Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death (2023) by P. Dieudonné

Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death, 2023) is the ninth novel by the increasingly prolific Dutch mystery novelist, P. Dieudonné, who debuted only four years ago with Rechercheur De Klerck en het doodvonnis (Inspector De Klerck and the Death Sentence, 2019) – a tribute to A.C. Baantjer. In those four short years, Dieudonné made the format of the Baantjer-style politieroman (police roman) his own and added a feature that had been sorely lacking. Plot complexity! Baantjer always said he simply places "a body somewhere and then I start writing." So even though this series can feel and even read like an authentic "Baantjer," only with different characters in another city, it's the plots that differentiates this series from the master and his many imitators over the decade. They could not have written, or rather plotted, a novel like Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongrijpbare dood (Inspector De Klerck and the Elusive Death, 2020) or Rechercheur De Klerck en moord in scène (Inspector De Klerck and Murder on the Scene, 2021). The latest addition to the De Klerck series takes the cake where plot complexity is concerned.

Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death begins relatively normally enough as Inspector Lucien de Klerck, of the Rotterdam police, listens to a man who has come to the police to emphatically deny he's a murderer. Richard Spijkers is a reformed criminal who had a run-in with De Klerck fifteen years ago, "a coffee shop robbery" with "the getaway car almost causing a fatal accident," but since then he has "never... almost never.. deviated from the straight and narrow" – except one time. Spijkers works for an importer of strong liquors that also has its own shop for regular customers and Spijkers has been selling expensive bottles under the counter. And pocketed a few hundred euros extra every week. Only his conscience started acting up and stopped two months ago, but then a colleague, Karin Voshart, began blackmailing him. It began with demands for small sums of money, but that evening he was supposed to pay two thousand euros ("I can't possibly cough up that much dough"). There's another reason why Spijkers decided to come clean to the police. Spijkers was called by an anonymous number accusing him of having killed Karin Voshart at the muziekkoepel in the Julianapark in Schiedam ("...cowardly stabbed in the back").

This case places more on their plate than Inspectors Lucien de Klerck and Ruben Klaver initially realize. Nobody has reported a murder or discovery of a body in the Julianapark and her aunts tells them her niece is alive and well. Just nowhere to be found. She's not the only one who's either unreachable or gone missing altogether. Meanwhile, Spijkers looks less reliable, honest and reformed with every twist and turn of the story. A mere day later, Spijkers is back at the police station to report another murder and emphasizes he didn't commit that murder either. This time, the body is found with two more coming their way before the case draws to a close. So what the hell is going on?

A question that's easier posed than solved as Dieudonné tiptoed across an incredibly treacherous and slippery tight-rope with this plot. Something very tricky, and very difficult to pull-off convincingly. Some would even argue it's nigh impossible, because a sizable amount of coincidence is unavoidable and this certainly the case Inspector De Klerck and the Unwanted Death. You can generously call the coincidence here an exercise in cause-and-effect, but I simply admired Dieudonné deciding to play this game on hard mode and made it as difficult as possible for himself to properly execute that tricky idea – while trying to be generous himself with the clues and hints. Not that it was of any help to me. I got completely lost in the compact, 120-page labyrinth of a plot. This half-baked hypothesis is the closest I came to the correct solution (ROT13): Gur svefg gjb ivpgvzf xvyyrq rnpu bgure. N fnintrq O va gur cnex naq O sngnyyl jbhaqrq N jvgu n fgno va gur onpx. Fb n qlvat O yrnirf gur pevzr fprar naq P pbzrf nybat gb uvqr gur obql va beqre gb cebgrpg Q (be K), orpnhfr P gubhtug Q (be K) unq xvyyrq N. Yeah, that messy solution collapsed as soon as it was held up to the facts ("...fgehpx gur urneg zhfpyr"). So was completely surprised when De Klerck's little dramatic trap ensnared the last person I expected. Well played, Dieudonné! Well played.

Not everyone is going to be left convinced by the solution, but the plot is admirably handled and firmly held together, from beginning to end, which definitely helped its plausibility. And that it's a Dutch detective novel only makes it so much better. Detective stories of this quality were only sporadically published in Dutch until E-Pulp came along. So, to cut a rambling review short, Rechercheur De Klerck en de ongewenste dood is een politieroman voor de liefhebbers van échte detective verhalen.

A note for the curious: a tenth, so far untitled novel is currently in the work and I'm going to do a ranking of the first De Klerck mysteries when it comes out next year. Fingers crossed it has a title along the lines of Rechercheur De Klerck en moord achter slot en grendel (Inspector De Klerck and Murder Under Lock and Key).

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