August 11, 2013

Book Review: The Square of Revenge by Peter Aspe

Pieter Aspe, well known in Belgium for his series of novels starring Assistant Commissioner Pieter Van In, makes his English-language debut with The Square of Revenge, the first Van In mystery (originally published in 1995). A bit dated technologically because of its delayed translation, The Square of Revenge is nevertheless a gripping thriller.

Ludovic Degroof, owner of one of the most exclusive jewelry stores in Bruges and one of the powers-that-lurk in Belgian politics, has asked the police not to investigate a robbery at his store. Nothing was removed from the premises, but the entire inventory was taken to the back room and dissolved in aqua regis, a powerful acid.

The bizarre nature of the crime, along with Degroof's even stranger request, sparks Van In's curiosity. The fact that the beautiful new DA, Hannelore Martins, is also interested doesn't hurt. Van In and Martins decide to do a little digging on their own to see what the Degroof family is hiding.

What they discover are disturbing secrets that run back half a century, including strange connections to the Templars.* There are also extremely complicated Belgian politics at play, which force Martins and Van In to pursue the case in an unorthodox fashion in order to stay beneath the radar.

Pitted against such political powers, Van In is a dogged, yet likable, force of nature. Surprisingly erudite, stereotypically alcoholic, happily quick-witted, Van In is a welcome addition to the pantheon of international detectives.

Having been to a couple of locations in Bruges that are mentioned in The Square of Revenge made this extra fun for me. Although, I have to admit that there were references to accents quite frequently, and I had a hard time thinking what they'd sound like. (I don't remember exact quotes, but things like, "He had a country French accent" or "She spoke with an educated Wallonian accent").

I even looked up Wikis on Belgian phonology, but alas, I was still a bit stumped. So I just decided that in my head they all sounded like Hercule Poirot, and then I had no issues for the rest of the book.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? I think it'd be ok. Little bit of sex and language, but mostly tame.

Do you make up accents in YOUR head while reading?

*Although Templar connections seem over-used these days, I decided to cut Aspe a little slack on that front, since he wrote this long before The Da Vinci Code made everyone Templar fanatics.

I originally wrote this review for Shelf Awareness. The cover image is an Amazon affiliate link.