Friday, August 3, 2012

Review of A Long Silence by Nicolas Freeling (Penguin, 1972)

Whilst eating a sandwich on an Amsterdam street Richard stares into a antique jeweller's shop.  His reward is the manager of the store offering him a job as a sales assistant.  When he’s told to clean out a drawer and finds an expensive gold watch he decides to go to Commissioner Piet Van der Valk, suspicious that he is being tested in some way.  The former detective has been put out to grass in The Hague working on a European committee concerning law reform. Van der Valk’s interested is piqued and he starts to nose around from a personal perspective, a small puzzle to challenge his talents, jotting down cryptic observations in a notebook.  He senses that the jewellers are up to something fishy, but can’t find any concrete evidence.  But this is a puzzle he is not going to solve.  Instead he is shot dead walking home from work.  The police can find no leads to his killer.  Frustrated with the police investigation, his grieving wife, Arlette, decides that she will try to find her husband’s killer, starting with trying to decode some of his notebooks.

I struggled through A Long Silence.  It didn’t work for me at a number of levels.  First, Freeling’s style is more show than tell, with lengthy descriptive, reflective and back story passages.  Second, the plot just didn’t seem to make much sense: a person recruited off the street without any assessment; going to a policeman in another city because a watch was found; assassinating a policeman who is barely trying and has no evidence of any wrongdoing.  Third, the author inserts himself into the story immediately after he kills off his detective to provide a personal account of the real life detective on which Piet Van der Valk was based and his relationship with him and his wife.  It's a strange interlude, especially as a lot of it is not that complementary and quite misogynist.  And it totally disrupts the narrative flow of the novel.  The second half is a little better, swapping into a cozy, but the resolution is a bit of a damp squib.  All in all, a weak story and storytelling that failed to provide a compelling narrative.

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