Monday, July 28, 2008

Yin and Yang

by Mike Crawmer

Rushing around to clear up last-minute details the day before the start of vacation is not a good time to get some bad news. But that’s what happened earlier this month during my search for, of all things, travel-size shampoo I needed before leaving for a weeklong bicycling/camping trip.

Listening to NPR’s Fresh Air that Friday afternoon, I was surprised to hear that one of my mystery writing idols had died. Somehow it had escaped my notice that Janwillem van de Wetering had exited this earthly realm more than a week before. The news shocked and saddened me; I put my search on hold while I listened to an interview Fresh Air’s host conducted with van de Wetering in the early 90s.

Van de Wetering hooked me with his detecting team of Henk Gripstra and Rinus de Gier (just pronouncing their names was a delight), characters who seemed more real than fictional. And his stories were set in Amsterdam, a city that still fascinates me 39 years after first visiting it.

The author’s own life reads more like fiction than reality. He lived through the Nazi occupation, bummed around the world, studied Zen Bhuddism in a Japanese monastery for two years, worked for his father’s business in South Africa, and toured around on a motorcycle. He eventually returned to Amsterdam where he worked as a police officer before chucking it all to write the Grisptra/de Gier series, the last few written in his final home in a small town in Maine. No less an admirer than John Leonard wrote, “He is doing what Simenon might have done if Albert Camus had sublet his skull.” (Bet you're not surprised to learn that Simenon and Camus are idols of mine too.)

Needless to say, when an opportunity to meet the writer came up, I jumped at it. It was a mystery writing conference in Philly. Van de Wetering was a guest speaker. I was content to absorb his words of wisdom and maybe get up the nerve to ask him to autograph a hardback copy of his latest mystery.

What I wasn’t prepared for was meeting him, all rumpled six-feet-plus, between morning sessions in the hallway, where he handed me his glass of bourbon over ice so he could loudly and ostentatiously blow his nose. He had a cold, he explained in heavily accented, and nasally, English, and was treating it with booze (could’ve been Scotch, but since I don’t drink Scotch and do drink bourbon, I feel better thinking it was bourbon). I was able to manufacture a brief conversation with him, then he was off. Later, I heard him speak (sorry, don’t remember a word he said), and got him to sign my book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his best book, and I believe it was his last.

His obituary in The New York Times was disgracefully short, but at least he got a headline and a few paragraphs. NPR said he was 71 when he died of cancer; the Times gave his age as 77. For me, Janwillem van de Wetering has no age; just his books, which I look forward to reading again and again.

In keeping with the title of this entry, time for a bit of dark humor. Check out this truly unique shower curtain. Surely a must for every writer of mysteries and thrillers or Alfred Hitchcock fan. Perfect for your guest bathroom. Certain to make every guest visit a short one!


Joyce Tremel said...

Nice post, Mike. I've never read any of his books, but I might have to search them out.

I LOVE that shower curtain!

Anonymous said...

I think it's good to have heros. The more obscure, the better, as then you don't have to hear other people trash them.

That's my philosophy, anyway.

Anonymous said...

My personal authorly heroine is the fabulous Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels/Barbara Mertz. I've never met her, and seeing as she's 82 or so, I doubt I ever will. She doesn't leave Maryland much anymore, except for the occasional trip to Egypt. Since I'm in neither place all that often - or ever - the chances aren't good. If I did, I probably wouldn't remember much of it, either. Too busy being in awe. Good for you, getting to meet your idol, Mike.

That shower curtain is quite something. Did I see right, that it comes with sound effects? Brrrr!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Great post, Mike.

3 AA batteries required. I saw that first, then I thought, elecricity & water??

Of course, the Psycho sound effects.

Anonymous said...

Mike -

I've never read any of his books either, but I have read several of the short stories and enjoyed them.

Having been to Amsterdam many years ago, I have fond memories of the Heineken brewery -- the tour left me with an almost uncontrollable hunger for barley (that was the overwhelming smell of the place). My ex and I scoured the city until we found a vege restaurant serving barley. The thousands of tulips in Vondelpark were another highlight, not to mention the big beautiful marijuana plants growing on barges and the octogenarians riding bicycles.

My personal writing heroine is J.K.Rowling - not because of her success but because of her writing. If I were the only one on earth who'd read the Harry Potter series, I would be just as impressed with her brilliance. I suspect my chance of meeting her in this world is about the same as my chance of meeting Janwillem van de Wetering, or of meeting Gripstra and de Gier, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Crawner, would you kindly contact me at I have a personal question that is unrelated to this blog post. Thank you very much. John