DeKok and the Dead Harlequin
An Inspector DeKok Mystery by A. C. Baantjer
Review: A murder suspect uses Inspector DeKok as his air-tight alibi, not once but twice, in DeKok and the Dead Harlequin, the 6th mystery chronologically in this series by Dutch mystery writer A. C. Baantjer, but the 10th published in new trade paperback editions by Speck Press.
One morning DeKok receives a puzzling, and most troubling letter, from one Pierre Brassel who states, quite unambiguously, that he has decided to kill a man and would like to meet with the Inspector at 8 PM exactly to discuss a few unimportant details. When a man is murdered at exactly 8 PM in a nearby hotel, DeKok suspects Brassel is behind the crime but has nothing to directly connect him to it. After all, he has the perfect alibi. Just two days later Brassel invites DeKok and his wife to a charity event which the Inspector believes is a prelude to another murder. He quickly realizes how right he is but is unable to prevent a second man from being killed in a remarkably similar manner as the first.
Rarely does a mystery capture the attention of the reader as suddenly and as firmly as the first page of DeKok and the Dead Harlequin does. It is clear to all (DeKok and the reader) that Brassel is involved in these crimes, but the method and motive are unknown. The author's spare writing style keeps the investigation moving along quite briskly with DeKok connecting Brassel, an accountant, to a loosely organized crime syndicate. Still, when he reaches a dead end it is ultimately a chance encounter with a child that gives him the clue he needs to bring the case to a close.
Though much of the story is absolutely riveting, the conclusion is somewhat disappointing — not as result of DeKok's controversial actions (or lack thereof) — but because the ending isn't nearly as intriguing as the opening chapter promised. DeKok actually mocks Brassel at their second meeting, showing him, as it were, how to create a credible alibi involving everyday people. Yet for all practical purposes, Brassel doesn't need an alibi at all. Therefore, what was the point of the letter? Still, DeKok and the Dead Harlequin is a captivating mystery, DeKok an entertaining and likeable character, and is highly recommended.
A footnote on the edition reviewed: DeKok and the Dead Harlequin was originally published in The Netherlands in 1969 with its first American translation in 1992. In this 2009 edition a modern update was clearly attempted with mixed results (and though not affecting the plot in any meaningful way, is somewhat amusing nonetheless). Examples include the use of databases and computers by the police but cell phones appear yet to be invented. A reference is also made as the present being the "end of the century" but the currency in use is the euro which wasn't introduced until 2002. And finally, apparently DeKok spelling his name every name he meets someone is a running gag through the series, but the humor is likely to be lost on many, or at least one, American reader(s).
Acknowledgment: Speck Press provided an ARC of DeKok and the Dead Harlequin for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
DeKok and the Mask of Death
Speck Press (Hardcover), July 2009
ISBN-13: 9781933108308; ISBN-10: 1933108304
Location(s) referenced in DeKok and the Dead Harlequin: Amsterdam, Netherlands
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DeKok and the Dead Harlequin by A. C. Baantjer — An Inspector DeKok Mystery
Publisher: Speck Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: February 2009
List Price: $14.00