Paris, September 1870, the Franco-Prussian war. The first Prussian shells have reached the besieged city. The workers are starved to death, the aristocracy seeks distraction in orgies and séances. The Parisians are trapped like rats, but a series of terrifying murders captures their fascination and helps them to forget the realities of war: lines from the recently deceased poet Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology The Flowers of Evil are found on or near each of the corpses. Commissioner Lefèvre’s investigation uncovers a plot with ramifications extending as far as the court of the emperor, Napoleon III. It also leads him to discover a family secret with far-reaching consequences.
‘It was with a rarely seen unanimity of votes that Bob van Laerhoven was declared the winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize: every single member of the jury had put Baudelaire’s Revenge on his shortlist, and everybody agreed that the prize should be his. A discussion about the award was barely necessary.
Baudelaire’s Revenge is from beginning to end a sublime historical novel. It is first and foremost a thrilling story, not only because of the gruesome murders but also because of the setting: besieged Paris where fear, hunger and despair push the population slowly but surely to madness. Although Van Laerhoven sets the action among the brothels and catacombs of the frenzied city, he also takes us to the decadent revels of the high society. The horror and atrocities are a distinct echo of Edgar Allan Poe. Did a writer rise from his grave? Had he died in the first place? Had someone been buried alive?
The classic, well-turned phrases and the vocabulary are completely in sync with the historical background, thereby breathing life into the spleen of a period in time in complete disarray.
Baudelaire’s Revenge is at the same time a contemporary crime novel that careers towards its conclusion at breakneck speed. This is a fine-tuned balancing act between style and content, vigorously brought to a successful termination. 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 lustre to this jubilee edition of the Hercule Poirot Prize.’
Report of the jury of the Hercule Poirot Prize 2007
‘The style of writing appeals enormously, as does the sometime singular use of everyday language. If the jury of the next edition of the Hercule Poirot Prize takes this novel as their benchmark, they’ll have their work cut out. Paris at the end of the 19th century is a perfect setting. Suspense and literature form a wonderfully woven tapestry with a plot that surprises at every twist and turn.’
Hans de Vriend, misdaadauteurs.be
‘A book that takes the reader by the scruff of the neck from the very first sentence. A book, too, that only releases that grip 266 pages later. An historical novel in a language that the great Flaubert himself seems to have whispered into the ear of the author. Admittedly, Gustave did not dictate everything. After all, this is a thrilling, fast-moving contemporary story, and an intoxicating tour around a seething Paris, to boot. Poetry and death, passion and aloofness go hand in hand here. Van Laerhoven paints a wonderful and authentic portrait of an era against the backdrop of a cleverly constructed crime story.’
Jan Haeverans, Knack
‘An accurate historical setting and an authentic portrait of an age. A story of poets, thieves and devils. A blood-curdling descent into a hell of evil, deceit and revenge.’
Paul Depondt, De Volkskrant
‘An ambitious novel. The reader is bombarded with historical facts and characters. A truly baroque reading experience.’
Geert D’Hulster, Gazet van Antwerpen
Baudelaire’s Revenge exudes the atmosphere of Tardi, Nestor Burma and the Paris Commune, thereby weaving them into one broad tapestry. Van Laerhoven is cut out for the spleen of a period in time in complete disarray.’
Lukas de Vos, Knack
‘It is fascinating to see how Van Laerhoven draws Baudelaire’s tragic life and brilliant oeuvre into his story. His research is top-notch.’
‘A wonderful and authentic portrait of an era. A cleverly constructed crime story.’
Fred Braeckman, De Morgen
‘Bob van Laerhoven has produced the most surprising Belgian crime story of the year. He focuses on a handful of bizarre murders in turbulent Paris at the end of 1870. Written on each corpse are a few lines of poetry of the recently deceased poet Charles Baudelaire. An exceptional thrilling intrigue set against an historical backdrop.’
‘Gruesome and intriguing. A triumphant success that stands an excellent chance internationally.’
Dick Snijders, De Weekkrant
‘It is fascinating to see how Van Laerhoven draws in Baudelaire’s tragic life and brilliant oeuvre into his story. The serial killer seems to have walked right out of Pig Island, Mo Hayder’s most recent novel. Just as in her novel, the driving force behind the crimes are warped family relations and sexual deviancy.’
John Vervoort, De Standaard der Letteren
‘A fluently written and historically authentic thriller. Just the ticket for your holiday reading.’
‘Baudelaire’s Revenge is an intelligent and beautifully written historical thriller oozing international class.’
Tom de Smet, Stijl
Recently the poet Staf Claes drew my attention to ‘The revenge of Baudelaire’ by Bob Van Laerhoven
The story s situated at the end of ‘The second Empire’ of Napoleon III, France’s last emperor. The framework of this book is Paris. Under siege by Prussian troops poverty and hunger reign. Social unrest is brewing. Nobility and the high bourgeoisie wallow in decadence. In September 1870 a series of murders is committed. A few lines by Charles Baudelaire from his ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’(condemned because it was deemed contrary to good manners) are left as calling cards by the perpetrator on each of his victims. Detective Paul Lefèvre leads the inquest which will bring him to the cenacles of power. He is “a loner who loved poetry (and girls of easy virtue) and the kabala, rather seeing a secret world behind the dream than the noises of progress.”
What a winner – also in his style – is this laureate of the Hercule Poirot prize 2007!
In an earlier contribution to Mededelingen I already wrote that I just love historical novels (2). I gladly add this book to it. Van Laerhoven shows his thorough historic knowledge. Very astute he sketches Paris of that time. The plot is masterful and the characters have depth. The author moreover pens down gorgeous sentences.
Frank de Vos – Mededelingen
Reader’s report: Brian Doyle, translator
Style: Captivating, filmic, elegant writing, depicting bizarre murders, escalating tension, corruption, peppered inconspicuously with historical facts, reflections from the war in Algeria, the political reality of the day.
Characters: Real, not stylised as one often finds in historical novels, at home in the turmoil surrounding them and reflecting it in their own persons. The characters illustrate how people can deceive, deceive themselves, and let themselves be deceived by others.
Readability: First class ‘thriller’ material with literary aplomb. The introduction of Simone’s memoires provides an alternative first person narrative perspective in the latter part of the book, effectively interacting with the narrator’s perspective to increase the pace as the various threads and relationships in the narrative begin to come together in the reader’s mind.
Baudelaire's revenge is a real page-turner. Once you start, you are caught in the stream of a story that is fascinating and exciting.
The language is beautiful, flowing. For me, the first sentence of the book is the best first sentence ever. And it continues in the same way. A must-read!
Eveline Van Haverbeke: Goodreads
Staf rated it 5 of 5 stars
While reading Baudelaire’s Revenge, I couldn't help but to think at Dante's Divine Comedy.
War, poets, murder, passion, heaven and hell, all ingeniously woven in the historic accurate setting of Paris in the 1870's, on the brink of civil war.
A challenging whodunit that will leave you realizing we are all just (quote) “screaming dwarfs in a burning machine”.
Staf Claes: Goodreads