1870. Paris, France is a city under siege, both literally and figuratively. In the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, it has not yet been invaded by the Prussian army, but as Paris readies itself for the inevitable onslaught, its citizens indulge every imaginable debauchery. Police commissioner Paul Lefevre, who is no stranger to self-indulgence himself, is on the hunt for an uncommonly brutal and inventive serial killer — a killer who leaves scraps of poetry with the corpses of his victims. It is three years after the death of the scandalous poet Charles Baudelaire, yet the very people who tormented him during his lifetime are the ones being murdered. And after each brutal killing, the murderer leaves behind a verse from Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal,” all of which deal with themes of evil, eroticism and decadence. Is the killer exacting revenge? Is the controversial poet somehow directing the killings from beyond the grave?
In this sometimes gruesome, always fascinating and uncommonly well-crafted novel of 19th century Paris, author Van Laerhoven does a masterful job of evoking the dark atmosphere and mores of an era. Themes of dissolution, loss of hope, class warfare and the scars that past traumas leave behind make Baudelaire’s Revenge more than just an engrossing mystery. They allow the reader to feel the oppressive atmosphere of the time and to experience the violence and hopelessness of Paris during the mid-19th century. Baudelaire’s Revenge is the winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel and of the USA Best Book Award, and it is not hard to see why. Van Laerhoven manages to weave the stories of real historical figures into a fictional tale that reveals much about the mores and ethos of an era while taking the reader on a fascinating, albeit dark, hunt for a killer.
About the Author
Bob van Laerhoven was born on August 8th 1953 in the sandy soil of Antwerp’s Kempen, where according to the cliché ‘pig-headed clodhoppers’ live. This perhaps explains why he started to write stories at a particularly young age. A number of his stories, set in the future but focusing on social trends and dangers instead of science, were published in English, French, German, Spanish and Slovenian.
Van Laerhoven made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with Night Game. He quickly became known for his ‘un-Flemish’ style: he writes colorful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. His style slowly evolved in his later novels to embrace more personal themes while continuing to branch out into the world at large. International flair has become his trademark.
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 Screbrenica. 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.
Bob van Laerhoven is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense novel of the year with his novel Baudelaire’s Revenge. In 2013, the French translation La Vengeance de Baudelaire was published in France and in Canada. Baudelaire’s Revenge won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense“. Currently, the English translation of another novel – Return to Hiroshima – is finished. and his latest novel The Shadow of the Mole is being translated in English.