Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The House of Dreams

Some there be that shadows kiss; 
Such have but a shadow's bliss.
"The Merchant of Venice"

Sometimes I don't read Dutch mystery novels for years, sometimes I read them one after another... (Yes, the reviews are posted more than a month apart, but I read today's book right after I read De gast van kamer 13)

Books by Jan Apon
Raoul Bertin series
Paniek op de Miss Brooklyn ("Panic on the Miss Brooklyn", 1934)

De man in de schaduw ("The Man in the Shadows", 1936) 
De gast van kamer 13 ("The Guest in Room 13", 1938)
Een tip van Brissac ("A tip from Brissac", 1940)

Rudolf Temesvary series
Het gorilla-mysterie ("The Gorilla Mystery", 1937)
Een zekere Manuel ("A certain Manuel", 1935)

The narrator of Jan Apon's De man in de schaduw ("The Man in the Shadows", 1936) Dr. Capelli, and his friend and accomlished writer Paul Posseck make their way to the home of Count Armanov, who is entertaining several guests there, including the film-maker Leslie Huntington and his new star actress Bella Berry. Leslie will be making a new film based on a book by Paul, starring Bella, so the two head over there to have some discussions with him. At least, that is the pre-text, because Paul confesses to Dr. Capelli that many, many years ago, he and Bella used to be lovers. They eventually seperated, but he never really got over her, and this is the perfect time to meet her again, even though he knows about the rumors that Leslie is having an affair with Bella. On their way to the count's home, the two also discover that Leslie's wife Joan is having her share of affairs too, so when they arrive at the home, they already sense that not all's as joyful as seems. Capelli and Paul too are offered a stay at the Count's and the first night ends well with some social mingling and a visit to the casino until the early hours, but soon after their return, a gunshot rings from the room of Leslie. When Dr. Capelli barges in the room, he finds both Bella and Paul standing in shock near the body of Leslie. Someone shot Leslie from the entrance of the room, but who? It's Inspector Raoul Bertin of the Sûreté who has to untangle the complex relations of the people in the Armanov home and figure out who's the murderer before more victims fall.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed another novel by Dutch writer/translator/radio script writer/actor Jan Apon, and noted that that novel was probably the second or third novel starring his series detective Raoul Bertin. I wasn't sure at the time, because while Apon's output in mystery novels isn't large by any means, the books are difficult to get a hold off, and the little information about on them available on the internet was already proven wrong when I actually read a few of them. Anyway, I'm glad I can make this part of Dutch mystery history a bit clearer now: De man in de schaduw is the second novel starring Raoul Bertin, and also a prequel: whereas the other three Raoul Bertin novels are about his exploits after he quit his job at the Sûreté, this novel has him as an active member of the police force (meeting with Dr. Capelli, the narrator, for the first time). None of the other books spoil this one as far as I remember by the way, so then can be read in any order.

The set-up of the novel is as classic as you can get: a group of people who are friends on the surface, all gathered in one house when a murder happens, and of course there's been a recent bargain sale on murder motives and everyone acts enigmatically or suspiciously. I have to admit I liked the premise of some of the other novels better, like the mystery of the cursed record of Paniek op de Ms. Brooklyn or the hotel room with the constant deaths of De gast in kamer 13. These novels also followed a classic set-up eventually, but managed to have a hook with just a bit of extra allure, while De man in de schaduw has little to set itself apart in terms of premise.

Everytime I review an Apon novel, I mention how his novels are always entertaining enough as a mystery stories, but that for some reason, he always plays a bit unfair with the clues, as most of the most damning clues are always withheld from the reader, until Bertin unveils that he found what were basically signed confessions of the murderer lying around. It's not that bad this time, though elements like the motive could've been telegraphed better in advance. Guessing who did it won't be difficult this time, which is actually true for most Apon novels: while Apon might not be always playing fair with clues, there are usually enough clues, or other forms of foreshadowing that are easy to pick up. The plots are usually entertaining though, and De man in de schaduw works most of the time. The identity of the culprit becomes painfully clear after a certain event in the novel, but the whole thing is plotted in a reasonable way with all kinds of small mysteries for the reader to solve (even if again, not everything is fairly telegraphed in advance).

I did find it a shame that the floorplans provided weren't really needed for this novel. I remember De gast van kamer 13 had a simple floorplan of the hotel too. While both floorplans did make the layout of the respective buildings a bit clearer, they weren't necessary to solve the main mysteries, and the narration alone would've been enough. Of course, I do get more excited when we get floorplans, but it's the most fun when you actually need to stare at them to solve the murder, right?

Anyway, I am fairly sure that De man in de schaduw was the last Raoul Bertin novel I needed to read, and this might be the last time I review Apon here. Apon has written a few other novels too, but I believe they are more like thrillers than detective novels, so I'm not particularly tempted to go after these books, especially as these books aren't easy to find. De man in de schaduw is at any rate a classically set-up mystery novel, that does suffer from the usual Apon faults, but it's overall a fairly entertaining mystery novel.

Original Dutch title(s): Jan Apon "De man in de schaduw"

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