Love in Amsterdam by Nicolas Freeling:   A torrid tale of betrayal, excess, obsessive love and jealousy - book review -

When Elsa de Charmoy is found brutally murdered in her Amsterdam apartment, the first suspect is her ex-lover, Martin, who was seen outside the building around the time of the crime. At first he denies he was there, but a witness saw him… and the witness was a policeman.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 3:22 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 3:24 pm
Love In Amsterdam
Love In Amsterdam

Love in Amsterdam

Nicolas Freeling

By Pam Norfolk

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Since his creation by British novelist Nicolas Freeling in 1962, Amsterdam police inspector Piet Van der Valk has become the epitome of a cool, clever and cosmopolitan European detective.

Freeling, who died aged 76 in 2003, was something of a cosmopolitan himself. Despite being born in London to English parents, his family lived in Brittany for several years and his heart always lay across the Channel.

Over a long and successful writing career, which earned him the Edgar Award, the Gold Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association and France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, Freeling had 37 works of fiction published but it was the Van der Valk books which caught the imagination of readers and came to the attention of TV and film producers.

From 1972 to 1992, the late actor Barry Foster starred as Van der Valk in a hit, five-season Thames Television series… and now ITV has turned to the cynical but intuitive Dutch detective again as the inspiration for a major new series starring Marc Warren.

Drugs, sex and murder cases, set against the picturesque backdrop of Amsterdam locations, are the hallmark of Freeling’s work and to coincide with the new series, Orion’s The Murder Room imprint has republished the first Van der Valk book.

And Love in Amsterdam – a torrid tale of betrayal, excess, obsessive love and jealousy – captures all the atmosphere, vibrancy and dark complexities of Europe in the Swinging Sixties.

When Elsa de Charmoy is found brutally murdered in her Amsterdam apartment, the first suspect is her ex-lover, Martin, who was seen outside the building around the time of the crime. At first he denies he was there, but a witness saw him… and the witness was a policeman.

It looks like a straightforward case, particularly as Elsa was shot with a gun bought by Martin, but police inspector Piet Van der Valk is not convinced. Alluring, unstable, and frantically self-absorbed, Elsa was a dangerous woman, and now sulking behind bars, the suspect swears it has been five years since he saw her.

Elsa, says the suspect, ‘blossomed on dramas and scenes, loved upheavals, denouncements, tremendous rages, weeping reconciliations’ and although he loved her once to distraction, she eventually became ‘a constant menace’ and capable of ‘little treacheries.’

So instead of charging him, Van der Valk takes him on a tour… a tour of the investigation, a tour of Martin’s own past, and a tour into the darkly obsessive world of Elsa to discover why she was killed. Because when he knows why she was killed, he will also know the truth about who killed her.

Freeling’s Van der Valk is often compared to Georges Simenon’s gruff and meticulous French detective, Inspector Maigret, and it is true that the Dutch policeman employs the same slow and painstaking attention to detail in his piecing together of casework conundrums.

Unorthodox, doggedly determined, nervy and intuitive, and with a fine line in gallows humour, Van der Valk remains an endlessly fascinating sleuth and although his more measured and thoughtful methods frustrate his colleagues, he always seems to come up trumps.

Love in Amsterdam has the feel of a writer working tentatively towards what would become Van der Valk, the finished article, as much of the book’s focus is on the suspect Martin and his tempestuous relationship with Elsa.

Written with Freeling’s elegant touch, psychological brilliance, spine-tingling tension, and genuine empathy for the city of Amsterdam and its people, this is as good a place as any to get to know the enigma that is Van der Valk.

(The Murder Room, paperback, £8.99)