Monday, April 29, 2013


"Ik geloof niet aan een inspiratie, die zomaar komt. Niet veel mensen hebben Edison goed begrepen, toen hij zei, dat uitvinden 99 procent transpiratie en een procent inspiratie was. Hij bedoelde er mee te zeggen dat je dat ene onmisbare procentje alleen maar kon krijgen, als je voortdurend met een zaak bezig was en je er in verdiepte. Nooit kwam dat ene procentje eerst. Maar de mensen willen graag aan dat soort dingen geloven. Daardoor kreeg je zo'n verhaal als van Archimedes, die in het bad zat, eureuka riep, en ineens alles wist. Of van Newton, die een appel op z'n hoofd kreeg en meteen de wetten van de zwaartekracht noteerde"
"Koude Vrouw in Kralingen"

"I don't believe in inspiration coming from nowhere. A lot of people misunderstood Edison when he said that inventions come from 99 percent of transpiration and 1 percent of inspiration. What he meant, was that you could only get hold of that necessary one percent if you had been working on the case all the time and had studied it deeply. That one percent won't just fall into your lap. But people just want to believe that. That's why you have that story of Archimedes in bath, shouting out Eureka and suddenly knowing everything. Or that one of Newton, who got an apple on his head and jotted down the laws of gravity instantly"
"A Cold Woman in Kralingen".

I don't mind reading Dutch novels (I really don't!), but I really hope my stacks of Japanese novels will arrive soon here. It's been over a month now, so they should arrive one of these weeks. Then it's back to reviews of mostly Japanese fiction and a translation of a short story once in a while!

Cor Docter's Koude vrouw in Kralingen ("A Cold Woman in Kralingen") is the sequel to Droeve Poedel in Delfshaven and is once again a 'topographical mystery', a detective novel set in a particular region, where the local characteristics, history and culture are to be an integral part of the plot. This time Docter brings the reader to Kralingen and we're not the only ones interested in this part of Rotterdam. The society Precious Kralingen is a club where members gather to talk about the past of Kralingen. At least, that is what they claim to do, because all the lectures they give are nothing but a smokescreen for their real objective, which is... precisely what? The reader doesn't know and the members of Precious Kralingen sure aren't going to tell him. So when a locked room murder happens after one of Precious Kralingen's fake lectures, the members are afraid the police will investigate the exact activities of the club. They decide to blame the victim's son for the murder, but the son makes a run for it and falls out of the window. Convinced they can now present a easy case, complete with victim and murderer, they inform the police, but commisioner Vissering isn't fooled that easy. Especially as this case appears to be connected to another case he has been investigating.

The first half of this novel is great. The members of Precious Kralingen fabricating their solution and trying to force it on the police is similar to the events of Natsuki Shizuko's W no Higeki, or an episode of Columbo. Indeed, the way Vissering in turns slowly manages to find out what really happened at the meeting, by pouncing on the weak points of the members' stories and the psychological weak links of the group, is exactly what our favourite lieutenant liked to do. Here, Koude vrouw in Kralingen is very exciting and the pages fly by as you see the fake solution slowly crumbling.

But the latter half of the novel is weird. And I don't mean the pleasant kind of weird. For example, one part of the puzzle is solved mainly because a guilty party presented himself/herself to the police for no real reason. Well, the book was probably nearing its page limit and Docter had to wrap that subplot up some way, so he summoned a Deux Ex Machina to solve that part of his novel. It really comes out of nowhere and sorta cheats the reader. I am not a big fan of the decalogue and the twenty rules, but heck, when I read an orthodox detective novel, I do want a resolution to the puzzle that is logical and rational. It has to be hinted at in a fair way. You can't have write 150 pages about a problem and basically have someone appear just before the ending saying 'it was me' and have it over with!

The same holds for the locked room mystery, but to a lesser extent. The problem of the locked room isn't even relevant to most part of the story, because the members of Precious Kralingen tried to hide that fact for the police. The solution to the problem is... not implemented well in this novel. I have to admit though, the solution isn't the most elegant one I've seen, and is one of those solutions Edogawa Rampo would have used as one of many, many tricks for his more pulpish novels which only work if you don't think too long about it, but it works and isn't unfair. But, on the other hand, while the solution is thus fair in the sense that it can be done, I am not sure about how fair the presentation was. Here we have a locked room problem which is only discussed briefly at the beginning and the ending of the story and the inspirational 'hint' that led Vissering to the solution works in hindsight, but I really don't think that that is enough to be really fair to the reader. This solution, in my mind, needs one extra hint, one extra stage in the deduction to be fair to the reader. Now we have a solution which is realistic and somewhat original, but presented in a way which won't leave the reader satisfied.

I didn't think Koude Vrouw in Kralingen was as enjoyable as Droeve Poedel in Delfshaven overall, but the great beginning  does make it a read worthwhile for those who can read Dutch. And a review of the final book in the series will be up soon. I already finished reading it, but as always, there's quite a lag between reading and writing.

Original Dutch title(s): Cor Docter, "Koude Vrouw in Kralingen"


  1. As much as I enjoyed this one, I have to be frank and say that, in retrospect, it’s the weakest of the three entries. Even my review of the book, which was the first one I picked up for its locked room, had less fervor than the reviews of the other titles in this series. But in defense of Koude vrouw in Kralingen, it’s wedged between two superior detective stories and anything less than that can be disappointing. I’m just glad that this was the first one I read and think that the presentation (not the solution) of the locked room was up to snuff with the best of JDC.

    That hallway. Light coming from underneath the crack of the bedroom door. Knocking that went unanswered. A vacant keyhole. A key flung under the crack of the door into the hallway, but when the room is opened it only contains a corpse. A lovely Carter Dickson-effect! :D

    1. The first and third novels are definitely superior to this one. Not sure when I'll read Dutch novels again, but this trilogy was certainly a great example of homegrown mystery.

    2. Docter was my discovery of last year. I’ve always wanted to find a Dutch-language mystery in the (as you call it) Grand Tradition and these three fit the bill, even if this particular one didn’t reach the heights of the other two. It’s a bit like comparing Christie’s Peril at End House with Death on the Nile, except that Koude vrouw stands out even more because there are only three in the series.

      You should try to squeeze in a Baantjer before you return to Japanese mysteries.