Larissa's Reviews > Dekok and the Somber Nude

Dekok and the Somber Nude by A.C. Baantjer
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Jun 06, 10

bookshelves: 2010, dutch, vicarious-travel, read-while-traveling, crime-fiction, detective
Read in May, 2010

This is my second Baantjer book, especially selected not only for its splendidly abstruse title (although not nearly as excellent as another one, which I was unable to locate: DeKok and the Geese of Death), and also for the fact that I was about to hop on a plane to Amsterdam. Having read two short novellas by Baantjer previously, I was looking forward to a little local color, a grim, but not overly vicious crime, and the off-balance detective team of the weathered, bemused, and surprisingly wise DeKok (a sort of Colombo figure), and his excitable, whipper-snapper of a partner. I wasn't disappointed.

As ever, the plot here hinges on locating motivations and rationales, uncovering secret spite and festering jealousies rather than any really dynamic police work. (If you can call the active investigating in most procedurals "dynamic," which I admit, I don't usually.) Anyhow, figuring out everyone's secrets is the main aim of our intrepid detectives, not really sussing out facts and reviewing hard evidence. I'm sure that Baantjer could have provided such plodding details should he have wanted to--he was a former policeman in Amsterdam--but it really isn't necessary in this sort of novel.

I had a few qualms, some of which were more pressing than others. As with the last Baantjer book I read in this series, I had the niggling feeling all the way through that the translation was not so sharp. The wording in places is strangely clunky and things like prepositions and conjunctions get mixed up in such a way that suggests a very little Babelfish-style translation. For the most part, this doesn't get in the way--it's my perception thus far that Baantjer was not perhaps much of a prose stylist. But it does get annoying and I wonder if the newer English editions (with much less fun pulpy covers than these lovely yellow ones, unfortunately) have improved upon the translation at all.

On the other hand, I think we can hold Baantjer responsible for his incorrigible repetitions. When he stumbles on to a characterization he likes, boy howdy, does he love to repeat it. He must mention DeKok's eyebrows (which move independently from the rest of his face in a comic fashion) and his winning smile (which is "his best characteristic") about a hundred times throughout the book. They are lovely observations to be sure--and ones which Baantjer could get away with mentioning in each different book--but certainly we don't need to be reminded of these qualities once every chapter or two.

As a tangential side note, however, i will say I got a huge kick when I read a passage explaining that a character was incredibly suspicious because he kept all the windows in his apartment closed--something which any self-respecting Amsterdammer, being 'excessively fond of interiors,' would never do. Walking around the streets of Amsterdam, we had noticed that hardly anyone ever closed their windows. In a flagrant invitation to Peeping Toms, ground floor apartments would have windows wide open, so that passersby could stop and watch the inhabitants watch TV, eat toast, sit at the computer, etc. It had seemed so strange to us, being edgy New Yorkers, that reading about this habit in the book really gave me a kick.

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