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DeKok and the Mask of Death    by A. C. Baantjer order for
DeKok and the Mask of Death
by A. C. Baantjer
Order:  USA  Can
Speck, 2009 (2004)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Here is reason to celebrate: Amsterdam's gray sleuth of the Warmoes Street Station, Inspector DeKok, appears in the twelfth volume in Baantjer's acclaimed series to appear in English translation from Speck Press.

DeKok, you ought to first understand, is 'from an old and long line of sailors, the first to make his living on shore.' Because of that ancestral heritage, and for other personal reasons, he is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take a brief leave from his police duties and join the crowds who 'are expected to see the sailing ships enter the port' during Operation Sail Amsterdam.

But DeKok's plans are in jeopardy because a 'nice, pretty, athletic' young woman has mysteriously disappeared after having been admitted as a patient in Amsterdam's Slotervaart Hospital. The generally easy going DeKok is especially bothered because in 'an orderly country such as Holland, people did not often disappear without a trace. That was an intolerable thought. There were countries where it happened regularly, but the Netherlands was not such a country. And if he, DeKok, had anything to say about it, there would never be a point when a disappearance was a common occurrence.'

Then a second woman disappears. DeKok wonders, 'How could the sudden disappearance of two young women be explained? How was he to interpret the strange circumstances that accompanied the disappearances?'

Actually, and more to the point, DeKok would tell you that he 'intensely disliked the mysterious disappearance of people. He preferred to start his investigation with an honest-to-goodness corpse - a corpse with clear signs of murder, like a strangled throat, a dented skull, recognizable bullet holes. In his long career he had never been able to bring all his faculties to bear when there was no corpse.'

Well, DeKok's preferences for the 'honest-to-goodness corpse' turn into something like cynical wish fulfillment when a body is discovered 'with clear signs of murder.' With that becoming his rather morbid catalyst, the 'grey sleuth examined his own feelings. In his long career he had learned to isolate himself from grisly, brutal, and violent death by building a wall around his inner being that allowed him to view the seedier aspects of his profession with objective detachment. It was a self-defense mechanism. But it had never succeeded in making him insensitive or heartless. Under it all he retained his innate compassion and sympathy for the victims.'

And so it goes, with that as background, that DeKok (in another winner from Albert Cornelius Baantjer's series) must contend with disappearances (more than two), murder (most fiendishly motivated and executed), and plenty of closely guarded secrets (with plenty of felons eager to keep those from being discovered). What begins as something that DeKok himself admits is 'an absurd tale' turns into a thoroughly entertaining romp among the canals, brothels, police stations, hospitals, and other colorful locales in Amsterdam, a city where the charming DeKok says, 'There's never a recession in crime.'

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