Before we get to my review of the award-winning Baudelaire’s Revenge, if you are interested in entering, you can click HERE for the Rafflecopter link. I have two copies, so there will be two winners. U.S. and Canada only.
Baudelaire’s Revenge is a book that was written in 2007 by Bob Van Laerhoven, yet it was published in Dutch. Now translated by Brian Doyle (who did an amazing job), this winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel is available in English!
I was thrilled to read it as I have a penchant for foreign writing, especially for books written from the Nordic countries, Belgium, or the Netherlands. These writers have a literary knack for descriptive and raw imagery, content, and structure that I embrace with a passion, so I knew that reading Bob’s novel would be exciting for me, especially since I have a love of studying literature and poetry.
Bob has been an intense writer for many years, a traveling writer and journalist, and has seen social harm in places and countries you wouldn’t believe until you read about them. Though I hope some of his novels (that I hear rain with his experiences and with social injustice warnings and content) will also be available in English soon, I enjoy a good historical mystery, this one taking place in 1870s Paris, during the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Seige of Paris, when it was captured by the Prussians.
During this time of instability, when France was a hub for refugees from many surrounding Eastern European countries as well as Spain and Sephardic Jews, obviously there were many various infused cultures. Also due to the unrest, workers had a difficult time, people were hungry, and political unrest was everywhere. Many tried to alleviate their stress with absinthe and prostitutes and feed themselves by stealing and murdering.
Even the detective star of the book, Commissioner Lefevre, loved prostitutes as much as he loved his poetry. The French have a long-standing legacy of supreme writing, poetry, and the arts of course, and Lefevre admired poets, such as Charles Baudelaire (who was very controversial at the time, but happened to later inspire various modern literature). So when a mystery evolves surrounding a poem written by the late Baudelaire that was left on a victim, Lefevre sets his eye on an investigation.
Bob’s sentences were so eloquent, each sentence full of life, dripping in details, succulent word choices, and amazing imagery. His writing flows so naturally, but his sentences are not ones that you can read as one whole sentence in one look. It is like you almost must savor each word in his sentences as none are filler, all are precisely planted. The characters were flawless in design, such as Lefevre, who in his imperfect life became the perfect detective, one of whom looks at every minute detail in slow motion, much like Agatha Christie’s Poirot. All good mysteries, the old-fashioned type, need a detective with an attributing personality. Bob’s characterization didn’t disappoint. Riddled with anxiety from trauma (much like PTSD today) during war, death and thoughts of death surrounded Lefevre. It seemed to propel him and I could feel his anguish as much as the down-trodden aura of the vice filled streets of France. I felt myself trying to solve the puzzle along with him as well as seething at the social climate and culture during this era of France!
You must know as a reader that there is explicit content in this book, in a strange cobblestone and street lamp sort of way. Imagine modern hardcore sex but in an experimental and crude society. The book also dealt with much of the problem of STDs that were stealing so many bodies and especially minds during that period. It worked with the book especially given Baudelaire’s own writing content, as his writings controversially surrounded sex, death, fear of Satanism, and unmoral character. It didn’t bother me to read (it bothered me it happened for real though). It read like a foreign film, which generally are more uncensored.
The 19th Century of France was wrought with prostitution and Bob doesn’t leave anything for the mind to wander about, but offers phrasing and technique that about leaves you breathless. He treats the social norm of prostitution as they might have, showing how they rendered it as an art or science. Yet he also shows us the plight of human nature when miserable and looking for satisfaction that is hard to find during intense depressive times. Behind the mask of passion, sometimes evil lies. In human nature, abhorrent actions occur that reap multitudes of deception.
Historically very well-researched, Bob really captures the climate and culture of Paris with fervent abandon and authenticity as well as he accurately portrays the political scene. With as much care, he also brought Baudelaire to life, showing how such talented people, yet reaped in poverty during their lifetimes, were wrought with turmoil.
This book is NOT for the light reader of romance or mysteries. It’s for a readers that like to savor a book of high intellect and intent, as well as enjoy intense reading. It’s not a book you’ll flip fast through because it is an event, not just entertainment for an evening. Bob’s book deals with common issues through the ages of human nature and interaction, poor vs. rich, political and societal issues, death and dying, and controversial and mad creative people. On top of all those layers, there is a very sophisticated detective story, with a superb plot and an ending I didn’t see coming but completely enjoyed. I appreciate Bob’s ability with his writing to tear off the shell of morality and show the dynamics that lay beneath.
Baudelaire’s Revenge, Synopsis~
It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.
As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet’s exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind’s Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.
A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.
Praise for Baudelaire’s Revenge~
“[An] intense historical crime thriller. The intricate plot, menacing atmosphere, and rich evocations of period Paris have undeniable power.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Vigorous. A finely-tuned balancing act between style and content. Add to all this the extremely convincingly painted tragic characters and the multitude of mysterious figures, and what you get is a winner who gives added luster to this jubilee edition of the Hercule Poirot Prize.” (The jury of the Hercule Poirot Prize)
“Van Laerhoven packs much complexity into 256 pages, giving this historical mystery the heft of a far longer work ( …) The book’s main preoccupation is the conclusive demonstration that everyone is guilty of something—the only mystery is, to what degree? The flowers of evil, sketched in lurid botanical detail…” (Kirkus Reviews)
“(A) decadent tale….Commissioner Lefèvre’s philosophical discussions with artists and poets and a creepy Belgian dwarf are fascinating….” (NY Times Book Review)
“Published for the first time in English, this roman policier isn’t so much a straight detective story (although there are two detectives in it) as an evocation of a mind-set that now seems extravagant: the 19th-century poet’s fascination with sex and death. It’s no wonder this title won the Hercule Poirot Prize: the author is Belgian, as is the prize, and the twisted plot is as complicated as Agatha Christie’s most convoluted mystery. Mystery aficionados will love this pastiche of Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe.” (Library Journal)
“(A) gritty, detail-rich historical mystery novel involves the reader in a subtle narrative web. This complex mystery from an award-winning Belgian author joins history and literary history to create a sly, smart revenge tale.” (Shelf Awareness Pro)
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Author Bob Van Laerhoven, Biography~
Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991 and has written more than thirty books in Holland and Belgium. The context of his stories isn’t invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2005. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar… to name but a few.
During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord – Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder. The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.
All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, books for young adults, theatre pieces, biographies, poetry, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best thriller of the year with his novel De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.
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