Last year, I reviewed De geliefde die in het veen verdween en andere mysteries (The Lover Who Disappeared in the Bog and Other Mysteries, 2017) by "Anne van Doorn," a penname of Dutch crime-writer M.P.O. Books, which is a collection comprising of a handful of short stories about two particuliere onderzoekers (private investigators), Robbie Corbijn and Lowina de Jong – who specialize in unsolved cases that have long gone cold. Recherchebureau Corbijn – Research & Discover handles everything from long-standing missing person's cases to cold, unsolved homicides and regularly tackle problems too bizarre or unusual for the regular police.
Corbijn is the head investigator of this two-man agency and provides the brainpower that earns them a paycheck, while De Jong pulls triple duty as his pupil, assistant and narrator. They work from an apartment in a residential tower, called the Kolos van Cronesteyn, which stands in Leiden, South-Holland, but their work brings them to every nook and corner of the country. And even beyond.
The first collection of five stories brought Corbijn and De Jong from Den Haag and Groningen to one of the Wadden Sea Islands and the Belgian Ardennes. And they tackled a diverse range of cases and problems such as an inexplicable murder inside a sealed log cabin ("The Poet Who Locked Himself In"), a vanished hiker in the Ardennes ("The Lover Who Disappeared in the Bog") and pulling apart a knot of human tragedies closely tied to the death of a child ("The Brat Who Went Too Far") - a modus operandi continued in the second collection of short stories. Nearly every story in this series is an example of how elements of the old-fashioned, traditional detective story can be merged with the modern-day crime genre.
This second volume of stories, titled De bergen die geen vergetelheid kennen en andere mysteries (The Mountains That Do Not Forget and Other Mysteries, 2018), consists, like its predecessor, of five short stories. All five of them had been previously published as separate ebooks. So let's take these stories down from the top.
"De boerin die niet wilde sterven" ("The Farmer's Wife Who Didn't Want to Die") is the opening story and presents Corbijn's young assistant with a case of her own.
Lowina de Jong graduated a course that made her an official, licensed private investigator and Corbijn offers her an internship with a friend and colleague in the east of the country – where she'll get an opportunity to gain practical knowledge. During her summer internship, De Jong is consulted by a nurse from Aruba, Liberty Pinho, who had been out of a job ever since the nursing home, where she worked, closed down. Recently, she was offered a position as a live-in nurse at a farmhouse, to take care of a terminally ill woman, but the conditions and circumstances proved to be reason of concern. One of these conditions practically turned her in a prisoner and there are vicious guard dogs prowling the grounds. And even more peculiar, some of the windows are covered with paint and obscure the view of a wooded area behind the farm!
This is not really a detective story, classic or modern, but a homage to the Victorian-era sensationalist fiction with a familial secret hidden away in "an old, dilapidated tower from the thirteenth century." However, the family secret here is a decidedly modern one. So not a bad story, but one that will probably be more appreciated by readers who love Joseph Sheridan Lafuna and Wilkie Collins.
The next story is "Het meisje dat bleef rondhangen" ("The Girl Who Stuck Around") and is easily the standout in this collection. A ghostly tale of murder and deception reminiscent of some of John Dickson Carr's eerily atmospheric detective stories.
Corbijn and De Jong are asked to look into a one-sided car accident on "a completely deserted country road," which is cursed with "a notorious bend," where people have often smashed into a row of trees and this latest accident was seen by two witnesses – who saw the car disappear around the corner. And this was followed by a loud crash. The driver was seriously wounded and, before losing consciousness, asked the paramedics how the little girl was doing. However, nobody else had been involved in this accident. Let alone a child. This was not the only unexplained accident that occurred on that stretch of deserted road.
Several years previously, an identical accident happened on exactly the same spot. Apparently, the driver had tried to avoid hitting someone who was standing in the middle of the road, but nobody was actually there. The driver had not survived the collision with one of the trees. Corbijn and De Jong learn that a child, Marion, had died on that road and her mother, who lives nearby, is convinced that the ghost of the child is haunting her home and the place where she died. The two detectives even get a glimpse of the ghostly girl, "a frightened face," looking at them between the thick, dark trees!
I already mentioned that the story reminded me of the work of my favorite mystery writer, Carr, but the plot really could have been used for one of his own short stories from The Department of Queer Complaints (1940), which is part of a lamentably short-lived series and a literary relative of this one – as both have a penchant for bizarre or even (borderline) impossible crimes. So an excellent story that stands with the best collected in the previous compendium and genuinely tragic on account of the psychological toll the ghostly apparitions had on the grieving parents of the dead girl.
The third story lends its title to this collection, "De bergen die geen vergetelheid kennen" ("The Mountains That Do Not Forget"), which brings Corbijn to "the most isolated valley in northern Albania." He's asked by colleague to give a second opinion on an unsolved locked tower murder that happened there in May, 1933!
Corbijn tells the story to De Jong and gives a detailed account of the customs and traditions of the region, which lay at the heart of the plot. Apparently, a lot of the background was drawn from Edith Durham's High Albania (1909). Anyway, a long-lasting bloedvete (blood-vendetta) between two families that had begun the theft of sheep has culminated in dozens of deaths on both side of those cursed mountains. Only during the communist occupation did the weapons cease, because the regime was cracking down on the old customs. Everyone who participated were taken away and executed. And until the 1990s, the mountains were at peace.
However, ever since the fall of the Soviet Union the old feuds have been resurrected and the murder of woman in 1933 is at the core of this long-standing vendetta, who was shot against the rules of the Code, when she was hiding in the locked attic of a kulla e ngujimit – a so-called "locked-in tower" where the men used to hit when a hit was called on one of them by their rivals. There was only a small, open window at the top of the tower, but it looked out on a sheer drop ending in a river, but could a shot have been fired through the window from the ground? There was no gun found inside the attic room, but there were scorch-marks on the body. Suggesting that she was shot at close range.
Unfortunately, the solution is not only very obvious, but borrowed from a well-known short detective story by an even more well-known mystery writer. And the explanation was used by another writer in an impossible crime story with a very similar setting (i.e. a locked tower room). However, the attraction of this story is its backdrop and the history of its people. And the (hilarious) consequences Corbijn's solution has for him and his colleague. Needless to say, they had to run. :)
The next story is "Het hoertje dat geen spoor achterliet" ("The Whore Who Left No Trace Behind") and, as modern as the title may sound, this was my return to Baker Street, but, in this case, it's De Warmoesstraat. A street where, once upon a time, stood a notorious police station where the man who formally introduced me to the detective story, the late A.C. Baantjer, worked for three decades as a policeman and homicide detective. Bureau Warmoesstraat also featured prominently in his many delightful police/mystery novels. I really miss Baantjer. Anyway...
In this story, "a dingy hotel on the Warmoesstraat" functions as the backdrop. A writer of erotic thrillers, Marlinde Vries a.k.a "Patricia Rooth," caught her husband, Gerhard von Krefeld, with a prostitute in a hotel room and stabbed him to death – or so the evidence suggests. However, her brother simply refuses to accept to the conclusion of the police and hires Corbijn and De Jong to exonerate his sister by finding out who really killed Von Krefeld. A search that begins with finding the prostitute who vanished without a trace after the murder and the police had been unable to find her. She's not only a witness, but a potential suspect as well.
Even without the clues, I anticipated the solution as soon as the murderer entered the picture. But the plot hang together nicely and, as said, there was some clues planted here and there. I really liked this brief return to the most famous street in Dutch detective and police history.
Finally, the last story in this collection, "De dame die niet om hulp had gevraagd" ("The Lady Who Had Not Asked for Help"), ends the collection on a high-note and functions as bridge to the second, full-length novel in this series. But more on that later.
Corbijn is impatiently waiting on a confirmation on whether or not the skeleton remains that were recently found belong to a student who has been missing since 1978. So, to kill the time, De Jong suggests he tells her story about the time he was a still a policeman and he tells him about the curious case of an elderly lady who had not asked them for help. Mrs. Olde Meierink is an old woman who lives in the middle of the woods and her lonely house can only be reached by "a long, dirt road, full of holes and bends, right through the forest," but the police and even the fire department regularly have to traverse that road after a frantic call to the emergency number – only to discover that nothing has happened. Mrs. Meierink claims she never called for help and she can even provide a cast-iron alibi for one of the time she supposedly called the police. So who was making the calls and what is the motive behind them?
Corbijn and De Jong have to root around the deep, dark past and family history of Mrs. Meierink, which reaches all the way back to Drenthe, South Africa and Rhodesia. The phone-calls turns out to be key elements of a delightful revenge plot with a great, motivational drive. I was reminded of Edward D. Hoch's "The Theft of the Onyx Pool," collected in The Thefts of Nick Velvet (1978), which had a character with a scheme that was similar in nature and with exactly the same motivation, but with a completely different approach. So a solid story to close out this collection.
On a whole, The Mountains That Do Not Forget is a nicely balanced collection of traditional-minded, plot-driven detective stories presented as short story forms of the contemporary misdaadroman (crime novel). They're a sad reminder what the crime genre could have looked like today had modern-day writers not abandoned logically constructed plots, clueing and such delightful tropes as impossible crimes and dying messages. We could have been like Japan!
I can't deny I feel a tinge of nationalistic pride that my country has produced a writer who, in this day and age, writes in the tradition of Doyle, Christie and Carr. It makes me feel all imperial inside. So, yes, I quite enjoyed these five stories.
On a final, related note, that second, full-length novel I mentioned is scheduled for release in May, titled De student die zou trouwen (The Student Who Was To Get Married, 2018), which takes place in my own backyard and naturally love the book-cover. However, I really should read the first novel, De ouders keerden niet terug (The Parents Did Not Return, 2017), before getting around to that second one. So I'll try to worm the first one in, sometime, next month or so. So you better stick around!