Inspector De Klerck and a Fatal Compromise (2023) by P. Dieudonné

I remarked in previous commentaries of the Inspector De Klerck series that P. Dieudonné is the first writer to not only succeed in emulating A.C. Baantjer's format for what has become the oer-Hollandse police procedural, or politieroman (police novel), to perfection, but managed to make it his own – expanding and building on it rather than living off it fumes. This series is no attempt at a cash clone or nostalgia act as has been attempted in the past. Dieudonné is the Adrian Monk to Baantjer's Lt. Columbo. So the series certainly bears a resemblance to its illustrious fore-bearer and hits a nostalgic note, or two, along the way, but, internally, does its own thing. For one, Dieudonné grounded the series in the world of today and another is that his plots have a tendency to tighter, knottier affairs than those found in Baantjer's novels. Not to mention the variety in stories and type of plots, while remaining stylistically uniform. 

Rechercheur De Klerck en moord in scène (Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene, 2021) imported inner city problems from American and turned it into a theatrically-staged whodunit. Rechercheur De Klerck en het duistere web (Inspector De Klerck and the Dark Web, 2022) dives down the rabbit hole of internet conspiracy theories in which one of the victims scrawled a dying message in blood. Rechercheur De Klerck en een dodelijk pact (Inspector De Klerck and a Deadly Pact, 2022) is a bizarre, pulp-style police procedural about wholesale murder and a vanishing chalet. So, naturally, the plot-mechanics of the eighth novel also differs from its predecessors. 

Rechercheur De Klerck en een fataal compromise (Inspector De Klerck and a Fatal Compromise, 2023) begins with a fun bit of banter between Lucien de Klerck and Ruben Klaver on so-called serious critics and reviewers. De Klerck had appeared in a book as "an unnamed Rotterdam detective," but literary critics "found it unbelievable, out of date, that the main character was happily married" and "had no drug addicted kids" or "even a father suffering from dementia who always paints the same chicken" – simply "not acceptable to the gentlemen reviewers." Things get serious when De Klerck and Klaver are called to a community garden, Jouw Paradijs (Your Paradise), where the body of a woman has been found hanging from a tree. The police officer on the spot suspects it might be murder rather than suicide.

The victim is identified as a widow of three years, Sandra Stobbelaer-van Belzen, who has been living with her brother-in-law at his farm since her husband passed away and made a bit of a mess of her personal life.

Sandra had an illicit affair with a married woman, Mireille van Houten, whose wife, Regina van Houten, "tolerates no rival." But her family relations were also severely disrupted over an inheritance. Sandra's brother, Pieter, was not pleased when discovering that the inheritance from their Uncle Gerardus was substantially less than expected and accused his sister of draining their uncle's bank account ("...always managed to wind Uncle Gerardus around her cunning little finger"). She got the same complaint from her cousin, Arnoud de Rouwe. Sandra and Pieter's older brother, Henk, tells De Klerck how he wondered if there was something more to the death of their uncle. And perhaps Pieter was ticked-off about something more serious than a meager inheritance. There are other factors complicating De Klerck and Klaver's investigation. The secretary of the community garden, Bart Muurling, who discovered the body is incapable of telling a straight, truthful story. A gold ring that had been a heirloom since the family still lived in the Dutch East Indies and another bone of contention among the heirs of Uncle Gerardus. Why did a dead tourist carry a newspaper clipping with the obituary of Uncle Gerardus?

So, despite its modern exterior and up-to-date characters, the plot on which Inspector De Klerck and a Fatal Compromise runs is that of 1930s whodunit with its unbreakable alibis, heritage hazards, a dysfunctional family and a missing heirloom – ending with a gathering and confrontation of all the suspects. Dieudonné and De Klerck attempted, admirably so, to go for a rug-puller of ending, but only partially succeeded.

The revelation of the murderer itself certainly had an element of surprise about it, when it was sprung on the reader, but its effect got somewhat bogged down in the complicated misdirection. And the explanation threw some extra, impossible to anticipate weight behind something important regarding the motive, which I thought was a trifle weak and an unconvincing motive to snuff out several people. Nevertheless, while the ending, particularly the motive, could have been improved upon, Inspector De Klerck and a Fatal Compromise holds up the overall quality of the series and still leagues ahead of the average Dutch politieroman. That's not damning with faint praise. Your average, Dutch politieroman seldom has anything more than a very basic plots that lean heavily on the series-character and location to carry the day. Playing around with concepts like clueing, misdirection, alibi-breaking, dying messages and impossible crimes was practically unheard of until E-Pulp arrived on the scene. Perhaps that's why nobody who tried to step into Baantjer's shoes enjoyed his longevity. Dieudonné and De Klerck have so much more to offer than a warm, humanistic homicide cop and book covers with city scenes. That being said, I very much enjoyed the little subplot playing out in the background of the story showing that something different can be done with the tried-and-tested.

So you place all of the blame for still not having revisited the work of Baantjer solely on this series, because it has been doing an excellent job in satiating those nostalgic cravings. I eagerly look forward to Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death, 2023). 

A note for the curious: I shoved this review in between scheduled posts, because didn't want to reschedule any of the planned posts, but came at the cost of yesterday's review of Brian Flynn's Reverse the Charges (1943). So if you missed it, you can find it here.

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