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The year's best crime writer: Charles Den Tex discusses crime writing in the Netherlands.

Behind almost all great works of literature is a crime. From the adultery of Helen of Trov, to Herod's slaughter of the innocents, to The Kite Runner and The Lovely Bones: it is hard to think of works of literature that don't have some kind of crime as their foundation. Nonetheless, the arbitrariness of the culture hierarchy often designates novels and stories that are based on traditional crime writing forms as belonging to low culture. This is less common in the United States where presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and Bill Clinton made no secret of their love for mysteries, but even in continental Europe, crime writers often find that it is difficult to be taken seriously as writers by the literary press.

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As the popularity of mysteries and thrillers has spread, however, promoting crime fiction as a literary genre has become the objective of many writers' groups such as the Genootschap van Nederlandstalige Misdaadauteurs (the association of Dutch language crime writers) and Das Syndikat (German crime writers). One of the most interesting ways that writing is promoted in the Netherlands is through a program begun in 1932 by a foundation set up by booksellers and publishers. A dedicated public relations organization with a strong budget, the CPNB (Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek) organizes a number of events, such as Book Week in March (since 1932, promoting literature in general), Children's Book Week in October (since 1955), and Crime Fiction Month in June (since 1989). As part of both Book Week and Crime Fiction Month, a writer of stature is selected in each category to compose a novella, which is distributed free to everyone who buys 12.50 [euro] worth of books. The novella is printed in astonishing numbers. This year's numbered 865,000, roughly equivalent to one book for every twenty people in the nation. The CPNB alternates between foreign authors and Dutch-language authors, but the author selected is recognized as one of the best in the genre.

The author selected for this year's Crime Fiction Month is Charles den Tex. "For the author," he says, "it is an honor to be asked. And it usually provides a huge boost in visibility and sales, because the PR machine of the CPNB is awesome. To have that on your side is a dream come true." Three-time winner of the Gouden Strop (Golden Noose) award for best Dutch crime novel of the year, Den Tex was born in Australia in 1952 but barely remembers anything about that land because he moved back to the Netherlands at age five. After secondary school in Leiden and photography and film school in London, he returned to Leiden in 1978 and began work as an advertising copywriter. In that job, he says, he began to respect the craft of writing, but it wasn't until 1991, when he was feeling burned out from advertising work, that he took off six months and began writing his first novel, Dump. Written in English, it took four years of revisions before it was finally published in 1995. Including Dump, Den Tex has now published ten novels, including his latest, Wachtwoord (Password).

"I was definitely influenced by Desmond Bagley and Nevil Shute," says Den Tex. "They were the authors I first read in the genre. Especially Bagley. I raced through his books--the adventure story with a (sometimes) hot topic or with some kind of professional at its center: a geologist or a hurricane specialist.

"I started writing myself when in the course of my work I learned more about how we get rid of hazardous waste (or "special waste," as the British call it--so British). I figured out a plot and a story, and one day when I found myself with a lot of time on my hands (about six months), I decided to write the story. After many rewrites it became my first thriller, Dump."

Den Tex's background in business is a bit unusual for writers, but it gives him a specialized knowledge that informs his literary work. "I was a PR consultant, a management consultant, and a merger project manager for many years. From it I took some experience of how companies and organizations work: the policies and politics, the stress, the management, the workers and employees. All that provided a natural background to the stories I wanted to tell. As long as I situated my stories in the world of multinational companies, I could focus my research on the specific topic I wanted to use for my novels."

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Although not many crime writers are intimate with the business world, as recent events prove, it is fertile territory for a crime writer. Says Den Tex, "The business world is close by. Many of us work for large or small companies, many of us have first-hand experience with managers, consultants, and the struggle there is to survive in corporate reality. In that corporate world, fraud, misappropriation of funds, hidden agendas, secret projects, and use and misuse of power are often par for the course. Fraud especially is a very next-door sort of crime; it ranges from very small swindles to huge, multibillion-dollar hoaxes. And as the amount of money involved grows, so does the chance that someone is not going to come out alive. It is also very much in the news. Captains of industry have been our social role models for too long."

And what is the state of crime writing in the Netherlands today? "Crime fiction is immensely popular in the Netherlands," answers Den Tex. "It has always been quite popular, but in the past it centered on British and American authors, such as John Grisham, John le Carre, Nicci French, and others. Best-seller status seemed reserved for foreign authors.

"About six or seven years ago a number of Dutch female authors broke the spell and reached bestseller status. Since then the sale of crime fiction seems to have exploded. For some years it has been the fastest growing segment in the book market here.

"The most popular Dutch crime fiction authors are female authors--Saskia Noort, Simone van der Vlugt, Esther Verhoef, Marion Pauw. Among the most popular male authors are Thomas Ross, Rene Appel, Appie Baantjer, and Charles den Tex. There is a considerable gap between the female authors and their male colleagues. For example, as of May 2010, Saskia Noort's first book, Terug naar de kust (Eng. Back to the Coast, 2009) has been in the top sixty for seven years without interruption.

"Popular translated authors include Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Dan Brown, Nicci French, Karin Slaughter, John Grisham, Lars Kepler, Patricia Cornwell, and a number of others. In the past, Slaughter, French, Ian Rankin, Mankell, David Baldacci, Minette Walters, Philip Margolin, and many others have been chosen to be recognized for Crime Fiction Month and have written a novella especially for this event.

"But, putting popularity aside, is crime fiction considered 'important' by critics? That would depend on which critic you ask. Crime fiction critics consider it very important. In just over ten years' time, Dutch crime fiction has reached maturity, you might say. But if you were to ask a literary critic, the answer would be very different. To literary critics, crime fiction is of little importance. It plays no role in the literary landscape. Some simply say it is 'pulp.'

"Some of the crime fiction is national in orientation. But most of the books written here have universal qualities. They focus on themes and subjects that are equally important or interesting to readers here or elsewhere."

With Wachtwoord just hitting the bookstore shelves, Den Tex is considering his plans for the future. "I have just finished a trilogy about Michael Bellicher, a communication and management consultant who gets caught in the wheels of Internet crime. De Macht van Meneer Miller (The power of Mister Miller) unraveled the plot of big business using the Internet to manipulate the information we receive. In Cel, Michael's identity is stolen and misused, and he is suspected of being part of a terrorist organization. In Wachtwoord, he is confronted with the white slave trade, trafficking in women. The trilogy is a departure from the usual corporate thriller. Michael Bellicher has his own style, his own pace, and the corporate affairs recede into the background.

"In the future," says Den Tex, "I may want to explore the psychological thriller. The novella I wrote for this year's Month of Crime Fiction is in that line, and there is more for me to do there. At the same time, I have a feeling I haven't seen the last of Michael Bellicher yet."

University of Oklahoma

J. Madison Davis has been writing on international crime and mystery for WLT since 2004. The author of several crime novels and nonfiction books, be serves as president of the International Association of Crime Writers and teaches novel and film-script writing in the Gaylord College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL Crime & Mystery
Author:Davis, J. Madison
Publication:World Literature Today
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:1645
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