Sunday, May 03, 2009

A.C. Baantjer

If you do a Google search on the name of Dutch mystery author, for some reason a number of authors show up, including Leslie Charteris, Peter Lovejoy, and Ellery Queen--all accomplished authors (or collectives, as I think Queen is not so much a single writer as a small industry). And all are on the formulaic side of crime writing, as is, in his own way, Baantjer. I recently read two of the Baantjer novels (DeKok and the Dancing Death and DeKok and the Deadly Accord), and enjoyed them but found them rather limited and occasionally irritating (his detective, DeKok, is frequently referred to with the phrase "the gray sleuth," an epithet right out of the Greek epic). There are also some things I don't understand: Although apparently DeKok's name is actually spelled DeCock in Dutch, the detective repeatedly explains his name as "with kay-oh-kay." I suppose that in English, DeCock suggests that famous soft-porn author immortalized by James Joyce, whose characters often refer to Paul de Cock as a writer of dirty books. Does Baantjer repeatedly have his character say the equivalent of "with See-oh-see-kay" in the original Dutch, or is it an affectation of the translations? Perhaps somebody can offer some ideas on the subject. The older editions of his novels, such as the ones I have read, also suffer from production decisions--lurid and somewhat amateurish yellow covers and overly bold type that can be a bit hard to read. And like some other detectives (particular those in the formulaic end of the spectrum), DeKok relies on informers who become running characters with somewhat two-dimensional personalities, primarily bar-owner Little Lowee. All of that aside, the prolific Baanjter (a former detective at the Warmoes station, near the famous Amsterdam red-light district) has a lot of stories to tell and tells them with efficiency and with little flash: he is a direct and skillful storyteller. Plus his ongoing survey of Amsterdam is perhaps the best historical guide to the city in the last half of the 20th century, giving more details than other Dutch and non-Dutch authors who have focused on the city (the ones I've read anyway). So I can't quite decide about Baantjer. Should I read any more, beyond these two and others I've read in the past? There are certainly enough of them to keep me busy, but them Simenon also was very prolific. Baantjer occasionally refers to Warmoes station as the "Dutch Hill Street," referring to the famous U.S. TV series, but the DeKok share little with the show except their effective realism (though the TV reference gives perhaps another clue to Baantjer's skill and appeal--not only have the books been turned into Dutch films, they also have a TV-like appeal, partly due exactly to the formulaic quality I've been talking about, perhaps). So what do you think? More Baantjer for my increasingly tall and tottering tbr pile? Just a small p.s., I haven't posted in over a week because I've been in Peru--I'll post my snapshots (to another blog) if anyone's interested (I'll give the url later on).


Uriah Robinson said...

Peru sounds interesting I look forward to your pics.

Linda said...

The translations don't do the originals justice. They aren't even strictly translations. They were done years after the novels were written and updated to seem contemporary. They are definitely uninspired. Every effort has been made to remove any hint of foreignness or sense of time and place. The Baanjter mysteries remain among the most popular books in the Netherlands, and for good reason. They're not great literature, but they're definitely fun reads.