Baudelaire’s Revenge by Bob van Laerhoven was originally published in French and is now available in English translation in the USA and Canada. I understand that it will soon be available worldwide and that further translations are being made. I was sent a PDF copy by the author for review and my ratings can be found on Amazon.
Charles Pierre Baudelaire was a French poet in the 19th century (1821-1867). His most famous work is The Flowers of Evil (Les fleurs du mal), with principal themes of sex, lust and death. At the time his work was controversial, to put it mildly and Baudelaire was well aware of the controversy he created, and that the book (and the poems) enraged people. Baudelaire as well as his publisher and printer were successfully prosecuted for creating an offense against public morals.
Bob Van Laerhoven uses this background of moral controversy created by Baudelaire about his work and lifestyle, as well as the historical background of the reign of emperor Napoleon III and the Franco Prussian War (which lasted from 1870 till 1872) to introduce the reader to the discovery of some gruesome murders in Paris, which seem to bear the hallmark of certain revenge by Baudelaire for the slights he has suffered. However, by the time of these murders Baudelaire has already died, so who is the killer? Brief notes with lines of Baudelaire’s poetry are left with the bodies. The murders are grotesque as the bodies are mutilated and the detective in charge to resolve these murders appears to suffer from some kind of PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder, caused by what happened to him and his friend and colleague Bouveroux when they fought in the French army in Algeria when the French were attacked in the so-called Holy War (some thirty years previously).
Van Laerhoven uses a number of points of views to move the story forward and his writing is very clear – I picked up most of the historical background through reading and progressing through the book. At times the events and circumstances seem bizarre and grotesque until you realise what is happening in Paris and in France at the time as well as what happened previously. This is Paris in the thrall of a counter-revolution and as the murders occur, the Franco Prussian war unravels and we now know that the Paris Commune seized power until being bloodily suppressed by the French army.
The book is not for the fainthearted, the murders are gruesome, the morals questionable, but despite some of the graphic descriptions the story has a real bite and is very well written and developed; this is an excellent translation (the original was published in French) and it is well worth reading if you are fond of thrillers with a genuine twist. The book was winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel.