By Nicolas Freeling
We had four Nicolas Freeling books with us (or it might have been five) because we found this stack of them in a second-hand bookshop, and having read Gun before Butter and enjoyed it. It soon became apparent that, while well written, most often in an engaging style, Freeling had one big
problem, a problem that was already apparent in Gun before Butter: he cannot do endings. Or maybe the unsatisfactory endings are structural and part of what he wanted to achieve, that’s possible too, I suppose.
- Author: Nicolas Freeling
- Title: The King of the Rainy Country
- Pages: 157
- Published: 1968 (1866)
- Publisher: Penguin
By an odd coincidence, Nicolas Freeling died when we were on holiday with this stack of his work, on July 24, 2003, at the age of 76. Obituaries appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Guardian and even Ananova. All reputable commentators agree that Freeling was primarily a novelist and not a crime author. That is to say, he tried to write straight novels where the crime was just an ingredient to put the protagonists under stress.
Indeed, he himself acknowledged this as reported in this letter to The Guardian. I think that he succeeded in his aims: from the first to the last, we are kept abreast with the feelings and actions of both the detective and the criminal, and quite often with those of the victim, too. If you are interested in puzzles, and not in the developing relationship of hunter and hunted, then Freeling’s work is not for you.
The King of the Rainy Country is a case in point: here, Van der Valk is roped in to find a millionaire who’s playing hooky. Both the extravagantly lavish world of the millionaire as the rest of the environment — Netherlands, Germany, Austria and France — are presented in convincing detail. But in that environment, Van der Valk has to cope with the truant’s wife, with evil directors and with desperate parents of a girl who might have been seduced by the millionaire.
Written as a story within a frame — already on the first page or so, Van der Valk gets shot down, and on the last pages we learn what happened: in between is one big flashback — the story ends with a double tragedy as it turns out that hunting is a dangerous game, and that the hunted might take unexpected decisions when cornered.
As a straight novel it is beautiful. Well written, well structured. As a crime novel it succeeds, too, because Freeling managed to keep the suspense strong. Probably because we do not actually follow the criminal in this book, as we did in Gun before Butter.