(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 643 words.)