As a longtime lover of Eurocrime, I was interested to hear about this newly translated first book in the Assistant Commissioner Pieter Van In series, set in Bruges, Belgium. The plot is certainly out of the ordinary. What appears to be a jewelry store burglary turns out to be something much more bizarre. The jewels haven't been taken; instead, they've been dissolved in an acid bath.
It's not hard to figure out that this crime must be personal, some kind of revenge plot against the store's owner, Ludovic Degroof. And Van In can easily imagine that. Degroof is one of the town's arrogant, old-money types, with fingers in every pie, including politics. Degroof's desire to keep things quiet limits Van In's options, until the plot extends to other members of the Degroof family and includes a kidnapping for a spectacularly destructive ransom.
Van In is a divorcé who smokes and drinks too much and is also excessive in his propensity for grumbling and blasphemy. He doesn't come across as a very attractive man, yet ambitious Deputy Public Prosecutor Hannelore Martens sticks to him like glue from the moment she's assigned to the case. Is he just her ticket to promotion or does she actually have a thing for him?
The Bruges setting is different and enjoyable, with plenty of descriptions of the town, its people, good food and many, many bottles of Duvel beer. The tone is one of cynical humor, which I normally enjoy, but was a little off-putting here, considering the very dark deeds that Van In uncovers. It just felt out of joint for Van In, Martens and colleagues to be rolling along with a lot of sly winks and smartarse remarks, considering the real evil and human suffering motivating the revenge. It came across as if the author had no feeling at all for the victims of the tragic events; they were just there to move the plot along.
Though this was a refreshing change of pace in plot and setting, the disconnect between the book's tone and its crimes was bothersome enough to me that I can't give it a full-on recommendation.