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Return to Hiroshima - 2018

Special praise for "Return to Hiroshima"

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.


Cover Blurb

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 -


In Return to Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven, several individuals wrestle with their reality, identity, past and uncertain future. They try to redeem themselves through their goals which are often muted by social norms with the memories of WWII revealing a horrifying secret that further exemplifies the monstrous side of humankind. 
Bob Van Laerhoven weaves a complex and spine-chilling tale set in 1995 Hiroshima, where '90s Japan is burdened by economic recession but thrives with popular culture trends. The writing is sublime and the narrative is engaging, a commendable feat from Brian Doyle for translating Laerhoven’s work. The perspective of the story alternates between several characters such as the daughter who searches for the truth about her ‘demon’ father, a biracial inspector who’s passionate about murder cases, and a punk who's an eccentric ultranationalist, just to mention a few. Psychological insights of these characters’ thought processes and mental states easily flesh out their dynamics with one another. Each short chapter outlines aspects of their psyche, showing the complexities of reality in a bleak side of Japanese society. They seem unrelated at first until the plot converges, crossing each other’s paths until it leads to a surprising conclusion. Disturbing yet brilliant, Return to Hiroshima is a thought-provoking read.

(Lit Amri-Readers' Favorite - 5 stars

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! -

What a wild ride we are given by Mr Van Laerhoven in a novel where Sin City meets Glass meets No Country for Old Men – a story of stories. In Return to Hiroshima we are drawn to the frontline of several lives being intricately woven together and then filleted right before our eyes. This is a dark, complicated and challenging read set during the 50th anniversary of Little Boy being dropped on Japan, the past and present evident in every decision made. (….)Bob somehow managed to seamlessly connect noir crime fiction with historical fiction. As soon as I type those words I realize that of course the two genres should go hand in hand, yet how often have I read a story like that? This is the first.

Kate Flanagan -

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Something about this book was truly haunting, and I am actually really impressed and grateful that Van Laerhoven did justice to the Japanese people and culture in this novel. Coming from someone who has absolutely no Japanese blood in him, or even explicit ties, it could have been a hit or miss. This was definitely a hit, and I think he did a great job at making sure that this book didn’t become problematic with the representation.(…) This was not a light read by any means, despite the short chapters. The subject is gruesome, the content is difficult, and I would say that one would need to go into this book with a clear mind, and be in the right mental mindset to deal with something like this. Now, once you do that, sit back and go through this journey. I don’t think you will regret it.

 Leelynn U. Brady:                             

This is a fast-paced novel, dark, at every turn, with twists that I did not see coming.(…) In Return to Hiroshima, I felt that all the characters were struggling with their pasts, whether it was the choices that they made or others made for them. A lot of it was focused around the parents and family of the characters, and at some point or another, almost every character felt like an intruder, an outsider in their society.(…)  I found it quite interesting that there was such a diversity among the characters in terms of origin, which made the question of how these strangers were related, even more of a mystery.Through all the stories, mingled together, Bob does an amazing job of showing the hurt and anxiety that comes with not belonging in the society.(…)Overall, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes fast-paced books, does not mind keeping track of multiple characters, and is open to experiencing the many (dark) sides of the events that are taking place.b of showing the hurt and anxiety that comes with not belonging in the society.(…)

 Kriti Khare Armed With A Book -

 Set in Japan, many years after the horrific bombing of Hiroshima. This is historical fiction with a difference. There are several plot lines running together, which at first may seem a little disjointed, but it all comes together in this incredibly dark tale. Not only does it tell of the life and culture of Japan, it tells of a darker side. The side effects of the bombing are described in gruesome detail. There’s also murder, mystery, brutality, rape, torture and a lot of violence but also about family and relationships. It’s so hard to put this into any specific genre as it really has a bit of everything. Beautifully written and almost poetic at times but it’s dark, very dark too.

 The Bookwormery  -

 An array of unique characters marked with personalities, pasts and each with his/her own way of dealing with life, Return to Hiroshima, set in Japan takes us back to remembering the atomic bomb dropped on that city and the consequences even now  (…)This plot is filled with historical facts both real and fiction, conspiracies and unique police action.(….) The ending is quite startling and the truths become more evident (…)Author Bob Van Laerhoven takes us back to a time when so many were reminded of the past, the bombings and the sarin attack in 1995 as the timeline for the novel takes place within a few days but the final outcomes and the ending will let readers understand what happens when so many decided to Return to Hiroshima.

 Fran Lewis – Just Reviews -

Return to Hiroshima, by Bob Van Laerhoven, is a novel that falls between many genres, Noir, Crime Thriller, Mystery, Literary, and Historical fiction. This multi-genre story unfolds in many layers, shedding a country’s horrific past. Mr. Laerhoven’s novel is replete with sinister characters, lost, damaged souls consumed with wicked, corrupt acts―greed, incest, lust, and a murderous psychopath of imperial blood, believed the incarnate of Rokurobeia Japanese demon, and a master of lies. Lies so convincing, I question the truth throughout the story, a version that contradicts his daughter’s, Mitsuko, who’s escaped his control into the city. And the reason Rokurobei has resurfaced after many years―to find and silence his daughter’s untruths. Although the story takes place in 1995, Japan, the dark, urban setting feels post-apocalyptic. Unscrupulous characters indulge personal demons in clandestine places while a psychopath who believes he is one scours the city on a murderous mission to uncover his daughter. (….)Sated with seedy nightlife, secret clubs (Suicide Club) living on the fringe of society, a corrupt government, amid a recessionary economy, and a suspicious bank robbery, the sinister plot thickens as Japan seems on the brink of collapse. (….)Undoubtedly, there are monsters in this story, not just grotesque abnormalities of war, and secret experiments gone awry, but regular people suffering personal demons. Mr. Laerhoven interweaves backstories effortlessly from 1945 to 1995, revealing how past misdeeds impact present-day character’s lives. (…)Return To  Hiroshima, a well-written, page-turner, will stir you to the core, play on every emotion, make you deliberate man’s evil, and hope for some light amidst darkness. I highly recommend Return to Hiroshima but caution those faint of heart.

 Writer E. Denise Billups -

Bookbub -

The novel is unlike anything I’ve read so far from this genre. It’s so disturbingly dark that my mind hardly processed certain events. I even cringed sometimes with a constant reminder of Dante’s “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”The storyline’s intricacies urge you to read as a veil of mystery and terror clouds the action from the start. You don’t know what’s happening, let alone predict the ending. A magnetic pull compels you to turn page after page. (…)Return to Hiroshima is more than a crime story, it’s a multi-layered exhibition of the darkest moments in human history and the even darker parts of the human collective psyche. It’s not the kind of book you read to enjoy, but rather to be challenged to think. To remember. And to question everything you know. It’s a deep, exclusive book that definitely doesn’t appeal to just any reader. Its engrossing complexity and decadent events aren’t for those who want a light read. Every chapter invites questions into major themes of human history and sociology.The book is all the more relevant for current times, especially with North Korea, Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey blessing ultra-nationalism and conducting further research into nuclear use. It’s as if people haven’t learnt anything from the war and they’re self-inflicting new scars to cover up the old ones.

Crissu – Book Review Hub -

 (…) I didn’t really know what to expect and when I started reading. I was at first overwhelmed by the multitude of characters and perspectives. Somehow it all came together in quite an intriguing conclusion which I loved, but took me some getting used to and concentrating. The story itself is powerful and intense and gave me another view on Japan during and after the war.A great first for me!I definitely will be on the lookout for other books by this author.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds -

The last time I read a book as dark and dangerous as Bob van Laerhoven’s Return to Hiroshima, I was still a child. I remember it well, all those years ago: turning secret pages under the desk during lessons, my heart pounding. I was blind to the writing on the blackboard, deaf to the drone of the teacher; I wanted only to sink further into the terrible history unfolding in the shadows beneath the desk. So much death, so much terror, so much vengeance. (..)It was the Old Testament. Father-daughter incest in Genesis! Cannibalism in the book of Kings! The master class in divine treachery that is the Book of Job! (…)Later, of course, I grew blasé again. In adulthood I went back to regarding myself as tough. I read the darkest books. I confronted darkness in myself. I joined the Olympic squad for Forgiving-Unforgiveable-Criminals. But I was not prepared for Return to Hiroshima.(…) At the risk of thunderbolts, I have to tell you that Return to Hiroshima is better written than the Old Testament, and its characterization – this is van Laerhoven after all – is more subtly achieved. The writing is characteristically delicious: if he hadn’t settled for writing novels he could have been a poet (…) In this disturbing novel, Van Laerhoven creates a filigree of story so intricate and elegant that it is hard to believe his claim that he does not outline first, but weaves his story from  threads that ‘go with the flow’(…). So readers take note: Bob van Laerhoven is a difficult, dangerous, wonderful author. (That’s the reason why I worked with such devious determination to get an interview with him as the first entry in this blog*.) And though it’s not even my favourite among his many novels, Return to Hiroshima is a difficult, dangerous, wonderful book – well worth risking the dark and some sleepless nights for. I will finish with something important that he said of the book himself:“I view ‘Hiroshima’ as a warning parable. This novel doesn’t need admiration. It needs to be shocking: when you’ve been confronted with something that carries no light at all, you’re going to look for it more intensely elsewhere. That was my hope while writing the novel”.It worked for me, anyway. After reading this novel, I did look more intensely for light elsewhere. I am much richer for it.

The Hard Hat Book Site -

 Steeped in intricacy and too many horrors waiting to jump out of the shadows as each element of the story begins to find its place, it would be impossible to do justice to any sort of plot summary here. Suffice to say, the reader is taken on one hell of a dark and often upsetting journey: a seven-foot woman haunted by either real or imaginary memories of childhood horrors and abuse, an investigation into the murder of a newborn child, a secret and clandestine wartime medical experiments, and Japanese suicide cults are just some of the pieces of this internationally flavoured noir thriller.(….) The complexity of the story is cleverly broken up into short, easily digestible chapters, each with their own little prelude as it were.(…) This is a book that challenges the reader to step outside their comfort zone in terms of what they might be familiar with culturally (…)The farther and deeper you progress into this often disturbing and yet captivating tale, the more you will be rewarded as the different and complex strands eventually draw together. Be warned though, this is no easy story to read and one that demands the reader’s full attention and concentration. Nor as I’ve intimated is this a book for the faint-hearted or those who prefer neatly packaged happy endings or a book filled with easily identified characters you’re supposed to either like or hate. Nonetheless, a powerful and multilayered story for those willing to stray from the more conventional thriller style and setting.

  RuddersWriting -

I am at a loss about how to explain this book. There are several storylines all woven together to tell one larger story. For a long while, I had no idea how any of the separate accounts fit together, but it became more apparent as I read on. (…)Let’s start with what I loved the most about the tome. Mr. Van Laerhoven separates each “chapter” into a separate entry where descriptions of which character(s) are taking part, as well as their location and the date. In this way, it was more like the introduction to each act of a play. I found this helpful and wish other writers would use this tactic in their novels (…)My mind exploded, and I am excited to reread it later to see what I may have missed through the first reading. (…)I have never read a war novel through the eyes of the Japanese, and it was refreshing to have this new perspective.  (…)I am thrilled to award Return to Hiroshima a full 5 out of 5 stars. Thank you, Mr. Van Laerhoven, for keeping me on my toes and also for giving me so much to go over in my mind. Pick this book up today. 

Kimberly – My Bookish Bliss -

I am delighted to present to you, “A gutsy dive into the Japenese cultural-historical web of Hiroshima.” Return to Hiroshima is a profound historical fiction with undeniable elements of ultra-noir and crime.(...)Here goes my five stars review: Return to Hiroshima is an intelligent, successful, and emotionally overpowering examination of the cultural-historical elements, de facto of the Japanese people during WWII. The author has put forth a brave and sober lens into work to paint an authentic and contextualized image of the horrors of war and the complexities of the Japanese culture. From the popular Mango-comics to the Karaoke bars, the book takes the reader to the soul of Japan as rarely depicted in mainstream art. Despite the grave weight of the effects of WWII, the text provokes a focused attempt to appreciate the plight of the victims of war and the plight of a society ravaged by nuclear bombing.

 Thomas Muriuki -

Return to Hiroshima is a novel with lyrical prose and interesting characters. My favorite is Mitsuko who escaped from Hashima Island. This island just outside of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is covered by a ruined factory and concrete buildings, mostly apartments. Mitsuko used to find a place by the ocean to read - her only escape. At 21, she fleed from her crime lord father. I love the references to rafts in this book. "I’m drifting on an ocean of remembered fragments, not a raft in sight. If it goes on like this, I’ll drown."There is a half Dutch Japanese man who serves on the police force whose father was a guard in a WWII prison camp. There is the young, homeless Japanese man who belongs to a cult and is trying to write a novel. There is a Belgian diplomat's son who is tall, blond, attractive to Japanese women and knows it. There is a German photographer who's photojournalist father never approved of her Gothic erotic photographs (...) Like the surf on the Japanese beaches, Return to Hiroshima will pull you in.

Elizabeth McKeown – Creative Writer’s boost

 Boy oh boy !! This was one of the darkest books I have read and made me want to puke my guts out a lot of the time. That’s a compliment, by the way, for the darkness factor. The sordid secrets, the fine line between fiction and truths from different versions of the same event, distinction of truths, and deception all come together in this story brilliantly to portray human nature at its worst(…). The pacing is fast and the book is what I would call a page-turner (…)If you are a wimp like me when it comes to darker themes, then I would recommend reading this book by spacing it out with books that will be cheery and fun so as not to get sucked into the perpetual doom and gloom this book will give you. (…)if you love history and historically based literary style, dark noir fiction, I highly recommend checking this one out. I gave the book 4 stars, and it was an unforgettable read. Hopefully, I won’t get any nightmares. Also on Goodreads

 This was quite an interesting book. When I was first asked to read this book, I thought it was going to be more about the crime lords in Japan. What I got was so much more. It’s about twisted family dynamics, mental health, toxic relationships and just how far some would go to get justice. There were layers and layers to this book that I don’t think I caught the first time around. I’ll have to read this book again to really catch everything that this book had to offer. (…)I enjoyed this book. But it was a bit tricky to get into. I actually had to start over because I just couldn’t grasp what was happening. Once I did that, things made a lot more sense. The author writes beautifully. It was prosey but not quite. It was like the author put a different spin on it. One thing that really helped me out is the author put information of whose chapter it was, who was in the scene and the date. That helped quite a bit and I wish other authors would do. (…)I wouldn’t mind rereading it so I can catch everything the second time. I wrote in my notes that this book reminded me of a puzzle. There were a lot of pieces that you knew belonged but you just couldn’t figure out where they went until the end. I highly recommend this book but I bring that recommendation with an age limit. I think someone my age (I’m 27 years old) and a little older would enjoy this book more than someone that is younger.  Also on Goodreads and Amazon

(….) The prose is fast-paced and urgent, but slow enough to get the descriptions to wrap around you. I felt as if I was right next to the characters and could imagine every single scene with no problems. There were, however, many pages with no paragraph breaks, which makes it a bit tiring to the eyes. All the expressions and words in Japanese get explained, and the author does not need to use complicated words to get across his amazing writing skills. I'll be honest, I hated the ending, but that doesn't mean that it's a bad ending. On the contrary, it fits the story's tone perfectly.(…)  I had a hard time predicting what would happen in the story, something that rarely happens. (…) This book is for those who are looking for a dark and gritty story set in what feels like a post-apocalyptic world but is actually 1995 Hiroshima. If you're into Noir, Crime Thrillers, Mystery, Literary, and Historical Fiction, I recommend this book to you.

Alga’s Review  Also on  Amazon and Instagram (Instagram: @alga_reads)

I've always been intrigued by the Japanese culture and even took language classes in college (…)⁣Therefore, the things that I enjoyed most about the book were the kernels of Japanese history, stories and customs. The time setting was set during the 50th anniversary of the atom bomb and this helped to bounce the narrative back and forth between the present and the country's history. ⁣

The Crooked House:

This book was written almost with poetic verse. The chapters were incredibly short and switched through many POVs. (…)Every time I picked up this book it took me a couple chapters to get into a good reading flow. Just like I do sometimes with classics. (…) I could not read this one with the speed I would normally consume a book. Not because it was bad, not by any means. But because of the heavy content. Some aspects of it tipped into the horror genre. (…)If you’re looking for a sometimes gruesome historical fiction thriller, this one would be perfect for you!


 Return to Hiroshima is a dark story that takes place during the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshma bombing.  I actually don’t read a ton of crime fiction despite devouring true crime. However, I am a big “fan” of war history and was really drawn in the synopsis of this book (…) Honestly, it’s more than just crime fiction. It’s somewhere in between crime, historical fiction, noir, literary fiction.(….) Starting with a series of characters that slowly come together as the book progresses, there   are a lot of layers here showing a country’s horrifying past. Set in the mid-1990s, Japan’s economic depression and the history of the nuclear holocaust loom heavily.  (….) The book is delivered in short chapters, alternating between the unique characters. The style reminded me very much of one of my favorite reads this year.  (…) It’s good that we are given these smaller pieces to bite off and chew because this is a challenging read, in a good way. It’s dark, gritty, gruesome, and not for the faint of heart. But, it’s so worth it. For something so dark, the writing is truly beautiful. Also on Goodreads, Amazon and Instagram (Instagram: @books.beans.botany)

(read the rest of the reviews on the next page)

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