Monday, July 20, 2015

From Bruges with Love

by Pieter Aspe
translated by Brian Doyle
Open Road Media     2015
336 pages     Mystery

You might call From Bruges with Love a police procedural, but the policeman, Inspector Pieter Van In, solves crimes by his gut instinct rather than from "police procedures,"  and he runs into constant trouble for his efforts. This is the third of Aspe's mysteries in this series to be translated into English, and the first that I have read, but from the reviews I read, Van In seems always to be going to extremes to solve the crimes.

As mysteries go, From Bruges with Love has a lot of twists and turns, made a bit difficult because of the number of characters and their unfamiliar names. However, as a resident of the Dutch community of Kalamazoo, I am pretty familiar with names beginning with Van. The hardest was Van In because I kept reading it with a small "i" as in Van in and putting the preposition into the sentence.

The plot hinges around a piece of property at the outskirts of the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. A family has just bought the farm property, and in the midst of the remodel, a skeleton is unearthed in the vacant field. Van In is called in as is his wife, Hannelore (isn't that a gorgeous name), who is the deputy prosecutor. Van In, in what appears to be his inimitable style, bungles his way through the solution to the murder—and then the second murder—getting a subordinate into grave danger and exposing a sordid sex ring involving people in high places in Bruges politics and society, to the dismay of the police commissioner. 

I really enjoyed the variety of characters, all deftly crafted. The relationship between Hannelore and Van In is also delightful, as she tries to reform the alcoholic, overweight inspector. It is easy to see why this is a very popular series. Publishers Weekly notes that the series has sold more than a million copies in Europe alone.

Some of the translation is a hoot. Here is a sample: "a stationary sea of people blocking access to Blinde Ezel Street like a herd of dull-witted cattle" and "Food and drink was the cheapest form of corruption in Flanders."  

 Here is one of the things that I love about murder mysteries. They take you to places that you might not visit in real life. I have never visited Bruges, but we drove through Belgium about 40 years ago, watching a life chess match in the square of Brussels—about as exciting as you can imagine. We also spent the night in Mons, Belgium, which we dearly loved. So, to get the feel of Bruges, which is in the part of Belgium called Flanders, I watched the 2000  movie  In Bruges for a second time. It starred Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleason, and Ralph Fiennes.  You really get a feel for the city from this movie, so I would suggest that you get the movie on Netflix before you begin the book. 

The review in Publisher's Weekly.

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