Saturday, September 12, 2009

DeKok and the Mask of Death by A.C. Baantjer

I've become a fan of Dutch author A.C. Baantjer and the translations of his DeKok police procedurals. Here's my review of DeKok and the Mask of Death, as it appeared in Mystery News. It's reprinted here, with permission.

DeKok and The Mask of Death
by A.C. Baantjer
Speck Press
ISBN 978-1-933108-30-8
Police Procedural

Inspector DeKok enjoyed his walk to Amsterdam’s famous police station on Warmoes Street in the heart of the Red Light District until he had a premonition of impending disaster just before he entered the building. However, he was determined not to allow a case or his boss, the commissaris, to stop his vacation, a chance to see Operation Sail Amsterdam as the sailing ships entered the port.

Despite his wishes, DeKok was intrigued by a young man’s visit to the station. He reported a missing woman, his girlfriend, who entered Slotervaart Hospital, and never came out. There was nothing unusual about that, except the hospital claimed they had never heard of her, and never admitted her. Vledder, DeKok’s partner and apprentice, was convinced the boyfriend either made up the story or killed the young woman. DeKok thought there might be something more to the story. He knew there was something odd when he received the report of a second woman referred to the same hospital, by the same doctor, with the same results. Slotervaart Hospital claimed they never heard of her. How many women, claiming they were tired and listless, have disappeared?

Baantjer’s police procedurals featuring Inspector DeKok reflect the author’s knowledge. He was a detective inspector of the Amsterdam police for almost forty years. His knowledge of crime and character brings richness to his writing.

But DeKok himself is Baantjer’s masterpiece. In DeKok and The Mask of Death, we see him as an old inspector, deceptive because he ambles and appears “gray”. He is still shrewd, though, with excellent interviewing techniques. He’s very fair and nonjudgmental in his treatment of citizens and criminals alike. However, he was often rebellious in dealing with authority. He’s not perfect, and has idiosyncrasies, such as the habit of spelling his name when introduced. But, “Under it all, he retained his innate compassion and sympathy for the victim.”

In contrast, Vledder, DeKok’s partner, appeared young and impetuous. He proposed one theory after another, jumping to conclusions and taking action without much forethought. DeKok was patient with the younger man, never knowing when some random idea might strike a chord.

Baantjer’s police procedurals are masterpieces of the style. DeKok and the Mask of Death has a weakness in that the reason for the disappearances is easily guessed, although it’s a very timely story. However, since this edition appears in English twenty-two years after the original Dutch publication, the motivation for the disappearances was probably not as easy to surmise at that time.

More than fifty novels in the Inspector DeKok Investigates series were published in the Netherlands, beginning in the 1960s. Speck Press has published a dozen translations. Hopefully, they will continue to produce these outstanding police procedurals. Lovers of police procedurals can’t go wrong with Baantjer and DeKok.

Rating: 4.0

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 4, August/September 2009.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love reading police procedurals--they're still mysteries, but not close enough to what I write to make me compare my books with them as I read.

I've been very interested in European mysteries lately (UK mysteries I read all the time, of course)--I've enjoyed the Steig Larsson books and the Kurt Wallander mysteries on PBS. The settings are just as mysterious to me as the plots. Great atmosphere. Thanks for the tip on this Dutch series.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lesa said...

These are enormous bestsellers in the Netherlands, Elizabeth. They're straightforward police procedurals, and they aren't as dark as the European ones I read years ago by Per Wahloo.

♥Jen♥ said...

We talked about this one before, had a giveaway for this one, right? I so want to check out this series. It looks fabulous!!

Lesa said...

Actually, that was another DeKok book, Jen. I've read and reviewed two of them. But, you remembered DeKok!