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Dutch Mystery Writer Examines the Offbeat

December 14, 1986|MIRIAM BERKLEY | Berkley lives in New York

"We're all criminals," said Dutch author and ex-policeman Janwillem van de Wetering. Van de Wetering's new novel, "Hard Raid" (Pantheon, $14.95), is the 11th and latest in a popular, offbeat and funny series of mysteries set mainly in Amsterdam and featuring a trio of three eccentric and likeable cops: the police commissioner and his subordinates, Adjutant Grijpstra and Sgt. De Gier.

"We all have a criminal life, a repressed and hidden life. In the criminal, it's acted out," said van de Wetering from the comfortable, wood-walled living room of his home along the Maine coast, a rugged landscape where cormorants and seals are frequently to be seen.

'Being a Nice Guy'

"I'd love to rob a bank, for instance. I wouldn't mind taking a few million dollars out of the bank. But I don't do it. I sit here being a nice guy," said the 55-year-old writer, a big man with a mop of thick brown curls, dark boyish eyes and a walrus mustache, who can spend hours playing with the mongrel puppy his wife recently brought home from the pound.

"But if I read about it, or see a movie about it, I can have it all vicariously. When I was reading Simenon to learn French, I was always identifying with the criminals and arguing with Maigret, with the police, telling them it was OK what I was doing, or why I was doing something. I do that in my books, too. I argue with my cops, and the cops argue with the criminals."

In "Hard Rain," the elderly police commissioner (who is Van De Wetering's ideal, and given a first name "because his wife has to speak to him" but no last name "because the ultimate marvel has no name"), a man normally in a state of Zen detachment toward the world, loses his cool with regard to his odious cousin, Willem Fernandus. The malevolent Fernandus, a Nazi collaborator, drug dealer and all-round bad guy, comes from the same milieu as his benevolent cousin and looks very much like him. The Christian names of the two men, incidentally, Jan and Willem, together form the novelist's own.

The cousins hate each other with passion.

Thematic Twins

"That is a very old theme in literature and drama--twins," Van De Wetering points out. "They each select in a different way, and they're very jealous of each other. Of course they have to be in conflict. And of course the (commissioner) has to win. In a book you can manipulate it, say, 'OK, the bad guy dies of cancer or something, and the commissioner goes home.'

"All my books have a 'good' ending--it's a formula. It's too depressing to the public, I think, to say, 'And then they all had a terrible time.' But they didn't really win, they didn't knock down corruption, they just got that one guy.

"But," he added, "I believe there is a happy ending always. In anything we do there is a happy ending, things keep going on. It's like the glass of beer. One guy says, 'I only have half a glass left,' and the other guys says, 'No, no, you still have half a glass to go, and then there's a million beer bottles in the factory coming at you after that.' I think that's what life is--you can't lose."

Janwillem van de Wetering (pronounced "Yan-villum van de Vet-tevin"), who has drunk his share of those million bottles of beer but gave up alcohol and cigarettes not long before this comment, is best known for his Amsterdam series, the first of which, "Outsider in Amsterdam," was made into "Grijpstra and De Gier," Holland's most popular film of 1979. Last year's novel, "The Rattle-Rat" will come to Dutch screens in early 1987.

A Bit of Surrealism

It is these thrillers tinged with surrealism that earn him a comfortable income and in 1984 won him France's prestigious Grand Prix Litterature Policiere. But he is also responsible for a growing list of other publications--no fewer than four in 1986: "Hard Rain"; a thriller in comic book form, "Murder by Remote Control" (Ballantine, $4.95); "Hugh Pine and the Good Place" (Houghton Mifflin), the second of his juveniles about a benevolent but solitude-loving porcupine. (Its predecessor inspired a cartoon shown over network television) and a biography of one of Van De Wetering's idols, the late Dutch Sinologist, statesman and mystery writer, Robert van Gulik.

Previous works include two memoirs detailing his experiences in Zen monasteries, one in Japan ("The Empty Mirror"), the other in Maine ("A Glimpse of Nothingness"), two little-known, non-mystery novels, and a considerable number of short stories. Among these latter were a dozen or so crime tales set in Japan, "Inspector Saito's Small Satori." The next Amsterdam thriller will take De Gier, disenchanted with police work at home, to New Guinea, where he will encounter the Japanese Detective Saito--and strands from two different series will come together.

'Best Projection'

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