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Wednesday, 08 October 2008

 de Gier and Grijpstra orphans

Translated by Natalie Costello

Janwillem Van de Wetering died this summer. In the turmoil of the information bustle, the news has gone completely unnoticed. Europolar wanted to pay tribute to this author and his own peculiar world, which is today neglected.


Janwillem Van de Wetering, Dutch born in 1931, was raised and educated in his home country. After obtaining a diploma in marketing, he continued his studies in English universities. He began to write quite late on and shortly afterwards made his first steps in crime fiction with the detective novel The Papuan of Amsterdam, the first volume of investigations by Detective-Sergeant de Gier and warrant officer Grijpstra, of the local Amsterdam police. We are in 1975 and Van de Wetering, after a varied professional life, representing chemical products in Colombia, selling fish nets in Peru, managing a textile company in Amsterdam, finally comes to a rest in Maine, USA, where he stays until his death on the 4th July 2008.


When he made his debut with the detective novel in 1975, Van de Wetering was not a novice in the field of writing as he already had achieved success with The Empty Mirror (1971) where he recounts, with lots of humour and detachment, his eighteen months in a Zen monastery around 1958. Two other volumes (“A Glimpse of Nothingness”, 1975 and “Afterzen”, 1999) still deal with zen and the author’s belief in Buddhism, forming a largely autobiographical trilogy, which is often reprinted in the USA. The quest for zen heavily influenced the life and novels of Van de Wetering and you can regularly perceive references to it in his detective series, even from the first title, The Papuan of Amsterdam (Note that Van de Wetering was also a part of the “reserve forces” for the Amsterdam police from 1965, which provided him with a realistic view of the system which he used to great effect afterwards).

ImageIn this first volume, de Grier and Grijpstra are called to a suicide in an old Haarlemmer Houttuinen building which houses the Hindu Foundation, created by Piet Verboom, who is hanging on the end of a rope. On the spot, the two policemen are welcomed by a small man with dark skin who speaks in perfect Dutch, a Papuan who opted for Dutch nationality after the independence of New Guinea. For a modest rent, Jan Karel Van Meteren was housed in the building and has had free access to the Foundation’s restaurant. The presence of the police, even though he was on just a simple traffic officer, was reassuring. Piet Verboom had been going through a rough patch. His wife took their daughter, left him and he talked of suicide. However, there is a big lump on the side of his head. Did someone help him to commit suicide? De Gier and Grijpstra begin to investigate in their own way, idly and half-heartedly. Back in their office, they put together all sorts of scenarios and check plausible possibilities. They make their reports out to a superior otherwise known as “police superintendent”, a gentle, old man crippled with rheumatism. During their conversations, de Gier and Grijpstra learn that the Foundation, which advocated disinterestedness, was primarily intended for the personal enrichment of Piet Verboom. Engaging in a business known only to himself, he mortgaged the Foundation building and a large sum of money disappeared. Teams of police discover hash on the Foundation’s premises. A banal ingredient in Amsterdam, but one which leads the investigation towards the trafficking of harder drugs, not only more expensive to buy but also more lucrative for those who trade them. From then on, encounters with increasingly odd individuals multiply, under the quietly ironic, interested eye of the guilty party who follows the investigation very closely.


To bury oneself in a novel by Van de Wetering is to discover the picturesque and calming city of Amsterdam, its canals and its quirky inhabitants, in a city where almost nothing is a surprise and anything is allowed. The local police are no exception to this rule since the two investigators have a drum kit in their office and their reflexions are often punctuated by skilled duos on the flute and drums. The flute rarely leaves the pockets of de Gier whilst Grijsptra easily finds a makeshift drum kit, no matter where they are and who they are with. This series of 14 novels possesses a certain charm sustained by the gentleness of these two investigators who are enemies of violence and respect who dominates the relations in police positions. Let’s hope that this world is not totally over.


Van de Wetering, Dutch author of non-conformist police procedurals.

Expanding on the information contained in the preceding article, below we highlight a few additional elements which clarify the career of this atypical writer.

He wrote an interesting biography devoted to that of another Batavian author who had also acquired an international reputation through the adventures of his Judge Ti, published in 1987 as Robert van Gulik: His Life, His Work.

Besides children’s books, Van de Wetering also produced a series of stories devoted to a Japanese police inspector, Saito.

Early in his career, Van de Wetering wrote and published in Dutch, then gradually he published directly into English from the translated Dutch text.

In France, the novels of Van de Wetering are published by “Rivages”.
Last Updated ( Friday, 28 November 2008 )
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