Friday, June 3, 2016

Murder in Amsterdam: Review

You see, the actual fact, the crime, is now more than the act. There's always a chain of events that lead up to the crime. That chain is started somewhere, a seed is planted. And when you start looking for that beginning, you'll find, sooner or later, a point at which somebody, either because of love, or the lack of it, out of hate, or an excess of it, for profit, or whatever, somebody, somewhere, at some time, shirked his responsibility toward his fellow man. Either consciously or subconsciously, it doesn't matter. But there you'll find the originator of the crime, the person morally responsible. (DeKok to Vledder; DeKok & the Sunday Strangler; p. 28)

Murder in Amsterdam (1981) is the book that started A. J. Baantjer's popular Inspector DeKok series. It brings together two novellas, DeKok & the Sunday Strangler (1965) and DeKok & the Corpse on Christmas Eve (1975). DeKok is an older detective, almost a relic of the past in contrast to the new breed of younger detectives, but he knows Amsterdam well and has a keen knowledge of its inhabitants. The younger men don't understand him, but are in awe of his formidable reputation for solving crimes. Each of these stories force DeKok back to work during a holiday. In Sunday Strangler, DeKok has been enjoying a vacation in the provinces with his wife and his old dog, Flip. He receives a telegram calling him away from the sunny skies and peaceful beaches to return to the cloud-covered, rainy city. Someone has strangled Fat Sonja, an Amsterdam prostitute who Dekok knew well. The killer has left behind no clues and the few leads that the police could find have led to dead ends.

DeKok is surprised to find that Vedder, one of the young detectives, specifically requested that he be called in to take over the investigation.

"Yes," he answered, "it was my idea. We weren't getting anywhere fast. We'd reached a dead end. In short, we're stuck. Then I phoned the Commissaris to get you involved. You have a lot of experience in this sort of cases."

DeKok isn't pleased, he just wants to be left alone to finish out his career. But when he realizes that Vedder is sincere in his admiration, he relents and becomes interested in the case. Then a second prostitute, Pale Goldie, is killed and DeKok begins to see a pattern. After questioning several people who knew the women--from a barman to other working girls to a pastor who was known to help prostitutes looking to leave the game, he thinks he knows who the killer is and lays a trap. But a miscalculation nearly costs the life of a third prostitute he knows well before the killer is caught.

The Corpse on Christmas Eve find Vedder on case, again--initially--without DeKok. This time a young woman is fished out of the Canal  and Vedder thinks she's just another holiday suicide until the doctor on duty unwraps the scarf around her neck to reveal that she was strangled before going into the water. Vedder feels that he is out of his depth and summons DeKok for help--taking the older detective away from his Christmas holidays. It is soon revealed that the young woman recently broke off her engagement to a soldier, was pregnant at the time of her death, and may have been seeing another man while her (then) fiance was on active duty for a month. Her purse is also missing, so--was she killed for her money? Did her boyfriend resent the break-up and resort to violence? Or did Mr. X tire of her and end the relationship in the most final of ways. The emotional and hot-headed Vedder is all set to arrest the soldier, but DeKok insists that they are missing a vital clue--and he is willing to use the most unorthodox methods to find it.

This introductory book gives us a DeKok who seems far more disgruntled with his lot as detective and, yet, at the same time, far more philosophical about the job. He often gives "lectures" much like the opening quote above--musings on the way of things in the detecting business. Baantjer provides plenty of insight into what makes his lead detective tick as well as providing good descriptions of Amsterdam in the mid-60s and mid-70s. The stories are quick reads and enjoyable, entertaining stories with fairly straight-forward mystery plots. Baantjer could possibly have done a bit better in playing fair with the reader (DeKok makes a couple of leaps that I don't think are properly clued), but overall, good solid mysteries. ★★ and a half.

This counts for the "Town Scene" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Bev - I have only read one of these (there is a remarkably large number of volumes in the Dekok series) but am now very tempted to look for more :)

fredamans said...

Two novellas to start? Sounds good to me. I'm not so sure about the lecturing though.