go. My son has just moved to Amsterdam.

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    1. I do remember your review of that book, Col. But I do think you should give another one a try. How exciting that your son has moved to Amsterdam.

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  5. It is an interesting approach, Tracy. I've not read anything yet by Freeling, but I might give him a try. I laughed out loud, btw, to see the title change--what a complete switch of mood, if not genre!

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    1. I agree, Mathew, and I don't know what could have inspired the different title. I am glad I have a few more of his books to sample.

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    2. Purely market-driven, I presume. Maybe it wasn't selling like they wanted as a romance, so they switched to attract the crime fans.

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    3. Yes, Mathew, most things like that are market-driven and don't really make sense, to me.

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  6. I hadn't realized this series started so long ago! I read a lot of Freeling books in the 70s and 80s, and I assumed they were contemporary. I enjoyed them: if I re-read one now, I'm always surprised by unusual & unexpected elements. As you go through the series, I have blogged on a couple of them.
    My favourite back then was a standalone called Dresden Green - I just looked it up to check the name, and found an absolutely swingeing review of it! I'm curious to read it again and see what I think now.

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    1. I did see that you had read some of the Van der Valk books and they had mentioned Arlette, his wife, who doesn't show up at all in this book. I look forward to reading more of them. And I will have to look into Dresden Green.

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