A crooked detective, a flashy newbie cop, and a serial killer with a dark sense of humor; these are the main characters in Bavo Dhooge’s newly translated novel Styx. To add to the novel’s plot, time travel and a zombie are thrown into the mix. Although a detective novel, the crime solving aspects are pushed to the background as the other elements are pushed to the foreground.
Set in the seaside Belgium town of Ostend, the novel begins with the reader witnessing the Stuffer, who was dubbed so by the media for the way he mutilates his victims, preparing his third victim for display. As the reader views the scene from a third person’s perspective, the tone of the chapter is very humorous in juxtaposition with the violent mutilation occurring. Once finished with his work, the Stuffer takes a swim in the ocean and then drives away from the crime scene.
The second chapter is the reader’s introduction to the novel’s main character, the crooked detective Raphael Styx. As he is awakened by the ringing of his work phone, the reader is alerted to the physical issues that plagues the detective. Due to extreme overuse, the detective has a bum hip, which is mentioned throughout the novel. Once he arrives at the crime scene, the third and final main character is introduced. Joachim Delacroix is a newbie cop with a flashy sense of style, a fact which is, again, mentioned several times throughout the novel.
For a few chapters, the story progresses as a rather clichéd crime novel. With a stalemate in the Stuffer case, the novel takes time to set up how horrid of a man Styx is. He has heavy ties with the Belgian underground, he passes information to criminals in exchange for bribes, he has cheated on his wife several times, and he is an alcoholic and a drug user. Once all of Styx’s skeletons are out of the closet, Dhooge paints a clear picture that Styx is not a man anyone would call respectable.
Once chapter six rolls around, the story takes a dramatic change from the clichéd detective story it was laying out before. After following up on a rather dead lead, Styx finds himself face to face with the Stuffer, who was the witness who called in his own crime. After a standoff, Styx is shot and drug into an empty cabana on the beach where the Stuffer promises to return to him later. It is now that, in some twist of fate that is left unexplained throughout the novel, Styx is reborn as a zombie. After this twist, the novel almost returns to its first narrative path, the detective novel.
Along with being a zombie, Styx is able to travel back in time with the help of a wristwatch he obtained from his deceased father in law. As he travels back to different points in time, Styx meets with many people who are able to, somehow, help Styx connect the dots to the identity of the Stuffer. He also decides to team up with Delacroix, the newbie cop whom he despised while alive. Between Delacroix’s cooperation and the hints from the past, the two work on solving the case together.
While a pleasant read, Styx is more of a character novel than a plot novel. Between zombies, time travel, and a heavy influence of Belgium’s surrealist past, the detective story is virtually lost. The crime solving is fast and unexplained. In the end, the crime is solved by pure luck, not by any sleuthing. Many parts of the novel are also left unexplained, such as Styx’s zombie state, the time traveling, and the connection to the surrealist movement. The majority of the novel leads the reader to believe that the serial killer is a delusional art lover, while the ending leads the reader skeptical of if that was the case or not. Most of the humor in the novel comes from the Stuffer himself. With a sick and twisted sense of humor, I found myself chuckling under my breath during moments when one really should not be chuckling. While moments between the two cops are also humorous, the Stuffer’s inner monologue is the true source of dark comedy in the novel.
Overall, Dhooge’s novel is a pleasant read if you are looking for some dark comedy and if you are able to ignore the many unanswered questions. If you are looking for a crime novel that focuses heavily on the detective aspect, this is not the book for you.
Simon & Schuster