"[Van de Wetering] is doing what Simenon might have done if Albert Camus had sublet his skull." —John Leonard
On a quiet street in downtown Amsterdam, a man is found hanging from the ceiling beam of his bedroom, upstairs from the new religious society he founded: a group that calls itself “Hindist” and supposedly mixes elements of various Eastern traditions. Detective-Adjutant Gripstra and Sergeant de Gier of the Amsterdam police are sent to investigate what looks like a simple suicide, but they are immediately suspicious of the circumstances.
This now-classic novel, first published in 1975, introduces Janwillem van de Wetering’s lovable Amsterdam cop duo of portly, wise Gripstra and handsome, contemplative de Gier. With its unvarnished depiction of the legacy of Dutch colonialism and the darker facets of Amsterdam’s free drug culture, this excellent procedural asks the question of whether a murder may ever be justly committed.
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Outsider in Amsterdam
By Janwillem Van De Wetering
Soho CrimeCopyright © 2013 Janwillem Van De Wetering
All right reserved.
Grijpstra dug in his wallet and after a while his square fat fingers found his police identification with its blue and red stripes and photograph of a much younger Grijpstra dressed in uniform with the silver button of his rank on both shoulders.
The dark man bent forward and read the card.
“H. F. Grijpstra,” he read in a clear voice. “Adjutant. Municipal Police of Amsterdam.”
“I have seen it. Please come in.”
“Extraordinary,” de Gier thought. “Fascinating. That fellow actually read the card. It never happens. Grijpstra always shows his credit card and nobody ever notices anything. He could have shown a receipt from the electricity department and nobody would object, but this chap really reads the identification.”
“Who are you?” Grijpstra was asking.
“Jan Karel van Meteren,” the man said.
They were in the corridor. There were three doors on the right, heavy oak doors. One of the doors was open and de Gier saw a bar and several young men with long hair and one elderly man with a bald head. Everybody was drinking beer. He had a glance of another young man behind the bar, dressed in a white T-shirt and decorated with a necklace of colored stones. Van Meteren was leading the way and they followed obediently. A staircase at the end of the corridor, again made of oak and recently polished. The floor of the corridor was covered with slabs of marble, cracked but very clean. Near the staircase Grijpstra noticed a niche with an upright Indian figure, made of bronze, life-size and with the right hand raised in a gesture of solemn greeting. Perhaps the gesture symbolized a blessing.
They climbed the staircase and came into a large open space with a high ceiling made of iron, painted white and with a relief of garlands picked out in gold. This was the restaurant, occupying the entire floor. De Gier counted ten tables, six seating four persons and four seating six persons. Nearly every chair was taken.
Grijpstra had stopped while their guide waited patiently. He was admiring a statue, standing on a stone platform attached to the wall. It was a statue of a female deity, performing a dance. The noble head on its slender neck seemed to contrast at first with the full breasts and the lewdly raised foot and Grijpstra was surprised that this naked sexual figure represented divinity and that he accepted her divinity. Undoubtedly the figure was free, quiet, detached and powerful. Superior. The thought flitted through his head. Superior. And free. Especially free. The thought disappeared as he walked on. De Gier had seen the statue but hadn’t allowed himself to be interested. He watched the guests without fixing any one of them in particular. A fixed stare is aggressive and invites attention. He didn’t want any attention and didn’t get any. The guests took him for another guest and thought he wanted to join them. One man took his hat and briefcase off a chair and made an inviting gesture. De Gier smiled and shook his head. He noticed that nobody seemed to talk, perhaps they were listening to the music that came from several stereo loudspeakers and was hitting the room in waves. De Gier liked the music; it reminded him of a performance in the Tropical Museum. The heavy rhythmical cords would come from a bass guitar and the dry sharp knocks from a set of drums; he imagined that the wheezing high notes setting the melody itself would be a flute, a bamboo flute probably.
They were moving again, still following van Meteren. He led them through the restaurant and into a long narrow kitchen; through its windows there was a view of a garden full of red and pink rhododendrons. Two girls in jeans were busily stirring pots on a large stove. There was a sharp but not unpleasant smell of weird herbs. One of the girls wanted to object to the presence of strangers but stopped herself when she saw van Meteren.
There was another narrow staircase and another corridor. White walls and several doors. They passed three doors and van Meteren opened the last, fourth, door.
De Gier had a feeling that they had now penetrated into the secret part of the house; perhaps the silence of the corridor motivated the thought. The music of the restaurant didn’t reach this lofty level. Grijpstra entered the room and sighed. He saw the corpse and it moved, exactly as he had expected. It would be the draft, of course, all phenomena can be explained, but the slow ghastly movement chilled his spine. De Gier had now come in as well and watched silently. He noticed the small bare feet with their neat toes, pointed at the floor. His gaze wandered upward and recorded the protruding tongue and the wide open bulging blue eyes. A small corpse that had belonged to a living man. A little over five feet. A thin man, well dressed in khaki trousers of good cloth, nicely ironed, and a freshly laundered striped shirt. Some forty years old. Long thick dark red hair and a full mustache, hanging down at the corners by its own weight. De Gier moved closer and looked at the corpse’s wrist watch. He grunted. A very expensive watch, worth a small fortune. He couldn’t remember ever having seen a gold strap of such width and such quality.
Both officers froze and quietly looked around, noticing as many details as possible. Almost automatically they had put their hands in their pockets. They had been trained in the same school. Hands in pockets cannot touch anything. This silent room was bound to be full of indications, traces, tracks.
They saw a large room, again with a high ceiling but not made of cast iron but of plain sawn planks supported by heavy deal beams. There were several bookcases, well filled. There was a telephone in one of the bookcases, and an expensive TV set and a new complete encyclopedia. The furniture consisted of a low settee, a table and three chairs. There were some cushions on the floor, embroidered. The patterns were unusual. Eastern designs probably, de Gier thought. There was a typewriter on the table with a letter in it. De Gier bent down.
I thank you for your letter of the tenth and have to inform you
No further text. The letterhead looked expensive. hindist society, the address and the telephone number.
They saw a footstool, lying on its side, near the feet of the corpse. They saw a gramophone, a stack of records and a low bed covered with a batik cloth. The woven curtains were closed but allowed enough light to filter through to see every detail of the room.
“What’s that?” Grijpstra asked, pointing at another low table, covered with red lacquer and serving as a seat for a fairly large statue, a rather fat bald-headed man sitting cross-legged and staring at them with glass eyes.
“An altar of sorts,” de Gier answered after some thought. “That copper bowl filled with sand must be an incense burner, and the brown spots in the sand are burnt-out incense sticks.”
Grijpstra raised an eyebrow. “You know a lot today.”
“I visit museums,” de Gier said.
“Incense?” he asked.
De Gier nodded. The heavy sweet smell gave him a headache.
“Who discovered the body?” de Gier asked van Met-eren, who was standing near the door.
“I did,” van Meteren answered. “I had to ask Piet something and as he didn’t answer when I knocked, I went back to my room. A little later I asked the girls in the kitchen if they had seen him and they said he had gone upstairs. I looked into the other rooms; one of them belongs to his mother, and another is the temple. He wasn’t there. I thought he might be asleep and knocked again and then I opened the door and saw him hanging there. I telephoned the police and waited for you downstairs. Nobody knows anything yet.”
“Why didn’t you cut the rope?” asked de Gier.
“He was dead.”
“How did you know?”
Van Meteren didn’t answer.
“Are you a doctor?” Grijpstra asked.
“No,” van Meteren said, “but I have seen a lot of corpses in my life. Piet is dead. Dead is dead. I could feel it. A dead body has no feel.”
“Did you touch it?”
Van Meteren shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t have to feel a corpse to know it is dead.”
“So why didn’t you cut the rope?” asked de Gier again.
“I couldn’t do it by myself,” van Meteren said. “Somebody would have had to hold the body. Besides, I wanted you to find it the way it was. Perhaps it will give you a lead.”
De Gier looked again at the corpse. He had an idea that he had seen the man before and searched his memory. De Gier’s memory was well organized and he knew his way around his files. After a while he knew that he hadn’t seen the man before but that the strong chin, the long hair and the heavy mustache reminded him of a portrait he had seen in a museum in The Hague. A portrait of a Dutch statesman of the sixteenth century, a statesman and a warrior, on his way to do battle. The warrior had been sitting on a horse and had a sword in his hand. A leader. Very likely this man had also been a leader, a boss. A little boss in charge of a small society. Discipline, de Gier thought. That’s it. This house and this room reek of discipline. Everything is neat and clean. The girls in the kitchen are clean too, reasonably clean. Van Meteren is clean. There would be some connection between the corpse and van Meteren. Perhaps van Meteren is an employee of the Society. But why do I observe this? de Gier asked. The answer came immediately. He hadn’t expected cleanliness when he had read the sign on the door. HINDUIST SOCIETY. He had associated the words with a mess. The new wisdom coming from the East is a messy business. He thought of the dirty doped vague shadowy people he had arrested in the street and interrogated at Police Headquarters. Petty theft, drug dealing in a small silly way, runaway minors, prostitution. All suspects stank. He had made them empty their pockets before locking them up and had been appalled at the dirty rags, the broken trinkets, the lack of money. He had seen the photographs they carried around with them. Pictures of “holy men,” “gurus” or “yogis.” Skeletons with long matted hair and crazy eyes. The masters preaching the way.
He had associated the word hindist with Hinduism or Buddhism. The religions of the East. Before he had begun to arrest the crazy tramps the words had had a different association. Peace and quiet, some form of detachment. Real wisdom. But gradually “messiness" had crept in.
And now he had to admit that this place, this nest of nonsensical imitation faith, was, after all, clean. And he had been surprised. De Gier’s thoughts took a few seconds only and meanwhile Grijpstra had sighed again. The body was dead, no doubt about it, and they would have to cut the rope. They had to assume that the body was still alive. Only a doctor can determine death. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at de Gier.
“You can telephone headquarters, if you like.”
There was no need to say it. De Gier was dialing the number already. He didn’t have to say much. At headquarters the machine was already in operation. Within a few minutes they would be arriving. Doctor, ambulance and the experts.
While de Gier telephoned Grijpstra picked up the stool and put it right and climbed on top of it. He cut the rope with his switchblade, an illegal weapon that he carried against all regulations. The rope wasn’t thick and the knife very sharp. De Gier wanted to catch the corpse but van Meteren was quicker. He put the corpse down, very carefully, on the bed. No one thought that Piet would start breathing again.
Excerpted from Outsider in Amsterdam by Janwillem Van De Wetering Copyright © 2013 by Janwillem Van De Wetering. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House, Inc.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As with most stories in this series, it is well worth a read. Unfortunately, the numerous errors in spelling as well as formatting in this ebook make the continuity of the story difficult to follow. Although ebooks are convenient, that should not exempt them from being proofread. I give the story itself a 3.5, but the irritating errors drop the overall rating to a 2.
Cops are entertaining and perplexing. Will read more in the series.
I read the book in print form and enjoyed it immensely. The moodiness of Amsterdam (like San Francisco) masks so much. The detectives and their suspect are well presented and understood.
It was also the first series that removes the hero however later lets his wife have several books few authors try to end a series but as they say about holmes he was never the same. They should really do prequels