The Philosophical Exercises
Janwillem van de Wetering

By Henry Wessells


With A Checklist of Books by Janwillem van de Wetering


Author of a highly acclaimed series of mystery novels, world traveller, former Zen student, and former police officer Janwillem van de Wetering brings an unusual perspective to the detective genre.  His novels and stories feature a diverse and richly drawn cast of characters and settings that range from the streets of Amsterdam to the Caribbean and from rural Maine to Japan, South America, and New Guinea.  A careful eye for the details of police investigations is joined with a quirky sense of humor and a keen interest in philosophical and spiritual matters.

    With publication of Outsider in Amsterdam, van de Wetering gained a following in both Europe and America.  In this novel and  others in the series, van de Wetering created one of the more unusual detective teams in modern crime fiction: the trio of “Amsterdam Cops”: Sergeant Rinus de Gier, youthful, handsome, and highly athletic; Adjutant Henk Grijpstra, somewhat older and more phlegmatic; and the unnamed commissaris, their senior officer and spiritual guide.  Outsider in Amsterdam, with a plot that involves spiritual fraud and reflections on Western ideas about the exotic East, explores in fictional form ideas that had long been a concern of the author.  Philosophical and existential questions are intertwined in all of his subsequent novels.

    His first published book, The Empty Mirror, was a nonfiction account of his experiences as a Zen student in Japan in the late 1950s; it appeared in Dutch in 1971, and in an English edition in 1973.  A companion volume, Glimpses of Nothingness, recording impressions during a stay in an American Zen community, appeared in 1975. Van de Wetering published four children’s books that explore spiritual and philosophical themes. His 1987 biography of Dutch mystery author and diplomat Robert van Gulik (reissued in paperback by Soho Press in June 1998) is similarly concerned with understanding spiritual matters.  Most recently, a collection of van de Wetering’s essays entitled Afterzen has just been published by St. Martin’s Press.

    Before he turned his hand to writing, van de Wetering lived on four continents and his varied experiences pop up throughout his novels and stories.  His years in Japan give a rich texture to The Japanese Corpse and the stories that make up Inspector Saito’s Small Satori, while Mangrove Mama is a recent collection of stories that evoke van de Wetering’s memories of England, Japan, South Africa and South America as well as more recent travels to Key West and New Guinea.

    Janwillem Lincoln van de Wetering was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on February 12, 1931. His father was a merchant whose American contacts prompted him to give his second son the middle name, Lincoln.  The signal event of his childhood was the Second World War: “When the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam the Junc