Detective Stories – Both Foreign and Domestic

"I saw the world. I learnt of new cultures. I flew across an ocean..."
- Phileas Fogg (Around the World in Eighty Days)
Let the reader beware: I'm not entirely sure if this is an inspired, half-developed brilliant idea or merely one of my brain farts.

There's something I need to confess: I'm not very well read when it comes to the indigenous detective stories of my country.  
For eons, I had a pocket-size panoramic view of the Dutch crime genre, which was restricted to our historical mystery writers, Robert van Gulik and Bertus Aafjes, and a smattering of modern practitioners of romans policiers, like A.C. Baantjer, Simon de Waal and M.P.O. Books, whose books occasionally crossover into classical territory. This was the scope I had of home-grown detective stories, until I changed upon a thriller blog with a monthly feature, entitled "Plaat van de maand," focusing on mystery authors whose names were obliterated from popular view – which are both enthralling as well as frustrating!

These brief blog articles have brought numerous potentially interesting novelists to my attention, but also infuriate me because they are limited to summary biographies and barely glance at the stories themselves – and that just baffles me. Why dwell solely on the person behind the books, fascinating though they may be, if your main objective is bringing these books back under everyone's attention? I want to know where to place these tales within the ambit of the genre and determine if they're of possible interest to me. I prefer traditionally plotted, fair-play whodunits over suspenseful thrillers and hardboiled stories (although I'm not averse to a combination of both), but it's impossible to discern to which category these mysteries belong – and google isn't exactly helpful, either, as it only spits out links to secondhand book dealers or, if you're really serendipitous, a slapdash synopsis of the plot. This means I have to pick and choose these books based on their cover illustrations (oh, pretty colors!) and my gut feeling, which isn't my preferred method for selecting reading material.

Anyhow, the intention of writing this post wasn't to moan incessantly on a luxury problem, but translating a thought process by stringing a coherent bundle of sentences together and making a clear point – of which I'm already doing a pitiably job, I know. But what put my train of thought in motion was the realization that this tiny speck of a kingdom churned out an ample lump of conventional crime fiction, and you have to keep in mind that this place hasn't exactly been kind to the orthodox detective story nor has it been a safe and nurturing environment for traditionally minded artisans to practice their craft. Our first mystery writers, Maarten Maartens, was forced to publish his only mystery novel, The Black Box Murder (1889), in English because he was scorned and ridiculed here and the same kind of critics wrote contemptuously about Baantjer and Van der Wetering – until their translations started to garner favorable reviews in America and they changed their tunes. Hypocrites. Want more proof? Marco Books. Who? Exactly! Here we have have someone worthy of calling a littérateur of crime novels, skillfully finding a balance between the contemporary thriller and the time-honored whodunit novel, but he's nowhere to be found on the bestseller lists – and most bookstores don't even stock his books!

But I'm rambling again, aren't I? What I'm trying to say is that if this lap of land, in the circumstances I just described, is able to produce a pile of detective stories like that, and still fly under the radar of the likes of me, than what treasures are buried in other countries? We're all well aware by now what's to be found in France and Japan, but I'm pretty sure that until I posted my reviews of Bertus Aafjes and Tjalling Dix that very few of you had expected that there were detective stories "of more than a passing note produced by The Netherlands" – and I refuse to believe we're an exception and therefore advance the following proposition: we, the members of the international online mystery community, pool our collective knowledge and update the GADWiki with bibliographies (and, if possible, reviews) of our native GAD writers. Yeah, I know, it's not practical information for the simple reason that we're unable to read most, if not all, of the stuff that will be posted on there – but I believe that cataloging could proof to be a first step in making a portion of these stories available to a global audience.

I'm not sure how, though, but at least we have something tangible – and who knows what surprises might turn-up! Maybe we'll learn that there was an Luxembourgian counterpart of Raymond Chandler... or a man in Bulgaria who was the equal of John Dickson Carr...  or a Norwegian Conan Doyle.

Please let me know what you'll think of this plan. 

On a personal note, I'm feeling a bit indisposed and lack the concentration needed to read a book, but the moment my physical strength and mental prowess return to me, I will try to put up another Patrick Quentin review as soon as possible.

Finally, a list of the all foreign mysteries discussed on this blogspot:

The Trampled Peony (Bertus Aafjes, 1973)
Death in Dream Time (S.H. Courtier, 1959)
Murder During the Final Exams (Tjalling Dix, 1957)
Elvire Climbs the Tower (Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe, 1956)
Murder in a Darkened Room (Martin Méroy, 1965)
The Sins of Father Knox (Josef Skvorecky, 1973)
What Mysteries Lie Under the Rising Sun (guest blog by Ho-Ling on the Japanese detective story)


  1. The idea in priciple is good, but I don't think it would work out. For instance, look at Poland: our mysteries are more or less just adventure novels, as the solution to our most popular series almost always relies on gangs. (Plus it's impossible to find anything about the author's life & times.) Canadian authors might be easier to take a look at, but the last time I updated the GAD wiki (with a review of Rufus King's "Somewhere in this House"), I had a lot of technical issues.

  2. Well, not every country or region will turn out to be one of Ali Baba's hidden caves, but don't forgot that I always thought the lion's share of the Dutch mystery genre consisted of (police) thrillers – and now it turns out that I couldn't have been more wrong. They were there all the time, but just really well hidden and pretty much forgotten. There must be stuff out there that's of possible interest to us!

    But am I the only one, within this community, who's interested and intrigued in the possibility of widening our scope of the genre – and discover new species of the armchair detective, the private investigator and the snooping mystery solving couple? It's like Doyle's The Lost World, but instead of dinosaurs and ape-men we're looking at living fossils and undiscovered sleuths. ;)

  3. Personally, I call dibs on Louise Penny, whose works have managed to intrigue me. You don't get much Canadian stuff out there anymore, and a good GAD-tradition series set in Canada sounds wonderful. Also, I located the two impossible crime novels. ;)

  4. You can have a first crack at Louise Penny, but at least spill the titles of her impossible crime novels!