Where to start with Dutch crime fiction? It’s a very rich and wide-ranging field – although largely unknown to English-speaking readers. Thankfully, recent translations are remedying that unfortunate situation – but not quickly enough. While writing a variety of books on crime fiction from around the world – most recently, Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide – I found myself drawn repeatedly to crime writing from the Netherlands, which has a peculiar character all its own. But again I ask: where to start? It might, perhaps, be withma writer admired by no less than the formidable Patricia Highsmith. The unconventional Maarten ’t Hart’s novels have sold in their hundreds of thousands in his native Holland, where he has gained something of a reputation as a cross-dresser, often appearing on chat shows dressed as his female alter ego ‘Martha’. His unusual interest in rats led him to assist the equally eccentric director Werner Herzog in his remake of Nosferatu, which featured ’t Hart’s favourite verminous animals.
Also well-known to fans of translated crime is A.C. Baantjer, a former Amsterdam policeman who has written over seventy novels. His Inspector DeKok books are still highly popular, and were the basis for a long-running TV series. In 2003, Baantjer received the medal of honour from the GNM, the Dutch crime writers’ association. The formidable Saskia Noort has long been the bestselling grande dame of crime fiction in the Netherlands (published in English by Bitter Lemon Press). She was awarded the Master Prize in 2013 for transforming the Dutch thriller market. Also notable are the psychological thrillers of Esther Verhoef, once a writer on animal life, subsequently the female half of thriller team ‘Escober’. Simone van der Vlugt is also prolific and enormously successful. She won the Crimezone Thriller award in 2009 for Blauw water (‘Blue Water’), and in 2010 her book Op klaarlichte dag (‘In Broad Daylight’) won both the Crimezone Thriller Award and the NS Publieksprijs.
Whenever I’m talking Dutch crime fiction, my principal contact and source of information is the amiable Charles den Tex, who published his first thriller in 1995 and who has won the prestigious Golden Noose multiple times: in 2002 for Schijn van kans (‘Chance in Hell’), in 2006 for De macht van meneer Miller (‘The Power of Mr Miller’) and two years later for CEL (‘Cell’). His novel De vriend (‘The Friend’) won the 2012 Crimezone Thriller award, and in 2013 he bagged another prize, the Gouden Vleermuis (‘Golden Bat’) for his body of work. Den Tex is perhaps best known for his Bellicher trilogy (The Power of Mr Miller, Cell and Password). The Power of Mr Miller and Cell were filmed as a ten-part television series. In the last six years, he has published three thrillers: De erfgenaam (‘The Heir’), Bot and Verloren vrouw (‘Lost Woman’).
But den Tex is not ploughing the current crime fiction furrow alone. In recent years, female authors have tightened their grip on the genre. In addition to Saskia Noort, Simone van der Vlugt and Esther Verhoef, Loes den Hollander, Linda Jansma, Samantha Stroombergen and Linda van Rijn are outselling many of their male counterparts, while Donald Nolet, Max van Olden and Erik Betten are talented newcomers who have each won the annual Debut Crime Fiction Award in the Netherlands.
The verdict? Crime fiction in the Netherlands is in rude health. But when will more of these authors be made available to English-speaking readers?
By Barry Forshaw