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The Baltimore Sun

Buckingham Palace Gardens

By Anne Perry

The Darkroom of Damocles

By Willem Frederik Hermans

Overlook / 391 pages / $28

Willem Frederik Hermans was renowned as one of the greatest 20th-century Dutch novelists, but until recently his work was scarcely available in America. Now a new translation of this 1958 novel has landed, and a half-century has not dulled the startling, Camus-like feel of what starts out as a simple tale of following orders during wartime Holland. Henri Osewoudt, a young tobacconist, starts receiving phone calls and missives from a mysterious man calling himself Dorbeck and claiming to be affiliated with British intelligence. With a sharp scalpel, Hermans shows how the high-spirited Osewoudt soon transforms into a man keen on following orders, even if it means the death of his friends, old loves and new ones. When Osewoudt is taken into custody as a perceived traitor and interrogated to the point of unraveling, The Darkroom of Damocles works its psychological tricks. Did Dorbeck really exist?

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for The Sun. Visit her at

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