Pieter Aspe: from jack-of-all-trades to celebrated crime author
This rather stubborn and rebellious man from Bruges did not find his true calling until the age of 42. From then on, his success as a crime author at home in Belgium and abroad grew along with the number of novels.
Pierre Aspeslag, which was his real name, was born in Bruges on 3 April 1953. After graduating from Sint-Leocollege in the city, he began piling up jobs to earn a living. Some of those jobs included warehouse manager, textile worker, clerk at a health insurance fund, marine police officer, salesman, photographer, teacher, and furniture restorer.
His many years of tenure as janitor and sexton at the Holy Blood Chapel on Burg Square in Bruges brought about a striking change in his professional life. The atmosphere and setting of this Gothic place of worship provided the inspiration he needed to take his first steps into literature, more specifically into the beloved and best-selling thriller genre. His debut novel, The Square of Revenge, was published in 1995. It was an immediate success. In 1996, he became a full-time writer. From this point on until 1999 he published one novel a year, and even as many as two novels a year between 2000 and 2016. He slowed down after that. The main characters, Commissioner Chief Inspector Pieter Van In and his spouse, legal assistant and later investigating judge Hannelore Martens, operate in Bruges, except on a few occasions when the action takes place in Blankenberge or Antwerp.
Only his first 10 crime novels were adapted into the wildly popular crime series Aspe, which was recorded in Bruges and ran from 2004 onwards till 2014 on the Flemish commercial TV channel VTM. From the second season on, the episodes were no longer based directly on the books. Pieter Aspe often appeared as an extra on the show. He was awarded the Hercule Poirot Prize twice, most recently for his entire body of work, and once won Humo's Golden Bookmark.
All in all, a special and impressive career. In about 25 years Pieter Aspe wrote some 45 crime novels with ingenious plots and an intellectual approach, as well as two children's books and four novellas, resulting in 3.5 million sold copies. His work has been translated into French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, South African, Polish and Czech.
A fellow author in the so-called "real literature" genre is said to have chided him, saying that his own work compares to Pieter Aspe's like a Michelin-starred restaurant to a snack bar. To which the latter would have replied both calmly and wittily that his colleague could only afford to visit a snack bar with the proceeds of his work while he himself could go to a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The ever affable and disarmingly austere Pieter Aspe died on 1 May 2021 in his beloved Bruges.
Photo © Pieter DP/Wikimedia