Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 643
The novel opens on December 22. Kees Popinga is bored by the evening routine in his respectable household: children doing homework, wife pasting cards from chocolate packages in an album, stove making the air heavy. He goes out to check whether the shipping firm for which he works has outfitted the Ocean III properly. Nothing ordered has been delivered; his employer,de Coster, is getting drunk in a bar and confides that he plans to abscond,faking suicide. The firm is based on fraud: Kees’s job is gone, his savings are lost. De Coster gives him five hundred crowns and Kees aids in his employer’s disappearance, then goes home to bed, refusing to get up the next morning. Whenever he is plagued by thoughts of work, he rehearses the meeting that he plans to have with de Coster’s luscious mistress, Pamela. At nightfall, Kees takes the train, leaving his family and his former conformist-self behind in Gronigen.
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He whiles away the journey with amused recollections of the time he dropped a (winning) opponent’s chessman into a tankard of beer, of the evening when he added sugar to his host’s oxtail soup because the maid had repulsed him. In Amsterdam, Pamela repulses him, too; worse, she laughs at him. Kees silences her with a towel and leaves on the Paris train, unaware that he has committed murder.
In Paris he picks up Jeanne and spends the night with her. She persuades her boyfriend, Louis, to admit Kees to his gang. Under Louis’ direction, Kees steals a car and drives it to Juvisy where he hides out at Goin’s garage. When Inspector Lucas, who is in charge of the hunt for Kees, questions Jeanne and the papers publish Kees’s crime, the gang considers turning him over to the police. Kees escapes and returns to Paris to see Jeanne, who refuses to sleep with him. Kees beats her unconscious with a revolver butt and returns to the streets of Paris, moving from hotel to hotel, cafe to cafe, picking up a different woman each night, reading about himself in the papers each day. He writes to the newspapers and to the police, correcting their view of him and giving information about Louis and his gang. Though the police arrest the car thieves, they are released to set the underworld hunting for Kees.
By New Year’s Eve, Kees feels hunted. His habits must be broken because they will betray him. He cannot rest. A psychiatrist is reported to have called him paranoiac. The papers claim that he will soon be caught. He wants to announce himself to the world. Then all his money is stolen and he realizes that he is only an amateur in crime. He can neither outfit himself as a tramp and sleep under bridges nor afford a hotel. Clad in only a raincoat, he places his head on the railway line and waits for the train.
The train stops in time, and Kees is captured and taken to the police. He finds interrogation boring, refuses to answer, and pretends not to recognize his wife, Mums. Finally, he is returned to Holland and placed in an asylum where Mums visits him regularly once a month, bringing news of the biscuit factory where she pastes on labels, of their son Karl’s scholarship, of their daughter Frida’s leaving school to work in an office, where her employer’s nephew has proposed marriage to her. Kees does not care. Contentedly, he considers the way in which he has himself proved himself superior to the police. The doctor wants to play chess. Kees drops a chessman in the teacup. His memoirs, “The Truth About the Kees Popinga Case,” remain unwritten. “Really, there isn’t any truth about it, is there doctor?” says Kees, at the conclusion of the book.