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by Bob Van LaerhovenTranslated by Brian Doyle (from the Dutch)
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Release Date: April 15, 2014
2007 Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize
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This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
This is one of the most difficult reviews I have had to write. Like Commissioner Paul Lefèvre, 53, the hero of this book, I love poems by Baudelaire, considered “one of France’s greatest men of letters, a mere three years after his death” (page 2), but the book was nothing I could have imagined.
Incidentally, it may be the 2nd book only I have read translated from the Dutch!
Lefèvre also enjoys meeting with “wenches”. One day, he hears a scream from a bordello and finds a corpse. Near the body, bearing the tattoo of a mythical animal on the left wrist, is a passage by Baudelaire, apparently written in the poet’s handwriting. But can a dead poet come back to life to kill? As Lefèvre starts his inquiry, he discovers other murders, and they all have in common mysterious lines by Baudelaire… Lefèvre gets progressively involved in all kinds of crazy events, until he gets the shocking revelation of what really happened and who did it.
There are great passages from Baudelaire’s poems interspersed, and lots of elements on his sick psyche, his drug taking, his family, also the tough competition between young poets.
The historical context with Napoleon III, the Prussian War, and later on La Commune, is wonderfully recreated. The general disdain and hatred towards Napoleon are also clearly conveyed.
The emperor was a simpleton with an inflated ego, who was determined t lead France into a war it could never win. p.10
The atmosphere of Paris, with its catacombs, its dirt, its hunger and despair, is so real you would not want to go out by night in Paris if you were there as you read the book!
The sky above Paris was restless and darker than the cloak of a servant girl waiting in a doorway for her lover. p.18
The book starts like a regular mystery, and then it relentlessly plunges and drags you into Baudelaire’s world, a world of depravity, of insane mix of erotic fantasy and pure evil, to which you can add drugs, opium, sadism, and a very sick view of religion.
It was all very disturbing for me, hence my only 3 Eiffel Towers.
BUT if I put aside my own personal tastes and feelings, I have to admit the writing is incredibly good, the suspense of the main plots and sub-plots will not let you sleep. And I have rarely read a book that manages so well to drag you down to the depth of its darkness. Definitely not unlike Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, and in that sense this is a real tour de force. I understand why it would have received the prestigious Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel.
VERDICT: In this super atmospheric historical mystery, you will have the opportunity to meet Baudelaire’s world and spirit. Beware!, it was a world of pure madness, of insane fantasy, of sick eroticism. Following very suspenseful plots, you will discover a shocking world superbly re-crafted for you.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
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. [provided by HFVBT]
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)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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