Monday, February 13, 2012

Outsider in Amsterdam by Janwillem van de Wetering

Outsider in Amsterdam is a strangely enjoyable mystery combining existential attitudes and police work, laced with random musings about God, interpersonal relations, and the workings of the mind.

When the founder of the communistic Hindist Society is discovered hanging from a noose in his quarters, two police detectives from the Murder Brigade of the Amsterdam Municipal Police decide to investigate, just in case it’s not suicide. Adjutant-Detective Henk Grijpstra and Detective-Sergeant Rinus de Gier are a unique pair, prone to spontaneously playing music together on drums and flute and grumbling at each other. Grijpstra (pronounced HRAYP-strah) is older, fatter, bossier, and married, while de Gier is a charming blond Buddhist bachelor who will commit to no one but his cat. They philosophize their way through the case of the hanged Hindist with a dry and jaded wit, among repeated comments about the meaninglessness of life and occasional appreciation for singularly beautiful moments.

Not so very long ago I blogged about Donna Leon’s Commisario Brunetti series, noting its slow pace and Venetian flavor. I suspect that many who enjoyed her work might also like Grijpstra and de Gier: similarly slow-paced, dry-witted, and with a foreign perspective. I found the Dutch work to be both more humorous, with its existential asides, and more dated, with some off-putting stereotyping. Van de Wetering opened the series with Outsider in Amsterdam in 1975, and continued writing about Grijpstra and de Gier until 1997; it might be interesting to check out the later books and see if the detectives modernized their attitudes over time.

Author Van de Wetering was a member of the Amsterdam Special Constabulary, spent time in a Zen monastery, and travelled widely. He seems a very interesting fellow; more information can be found about him at

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