The Detective in the Intertext: Freeling's Dialogue with Chandler

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Texas Studies in Literature and Language


Although Nicolas Freeling has not been a best seller among contemporary detective novelists, his works, especially the novels of the Van der Valk series, have generally been acclaimed by reviewers and peers as superior examples of popular literature.1 Freeling's reviewers have, however, frequently drawn attention to the fact that his work is not easy to categorize, and they have been quite inconsistent in identifying the precise genre in which he writes. Anatole Broyard, for example, simply places Freeling's work in the broad field of suspense fiction.2 An earlier reviewer, describing The King of the Rainy Country in The Times Literary Supplement, wrote that "it would be fair to say that from a mélange of existing ingredients he has remade and extended the thriller."3 This sort of imprecision is perhaps best exemplified by the same writer's claim that "Mr. Freeling is at the moment the educated man's Ian Fleming, an excellent writer of Gothic-psychologico-detective-thrillers."4 One of the most common tactics employed by reviewers who wish to pigeonhole Freeling definitively has been to identify Inspector Van der Valk as a reincarnation of Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret.5 This association with Simenon has come to be commonplace even among academic critics who have reflected more substantially on the genre of detective fiction. For example, George Dove, in The Police Procedural, writes that "in at least half of the stories, particularly those in which he pursues suspects and clues across national frontiers, Van der Valk belongs unquestionably to the Great Policeman School, . . . but he works enough with other policemen and follows customary police routines to put the series into the procedural class."6 Dove goes on to point out that "Van der Valk is a great reader of George [sic] Simenon, and he constantly compares his methods with those of Maigret, imitates Maigret's habits of walking and drinking, even tries to think like him."7 While Dove's conflation of Freeling and Van der Valk raises its own problems, what interests us here is, rather, the generic question upon which Dove touches.


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