Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rhythm and Police

Ik vrees dat dit ook op Bertin van toepassing is. hij lost een vraagstuk op, verbluffend snel en brillant (sic), of in het geheel niet. Dan verveelt het hem en schuift hij het van zich af. Zijn roem heeft hij hoofdzakelijk te danken aan het spoedig doorzien van raadselachtige situaties, die door anderen langs de weg van logische redenatie niet tot een oplossing konden worden gebracht. Met wat overdrijven zou je kunnen zeggen dat Bertin begint, waar anderen ophouden en omgekeerd.
"Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn"

I'm afraid that is the case with Bertin too: he either solves a conundrum, astoundingly fast and brilliantly, or not at all. Then he is bored with it, and pushes it away. He acquired his fame by swiftly seeing through enigmatic situations, which others couldn't solve through logical reasoning. One could say, with a bit of exeggeration, that Bertin starts, where others stop and vice versa.
"Panic on the Miss Brooklyn"

Sometimes, it takes months before you've finally found that one old book. And sometimes, it's a lot easier. For some reason, I managed to find about four old Dutch mystery novels within the span of two weeks, even though I had been checking for them regularly for about half a year.

Books by Jan Apon
Raoul Bertin series
Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")
Een tip van Brissac ("A tip from Brissac")

Een zekere Manuel ("A certain Manuel")

A small party to celebrate the engagement of Lord Bill Takony and Sheila Craighton is held on the private yacht the Miss Brooklyn, somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. Among the LP records brought aboard to spice up the party, is a mysterious LP which was taken along by mistake. It was a record made by famous anthropologist Dr Bonavita, recording the incantation of a curse by the African M-bu-ti tribe. It seems that everybody involved with the expedition has died under curious circumstances after their return to the civilized world, including Bonavita. Interested by this story, the party decides to listen to the record. In the dark of course, to set up the mood. But a cry later, the party regrets its sinister party activity: one of the guests claims to have seen a ghost and what's more important: Sheila has disappeared from the yacht. Because there are clues that Sheila was not taken by an African curse, the narrator decides to ask his old friend Raoul Bertin, former member of the Sûreté, to help find the missing fiance in Jan Apon's Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn")

Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn (1934) was Dutch writer/translator/radio script writer/actor Jan Apon's first attempt at writing mystery fiction and also the first book starring his series detective Raoul Bertin. A lot of the characteristics of Apon's other mystery novels can be found in this origin point.

If anything, Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn is definitely a thrilling adventure. Starting with the cursed LP record and the mysterious disappearance of Sheila, the story moves at a great pace. New developments (among which murders) keep piling up and the story never bores the reader until the very last page. Especially the plot point of the cursed LP record is fun, as I'm not familiar with many Dutch mystery novels with a supernatural tone. But Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn is also a story with a lot of coincidences helping the plot. In many ways, I'd say this novel feels a bit like Christie's The Secret Adversary, with a spy-thriller format that is definitely fun to read, but things don't always make sense when you take a time-out and think about it (by the way, I actually quite like The Secret Adversary).

I do find it frustrating Apon's novels always disappoint at the end. I won't say all of his novels have horrible endings, but for some reason Apon's detective always seem to pull out decisive evidence and crucial pieces of information out of nowhere during the denouement. The ritual with Apon I have now is: 1) detective points out he found a hint that points to murderer X, 2) I turn the pages back to where the detective said he found the hint, see it's not written anywhere 3) Aaaaaargh!. The thing is, these pieces of evidence and hints the detectives conjures out of nowhere would have been totally fair, even if a bit obvious, hints to the identity of the murderer. So why not, I don't know, actually write them in the story instead of just refering to them as if they were written there. Because Apon's detectives always obtain these decisive hints at the end of the story (the reader never sees them before the detective refers to them...), it always seems like Apon added the hints and evidence as an afterthought in the conclusion, and then forgot to write them in the main story too...

Of course, not all detective stories need material evidence / hints. A lot of Christie stories for example work despite of a lack of 'evidence', because they work by turning one's view upon a certain situation up side down. What seemed black, turns out to be white and vice-versa, which in turn is the answer to the problem. And for some of Apon's stories (this story and Een zekere Manuel), I think Apon tried to do something like that, especially if you consider the description of detective Raoul Bertin's way of thinking as quoted at the start of this post. But the feeling of turnabout is never pulled off really well (as in the 'suddenly-everything-falls-into-place-as-soon-as-you-realize-everything-was-the-other-way-around' feeling you get with some Christie stories), and the retconned evidence in the conclusion doesn't really help these conclusions either.

Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn was not as good as Jan Apon's later efforts, but certainly fun enough if you've read other Apon novels: it shares a lot of both the strong and the weak points of his other novels.

Original Dutch title(s): Jan Apon "Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn"

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