Twofer Tuesday: The Old Fox and 21st Century Criminals

"I just place a corpse somewhere to see what happens next. I look into my own fantasy at the people who get involved and I listen to them. And I write that down. It comes naturally."
- Appie Baantjer (John Bakkenhoven's Het Amsterdam van Baantjer, 1998)  
Before I dashed off, there was somewhat of a realization that I, perhaps, should've prepped one or two posts to keep this place from falling in abeyance for a fortnight, but hey, filler posts are exactly like posting nothing at all – except you actually put an effort into it.

Unfortunately, for my return post, I did not had the time to excavate a classic from my shelves and, instead, knocked the remaining titles from the De Waal & Baantjer Bureau Raampoort series from my to-be-read pile before the latest from that line reaches its top.  

Een rat in de val (Caught Like a Rat in a Trap, 2011) is numbered fifth in the series that was continued at Baantjer's request, before passing away in 2010, in which the circumstances surrounding the remains of a murdered man gives the book a fitting title. The Singelgracht (Singel Canal) is the scene of dredging activities to clean the waters from discarded bikes and other junk, when one of the men drags up a car. It contents: a body that was remarkable well preserved due to the ice-cold water of the canal and the cause of death was strangulation. Whoever the victim was, he never stood a chance when the killer launched at him from the back seat.

The veteran homicide detective in Monty-coat, Peter van Opperdoes, and his younger partner and friend, Jacob, haste to the scene of the crime to start their official investigation, but that proves to be a clash of generations. Van Opperdoes is mournfully looking on how forensic investigators, clad in white overalls, are trampling all over his crime scene. He's pining for the days when he had a scene to himself. When he could drink in the scene and find fragments of the atmosphere of the moment of the crime itself, which he actually gets when Jacob decides to chase everyone out of the inclosure – to give the old fox his moment and not without result. Van Opperdoes recognizes the victim as Albertus Koolschijn, alias "Bertje van de Dijk," a street rat and small-time criminal, who told Van Opperdoes, during their last talk, that his days of petty crimes were behind him.

Even after the car had been dragged from the canal, Van Opperdoes and Jacob are still tossed around by the cross-and under currents that emerged from this case and De Waal introduces an interesting new idea involving stolen cars – even if it lacked finesse. De Waal and M.P.O. Books have apparently discussed how fair the solution of this story really is and I have to side with Books. You can make an educated guess in the right direction, but not, fully and completely, deduce it, because there are only few clues – or, as they're called today, indicators pointing to the truth.

As usually, De Waal delivered a good and fun story about detectives, but not one that can also be considered a proper detective story. And that's pity. I really liked the ideas De Waal was throwing around here.

Een schot in de roos (Hitting the Bulls-Eye, 2011) actually preceded Een rat in de val, released in the spring of that year, and have no idea why I switched them around for this review. Anyway, Bulls-Eye opens when city cleaner's hand in a phone they found in the trashcan and that's the moment when it goes off. Van Opperdoes picks up to hear the distressed voice of a mother worrying over her son, Michael Zand, missing for the past three days. Michael's father, Frits Zand, is an old acquaintance of Van Opperdoes, who made his name known on the shadier part of the law.

The involvement or just the presence of professional criminal elements are a staple of De Waal's crime fiction and obviously has a lot of fun toying around with their entrepreneurial spirit (albeit an alternative one) and rivalries – and their involvement is tightly woven into the plot of this story. Before they've even begun investigating the disappearance of Michael Zand, they receive a call to go to an abandoned factory where gunfire left casings and a body in the basement. It's a gathering place for junkies and other city misfits, but the most interesting discovery is a piece of paper in the victim's pocket with Michael's phone number scrawled on it! The two investigations have come together, but it's pretty much the same story as before. De Waal tells an engrossing story that captures both the spirit and tone of Baantjer, whenever Van Opperdoes and Jacob interact with each other, but I can be really picky when it comes to plotting and clueing – although I liked this solution a little bit better than the one offered in Rat. So great reads, if you don't expect them to deliver a traditional whodunit.

I really do hope that, plot-wise, the series will look back at Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012), which none of the other entries can hold a candle to in that department. It has the story telling and a good plot to boot!

De Waal & Baantjer series:

Een Rus in de Jordaan (A Russian in the Jordaan, 2009)
Een lijk in de kast (A Skeleton in the Closet, 2010)
Een dief in de nacht (Like a Thief in the Night, 2010)
Een schot in de roos (Hitting the Bull's-Eye, 2011)
Een rat in de val (Caught Like a Rat in a Trap, 2011)
Een mes in de rug (A Knife in the Back, 2012)
Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012)
Een wolf in schaapskleren (A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, 2013)
Een tip van de sluier (A Tip of the Veil, 2013)
Een tien met een griffel (A Number One With a Bullet, 2014; forthcoming)

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