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Sand Castles

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In the period from 1962 to 1972, Piet Van der Valk accomplished a number of things. He managed to remain married to the vivacious and somewhat tart-tongued Arlette, he participated in the socialization of his two sons and adopted daughter, and he approached the years and the constraints of age with considerable dignity. More important, from LOVE IN AMSTERDAM to LOVELY LADIES he became one of the best-loved protagonists in modern crime fiction. Readers were enthralled by this intellectual, iconoclastic inspector of police and his irreverent, discerning wife who loved and laughed despite constant reminders that the world was, on occasion, not a pleasant place in which to live.

But then, in 1972, and quite without warning, Van der Valk was killed in the course of an investigation (AUPRES DE MA BLONDE). The world at large was not as devastated as when Holmes was apparently killed by Professor Moriarty above Reichenbach Falls. Still, there were many who felt a genuine sense of loss. Now, after almost two decades, Nicolas Freeling resumes the canon with SAND CASTLES. Van der Valk is still destined to die; this latest work is set in the period before the unfortunate event.

Even though he and Arlette are engaged in a long overdue vacation to the north coast of Holland, Van der Valk remains alert to the fact that the ungodly never rest. When a chance encounter reveals the existence of a child pornography operation in a quiet resort town, the good commissaris untangles the skein of evil before resuming his journey. Then, fate intervenes again, and Van der Valk and Arlette are thrust in the way of a coven of right-wing political fanatics--an encounter which is almost fatal for both the commissaris and his wife.

The Van der Valk series is very much in the way of an acquired taste. The man, as his wife so disrespectfully refers to him, is tough yet compassionate, relentless but not given to violent confrontations with guns blazing on all sides. He is human as opposed to heroic, and far more concerned with survival than glory. Still, those readers who appreciate subtle plots, profound insight into the human condition, and some of the most literate fiction of the genre will find much to treasure in SAND CASTLES. In fact, this work may send a legion of readers back to the earlier works--novels which, far from losing their allure, have aged like a fine wine, a good pipe, or a comfortable easy chair.