A collection of 13 short stories spanning two decades in the lives of van de Wetering's Amsterdam Cops
Amsterdam isn’t exactly a hotbed of violent crime, but wrongdoing does occur, and the most bizarre cases tend to be passed to Grijpstra and de Gier. In one they investigate the death of a handsome oceanographer whose corpse is found amidst his tanks of shiny living mussels. In another they strong-arm a brutal crime lord whose henchman threatens the sergeant’s cat. Yet another leads them to uncover a most unusual murder weapon: a chocolate Easter bunny. With the curious blend of wit and the macabre readers have come to expect from the pen of Janwillem van de Wetering, the Amsterdam Cops have a way of seeing to it that justice, ultimately, is done.
About the Author
Janwillem van de Wetering (1931–2008) was born and raised in Rotterdam, but lived most recently in Surry, Maine. He served as a member of the Amsterdam Special Constabulary and was once a Zen Buddhist monk. He is renowned for his detective fiction, including Outsider in Amsterdam; The Corpse on the Dike; The Japanese Corpse; The Maine Massacre, which garnered him the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; and ten other books in the Amsterdam Cops series.
Read an Excerpt
An excerpt from the story "The Deadly Egg"
The siren of the tiny dented Volkswagen shrieked forlornly between the naked trees of the Amsterdam Forest, the city’s largest park, set on its southern edge: several square miles of willows, poplars, and alders growing wild, surrounding ponds and lining paths. The paths were restricted to pedestrians and cyclists, but the Volkswagen had ignored the many no-entry signs quite legally, for the vehicle belonged to the Municipal Police and more especially to its Criminal Investigation Department, or Murder Brigade. Even so, it looked lost and its howl seemed defensive.
It was Easter Sunday and it was raining, and the car’s two occupants, Detective-Adjutant Grijpstra and Detective-Sergeant de Gier, sat hunched in their overcoats, watching the squeaky, rusted wipers trying to deal with the steady drizzle. The car should have been junked some years before, but the adjutant had lost the form that would have done away with his aging transport, lost it on purpose and with the sergeant’s consent. They had grown fond of the Volkswagen, of its shabbiness and its ability to melt into traffic.
But they weren’t fond of the car now. The heater didn’t work, it was cold, and it was early. Not yet nine o’clock on a Sunday is early, especially when the Sunday is Easter. Technically, they were both off duty, but they had been telephoned out of warm beds by Headquarters’ communications room. A dead man was dangling from a branch in the forest; please, would they care to have a look him?
Grijpstra’s stubby index finger silenced the siren. They had followed several miles of winding paths so far and hadn’t come across anything alive except tall blue herons, fishing in the ponds and moats and flapping away slowly when the car came too close for their comfort.
“You know who reported the corpse? I wasn’t awake when the communications room talked to me. ”
De Gier had been smoking silently. His handsome head with its perfect curls turned obediently to face his superior. “Yes, a gentleman jogger. He said he jogged right into the body’s feet. Gave him a start. He ran all the way to the nearest telephone booth, phoned Headquarters, then Headquarters phoned us, and that’s why we are here, I suppose. I am still a little asleep myself—we are here, aren’t we?”
They could hear another siren, and another. Two limousines came roaring toward the Volkswagen, and Grijpstra cursed and made the little car turn off the path and slide into a soggy lawn; they could feel its wheels sink into the mud.
The limousines stopped and men poured out of them; the men pushed the Volkswagen back onto the path.
“Morning, Adjutant; morning, Sergeant. Where is the corpse?”
“Shouldn’t you know, too?”
Several men said simultaneously, “We thought maybe you knew. All we know is that the corpse is in the Amsterdam Forest and that this is the Amsterdam Forest.”
Grijpstra addressed the sergeant. “Do you know?”
De Gier’s well-modulated baritone chanted the instructions. “Turn right after the big pond, right again, then left. Or the other way round. I think I have it right; we should be close.”
The three cars drove about for a few minutes more until they were waved down by a man dressed in what seemed to be long blue underwear. The jogger ran ahead, bouncing energetically, and led them to their destination. The men from the limousines brought out their boxes and suitcases, then cameras clicked and a video recorder hummed. The corpse hung on and the two detectives watched it hang.
“Neat,” Grijpstra said, “very neat. Don’t you think it is neat?”
The sergeant grunted.
“Here. Brought a folding camp stool and some nice new rope, made a perfect noose, slipped it around his neck, kicked away the stool. Anything suspicious, gentlemen?”
The men from the limousines said there was not. They had found footprints—the prints of the corpse’s boots. There were no other prints, except the jogger’s. The jogger’s statement was taken; he was thanked and sent on his sporting way. A police ambulance arrived and the corpse was cut loose, examined by doctor and detectives, and carried off. The detectives saluted the corpse quietly by inclining their heads.
“In his sixties,” the sergeant said, “well dressed in old but expensive clothes. Clean shirt. Tie. Short grey beard, clipped. A man who took care of himself. A faint smell of liquor—he must have had a few to give him courage. Absolutely nothing in his pockets. I looked in the collar of his shirt—no laundry mark. He went to some trouble to be nameless. Maybe something will turn up when they strip him at the mortuary; we should phone in an hour’s time.”
Grijpstra looked hopeful. “Suicide?”
“I would think so. Came here by himself, no traces of anybody else. No signs of a struggle. The man knew what he wanted to do, and did it, all by himself. But he didn’t leave a note; that wasn’t very thoughtful.”
“Right,” Grijpstra said. “Time for breakfast, Sergeant! We’ll have it at the airport—that’s close and convenient. We can show our police cards and get through the customs barrier; the restaurant on the far side is better than the coffee shop on the near side.”
De Gier activated the radio when they got back to the car.
“Male corpse, balding but with short grey beard. Dentures. Blue eyes. Sixty-odd years old. Three-piece blue suit, elegant dark grey overcoat, no hat. No identification.”
“Thank you,” the radio said.
“Looks very much like suicide. Do you have any missing persons of that description in your files?”
“No, not so far.”
“We’ll be off for breakfast and will call in again on our way back.”
“Echrem,” the radio said sadly, “there’s something else. Sorry.”
De Gier stared at a duck waddling across the path trailing seven fuzzy ducklings. He began to mumble. Adjutant Grijpstra mumbled with him. The mumbled four-letter words interspersed with mild curses formed a background for the radio’s well-articulated message. They were given an address on the other side of the city. “The lady was poisoned, presumably by a chocolate Easter egg. The ambulance that answered the distress call just radioed in. They are taking her to the hospital. The ambulance driver thought the poison was either parathion, something used in agriculture, or arsenic. His assistant is pumping out the patient’s stomach. She is in a bad way but not dead yet.”
Grijpstra grabbed the microphone from de Gier’s limp hand. “So if the lady is on her way to the hospital, who is left in the house you want us to go to?”
“Her husband, man by the name of Moozen—a lawyer, I believe.”
“What hospital is Mrs. Moozen being taken to?”
“And you have no one else on call? Sergeant de Gier and I are supposed to be off duty for Easter, you know!”
“No,” the radio’s female voice said, “no, Adjutant. We never have much crime on Easter Day, especially not in the morning. There are only two detectives on duty and they are out on a case, too—some boys have derailed a streetcar with matches.”
“Right,” Grijpstra said coldly. “We are on our way.”
The old Volkswagen made an effort to jump away, protesting feebly. De Gier was still muttering but had stopped cursing. “Streetcar? Matches?”
“Yes. They take an empty cartridge, fill it with match heads, then close the open end with a hammer. Very simple. All you have to do is insert the cartridge into the streetcar’s rail, and when the old tram comes clanging along, the sudden impact makes the cartridge explode. If you use two or three cartridges, the explosion may be strong enough to lift the wheel out of the rail. Didn’t you ever try that? I used to do it as a boy. The only problem was to get the cartridges. We had to sneak around on the rifle range with the chance of getting shot at.”
“No,” de Gier said. “Pity. Never thought of it, and it sounds like a good game.”
He looked out of the window. The car had left the park and was racing toward the city’s center through long empty avenues. There was no life in the huge apartment buildings lining the streets of the old city—nobody had bothered to get up yet. Ten o’clock and the citizenry wasn’t even considering the possibility of slouching into the kitchen for a first cup of coffee.
But one man had bothered to get up early and had strolled into the park, carrying his folding chair and a piece of rope to break off the painful course of his life, once and for all. An elderly man in good but old clothes. De Gier saw the man’s beard again, a nicely cared-for growth. The police doctor had said that he hadn’t been dead long. A man alone in the night that would have led him to Easter, a man by himself in a deserted park, testing the strength of his rope, fitting his head into the noose, kicking the camp stool.
“Bah!” he said aloud.
Grijpstra had steered the car through a red light and was turning the wheel.
“Nothing. Just bah.”
“Bah is right,” Grijpstra said.
They found the house, a bungalow, on the luxurious extreme north side of the city. Spring was trying to revive the small lawn and a magnolia tree was in hesitant bloom. Bright yellow crocuses set off the path. Grijpstra looked at the crocuses. He didn’t seem pleased.
“Crocuses,” de Gier said, “very nice. Jolly little flowers.”
“No. Unimaginative plants, manufactured, not grown. Computer plants. They make the bulbs in a machine and program them to look stupid. Go ahead, Sergeant, press the bell.”
“Really?” the sergeant asked.
Grijpstra’s jowls sagged. “Yes. They are like mass-manufactured cheese, tasteless; cheese is probably made with the same machines.”
“Cheese,” de Gier said moistly. “There’s nothing wrong with cheese either, apart from not having any right now. Breakfast has slipped by, you know.” He glanced at his watch.
They read the nameplate while the bell rang: H. F. Moozen, Attorney at Law. The door opened. A man in a bathrobe made out of brightly striped towel material said good morning. The detectives showed their identifications. The man nodded and stepped back. A pleasant man, still young, thirty years or a bit more. The ideal model for an ad in a ladies’ magazine. A background man, showing off a modern house, or a minicar, or expensive furniture. The sort of man ladies would like to have around. Quiet, secure, mildly good-looking. Not a passionate man, but lawyers seldom are. Lawyers practice detachment; they identify with their clients, but only up to a point.
“You won’t take long, I hope,” Mr. Moozen said. “I wanted to go with the ambulance, but the driver said you were on the way, and that I wouldn’t be of any help if I stayed with my wife.”
“Was your wife conscious when she left here, sir?”
“Barely. She couldn’t speak.”
“She ate an egg, a chocolate egg?”
“Yes. I don’t care for chocolate myself. It was a gift, we thought, from friends. I had to let the dog out early this morning, an hour ago, and there was an Easter bunny sitting on the path. He held an egg wrapped up in silver paper. I took him in, woke up my wife, and showed the bunny to her, and she took the egg and ate it, then became ill. I telephoned for the ambulance and they came almost immediately. I would like to go to the hospital now.”
“Come in our car, sir. Can I see the bunny?”
Mr. Moozen took off the bathrobe and put on a jacket. He opened the door leading to the kitchen, and a small dog jumped around the detectives, yapping greetings. The bunny stood on the kitchen counter; it was almost a foot high. Grijpstra tapped its back with his knuckles; it sounded solid.
“Hey,” de Gier said. He turned the bunny around and showed it to Grijpstra.
“Brwah!” Grijpstra said.
The rabbit’s toothless mouth gaped. The beast’s eyes were close together and deeply sunk into the skull. Its ears stood up aggressively. The bunny leered at them, its torso crouched; the paws that had held the deadly egg seemed ready to punch.
“It’s roaring,” de Gier said. “See? A roaring rabbit. Easter bunnies are supposed to smile.”
“Shall we go?” Mr. Moozen asked.
They used the siren, and the trip to the hospital didn’t take ten minutes. The city was still quiet. But there proved to be no hurry. An energetic bright young nurse led them to a waiting room. Mrs. Moozen was being worked on; her condition was still critical. The nurse would let them know if there was any change.
“Can we smoke?” Grijpstra asked.
“If you must.” The nurse smiled coldly, appraised de Gier’s tall, wide-shouldered body with a possessive feminist glance, swung her hips, and turned to the door.
“There’s a machine in the hall. Don’t smoke in the hall, please.”
There were several posters in the waiting room. A picture of a cigarette pointing to a skull with crossed bones. A picture of a happy child biting into an apple. A picture of a drunken driver (bubbles surrounding his head proved he was drunk) followed by an ambulance. The caption read, “Not if you have an accident, but when you have an accident.”
De Gier fetched coffee and Grijpstra offered cigars. Mr.Moozen said he didn’t smoke.
“Well,” Grijpstra said patiently and puffed out a ragged dark cloud, “now who would want to poison your wife, sir? Has there been any recent trouble in her life?
”The question hung in the small white room while Moozen thought. The detectives waited. De Gier stared at the floor, Grijpstra observed the ceiling. A full minute passed.
“Yes,” Mr. Moozen said, “some trouble. With me. We contemplated a divorce.”
“But then we decided to stay together. The trouble passed.”
“Any particular reason why you considered a divorce, sir?”
“My wife had a lover.” Mr. Moozen’s words were clipped and precise.
“Had,” de Gier said. “The affair came to an end?”
“Yes. We had some problems with our central heating, something the mechanics couldn’t fix. An engineer came out and my wife fell in love with him. She told me—she doesn’t like to be secretive. They met each other in motels for a while.”
“You were upset?”
“Yes. It was a serious affair. The engineer’s wife is a mental patient; he divorced her and was awarded custody of his two children. I thought he was looking for a new wife. My wife has no children of her own—we have been married some six years and would like to have children. My wife and the engineer seemed well matched. I waited a month and then told her to make up her mind—either him or me, not both; I couldn’t stand it.”
“And she chose you?”
“Do you know the engineer?”
A vague pained smile floated briefly on Moozen’s face. “Not personally. We did meet once and discussed central heating systems. Any further contact with him was through my wife.”
“And when did all this happen, sir?”
“Recently. She only made her decision a week ago. I don’t think she has met him since. She told me it was all over.”
“His name and address, please, sir.”
De Gier closed his notebook and got up. “Shall we go, Adjutant?”
Grijpstra sighed and got up too. They shook hands with Moozen and wished him luck. Grijpstra stopped at the desk. The nurse wasn’t helpful, but Grijpstra insisted and de Gier smiled and eventually they were taken to a doctor who accompanied them to the next floor. Mrs. Moozen seemed comfortable. Her arms were stretched out on the blanket. Her face was calm. The detectives were led out of the room again.
“Bad,” the doctor said. “Parathion is a strong poison. Her stomach is ripped to shreds. We’ll have to operate and remove part of it, but I think she will live. The silly woman ate the whole egg, a normal-sized egg. Perhaps she was still too sleepy to notice the taste.”
"Her husband is downstairs. Perhaps you should call him up, especially if you think she will live.” Grijpstra sounded concerned. He probably was, de Gier thought. He felt concerned himself. The woman was beautiful, with a finely curved nose, very thin in the bridge, and large eyes and a soft and sensitive mouth. He had noted her long delicate hands.
“Husbands,” the doctor said. “Prime suspects in my experience. Husbands are supposed to love their wives, but usually they don’t. It’s the same the other way round. Marriage seems to breed violence—it’s one of the impossible situations we humans have to put up with.”
Grijpstra’s pale blue eyes twinkled. “Are you married, Doctor?”
The doctor grinned back. “Very. Oh, yes.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
More zen meditations on human foibles than actual mysteries, I enjoyed these as I was reading them, but probably won't return to them.
This is a collection of 13 short stories which involve the two cops from the Amsterdam series,Henk Grijpstra and Rinusde de Gier. These stories fill in a few gaps left from the excellent novels and although not quite so gripping as the full-length stories,are most certainly worth the trouble of reading.