More Mysteries for Robbie Corbijn (2021) by Anne van Doorn

Four years ago, M.P.O. Books launched a new series under a now open penname, "Anne van Doorn," which starred two particuliere onderzoekers (private investigators), Robbie Corbijn and Lowina de Jong, who specialize in cases that have gone stone cold and occasional miscarriages of justice – ranging from missing persons to murder cases. Fascinatingly, Corbijn and De Jong were introduced in a promotional freebie, "De dichter die zichzelf opsloot" ("The Poet Who Locked Himself In," 2017). A short story that actually received an English translation and appeared in the September/October, 2019, issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

I have since read and reviewed two novels, two short story collections and a handful of short stories culminating with the magnificent De man die zijn geweten ontlastte (The Man Who Relieved His Conscience, 2019). A monument of a Dutch detective novel with two impossible crimes, a dying message and a revelation about one of the characters that caught me by complete surprise. One of those painful moments in which the professional mystery novelist showed the amateur armchair detective who the real murder expert is.

The series went dormant for nearly two years, but has now reemerged with a third volume of short stories, entitled Meer mysteries voor Robbie Corbijn (More Mysteries for Robbie Corbijn, 2021), collecting ten detective stories of various plumage – including two previously unpublished stories. However, I've already read and reviewed "Het huis dat ongeluk bracht" ("The House That Brought Bad Luck," 2018), "De bus die de mist inging" ("The Bus That Went Into the Fog," 2018) and "De brieven die onheil spelden" ("The Letters That Spelled Doom," 2018) on this blog before. So I'll skip them for the sake of brevity, but it needs to be said that they represent the standouts of the collection. And with that I mean they're the most classically-styled of the bunch full with unbreakable alibis, impossible murders and ghostly mischief. Don't overlook those separate short story reviews. 

"Het schilderij dat niet bleef hangen" ("The Painting That Didn't Hang Around," 2018) is a case that was nothing more than "a comical snack" to Robbie Corbijn, but not to the people who were directly affected by it. Isabelle Valck comes to Recherchebureau Corbijn – Research & Discover to ask them to reopen an unsolved, thirteen year old case concerning a 350-year-old painting by Jan Steen. The painting was stolen in 2003 from De Catharina Hof, in Gouda, where Maarten Lippinkhoff was the curator of the museum when the burglary took place. Lippinkhof was Valck's father and he had always been haunted by the theft, but Valck received a shock when she discovered the stolen painting, badly damaged, in his attic shortly after he passed away. She really wants to know what exactly happened and the painting is closely examined, but, whether the painting is authentic or a masterly done forgery, neither gives a satisfying answer why it was found in the attic of the former conservator. Not until Corbijn forces someone's hand by staging a denouement in the attic and has a laugh at everyone's else expense. A fun and almost typically Dutch little crime caper. 

"De vrouw die onraad rook" ("The Woman Who Smelled Trouble," 2018) presents Lowina de Jong, series-narrator and detective-in-training, why Corbijn has "a spitting hatred for adultery cases" and thoroughly vets prospective clients – before accepting or turning them down. De Jong remembers Corbijn harshly turned down such a case, but De Jong wants to help her out. Melanie van Staveren-de Maillie tells De Jong her tragic history that eventually lead her to be kind of unfaithful to her husband, which now has some potential devastating consequences. She has received a threatening warning letter and had an eerily realistic dream in which “an ice cold hand” was chocking her. But was it a dream? A week later, De Jong reads her obituary in the newspaper and suspect foul play, but Melanie appears to have died from natural causes in her sleep. When she was all alone in a locked house (not an impossible crime) and the clock is ticking away the hours until the body is cremated.

So a how-was-it-done kind of detective story, but the impressive part of the story is not the how or why. It's the slippery, but impressive, wire-walking act Corbijn had to perform to convince the reader the who was completely fair. When I learned the identity of the murderer, I frowned disapprovingly at the page as it was just plain unfair. Corbijn started to explain and pointing out why the solution is correct and not unfair at all, which is technically true, but not very satisfying. Not one of my personal favorites. 

"De pianist die uit de toon viel" ("The Pianist Who Fell Out of Tune," 2018) has a disappearance problem somewhat reminiscent of Freeman Wills Crofts' The Hog's Back Mystery (1933) with a solution that twists and snakes like a John Dickson Carr story! Maurice Kleinluchtenbeld was a famous pianist who reached the charts in most European countries in the 1990s with "his modern, romantic interpretations and arrangements of classical pieces," but vanished under mysterious circumstances in 2004. Corbijn remembers the case and described it to De Jong as having the appearance of "a botched magic trick." One moment the pianist was walking back home across a hill, De Soester Eng, which is surrounded on all sides by houses and the next moment he was gone. Vanished without a trace! Now he son wants the case reopened.

Corbijn and De Jong have two logical, yet unlikely, possibilities to explore: a voluntary disappearance or foul play, but, if he disappeared voluntarily, how could a famous musician with striking features stay hidden without ever getting spotted or even discovered – murder should have produced a body. The time, place and eyewitnesses at the time of the disappearance places constraints on a murderer with barely enough time to get rid of the body so effectively it was never found. Solution is a thing of beauty, "a clever magic trick," which rendered more than one character practically invisible. A pure, neo-Golden Age detective story. 

"Het bruidje dat geen afscheid nam" ("The Bride Who Didn't Say Goodbye," 2018) is a more of a thriller than a detective story and puts the spotlight on Corbijn's assistant, Lowina de Jong. Two times before, De Jong had been allowed to handle an investigation on her own and the first and last time her involvement lead to someone's untimely death. This third case is the second time it goes horribly wrong. De Jong took some vacations days to go to Finland to help find a missing and recently married woman, but the trip, told through a series of diary entries, is turned on its head when she finds herself trapped on a remote, desolate island with a captor who can vanish and reappear out of nowhere. There are some touches of the Had-I-But-Known School ("If only I had stayed in the Netherlands" or "if I hadn't kept deadly quiet, I probably would have ended up with my throat cut"), but the punch of the story is in its tragic and almost cruel ending. An ending that taught the detective-in-training a harsh lesson. 

"De man die wilde vliegen" ("The Man Who Wanted to Fly," 2021) is the shortest and perhaps the most ambitiously-plotted story of the collection. A story in which Corbijn tells a story to De Jong about his time with the police that taught him a valuable lesson. Always beware of the unreliable witness.

Ten years ago, Corbijn accompanied his then chef to the scene of what appeared to him to have been an impossible murder. A man had fallen to his death from a watchtower in a wooded, hilly area and there were two witnesses present who saw and heard the man fall. One of them was ascending the staircase and heard the victim hit the ground, while the other saw him fall and was seen bending over the body when the first witness arrived at the top of the tower. They all knew each other and the two witnesses have a strong motive, but neither witness/suspect were close enough to have pushed the man and that gives them, what can be a called, a positional alibi – which opens the door to a series of false-solutions. Corbijn demonstrates why "the unreliable narrator is a pitfall in any investigation" with an unexpected, third possibility. Anthony Berkeley would have loved this story that proved Anthony Boucher right that the rules and conventions of the genre can only be broken by writers who understand and respect them.

On a side note (Spoilers/ROT13): Z.C.B. Obbxf/Ina Qbbea unf orra rkcrevzragrq va gurfr fgbevrf jvgu znxvat gur zheqrere n crevcureny punenpgre be rira na haxabja K, juvpu (vs V erzrzore pbeerpgyl) snvyrq gb jbex va “Qr negf qvr qr jrt xjvwg jnf” (“Gur Qbpgbe Jub Tbg Ybfg ba gur Jnl,” 2018). “Gur Jbzna Jub Fzryyrq Gebhoyr” jnf n grpuavpny vzcebirzrag, ohg ur anvyrq vg jvgu “Gur Zna Jub Jnagrq gb Syl.” This is why this story deserves to be translated, because an international, English-speaking mystery reading audience will appreciate it more than Dutch readers. One is sadly more knowledgeable than the other where classic detective fiction is concerned. 

"De studente die zichzelf tegenkwam" ("The Student Who Met Herself," 2018) shows the author of these stories is not only a traditional mystery novelist and a modern crime writer, but also a massive Sherlock Holmes fan. A story with an unmistakable hint of Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" (collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1892). Veerle Peeters is an archaeology student and active in an amateur theater company, but recently, she got involved in a bizarre situation. Veerle wants Corbijn and De Jong to find out whether she unwittingly collaborated in something criminal, or not, because a sick woman might be held against her will by her own family. The student was hired by a Hilda Jonckheere to play the real-life part of her terminal ill daughter, Bernadette, who was summoned to the deathbed of her estranged grandfather. Something is obviously at stake for the parents. But following a few critical questions, Hilda and her family simply vanish without a trace. So what really happened? What's the significance of the tattoo Veerle spotted on the wrist of the dying Bernadette? More importantly, what happened to everyone? And why? The plot and solution is a grand play on breaking down identities and really deserved a novel-length treatment. There were some great scenes, discoveries and revelations that would have been perfect to pace out and deepen the plot of a detective novel. And then there's the ending. Corbijn receives an envelope with a missing piece of the puzzle, but who mailed him the newspaper clipping is "a mystery that has never been solved." I vaguely remember that happening at least once before in another story and perhaps The Man Who Relieved His Conscience has made me paranoid, but begin to suspect there's a shadow detective looking over Corbijn's shoulder. You won't fool me this time. I think I can make an educated guess who this potential rival-detective could be. 

"De man die liever binnen bleef" ("The Man Who Rather Stayed Inside," 2021) is a perfect specimen of, what I like to call, oranje pulp (orange pulp) and I say that with the upmost affection as the story delivers a pulp-style locked room thriller remindful of two writers previously discussed on this blog – namely John Russell Fearn and Gerald Verner. A case with very little interest to Corbijn, a broken relationship without an apparent crime, which is why De Jong is tasked with most of the work. De Jong has to try to get into contact with a reclusive software millionaire, Hadley Green, who lives in a manor house on an estate "separated with a high fence and barbed wire" from the outside world. One day, without an explanation, he kicked his girlfriend and their 5-year-old son out of the house. She desperately wants answers. De Jong quickly finds out that getting past the gatekeeper and estate manager is easier said than done. She eventually gets passed the gate on a dark, stormy night when the entire house is plunged into darkness and potentially crawling with intruders culminating in a shooting in a tightly locked bedroom. Just when I thought I had figured everything out, De Jong's return to the estate the following morning threw an entirely different complexion on the case. A very well done take on the pulp-style thriller with an impossible crime in a house under siege (see Brian Flynn's Invisible Death, 1929).

So that brings us to the end of More Mysteries for Robbie Corbijn. A rewarding collection with a dodgy story, or two, but without a single genuine dud to be found and traditionally there are one or two bad stories in every short story collection and anthology – speaking volumes about the overall quality of the series. Another plus is the variety within the series and this collection. Covering everything from armchair detection and (pulp) thrillers to locked room mysteries and contemporary interpretations of the Doylean-era crime story. This type of crime-and detective fiction is regrettably all too rare in my country, because not that many Dutch writers have the know-all to clue, misdirect or play around with the conventions and tropes of the genre. That's why I've been enjoying this series so much, but don't assume that completely clouds my judgment. Only a little. And many of the stories collected here would charm the pants off of non-Dutch detective fans, if they ever get translated. Here's hoping!


  1. Oh, I had seen a pre-order page somewhere already a while back, but I had completely forgotten about this release! The first short story collection was fun, so I guess I'll have to pick this one up too.

    1. You should. This one is even better than the other two collections, but I don't expect your review to appear before 2024. :)

  2. Well this sounds like a great collection (and I like the punny titles)! I really hope that it sees an English translation. (As well as the rest of van Doorn/Books' works. And the Eugenius Quak books. And...) It's harder reading reviews of Dutch mysteries than Japanese ones, because I'll at least be able to read the Japanese ones, even if only a few years down the line. Here's hoping your reviews grab some publisher's attention!

    1. Not all that long ago, you only heard about Paul Halter from French speaking fans and Ho-Ling was the only one who reviewed Japanese mysteries. And look where we are today!