Mathijs Deen carelessly crosses genre boundaries, like a floating corpse next to a channel crossing a national border

Mathijs Deen carelessly crosses genre boundaries, like a floating corpse next to a channel crossing a national border

Where is the border? In The Dutchman, the first ‘Waddent thriller’ by Mathijs Deen, published last year, and recently nominated for the Gouden Strop 2023 for the best suspense book of the year, boundaries were sought and exceeded. Because where exactly was the body of that drowned mudflat hiker found? On a dried-up sandbank on the Wadden Sea, off the coast of Eemshaven and Delfzijl, to be precise ‘along the western bank of the shipping channel of the Eems: an area of ​​which it is not clear whether it belongs to the Netherlands or to Germany’. Of course, you don’t see such a boundary on the water, but that boundary definition does make quite a difference: should the circumstances of the death be investigated by the German police or by the Netherlands?

The protagonist of the crime, the detective who takes on the case, has a bit of both: Liewe Cupido works for the German police in Cuxhaven, but grew up on Texel and was German by birth. He grew up as someone who charts his own course and knows how to have his own way when it suits him – ideal for a headstrong researcher. Moreover, with a sailor’s mentality, of tackling things, being straightforward if necessary and sometimes skilfully navigating. And he doesn’t waste too many words on anything, they just disappear in the wind.

Liewe Cupido successfully intervened The Dutchman about the mysterious death of Klaus Smyrna, an experienced mudflat hiker who drowned – it turned out to be a crime. And the success also applied to writer Mathijs Deen (1962), who previously praised non-fiction (The Wadden. A history) and literary fiction (The lightship) wrote: the ‘Waddenthriller’ is perhaps so good because it also concerns border traffic. And not only because it started as an idea from his German publisher, but also because Deen crosses genre boundaries as carelessly as a floating corpse next to a shipping channel would cross a national border. Except with a stimulating puzzle and the eerie decor The Dutchman with a sense of style, attention to the human sides of the characters and avoidance of clichés. The line cannot be clearly drawn (is there a line, aren’t boundaries just human inventions?): it is a full-blooded thriller that also has literary qualities.

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Wreck divers

This also applies to the recently published second Wadden thriller, The diver, in which Liewe Cupido is called in again for a case on the Wadden Sea. Off the coast of the North Frisian Wadden Island of Amrum, a cargo ship that wrecked decades earlier has emerged from a disturbed sandbank, and the mystery is: a (recently) missing diver is attached to that (old) ship in handcuffs. So no natural death. The drowned diver turns out to be called Jan Matz, and Cupido’s investigation takes him from the bottom of the Wadden Sea to a Terschelling diving club to a family where everything seems to be under tension, and to all kinds of nondescript harbors and police stations.

Once again, Deen offers a plot that is difficult to understand and a nice puzzle that you can only fully solve at the very end. Does the cargo of the sunken Hanne, a treasure worth millions of copper plates, have anything to do with Matz’s death? Or is the cause more likely to lie in the argument his teenage son had with a classmate, whom he knocked into a coma? And what kind of world is this, of wreck divers who track down wrecked ships in order to illegally dispose of their precious cargoes?

Slightly less than in The Dutchman Deen is sailing on the strength of local color this time – now not all the characters listen to funny names such as Geeske, Anne-Baukje, Van de Wal and Islander, although maritime life in the Wadden area continues to produce an attractive abracadabra wherever he goes. knows how to convey a serious charge. It is a world where togetherness and conviviality are indispensable, but they go hand in hand with fearless ferocity, as in this childhood memory at sea by Liewe: ‘At the end of the day, the divers tipsy from the beachcombers on the aft deck, he was given the helm to sail home. If he strayed off course, they shouted: “Keep straight, son of a bitch! Every screech is fifteen minutes!”

Traumatized crew

There is feeling in this, as Deen also shows the inner turmoil of his detective in sparse but well-chosen moments, expanding rather than simplifying the mystery: ‘It takes hours for Liewe to fall asleep. All the while he lies on his back and waits. And when sleep finally overtakes him, it does not come as a release, but as a shadow that clouds at his foot, then spreads like a veil over the bed and takes away all his breath. He lies motionless on his bed, arms stretched out at his sides, but in his dream he turns around, spreads his arms in an attempt to shield everything he holds dear from the shadow that has been cast over him like a net.’ That is reminiscent of the traumatized ship’s crew in Denmark’s wonderful novella The lightship (2020) populated.

It is clear that the Matz murder case also affects Liewe, who once lost his father at sea – but why exactly? For the reader, the sense of detective work and compassion go hand in hand, and as the plot rolls along, the characters come to life. Deen tells the story about a murder, but does not allow himself to be limited by that. At the same time, he has an eye and feeling for people and their motives. Apparently The diver ultimately mainly about family ties and (revenge) feelings slumbering beneath the surface. About what lies beneath the surface of the water, what requires you to dive beneath the surface.

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