De ooggetuige [The eye witness],Simone van der Vlugt

Just finished reading De ooggetuige [The eye witness], the gift given to customers by booksellers in the Netherlands as part of “Thriller Month.”

These gifts are a lovely part of the Dutch literary scene: the most famous is the Boekenweek geschenk, an annual gift during “book week”; they are usually short works (ca. 90 pp. in a small format paperback) by authors of note.  I’d never heard of Maand van het Spannende Boek (Month of the Thrilling Book) before, but I do like the idea of there being more times for getting free books in the year.

De ooggetuige is billed as a “literaire thriller,” which I would originally have translated as “literary thriller” in the sense of “thriller about literary topics,” but literaire in this context in fact seems to mean something more like “highfalutin’.” There’s nothing in this book about books.

I’m also not really sure that it is all that highfalutin’. The idea is interesting enough: Manon Jonker is a nearly-blind young woman who is caught in a jewellery store during a robbery. Her life is spared because the thieves believe that she is completely blind. When news leaks out that she is “only” slechteziend (i.e. “hard of seeing”–I don’t know if English has an equivalent), the thieves come after her and we are treated to a number of beanstigende confrontaties (“scary confrontations”).

On the other hand, the execution seems to me to be relatively run-of-the-mill. The actual details of the robbery don’t seem to me to be all that believable–the thieves act elsewhere with a brutality and decisiveness that is not in keeping with their decision to let her live. And the story seems full of holes. Although it sounds like they discover who she is through press accounts (and as a result are motivated to track her down in order to test just how well she can see), we discover at the end that they had other ways of knowing this and that they might already have had a sense of the limits of her abilities. Likewise, the ending involves a fairly unbelievable turn of events with the unmasking of a “surprise” villain, whom everybody seems remarkably prepared for and who rivals a Bondian supervillain in his willingness to spill the beans before making sure of his witness.


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