Brian reporting from Amsterdam. Cathy and I arrived Sunday at 6:00 a.m. to begin a vacation that will conclude with a 7-day river cruise down the Rhine.
As we walked around Amsterdam the last few days, I couldn’t help thinking about incorporating this setting into a future novel. I guess that’s what writers do—see a story in every place they go. Although I’ve been to Europe before, what would it be like for an American homicide detective who’d never been here, to try to solve a crime while struggling to adjust to a foreign city?
I wondered how my detective would feel functioning with a jetlagged, sluggish brain as he fought to stay awake his first day here after getting two hours of sleep on the plane. He’d want to adjust to the time change as most visitors do, but even more important, he’d be working the moment he arrived because his travel to Amsterdam would be for an important investigation—maybe a local murder with the same M.O. as a series of killings in the Netherlands.
I wondered how he’d react to the pungent odor of marijuana wafting into the streets from the Amsterdam coffee shops where it was sold legally. Or having to pay .70 Euros (almost a dollar) just to use a public bathroom. I’m sure he’d love the chocolate croissant he devoured his first morning, possibly the freshest and flakiest he’d ever tasted. But what would he think of the cup of coffee they served with it? Plenty strong, but in a coffee cup the size his grandmother served tea in. And no waitress came by with the coffee pot and offered him more.
I wondered if I could come up with an investigative reason to justify my American detective prowling Amsterdam’s red light district at night, viewing the scantily clad prostitutes sitting in the street-level windows. Would they be the killer’s target? Or could they be information sources that would lead him to the killer?
I wondered how I could incorporate the Skinny Bridge, first brought to the world stage in a James Bond movie. Maybe a fight scene on the bridge where my detective prevails and watches his foe plunge into the canal below, or possibly a speedboat chase through the city’s canals and under the bridge.
Maybe the murder would be connected to the diamond business, something Amsterdam’s been famous for for centuries. He’d be impressed with the security when stepping inside a building’s foyer and having to wait until the outside door closed before the inner door opened when visiting the Gassan diamond store. And when a smartly-dressed man approached with a silver tray holding a bottle of water and crystal glass upon his arrival, as if he were a customer of the exclusive store.
Should my American detective team up with a local detective, maybe a sexy but all-business Dutch policewoman? She could convey stories the tourist bureau doesn’t publicize—gruesome murders, vicious sex crimes, the 60,000 bicycle thefts a year.
The morning fog would surely remind him of San Francisco, where the sun in both cities often doesn’t appear until the afternoon. The noises of the city would be similar to his big city in the states, but the masses of bicycles would astound him. More bicycles than cars, many ridden by people dressed in office clothes. He’d even spot young women wearing short skirts riding bicycles. He might even smile as they pass by.
I wonder if I could find a reason to have my detective pay a visit to one of the city’s wealthier residents, a distinguished-looking man who lives in one of the narrow 4-story brick houses set on one of the quaint canals. Have him experience a Dutch pancake—almost as thin as a crape—topped with melted goat cheese, mushrooms, and bacon. Or stop by Winkel for the most famous apple pie in Amsterdam, where after one bite of the apple and raisin filling and buttery crust, topped with real whipped cream, he’d forget about the pie his mom used to make.
I don’t know if I’ll ever incorporate Amsterdam or any of the other places I’ve visited into a future novel, but I can’t help imagining the stories I could write in these settings as I travel. While Cathy takes photos, I jot down descriptions and ideas onto notecards I carry in my pocket. I guess that’s the curse of being a writer.