Gun before butter

By Nicolas Freeling

Our library sells used books (not just discarded library copies) for about fifty eurocents, and recently I came home with a stack of old mystery novels. Gun before butter was one of those, by a certain Nicolas Freeling. I’d never heard of the man, although he is apparently well-known, well-respected and still alive.

  • Author: Nicolas Freeling
  • Title: Gun before butter
  • Pages: 224
  • Published: 1965 (1963)
  • Publisher: Penguin Crime
  • ISBN: N/A

Judging from the Penguin edition’s backflap, Nicolas Freeling was launched as the English Simenon. Two books in his first year, immediately followed by the next. Not having read anything by Simenon, I cannot compare them. And I cannot know how much truth there is in the sly dig about hotel maids with no underwear playing a big role in Simenon’s books.

This book, however, shows no private parts, even though it is in some respects a love story. The setting is the Netherlands, in the fifties or sixties, when the butter wars between smugglers and customs ran high at the border between the Netherlands and Belgium.

The book starts out very well. Well written, atmospheric, the author knows his setting, has a feeling for his characters. Then it slows down, but not unpleasantly so. There are a few spots where I have a feeling that Freeling has messed up his timelines, but it’s easy to read past those sections.

However, near the end, we suddenly get an exposition of the crime from the point of view of the criminal. At least, that seems the theory. It’s given in straight omniscient, though, and seems curiously flat.

Still, it was a pleasant and pleasing read.