Original date of publication: 2008 (in Dutch)
My edition: 2010 (Minotaur)
Why I decided to read: a blogger mentioned this a while ago and I decided to try it for myself
How I acquired my copy: from the library, April 2010
The premise of The Tulip Virus centers around the tulip craze of the 1630s. The 1636 murder of a tulip trader in Alkmaar is contrasted with the murder of Dutchman Frank Schoeller in modern-day London. Alec Schoeller, the nephew of the man murdered in the present day, arrives at his uncle’s home to find him dying. His uncle gives him a book—a catalogue of tulips from the last great auction before the tulip bubble burst in 1637. Alec’s search for his uncle’s killer leads him into the dangerous world of tulip trading. The differences between Science and religion are sharply drawn in this story of greed.
The mystery of the novel sort of fizzles out—the motive for murder is clear from the beginnings, even if the jacket copy doesn’t give it away. The author’s grasp of the history behind the story is strong, but really the historical bits take a back seat to the modern-day story, which is much more interesting.
Hermans’s skill lies in character development—Alec is one volatile man! And impatient—how I cringed at the scene where he’s nearly ripping apart the endpaper of the catalogue to get at what’s underneath! There’s a lot of tension between Alec and Damian, all the more so because of a certain event that’s revealed about halfway through. I did feel at times that this book is part of a series of novels; over and over Wainwright (the detective) mentions a previous case of his involving a serial killer. In Alec’s search for his uncle’s killer, there’s a lot of expostulation about the tulip trade, which is interesting; but I found it slightly unrealistic that no mention would be made (until the crucial point in the plot) of the Semper Augustus tulip bulb—the Holy Grail of tulip bulbs. It’s a bulb so rare and beautiful that the ultimate irony is that it is created by a very harmful virus.
Aside from my reservations about the book, I did think the book was well-paced. Since this is only Daneielle Hermans’s (there’s an umlaut over the first “e” in her first name) first book, I look forward to see what comes next from her.