Book review: Just A Corpse At Twilight by Janwillem van de Wetering

Apparently this little gem is the twelfth book in the Grijpstra and DeGrier Mystery series (I can just manage to pronounce DeGrier, but I can’t even begin to vocalise Grijpstra), which follows two Dutch detectives going about their business in a manner that is extremely read-worthy. Just A Corpse At Twilight is well written with a decent plot and manages to convey the constant message that it isn’t just another murder mystery police novel. And if all this hasn’t convinced you, the back flap of the book jacket contains a photo of the writer, and one look at him should convince you that this will be an interesting read indeed.

The content

Grijpstra is retired from the Amsterdam police force and runs his own private detective agency. He lives with his girlfriend Nellie and some cats and is just contemplating how excellent his life is when his old partner DeGrier rings from Maine. He thinks that he might have killed his girlfriend when he was drunk and stoned and listening to Miles Davis and he’s being blackmailed by some locals and needs a little help. Grijpstra guesses he should, even though he is quite happy as is, and hops on a plane to Maine to help figure out if DeGrier really did kill his girlfriend Lorraine, and what should happen in either case. The story follows Grijpstra quite casually around, introducing him to the residents of the small town in which DeGrier resides. Complete with a corrupt sheriff, a Hawaiian lesbian, and a culture of drug-running, they all manage to solve the mystery with the assistance of Grijpstra and DeGrier’s old boss the Commissaris and some Papua New Guinean rituals.

I really enjoyed this book, possibly because I have been reading a lot of by-the-book thrillers and this was so much more. The writing and character development was terse but excellent; van de Wetering has that skill in saying a lot using very little. There was nothing pretentious or forced about the writing style, and the mystery unfolded in an untraditional and bizarre manner. The characters rarely reveal what they are thinking, so the way the mystery unravels is unexpected but doesn’t leave the reader thinking “well I couldn’t possibly have known that!”. There were lots of humourous bits, philosophical bits, and culturally reflective bits, and I really appreciated that the bit of the story that incorporated drugs were dealt with so matter-of-factly, without the obligatory moralising or forced attitude of cool so many authors can’t help doing. van de Wetering also handles relationships like a pro—none of that sweaty fumbling and obligatory euphemisms worthy of Mills and Boon for him. The ONLY thing I can possibly criticise about this book is that there is no way there is ANY town with that many interesting and cool people in it, and I might get really disappointed visiting the coast of Maine because these characters were just so awesome and interesting that nobody real I could meet would be able to fulfill my new fascination with the Maine coast.

Who is this book for?

Those of a slightly more philosophical bent will probably appreciate this one—if you’re just after a brainless best seller, I don’t recommend this one. Or I do... it’s completely different but much higher quality. And if you DON’T like murder mysteries, I would still recommend it because it isn’t traditional and it is excellently and uniquely written.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Well he has written several others. And stay away from traditional thrillers, they’ll only disappoint you if you liked this as an example of the genre.

In short

Title: Just A Corpse At Twilight
Author: Janwillem van de Wetering
Publisher: Soho Press Inc
ISBN: 1569470162
Year published: 1994
Pages: 265