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Return to Hiroshima - 2018

The British quality review blog Murder, Mayhem & More has chosen Return to Hiroshima as one of the ten best international crime novels of 2018. MMM reviews annually plus minus 200 novels of international authors.


1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences.

Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima's war history.

A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane.

And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will "overturn Japan's foundations"....

Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.




This complex and compelling novel of criminal intrigue contrives to be immense and intimate, simultaneously. The expansive narrative extends across time and philosophical space to pierce the psyche of a nation in turmoil, yet this sprawling story is told in intensely personal episodes.

Author Bob Van Laerhoven pulls together an outlandish ensemble cast of peculiar personalities; fierce, fragile individuals who claw their way under your skin. Their predicaments –and their potential to unleash chaos – drag you into the narrative’s darkening abyss (….)Don’t expect a story of this complexity to make sense to you immediately. It takes a little while to weave its spell – but by the time I’d read a quarter of it I was sneaking away to spend quality time immersed in this unsettling, unpredictable universe. The writing feels convincingly Japanese; an impressive accomplishment on its own given that the author is European.Maybe the setting swayed me, but I was strongly reminded of the two Murakamis. Return to Hiroshima is every bit as brazenly brutal as Ryu Murakami can be. Yet it’s also as subtle and sophisticated as Haruki’s early work (and Laerhoven even incorporates a tip of the hat to the Japanese grandmaster). Return to Hiroshima presents bleak and bewildering insights into Japanese society, and into the wider world of the emotionally fragile and the terminally maltreated. It’s like being submerged in a blizzard of sensations; you’re kinda complicit in an avalanche of awful intent. Leave your expectations at the door, because the plot and characters do not conform to any easily predictable path. Instead, they are as vibrant and transient as cherry blossom, but soak the sidewalk with an infinitely more ominous shade of scarlet…This is not the kind of crime-thriller which ends tidily with the case closed, bad guys doing time and the DI and his DS enjoying a pint in the pub. Return to Hiroshima is a meaty, substantial piece of work which exposes its audience to sustained nervous tension and acts of cruelty. Some scenes are grueling and even gruesome, but they’re balanced by instances of extraordinary tenderness, of sacrifice and salvation. Laerhoven deliberately skews our perception of what occurs within the story, to explore the nature of what is real within fiction. In this story, two truths may be equally valid but ultimately opposed. It’s sinister and stylish; an accomplished feat of storytelling. 9/10

Rowena Hoseason – MurderMayhem&More -

It is the memory of events real or imagined that accelerates Bob Van Laerhoven’s grisly “Return to Hiroshima” to the first rank of macabre noir.(…) Van Laerhoven’s mastery of his subject and his flawless maneuvering through Japan’s unique past make one forget the depth of his narrative. There are many layers to “Return to Hiroshima”, and Van Laerhoven’s gift is crafting many intriguing subplots to create an energetic whole. But ‘layered’ is not quite right. Like an iceberg, a predictable part of Japan is visible for anyone to see. But beneath the surface lies mortal danger. And Van Laerhoven bravely plumbs those depths, for what’s underneath is a separate universe. What’s unsaid. What’s unaccounted for. Secrets no one admits to. Furious, revengeful rages hide beneath cool facades. Unspoken but understood conspiracies feed quests to right ultimate wrongs. (…)There are times when myth and monsters are the only way to explain the inhumane in us all. And at the heart of “Return to Hiroshima”, longing turns violent, dreams morph into their own violent realities, and memories prove to be unworthy of trust. Yet the desire to return endures. To return. And return again. Memory is a monstrous thing, indeed. Five stars out of five.

(Joseph Mark Brewer – Book Review Wednesday - 

In his novel Return to Hiroshima , Bob Van Laerhoven takes us fifty years after the bombing and depicts a unique picture of the town and its inhabitants through numerous intersecting stories. (….)While this novel certainly has quite a lot to offer in the realms of pure fiction, Bob Van Laerhoven went above and beyond to try and shed some light on the terror that is war, lest we forget its significance through glorifying movies and literature. The war flashbacks we are treated to don’t pull back any punches and depict the catastrophe that is the loss of human life in all of its unadulterated horror. He tries his best to make us truly feel the impact of what people have gone through time and time again over the course of human history. (....) Additionally, some parts of this book (mainly the ones near the end) focus on the infamous torture experiments of the Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 conducted on prisoners of war. Their atrocities are well-documented to this day, and the author takes full advantage of it, putting every detail out there in the open and making us relive the unspeakable in the role of spectators. This section is quite heavy on the mind and pushes you to reflect on the nature of humanity and how profoundly the darkness within us truly runs. (….)With all things considered, Return to Hiroshima is a profound novel penned with exceptional skill by an author who has so far written some of the most unique books the market has to offer. Everything from the characters to the plot, setting and historical flashbacks is crafted with marvelous care, offering an engrossing mystery flavoured with reminders of real atrocities. If you enjoy mystery novels and are interested by Japanese culture dating back to the Second World War I would heavily recommend you give this novel all the attention you can.

(Bookwormex -

This is an intricate and very well thought out novel. Return to Hiroshima tells the story of Japan’s current culture while it somehow holds onto the past. In following several characters and their journeys, we as readers get a well-rounded perception of life In Japan. (…)Shrouded in darkness and mystery right from page one, I was intrigued to progress through the text to see what I could uncover while somehow remaining cautious and a little timid to find out what would happen. It may be fifty years post-bombing in this novel, but the ominous feeling lingers heavily for the people in their day-to-day. (…)The characters were intricate and the plot was heavy, but because of that weight I felt as I was reading, I also felt the need to push on and learn more. There was an eerie element woven through this entire tale that seemed to leap off the page and wrap around me. Yet, I got an inside look to another angle of Japan’s culture and grim history. (…)I loved so many things about this book. The writing was stunning and while I made my journey through a subject matter I didn’t know much about, I was completely informed and entertained. While the doom and gloom may not be seen as a positive aspect of a text in many regards, for me, it was exactly that. The history mixed with fictional elements built this really intense tale that read like a solid mystery or horror novel. It had all the elements to teach you a little something while also sending chills down your spine.(…)There’s a lot to be learned and retained from a novel like this one, and I’m glad I got a chance to read it. What a ride!

(The Blabbing Bibliophile -

Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings. (….)The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.
This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviors described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril. (…)This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of “Baudelaire’s Revenge”, another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’  Five stars out of five.

(Olga Núñez Miret:

Beautifully crafted, portrays a dark and violent world.

As our world is going through uncertain times, reading Bob Van Laerhoven’s literary crime story “Return to Hiroshima” makes you sit up and pay attention. The story, beautifully crafted, portrays a dark and violent world; effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and its inhabitants, effects that we may not know enough about. The characters are truly remarkable. It’s a complex and sophisticated thriller with continuous mounting suspense that makes it such a satisfying read. A read to think about. As Van Laerhoven says in an interview “This is the point where literature can step in. You may have trouble imagining what a nuclear conflict would be like, but literature can.” 

Canadian author Ulla Hakanson –

(…) a complicated tale of greed, corruption, and madness set in the world of 1995 Japan with flashbacks to the end of WWII as the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. Japan is reeling from an economic recession that threatens everything that they have accomplished since their loss in the great war.(….) This was an intense read that kept me turning the pages to discover how it was going to end. Who would win, the forces of “Good” or the forces of “Evil”? The characters are tightly drawn, and the setting is portrayed in such a way that you become part of the action. Anyone who enjoys a dark and murky noir mystery will enjoy this book.

(Doward Wilson – Kings River Life Magazine -

(…..) Most of the action takes place in 1995, which keen Japan-watchers remember as the year when an obscure Japanese religious group unleashed a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metro. The members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult convicted for the attack were executed earlier this month, which makes this book extremely topical.(….)It is nearly impossible to give a short summary of the complicated plot, which weaves in Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese mafia and World War II and “Return to Hiroshima” hovers between being a conspiracy thriller, historical fiction, police procedural and noir. What is certain is that it is a page-turner, with short chapters from multiple viewpoints, which lend themselves far too well to a just-one-more-chapter-before-I go-to-sleep syndrome. There are plenty of good insights into the Japanese psyche, the almost schizophrenic nature of their society, although it is mostly the dark side that you will come across in this novel. Overall, it is a satisfying, but very dark and eerie story, which will appeal to readers who like their genres well shaken and stirred.

(Marina Sofia – Crime Fiction Lover -

I have a healthy appetite for noir fiction and found "Return to Hiroshima "a sumptuous and wonderfully grotesque feast. Centered in Hiroshima and written for a Western audience, Van Laerhoven paints a vivid and dark portrait of Japan, its culture and society, and an equally vivid and dark portrait, both immediate and fifty years on, of the aftermath of Little Boy - the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. Through the eyes of a diverse cast of characters, the reader enters a deep-state reality, shadowy, deceptive, peppered with lies and brutality. The author slowly reveals in short sharp chapters, the twisted and corrupt interplays at work behind the scenes as Japan endures a cataclysmic economic crisis. (….) Superbly written in an easy, fluid style with characters that are complex and believable, Return to Hiroshima contains a taut and artfully constructed plot. The reader is kept on edge. At any moment the tension will release. Eventually, it does, dramatically yet incrementally, intertwined with revelation upon revelation, carrying the reader through to the last page.
While there are a few confronting scenes in this novel, with various victims meeting their awful ends, the ultimate victim in "Return to Hiroshima" is truth, at once laid bare by the narrator and distorted by the characters. Driving the plot are themes of memory and remembering, childhood trauma and unhealed wounds. Gruesome mutations caused by the atomic bomb are set alongside those caused by secret medical experiments. In all, Return to Hiroshima is an elaborate and insightful depiction of obsession.
Younger readers may not recall the sarin attack in a Tokyo subway that took place in March 1995, and the religious cult, Aum Shinrikyo who claimed responsibility. They may not know of Unit 731 and the atrocities the Japanese meted out in WWII on their prisoners of war, atrocities ignored by the West as we focus all our attention on the Nazis. Cruelty is a global phenomenon, then as now. In addressing this, “Return to Hiroshima” and its author deserve to be acclaimed.

(Isobel Blackthorn - )

(…..) In all, “Return to Hiroshima” is an important book, beautifully written, thoughtful and supremely entertaining.

Centered in Hiroshima, the plot paints a vivid portrait of Japan during and post the attack. (…)The narration is in such a way that it sends chills through the spines. The worst curse on mankind is technology being used in destruction. Some of the descriptions presented are not for the faint-hearted. The writing style and the way the plot is narrated is very mature.

Indian book blog: 

This is a well written, complex story that is told from a number of different points of view.  The story certainly had me gripped throughout and although I found it a bit of struggle to read, I knew I had to get to the end to see what happened. (…)The characters are all very dark, mainly with terrible backgrounds and there is also a lot of violence, gore, and sexual references. One of the things I did really enjoy was the historical references, although a very tragic and sad act in history, it did get me googling to find out more about the parts that I was unsure of. If you’re a fan of noir fiction then I would imagine that this would be for you.  As I say well written, and an interesting gripping storyline so definitely worth you checking it out.

Curled up with a good book -

That was some book! The story is filled with flawed characters and events that are bluntly described, garish at places to create the desired effect. (…)The backdrop is the city Hiroshima where the impact of the bomb still lingers. (…)This is a serious book but thrilling, nevertheless.  A few grisly details may not go down well with some readers. (…) A continuous thrill makes this an excellent read. If you’re a crime/thriller fan, then this is a must read.

Book Vue: 

The story still brings shivers down my spine. The nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, radiation poisoning, long-term effects of radiation poisoning and genetic disorders and malformations, well it doesn’t just end there. (…) I liked how the author has portrayed the emotional side of each character. From Takeda to Mitsuko to Xavier, each one of them has a heart-wrenching story to tell. I liked the twist in the story. From radiation effects to a sinister experiment, the story takes a 180-degree turn! I never expected that! Though the twist was in the last few chapters, it made the story interesting and engaging. If you are a fan of noir then do check out this book.

The Book Decoder: 

Return to Hiroshima is a dark, gripping novel, filled with a beautifully real-feeling Japanese culture and society along with corruption and the search for power. (…) The story is very grim and sinister, and at times, very intense. There are some difficult topics covered in this story, with research centers and camps during WWII, but it fits with the theme over the novel and is necessary for telling the story. (…) A multi-layered plot, with intense characters and powerful themes, Return to Hiroshima is one you don’t want to miss.

Author and blogger Jessica Rachow:

I think the cover for this book is quite grim and sinister looking. The story inside is as equally as grim and definitely more sinister than I was expecting and also very intense. (…)   The author has mixed and intertwined fact with dark and disturbing fiction to create an intricate, mysterious, and intense reading journey. The characters are as intense as the plot itself. (…) It seemed that each character had a secret or something to hide and I wondered who I could trust and if any of them were actually telling the truth. Even now, I am not completely sure who was truthful or in fact were they believing their own idea of their own version of the truth.   There is no mistake: this is a dark noir read, the descriptions and vivid imagery are amazing and do at times make for uncomfortable reading. This is not a book I would recommend to readers who are after a quick read. (…) I would recommend it to readers who like crime, thriller, and mystery that is dark, and definitely on the noir side.

Me and my books:

If I had to write a one sentence review, I'd say that "Return to Hiroshima is not a book you should take lightly." With scenes describing the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bomb blasts and the destruction thereof, it was a gruesome, goosebumps raising read. (…)I'm not much of a Historical Fiction buff, and the ones that I do read, I usually don't enjoy. But “Return to Hiroshima” was a welcome change, and it made me think that I just might enjoy the genre if I read books set in periods that might interest me. (…) All in all, Return to Hiroshima was gruesome, chilling and real, and I'm glad that I got a chance to read it. (…)

Anky's Book Bubble:

 Without a shadow of a doubt I can say this story had a varied cast unlike any other book I’ve ever read ( to name but a few there was a Yakuza boss masquerading as a Japanese demon, a detective who is singled out for not being 100% Japanese, a fearsome German photographer with an eye for dark subject matter, a giant daughter figure and her manga-influenced friend). Their back stories were detailed and complex, and – for me – a little too in-depth at times. Although I admired how the author tied together the past and the present, bringing the traumatic events of 1945 to life as he mingled the aftermath into the lives of his characters. (…) With some characters, I’m still not overly sure who to believe as many their stories contradicted each other and I couldn’t see the truth for the blurring of the lines. Definitely a story to keep you thinking! (…)There are some gory and violent scenes, and while these make for some uncomfortable reading, I’d consider these scenes pertinent to the overall tone of the story. (…) The twist at the end was dramatic and unexpected, yet also sublimely appropriate. This was certainly not a story where anything was predictable.

Just 4 my books:

I really enjoyed the setting as I love being immersed in another country as you get to see it through the minds of those who live there. This was wonderfully written and even with my confusion, I can’t help but enjoy the writing as well as the story that the author is able to tell.(...) The author has such a great ability to write that I was heavily into the story.

Sean’s book reviews: 

This is certainly a novel that stays with you and the subject matters mean it won’t be a book for everyone but I thought it was a well-written story that made me think, especially with it based on what happened on the 6th August 1945 and the aftermath that followed. (...) I do love my historical fiction and this had an element of that and also the more modern which I enjoyed. The plot is well developed and whilst I didn’t always find it to be a comfortable read the author handled the subject matter well and made the book a compelling story that I am glad I picked up and read as it did push me slightly out of my comfort zone. (...) It is four stars from me for this one. It is a book that makes you think and one that will stay with me for a while, highly recommended to anyone interested in this period of history!

Donna’s Book Blog:

 Is it possible to be completely unsure if you liked a book and yet still know the book was extraordinary? Of course, it is. I'm still pondering Catch-22 almost 20 years after I read it obsessively and then laid awake wondering if I loved or hated it. (Spoiler: still not sure.) I do know this about Return to Hiroshima - it's extraordinary. The characters are deeply real, the setting is palpable, and the mystery remarkably convoluted. Each detail provokes deep sentiment (rarely pleasant). It has all the intrigue of Tom Clancy with the emotional landscape of Anthony Doerr. The novel is hard to read even while compelling you to devour every word. (...) I needed more time than I had to wade through the complexities of the story and the history. There are nuances here that I probably won't suss out until I've read it at least once more.  

Author Becca McCulloch:

This is a complex novel that is overflowing with historical detail. The plot is a labyrinth of twists and turns that keeps you mystified and on your toes. The trail of voices heard throughout weave amongst each other in a clever web to create a compelling story. (...) This historical thriller is not for the faint-hearted, as not only is it a colossal read, but the book dives into extremely dark and uncomfortable subjects that are difficult to digest and left me way out of my comfort zone, to say the least. I won't delve into details regarding the plot as I feel that the book works best when the story unfurls the way the author intends it to. This to me is the books finest feature. (...) If you're an ultra-noir fan then look no further than this complex and compelling read. It's well written with a poetic style and delivers a dark yet unique piece of work.

Book blog Stacy is reading:

“Return to Hiroshima” is best described as a detective thriller which tries to incorporate historical elements with an intricate weaving story which builds to a reasonably dramatic finale. (...) The story flips between characters as they experience everything from kidnappings and bank raids to World War 2 and love. It’s an ambitious novel and one which succeeds for the most part. (...) The way the story weaves in and out of their lives is often gripping and really helps you want to know more. I often found myself wanting to read the next chapter to see what would happen next. To say the story is complex is an understatement, with some great twists and some very cleverly written segments. The different periods each are different enough to know where we are, while also providing an uncommon amount of depth. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the story and characters.

World Geekly news – book reviews

 This is an amazing story with so much happening. Each player has their role to play and at first, it doesn’t seem to connect between each person and the time periods. But the more you read the story starts to circle around and around and mesh everyone together. I admit that I didn’t see how things were connected but the more you read the more you are drawn into the web. (…)I am not that big into history normally, but I really enjoy a good story that blends history like Return to Hiroshima. It has so many layers from simple family connection and our interactions with people. But then you add in the history, the events that took place, and how it has affected the world then and today which adds another dimension. I loved this brutal story and recommend everyone check it out. I am really curious to read Bob Van Laerhoven’s other works.

Jbronderbookreviews -

(…) as the story developed and more was revealed about the characters it became almost compulsive reading to see what happened next. By the midpoint, I was totally invested and intrigued. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can say this story had a varied cast, unlike any other book I’ve ever read. (….) Their back stories were detailed and complex, and – for me – a little too in-depth at times. Although I admired how the author tied together the past and the present, bringing the traumatic events of 1945 to life as he mingled the aftermath into the lives of his characters. I’ll be honest, though – with some characters, I’m still not overly sure who to believe as many their stories contradicted each other and I couldn’t see the truth for the blurring of the lines. Definitely a story to keep you thinking! There are some gory and violent scenes, and while these make for some uncomfortable reading, I’d consider these scenes pertinent to the overall tone of the story. I will admit that at times I didn’t understand all aspects of the plot, but the author’s intricate details kept me interested(…)  The twist at the end was dramatic and unexpected, yet also sublimely appropriate. This was certainly not a story where anything was predictable.

Just 4 my books:

I’ve enjoyed Mr. Laerhoven’s work in the past and was equally impressed by “Return to Hiroshima.” The author has a knack for digging below the surface to expose the darkness that lies beneath—in this case, underground Japan. We all know the story of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but what this book explores is the aftermath for the Japanese people, their society and culture, and the physical and psychological impact for both. This is all intertwined in a suspenseful mystery filled with characters whose lives are as multi-layered as the world around them. The quality of research in this novel is astounding. The author puts the reader in Japan in the 1940s and the 1990s. And the characters are so believable that it seems as if the author crawled in their heads and recorded their every thought and dream as they went about their daily lives. And what twisted lives they lead! From a deformed former prince and his princess to a jaded police inspector and several street kids, this story offers a unique blend of horror and mystery that, I must admit, was truly terrifying. I love reading a book that makes me “feel,” and “Return to Hiroshima” did that and so much more. I highly recommend this and all Mr. Laerhoven’s books.

Dee's Reviews-

It’s a very dark and compelling tale taking place during the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima. I don’t really know much of Hiroshima beyond what I have occasionally read in newspapers or general war history books. Events of that time play a part in how the story eventually unfolds. It starts with a series of unconnected characters that slowly start to come together as the book progresses and there are so many layers to be unraveled. It definitely challenged me as a reader. Ultimately though I enjoyed it and would recommend it to any fans of crime, thrillers and noir stories.
 For The Love Of Books! -


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