Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Hungry House Blues

追いかけて 溢れ返る人の中で
「風とRAINBOW」(Garnet Crow)

The wind and rainbow
Keep on following them among that mass of people
And beyond those closed hearts
You kept on searching, right?
"Wind and Rainbow" (Garnet Crow)

It's been a strange month where I found not one, but two old Dutch book gift certificates at home. Which really come in handy considering the relatively high Dutch book prices.

Having secured his house with window and door shutters, spotlights and cameras with motion sensors and telling next to nobody where he lived, Fred Duijster, big shot in the Dutch criminal underworld, probably was not expecting someone to just walk inside his house and slice him up. On the security footage, the police recognize Rafaël "Raaf" du Mez, a (self-proclaimed) reformed criminal with a history with the victim. While the police is working on sealing the deal by finding the last pieces of evidence to get Raaf in convicted, laywer Sjoerd Guikema is hired by Raaf's sister Elvira to save her brother. While Sjoerd tries his best at weakening the police's cases, and manages to find some weak spots, he realizes his only chance to get his client out of jail is to prove someone else could have pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of entering the victim's home without being captured on camera. And so police and defense try to outsmart each other in M.P.O. Books' Een afgesloten huis ("A Sealed House", 2013).

Een afgesloten huis is the eight book in Dutch mystery writer M.P.O. Books' District Heuvelrug series, set around several police divisions in the central Netherlands area. For the non-Dutchies, sorry, but the books are not available in English (yet?). Previously, I already reviewed De laatste kans and Cruise control. And as you might have noticed, I read the books in a rather random order, but both of them were quite entertaining. And given that Een afgesloten huis had a locked room murder premise (of sorts), I was quite curious as to how this would work out.

Like Carr's The Judas Window, Een afgesloten huis revolves about a murder in a sealed space that seemingly could only have been commited by one man, making it a locked room mystery, if you accept that the suspect is not the murderer. The plot of Een afgesloten huis keeps the investigation into the truth behind the murder interesting by moving the spotlight back and forth between the police (who are convinced Raaf is the murderer) and Sjoerd & Elvira (who try to find evidence of Raaf's innocence). The result is a story where both parts compete against each other and as both sides have their shares of (little) victories and losses, the reader is invited to keep on reading until the very end.

M.P.O. Books obviously likes this narrative technique of jumping between various parties, as he used it in all the stories I've read by him, and I have to admit that by now, it's feeling a bit forced, or too predictable at the least. Granted, as Een afgesloten huis follows a dual structure, jumping between narratives is necessary, but the biggest problem I have with this is that Books jumps way too often. Sometimes you read one page about character X, then it jumps to character Y for another page, only to jump back to character X again. The strange thing is; often there is little need for having to interrupt character X's narrative for one page of character Y. Sometimes, the next section starring character X starts at practically the same time & space as where the previous section with X ended, so why cut it up in two sections with an interruption? Because of that, the pacing of this book feels a bit strange, as you are forced to take speed bumps every other page. And while it's a problem some serialized novels have too (I look at you Rampo, sir), Een afgesloten huis is a paperback original, so it hasn't the excuse of different publication origins.

The parts with Sjoerd & Elvira are the most entertaining, as we follow the duo in their attempts to get Raaf out of detainment and solve the locked room murder mystery. The series is a police procedural, but personally, I prefer amateur detectives, so that explains that. The idea behind the locked room murder is okay, I think. It's a very simple solution that I doubt would have really worked in a story starring a Great Detective solving crimes like doing the newspaper puzzles, but it works well in the context of the series and the specific situation created here.

The trail leading to the identity of the murderer I thought less refined though. Like Cruise control, this novel features psychological clues among others, but they are so open for interpretation you might as well wave them away. Then again, by the end, after the main puzzle solving, Een afgesloten huis suddenly took a rather hardboiled way out, so maybe it was to be expected. Also, Cruise control will spoil a very significant part of Een afgesloten huis and you probably should read them in order, unlike me.

The mix of detecting couples, police procedural and locked room mystery works quite well in Een afgesloten huis and I think the book should appeal to Dutch readers wanting to read a classically inclined detective novel. I do have to admit that stylistically, I hope that other books will feature less narrative jumpiness, as at times it feels like it's only there to drag things out. But overall, a good read.

Original Dutch title(s): M.P.O. Books "Een afgesloten huis"


  1. did you know there's another upcoming Edogawa Ranpo-inspired anime ?

    by the way, will you review Ranpo Kitan ?

    1. Yeah, I saw the news already. Not a big fan of Peach-Pit designs, but we'll see how it shapes up.

      Rampo Kitan> probably not. Just don't really feel like writing about it.

  2. Glad to see another enthusiast of traditional detective stories enjoying these books and it's a pity this series is not as widely read as it should be.

    It's kind of amazing you've managed to read some of the most obscure Dutch mystery writers, but still haven't touched Appie Baantjer's work.

    1. You want obscure Dutch mystery writers? Come back in.. *checks schedule* about two weeks :P

  3. is th Alice character from Moai Puzzle Island the same Alice as in the Hideo Himura series ?

    1. No, actually! I've also explained it in my retrospectives on both the Writer Alice (Himura) series and Student Alice series, but the two Alices actually write each other! So in the Writer Alice (Himura) series, Alice is writing a mystery series starring the student Alice, with books like The Moai Island Puzzle. The Alice in the Student Alice series (The Moai Island Puzzle) on the other hand also writes mystery fiction, starring Himura and the writer Alice. So both Alices are fictional characters in each other's series.