A German businessman is murdered after a night-out in Bruges, and a famous statue is blown up. Assistant Commissioner Pieter Van In is responsible for investigating both incidents and soon begins to wonder if there’s a connection.
This is the second book in the Van In series. The first, The Square of Revenge, was a fairly light novel with lots of humour, and an enjoyable relationship between Van In and his girlfriend, deputy prosecutor Hannelore Martens. Unfortunately this one is quite different and the change is not for the better.
The plot is hackneyed (really, is there much more that can be got out of the Nazi gold saga?), confused (at least half of the time I hadn’t a clue how Van In was making his deductive leaps, and the other half I didn’t care) and unbelievable. The writing continues to have the clunkiness I mentioned in my review of the first book, and I still can’t determine whether this is a problem with the original or the translation.
Van In’s drinking has now become excessive, so we are treated to descriptions of drunkenness and hangovers, insubordination and inability to carry out his job. Very yawnworthy and not even done as ‘well’ as the many, many other drunken mavericks we’ve been bored to death by over the last few decades. We’re also treated to Van In using every corny and hackneyed insult about Germans that the author could dredge up – references to the Master Race and ‘Heil Hitler’ abound. It’s as if the book was written in the ’40s rather than the ’90s.
But the real problem with this book is not the poor writing, the confused plotting, or even the tedious drunkenness. It’s in the attitude to women that the book really shows itself up to be an unpleasant piece of work. Van In (along with every other man in the book and therefore presumably the author) never looks at a woman without commenting on her breasts, her rear, her legs or her availability in the most derogatory terms. Hannelore has descended from being a colleague to being an object for sexual fantasising – the biggest fantasy being that an intelligent, beautiful and successful woman would find anything remotely attractive in the drunken, sexist and shabby Van In. But the sex scenes with the willing (exceptionally willing) Hannelore are not enough for Van In’s voracious appetite so he has to turn to prostitutes for regular top-ups during working hours. I apologise in advance, but here are a few examples of the language that disgusted me throughout this throwback to an earlier and less pleasant age:
She was wearing a modest jersey blouse and, he presumed, a Wonderbra.
He turned his gaze away from her legs. When she stood, he remained seated like a paralysed vulture. “Have a good day, Commissioner.” “I genuinely hope so,” he responded indifferently. The bitch left him cold.
“Comfort him, sweetheart,” said Van In scathingly. “What else are secretaries for?”
Van In shrugged his shoulders indifferently. The thought of Veronique made him horny. What was he to do? His body reacted to the bitch like a hungry baby to a juicy breast.
If you enjoyed these quotes, you might enjoy the book. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and skip it…the last Aspe I’ll be reading. (Extraordinarily, he has dedicated the book to his daughters! Saddening, isn’t it?)
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road.