Oog om oog
The dark side of present-day Amsterdam
Amsterdam may have charming canals, old houses, and convivial bars but the city also has its so-called ‘coffee shops’, drugs dealers, and the violent settling of debts in those same attractive bars. This frightening, seamier side of the capital is perhaps most candidly described by Gerben Hellinga in his novel, Oog om oog (Eye for an Eye). Oog om oog tells two stories and connects them in an ingenious way.
The first strand features a stolen gun as it moves from hand to hand through the Amsterdam underworld, accumulating victims. The second features Jos de Spin, a character from Hellinga’s previous books, who is looking for this gun. Jos de Spin is well-acquainted with the Amsterdam underworld, he still knows many of the big shots from his childhood spent in the old city centre and his time in prison. The young, sexy daughter of one of these former acquaintances has asked him to search for the gun which has been stolen from her room. De Spin returns to the shady establishments of his own criminal youth, the drug dealers and petty criminals but wherever he goes, he is invariably just too late.
Ultimately the story involves a friend from the olden days who, after taking a large quantity of drugs, has shot a child with the missing gun. When De Spin finally gets possession of the weapon, it has been used to commit seven murders.
Gerben Hellinga describes the dark side of present-day Amsterdam in fast, fluent prose. Jos de Spin is a sympathetic, old-school criminal who surveys the degeneration around him with a certain degree of astonishment. The use of street slang with its coarse expressions makes the book authentic. The fact that some people are portrayed in a somewhat caricatural fashion harmonizes with the style of the book, bringing humour into an otherwise grim world.