The Tulip Virus
by Danielle Hermans
Translated by David Mackay;
Cover Artist: Photo: John Shireman
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312577865
Date: 27 April 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
On July 21, 1636, in Akmaar, Holland, innkeeper Wouter Winckel is brutally tortured and murdered, supposedly for his antireligious beliefs. A book is quickly commissioned. Containing paintings of Winckel's beautiful tulips, the book is used as a catalog at their auction. Winckel's beloved tulips are sold at unprecedented record breaking bids that cause the tulip market to quickly crash. However, one of the tulips, the Semper Augustus, is hidden and never sold. For generations, Winckel's children suffer to keep its location a secret.
In present day London, world-renowned painter Alec Shoeller finds his uncle Frank, an antique collector, tortured and severely beaten. The dying man is clutching the book used at the auctioning of Winckel's tulips. Alec travels to Amsterdam where he seeks the help of childhood friends, Damian and Emma Vanlint. Together, they learn the book contains a hidden code that reveals the hiding place of the Semper Augustus, the world's rarest, most beautiful tulip. Unfortunately, a vicious hit man is also pursuing the Semper Augustus.
DaniŽlle Hermans's The Tulip Virus is a mystery that is as beautiful, enticing, and irresistible as the tulip itself. The Tulip Virus is a rare find; it will satisfy most everyone who loves a good mystery. Alternating between the Middle Ages and the present, it tells the story of how the lust and greed for an ornamental flower has created so much sorrow and death. An innocent flower is used as a tool for financing the endless battle between science and religion. This novel has merciless thugs, a relentless serial killer, gruesome murders, ancient artifacts, cryptic codes, secret hiding places, secret societies, exotic locales and attractive, wealthy young adults embroiled in affairs of the heart.
The Tulip Virus provides quite a colorful history of the tulip. Originating in the Tien Shan Mountains of Western China, nomadic tribes transported the flower to Turkey. A symbol of eternity, power and perfection, the tulip became a religious symbol known as l‚le. During the Dutch Golden Age of the 1630s, the citizens of Holland became prosperous. They were able to buy luxury items such as tulips. Much like the cell phone of today, the tulip became a status symbol. Everyone had to have them. Soon, farmers, blacksmiths and bakers were selling their businesses and investing their money in tulips. Unfortunately, in 1636, the auction in Akmaar caused the Tulip bubble to burst and, much like the stock market of today, thousands lost their life savings.
Alec Shoeller is the requisite hero in The Tulip Virus. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by his Uncle Frank who loved him dearly. Alec has courageously vowed to find his uncle's murderer. A brave, young man, he comes face to face with danger on several occasions and never backs down. Though he has made a fortune from his paintings, Alec is not without flaws. Alec's Uncle Frank and his best friend Damian once helped him beat his cocaine addiction. His love interest seems to be the unpredictable Tara Quispel, a young scientist who, like the hit man, Coetzer, is intent on locating the Semper Augustus. Coetzer is the antagonist but he is merely the puppet of someone very powerful whose identity remains a secret until the novelís end.
Quite a bit of police procedural is also contained within The Tulip Virus. Inspector Richard Wainwright of the New Scotland Yard is famous for capturing serial killers. He is investigating Frank's brutal murder. With the aid of his assistant Dawn Williams, he tracks Coetzer to Holland. Despite his competence, Wainwright always seems to be one step behind the hit man. However, he has an uncanny knack of always showing up in time to save the day.
A well crafted, tightly plotted novel, The Tulip Virus is highly recommended reading for all mystery readers, especially those who enjoy history. Quick jaunts into the Middle Ages help the reader understand current events. I love mysteries where history repeats itself and events in the present mimic those in the past. This novel reinforces my belief that man's sinful nature has remained unchanged throughout the ages. Man must always covet something, whether it is gold, tulips, or his neighbor's wife. Another one of my favorite historical mysteries, where present events mimic those in the past, is Blake Crouch's Abandon; the love of gold destroys the mining community of Abandon, Colorado in 1893 and it destroys a group of adventurers who backpack to Abandon in 2009.
Note: The Tulip Virus was originally published in the Netherlands under the title of Het Tulpenvirus. It was wonderfully translated into English by David MacKay. I would never have known it was a translation if I hadn't read it on the title page. DaniŽlle Hermans's next novel, De Man Van Manhattan, will be published in Holland in January 2011. I hope its American publication will follow shortly.