Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery Publication.Date April 15th 2014 Pages: 256 Published By: Pegasus Books Author Bob van Laerhoven Baudelaire's Revenge on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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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.
"A mind-reading murderer. How appropriate on a night like this."
I wonder how other people look back at their younger years. Mine was filled with half-truths, painful desires, and contradictory illusions. The world around me was shrouded in mystery. A man wasn't a creature of flesh and blood but a symbol to which I would have to subject myself sooner or later. I wasn't really sure what that meant, since I had only witnessed love and hatred between women. Fancy fairytales about kings and princesses made the rounds in the monastery. They often ended in mutilation and trickery.
I don't think I've ever read a Parisian crime novel, and if I did, well, clearly it wasn't very memorable. That being said, I do love a good murder mystery and even more so if it's set against a fascinating, rich historical background and spiced up with a healthy dose of intelligent, dark humor.
Baudelaire's Revenge makes for an exquisite and addictive read. The setting is fabulous, the lead character anything but dull and boring (he's a real firecracker despite his age!), and the brutality of Franco-Prussian War makes for an interesting backdrop to a blood chilling murder investigation involving a serial killer leaving lines from Charles Baudelaire's anthology Les Fleurs du Mal next to his victims' bodies. And in the recently deceased poet's own handwriting. Well, if this isn't an exciting and thrilling read then I don't know what is.
The man in charge of the investigation is commissioner Lafevre, a sharp and robust 53-year-old man, a lover of poetry with a strong "predilection for ladies of ill repute." When we first meet him, Lafevre is on his way to a brothel (to, um, "feed the reptile", you know), but when he arrives there, instead of a night filled with bodily pleasures, he discovers a a body - first in a series of bodies trailing a diabolical, seemingly unstoppable killer. And, in the words of commissioner Lefevre himself, "his plans for a night snuggled up against mystifying Claire de la Lune (go) up in smoke."
Baudelaire's Revenge explores some of the darkest corners of human soul and psyche, and it does it in an utmost flamboyant fashion. It is an astoundingly substantial and complex novel for its 256 pages, and it really shines a new light on certain (often shocking and yet mesmerizing) events and aspects of life in the 19th century France. Abundant in social metaphors and cleverly narrated, it's a novel fun to read but also one that leaves you craving more, wanting to learn more about the time period and the people. Especially Charles Baudelaire himself, whom I always thought to be completely fascinating.
The novel is a dark one, heavily influenced by Charles Bodelaire's controversial, brilliant persona. Van Laerhoven paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the society in 19th century France, with the enormous gap between the wealthy and the poor. Dangerous working conditions and starvation of the working class is contrasted with the decadent, perfumed and scandalous lives of the rich ones. The air is heavy with rot and despair, people are scared and desperate, and the threat of a vengeful murderer on the loose adds to the already intensely terrifying atmosphere of the time.
This is not a light and easy to read crime novel. It's heavy and suffocating, but it's also curious and illuminating. Thought provoking. I loved the period appropriate language, the gruesomely detailed descriptions and, most of all, the beautifully rendered world, bursting with flavor and intensity. I really hope there is more where this came from, I need this to be a series of books, I can't stand to part with this bold, deeply sensual, deliciously gothic world. I need more.
THE DOVE OF PEACE
Feathered Friend. That’s the name I chose for the stray pigeon that one day walked into our stables right between the legs of our horses, cooing kwok as if to say: “Is there anything to eat in this dump?” Our two Jack Russell’s Louise and Thelma looked suspiciously at the bird and in their canine brains I saw a resolution forming: will we attack now or will we attack later?
I forbade them to come near when FF appears for her breakfast, supper and diner.
After a few days, the dove and I understood each other perfectly. Kwok means: “I’m hungry”. Kwok kwok: “I’m starving, get a move on.”
When FF has eaten her stomach close to bursting, she spends time eyeing the horses inquisitively and seems to find delight in evading their hooves at the very last moment. At their turn they study the bird, their boney heads near to the ground, their eyes full of wonder. The canines sit on their haunches, looking alternatively at the scene and at me: we understand: no attack. But still we wonder how it would taste, that creature that’s even smaller than we are.
And I watch this tableau with a sense of gratitude and blessing.
It helps me to forget the past.
For thirteen years, as a travelling writer in war-torn countries, I have witnessed how vile this world can be. In those days, I thought I could endure the violence, the tragically wounded, the misery, the suffering. It was only years afterwards that I realized how wrong I was. Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Mozambique, Burundi, Liberia, Gaza, Burma, Lebanon, (I could go on) tattooed my soul with deep cuts that took years to surface.
And when they did, they broke my will to live.
My “beautiful girls” Archimeda, a pure bred Arabian roan, Bruja, a coal black Argentine, and the reddish quarter horse Trigger are an antidote against this bleak outlook. With their sharply honed instincts, they can feel that something in me needs repair. These pure souls guard me against my sadness by just standing there, very close to me, sighing deeply now and then, shuddering from time to time as if to say: was it so sad and vicious?
In turn, I open my heart for their grief. Horses can cry. I have witnessed it. At those moments, my whole being reaches out for them. Archimeda is very sensitive, easily frightened, being elevated by a man who did not understand her delicate character. He thought she could not be handled. How wrong he was. Archimeda is the sweetest thing when being treated with kindness. She weeps for the times that she was out of control with fright and confusion. I have been frightened many times and I look into her eyes to let her know that. After this sharing Archimeda feels like newborn and we play a game of hoppa hoppa, me chasing her with Indian-like war-cries. She absolutely loves that and gets all excited, snorting and showing her strength and agility. Before we bought her, Bruja has been a horse ball steed. She was being treated very roughly with the whip and the reins. She has scars where the bit has cut into her mouth. I caress them and Bruja nuzzles me. I tell her I have seen many frightful wounds on humans and that the days of suffering for her are over, that she can rely on my love and respect. In answer, she sighs deeply, her under lip quivering, a tear in her eye. And precisely then, as if she feels her presence is warranted, young Trigger comes to us and with her reddish eyes and her funny ways she brightens us all. We had Trigger since she was a foal and she has no trauma whatsoever. The only thing she knows is love, and she returns it royally. She has a sense of humor. When Trigger is alarmed by something, she plants her hooves firmly on the ground and looks at me as if to say: will we attack now or will we attack later?
On these occasions, I softly say to Trigger, winking at Bruja and Archimeda, Feathered Friend and my two little rascals Thelma and Louise: Easy, sister, don’t forget we have the Dove of Peace in our midst…
One paperback copy, open to US residents only!
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.
For more information please visit Bob Van Laerhoven’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
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