DeKok and the Geese of Death by Baantjer (English translation by H. G. Smittenaar, 2004) Originally published as De Cock en de ganzen van de dood (1983)[Netherlands]

With the arrest of Igor Stablinsky, Inspector De Cock and his team believe that they have caught the man who bludgeoned two elderly victims. In the middle of the interrogation, De Cock is called away to investigate a complaint by wealthy invalid Isolde Bildijk who is convinced that someone is trying to kill her. Is it just a coincidence that Mrs. Bildijk’s name is on a list of name’s and addresses found on Stablinsky when he was arrested. And then, Stablinsky escapes.

A few weeks ago, while out searching through used book stores, I came across this, and one other book by Baantjer. The short biography on the back cover stated that he was widely read in the Netherlands, so I immediately turned to TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time hoping to find out if he was an author worth giving a try. While there were no reviews of the books I had in hand, my interest was sparked enough to take a chance. I’m very glad that I did.

This is a straightforward police procedural with a fairly predictable plot (although Baantjer was able to keep some cards up his sleeve for the end). The narrative is simple but not spare. It’s also laced with humor and subtle wit, as well as some compelling discussions between De Cock and Vledder regarding the merits of, or what is lacking in, certain laws. Baantjer’s descriptive style is understated yet compelling. I’ve never been to Amsterdam, but I now long to see the city he described so lovingly.

…a thick, black cloud obscured the sun and uploaded a new supply of heavy rain. De Cock relished the quickly changing scene. He loved Amsterdam, no matter the weather. Unlike Rome or Paris, Amsterdam did not need sunshine. Amsterdam’s beauty was made for soft, rainy days and nights.”

De Cock is an engaging central character. Outwardly stoic, full of compassion and empathy, he counts small-time criminals as friends and is not above doing a little breaking and entering of his own. A rumpled, old-fashioned type of police officer who scorns the use of modern technology, but has no qualms about taking advantage of his younger colleague’s adeptness with it.

He refused to acquaint himself with all those electronic aids; however, he was quick enough to accept the benefits of the shortcuts Vledder had developed. He no longer insisted on laboring over his reports, handwriting them in pen and ink. He gave his thoughts, verbally, or in the form of cryptic notes to Vledder. He hid a sly smile when the bureaucracy applauded “his” reports.”

I have only one complaint, and that is with the translation which I found puzzling. I now know, based on other reviews of Baantjer’s books, that the English translations contain passages not found in the Dutch originals. I suspect that is why I was so perplexed every time De Cock introduced himself by saying “DeKok with…eh kay-oh-kay.” The character’s name in the original Dutch is De Cock (which I’ve chosen to use throughout my review), so obviously this line was invented as part of the change in names (a change which mystifies my).

I’m definitely going to be revisiting Baantjer. But maybe I should think about learning Dutch—to get a truer idea of the author as opposed to the translator.

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