Pulling a Double Shift

"To a cop, the explanation is never that complicated. It's always simple. There's no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all."
- The Usual Suspects (1995)
Een tip van de sluier (A Tip of the Veil, 2013) is the ninth in De Waal & Baantjer series about a seasoned homicide detective, Peter van Opperdoes, and his loyal colleague and friend, Jacob. Van Opperdoes was one of the old warhorses of the illustrious Bureau Warmoesstraat, but was transferred to Bureau Raampoort after his wife passed away and continued to have conversations with her ghost – which raised some concerns over his mental health.

The supernatural entity, in the guise of a disembodied voice in Van Opperdoes' head, appears to be actually that of his dead wife, because she has knowledge of things yet to come, but observes the rules of fair play by only alluding to them. Actually, the role of the voice has always hovered in the background, but has been reduced even more since De Waal continued the series on his own. Baantjer created Van Opperdoes a few years after his own wife passed away and since the characters are basically stand-ins for the authors, it was personal touch to the old police inspector and probably why the voice is now mainly there to whisper words of comfort or encouragement.

In A Tip of the Veil, a surging storm is rocking the old city of Amsterdam, but Van Opperdoes has taken refuge in his favorite café, sipping a late coffee, while the bartender informs him there has been someone looking for him. It was important enough for the man to brave the storm and return to the café. Bob Pals is the man's name and his businesses are entrenched in real-estate, which is an occupation sometimes associated with the underworld over here and Pals' problem seems to have all the earmarks of the criminal classes – there are plans in the works for his assassination. The tip came from a man calling himself "Frits," but Pals isn't willing to part with more information than Frits' phone number.

Unusually, for this series, the first three quarters of the book are concerned with a routine investigation of vague death-threats with a murder tugged away at the end of the story. However, the solution of the shooting felt disconnected from the rest of the story and a shameless rework of an episode De Waal wrote for the Baantjer TV-series in the mid-00's. The best part was therefore the routine-investigation, which was lively written with a dose of light-hearted humor and populated with likeable characters. The cast of (semi-) regular (forensic) police characters gathering and analyzing evidence in the background often gives the series a CSI-ish feeling, but often used as a good contrast of between Van Opperdoes' old-school methods and modern police forensics.

De Waal succeeded very well in seamlessly meshing Baantjer's style of story telling with his own, which makes this series as enjoyable to read as the original Baantjer series, but there’s one main difference: Simon de Waal is closer to Georges Simenon with De Waal & Baantjer than Baantjer ever was with his DeKok books – which where at least always structured as detective stories. De Waal & Baantjer are stories about detectives rather than detective stories. And, yes, I'm fully aware that I have made that observation before. More than once. But it’s the best possible description of the series.

So, all in all, as enjoyable a read as they come in this series and (sadly) better than it's follow up.

There isn't a literal translation for the book-title of the tenth novel, Een tien met een griffel (Number One With a Bullet, 2014), but the closest equivalent in any language would be a misnomer. The story began promising enough when Jacob whisked Van Opperdoes away from his favorite café to the scene of a crime. A beautiful young woman has been found strangled in the apartment of her neighbor/lover, who's found dead not much later at an abandoned site – shot through the head. It appears to be a murder/suicide until it turns out the "suicide" happened before the murder and suspects begin to appear: an obsessed man and an ex-convict. The murder here is discovered in the first chapter, but the whole book felt more routine than the investigation of its predecessor. Story telling, characters and setting where as well written and brought to life as always, but the plot was abysmally disappointing and simply failed to grab my attention. And plot is kind-of the key point with me.

Oh, well, the synopsis of the next one sounds promising and, hopefully, it'll be as good as Een licht in de duisternis (A Light in the Darkness, 2012). 

By the way, is it just me or does it seem I'm rewriting the same review, over and over again, for this series?

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