Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death (2020) by P. Dieudonné

P. Dieudonné's Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongrijpbare dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death, 2020) is the third novel in the series of Rotterdam politieromans (police novels) about Inspector Lucien de Klerck and his assistant, Ruben Klaver, but this time, Dieudonné breaks the mold of the Amsterdam School of the Dutch police novel – popularized by the late A.C. Baantjer. Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death is a traditional-styled detective novel, updated to the 21st century, with not one, not two, but three impossible disappearances! These impossibilities are something else compared to your garden variety no-footprints situation or a homely locked room murder.

The story begins with a cleaning lady finding the body of her employer, Romano Pasqualini, lying in the front room on the first floor of his home, in Delfshaven, with the back of his head resembling "a mushy mess of blood and hair." An important detail ensuring the reader there was a man in that room who was as dead as a doornail. She immediately alerted the police and posted herself at the front door until they arrived.

A short time later, De Klerck is cycling to work when he notices the squad car and stops to offer his assistance to the two policemen, but what greets him on the first floor landing is "a suffocating smoke" coming through the cracks of the door – inside the room a fire was spreading rapidly. But what he didn't see was a body! When the firefighters had done their work, they discover that the windows were locked from the inside with exception of a small skylight that's "too small to squeeze through" and "virtually inaccessible." Nobody could have escaped through the front door with either the cleaning lady or the police standing there. So how did the body vanish with the same question applying to the person who made it disappear and attempted to torch the place?

De Klerck and Klaver have their work cut out for them and the disappearance of Romano Pasqualini's body is not the only complication in this uncertain, elusive murder case. Romano was 25-years-old and lived in an expensive, 17th century house, but made a living delivering pizzas and his prospective father-in-law is not exactly thrilled that he was seeing his daughter. Apparently not without reason.

De Klerck is approached by private detective, Fred Kroon, who working on behalf of an insurance company to track down a tightly organized gang specialized in jewel robberies and spectacular, seemingly impossible, escaped. One such occasion saw the police in hot pursuit of two gang members on a motorcycle, two police cars on their tail and a third meeting them head on, but, somewhere mid-way, they simply vanished into thin air – as the three police cars passed each other. There's a slope on both sides, overgrown with trees, with fences behind it. So it was not possible to disappear from that stretch of road. And yet... they did. A trick repeated later on in the story when a dare devil races through the city, performing dangerous stunts and leading the police on a merry-go-round, which seems to come to an end when he drives into a tunnel cordoned off by the police. Just like that, the motor cyclist disappears again and magically reappears some distance behind the police cordon, which is captured by security cameras inside the tunnel and witnessed by a police helicopter pilot in the sky!

This is why Kroon suspects Damiano Pasqualini and his young brother, Romano, play a key role in the gang, because Romano has a YouTube channel on which he uploaded videos of himself performing very risky, death defying motorcycle stunts – radiating with pride and sheer joy. Romano's dead. So he couldn't have been the one who raised hell in the city and used as a sealed tunnel as a portal to reappear behind the police cordon. I expect to find this kind of stuff in Gosho Aoyama's Case Closed series (e.g. vol. 61) or the work of Soji Shimada (e.g. "The Running Dead," 1985), but not in, what has been up to this point, a typically Dutch series of police novels. However, I'm not against this becoming the new norm.

Coming across a Dutch locked room mystery is always a special treat. I remember that shiver of excitement when reading Cor Docter's Koude vrouw in Kralingen (Cold Woman in Kralingen, 1970) in which a group of people had gathered in front of a locked bedroom door and someone flings the key under the crack of the door into the hallway. But when they open the door, all they find is a dead woman. Anne van Doorn's De man die zijn geweten ontlastte (The Man Who Relieved His Conscience, 2019) was a rare treat with two well executed impossible crimes, but Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death not only added one more for good measure, but went all out in how they were presented. But what about the solutions, you ask?

The strange disappearance of the body, and murderer, from the locked, watched and burning, smoke-filled house is the best of the three with a solution breathing new life in an old idea that had been experimented with before – only it never really worked in the past. Reason why it never worked (unless staged under tightly controlled circumstances) is it required something that's not as easy to come by as it's made out to be. Even then there's no guarantee it would work. However, the present smoothed out that problem and provided something that made the trick work in a way that wouldn't have been possible in the 1930s or '40s. Dieudonné seized it with both hands and the characterization helped to reinforce the locked room-trick.

Diedonné tipped his hand with a clue to the second impossibility that gave away how it was done, but suspect this was done on purpose to make third disappearance, and reappearance, look even more impossible. Solution to how the motorcycle went up in smoke doesn't explain how it materialized outside the tunnel. So that was nicely done. And in spite of the reckless, dare devil antics, the solutions are simple and surprisingly believable. Just as a contemporary take on the impossible crime novel, Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death is excellent and it was a joy to read.

There's more to the story than a string of miraculous vanishings. De Klerck and Klaver have to figure out what happened to the body and who's responsible, which was handled a trifle weaker than the other plot-threads. A coincidence, or two, were needed to tie everything together with one of the coincidences stretching things a little, but hardly enough to dampen my enjoyment of the book. E-Pulp gives us a glimpse with Dieudonné of the genre's Golden Age when writers were given the time and opportunities to hone their skills, improve and finding a voice of their own – hopefully building an audience along the way. Rechercheur De Klerck en het doodvonnis (Inspector De Klerck and the Death Sentence, 2019) was written as an homage to Appie Baantjer, but the plot was very light and the solution to the fascinatingly presented bridge-murders lacked ingenuity. Rechercheur De Klerck en het duivelse spel (Inspector De Klerck and the Diabolical Game, 2020) used the tried and tested Baantjer formula to write a much more traditional detective story with improved clueing and a new trick to create a cast-iron alibi. Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death is a full-blown detective novel with a tricky, complicated plot, more improved clueing and three daringly executed impossible crimes. I found this to be very rewarding and can't wait to see what the fourth, tantalizingly-titled Rechercheur De Klerck en het lijk in transit (Inspector De Klerck and the Corpse in Transit, 2021) has in store! 

Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death continues to improve on its predecessors and did in a most spectacular way with three originally posed and solved impossible crimes, which are too rare in this country. So highly recommended to all the Dutch-speaking readers of my blog and publishers looking for non-English crime-and detective fiction to translate.

Note to the reader: sorry for two back-to-back 2020 reviews, in as many days, but they are recent publications and didn't want to wait with posting the reviews until November. So they were squeezed in after the fact.    


  1. *scribbles title on note*

    Guess I've found the candidate for my one Dutch book review for next year already :P And hey, I just realized these books are actually relatively cheap for Dutch releases!

    1. Good pick! I hope you like it and look forward to your take on it. Don't forget about Van Doorn's De man die zijn geweten ontlastte, which has a surprise (beside two locked rooms and a dying message) that you'll be able to appreciate. So maybe two Dutch book reviews next year?

  2. Great work comrade! You are advancing our noble cause of bringing Dutch mystery novels to the attention of decadent American publishing houses. When we have succeeded in total conquest, you shall receive the Order of Leni...Carr for your contributions to the cause. Long live the revolution! :P

    In all seriousness, this sounds like a cracking good read. And any impossible crime novel that earns comparison with the likes of Aoyama or Shimada will earn a place on my wishlist. I remain convinced that all of these tantalizing Dutch mysteries are part of some scheme (sorry, plot) on your part.

    It's impressive that Dieudonné was able to make a trick that never quite worked in the past come off believably in the present. I really like to see utilization of aspects of the modern world in developing plots, it's the kind of creativity that goes to show that reports of the death of the mystery genre are very much exaggerated.

    And as regards a bunch of modern reviews in a row, personally, I don't much mind. I've always prefered the classics, but it just makes me so happy to see modern authors trying their hands at the grandest game in the world.

    1. This is not a revolution. This is a crusade for the soul of humanity!

      "I remain convinced that all of these tantalizing Dutch mysteries are part of some scheme (sorry, plot) on your part."

      Absolutely! I love detective stories and have a special place in my heart for the (good) detective stories written in my own language, which deserve an appreciative audience, but sadly, that audience doesn't speak Dutch. So it would be amazing to see a publisher pick them up, but all I can do is make people aware they're out there.

      ...but it just makes me so happy to see modern authors trying their hands at the grandest game in the world.

      I was laughed at when I predicted the current renaissance era in the late 2000s (blogged about six or seven years ago), but I was right and even people like Curt Evans and Martin Edwards refer to this period as a Golden Age renaissance. My prediction of a Second Golden Age will follow suit.

    2. Yeah, I definitely agree that there will be a revival within, at the longest possible estimate, the next decade (and probably sooner then that). You know, although I've been reading GAD mystery fiction for most of my life, with a few exceptions I only really discovered modern fair play authors within the last year or two. It was wonderful to discover all of these modern mysteries in the old style, and it's been even more fun working my way through them. And, come to think of it, I found out about most of them from your blog, so thank you very much for that.

      While we're on the topic of modern mysteries, I'd like to ask an otherwise unrelated question. Have you read anything by Reginald Hill? And if so, was it any good, or was it a morbidly depressing psychological "thriller"? I noticed that some (but not most) of them are available as mass market paperbacks, which means that they're cheep enough for me to maybe take a chance on one. (And also, is the comparison with Michael Innes at all accurate? Because Innes is probably something like my third favorite mystery novelist, variability notwithstanding.)

      (And please pardon any typos. Once again, Google is not letting me preview my comments.)

      (Comment deleted and reposted because after posting I did spot one typo...in the part where I appologized for them. I just couldn't let that stand, could I? :))

    3. I've watched Dalziel and Pascoe and read a few of the novels during my early days as a mystery fan, but only remember liking the fantastic clue from On Beaulah Heights and the splendid epilogue from Dialogues of the Dead. No idea how I would react to them today. So can't really help you there.

      I will say that when I was looking for something else that was like Baantjer or Christie, my brush with a lot of modern writers pushed me into a puritanical period fueled by discovering John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Rue Morgue Press and Crippen & Landru. This slowly began to change when other, like minded mystery readers made me aware of William DeAndrea, Lawrence Block and Bill Pronzini. I'm still very picky and wary of modern mysteries.

  3. Excellent news that the quality of this author’s output is improving. Very promising!

    1. This series feels like it's tailor made for my personal taste and how it evolved. It started out as a glowing tribute to Baantjer and two books later we're in GAD territory with three impossible crimes! I can't wait for Rechercheur De Klerck en het lijk in transit!

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