What do Zen koans, improvisational jazz, and murder mysteries have in common? I haven't the faintest idea, but I feel like if I just keep reading Janwillem van de Wetering mysteries I'll figure it out. This Dutch writer has developed something of a cult following in this country, largely because he packs his work with wisdom picked up from his storybook-style writer's life: He was once a layman in a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto; an Amsterdam reserve police officer; and a South American business magnate. His work is larded with elegant philosophical ramblings, like this one from a recurring character, the old commissaris (a Dutch police chief), in his latest novel, The Hollow-Eyed Angel: "We do this for Nothing?" he muses to his pet turtle, after accepting a new, difficult case. "'We don't walk the way that can be called a way? No Turtle, we surrender... We are merely aware, we meditate, we gain ultimate insight.' Turtle heightened the rhythm of his dancing feet and shaking shield. 'Too Zen for me perhaps,' the commissaris said. 'Even now, when my working life is almost over. Who am I fooling? Career does matter to me. I'm in this to win. I insist on being admired.' He bent down to the dancing reptile. 'We're Dutch, my dear. The Dutch are basic traders. Nothing is for free. And there has to be some profit...'"
Van de Wetering's books are also very funny, salted with a dry wit and a deep appreciation of the absurd. Maybe this alternating of philosophical weight with humor explains why the number of van de Wetering's fans has grown exponentially in the last few years. It seems that Buddhists and businessmen can agree on one thing--they like a little intellectual oomph in their mysteries.