After the scene has been evaluated, it is discovered that all of the jewelry has been destroyed, not stolen. The owner and the police are mystified. The chief commissioner of the police calls in Commissioner Van In, an experienced detective who would not normally be his first choice. The elder Degroof has enough pull to tell the Police Commissioner to hold back on the effort to apprehend the culprits.
And here begins a tale of revenge... Further crimes are committed, affecting the Degroof family, and the stakes get higher and higher. Soon the police cannot ignore the investigation.
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. Some books are strong in plot development, but not so good with characterization. Some books focus on characterization, and the plot gets lost. This book strikes a good balance.
The tone was light, and entertaining. Usually I like a more serious tone, but this book kept me involved. Hannelore Martens and Commissioner Van In are unusual protagonists for a police procedural. They develop an unlikely partnership.
I liked reading a story set in Belgium and especially Bruges. I know very little about that area, but I had seen the movie In Bruges, so I knew what a storybook city that is, as the movie constantly reminds one. There are crime fiction authors from Belgium (Georges Simenon, for one) and at least some of the Henry Castang series by Nicholas Freeling is set in Brussels, but this is the first series set in Belgium or Bruges that I have encountered.
One of the things I learned from this book, and from an interview with the author at the Publisher's Weekly website, is that Belgium is divided into a Dutch part, known as Flanders, and a French part, known as Wallonia. In that interview, Pieter Aspe describes Belgians as he sees them:
Belgians are what we call “bourgondisch.” It means that they enjoy life, including good food and a nice drink. We also have a café culture, so we often go for a drink in the nearest pub. In the end, I think Belgians, when it comes down to culture, are more like the Spanish, French, or Italian. In contrast to Van In, Dutch, German, and Scandinavian detectives are more cold and businesslike.And definitely, in this book, everyone eats and drinks with relish.
One unusual thing about this book was that there is no murder to be investigated. It is definitely a crime novel, and there are crimes solved in this book, but I did wonder for about half of the book when the death would occur. Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... recently posted a very interesting overview of a book by two French authors which also did not included the investigation of a death: Jean-Pierre Alaux and Nöel Balen’s Treachery in Bordeaux. Maybe this is more common in European mysteries?
In the reviews section of the Amazon page for The Square of Revenge, this reviewer comment is cited: “A very likable and very politically incorrect group of detectives. Humor is permanent, the plot is well constructed, and the whole story is extremely exotic.” I agree. The series has been compared to the Maigret series by Georges Simenon. I don't agree with that, but I haven't read Simenon in a long time.
The second book in the series, The Midas Murders, will be published in the US in December 2013. The Square of Revenge is not perfect by any means, but it is well done for the first book in a series. I plan to read the next book in the series to follow up on the entertaining and charming characters.
The Belgian publisher is WPG Publishers Belgium. I enjoyed this enthusiastic announcement of the release of the novel in the US at their website.
This book was provided for review by Open Road Integrated Media via NetGalley.
Also reviewed here:
FictionFan's Book Reviews
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Patrice's Reading Corner