On paper it looked exactly right for me: a noir mystery set in Brugge, in Flemish Belgium.
I know a thing or two about Flanders, you see, because I was born and raised very close to this region (we routinely crossed the border to shop or go for a stroll). From years of watching Belgian TV news at dinner time, I know for sure that Belgium has its fair share of dirty business, sex scandals, hidden secrets of the bourgeoisie, corruption, prostitution and crime.
Not to say that the country isn’t safe in real life for visitors, I hurry to add, but the country’s history has made it less state-controlled than France (from my own French point of view, which is of course biased): laws are more liberal, in the sense that privacy is more valued, and control over business is probably laxer. With little border control, there are many stories about sex traffick, counterfeiting and gangs.
So plenty of material for Pieter Aspe to draw upon when writing the adventures of Inspector Van In, working in Brugge, with his two side-kicks: his assistant inspector Guido Versavel (D.C. perhaps? all I know about ranks in the police comes from TV series, so…) and his lovely wife Annelore Martens, who works as a D.A..
Aspe is apparently quite successful in his home country with more than 30 books published in this series.
Yet, something didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps it was the wrong book to start with, but the plot was bland and circumvoluted, and I didn’t quite know what to make of this gruff character who seems to have a short fuse and some personal issues. It was like crashing into a party where all the guests know each other but you don’t know anyone. I’m not sure I’ll give it a second chance.
If someone can point me towards another Belgian mystery writer (besides Simenon), I’d be happy to investigate the matter as this region is dear to my heart.