October 5, 2014

“Baudelaire's Revenge” by Bob van Laerhoven – A Poet's Resurrection

Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob van Laerhoven (Book cover)
A majority of crime novels these days, taking place in the modern world, allow the protagonists to benefit from a host of different technological innovations which permit them to move their investigations forth.

However thrilling it may be to see the sprawling web of technology catch all criminals, nothing can really replace the satisfying and accomplished feeling of pure logical deduction, something offered generally in crime novels taking place in centuries past, as is the case with Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob van Laerhoven, winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime novel.

In this novel we are treated to a rather grizzly and thrilling investigation as the Commissioner Lefevre, an Algerian war veteran and a poetry enthusiast is tasked with bringing down a most unusual type of killer, one never encountered before: a serial murderer with a signature.

He has taken to leaving on each and every corpse in his wake excerpts from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal (in the dead poet's own handwriting), a most controversial anthology of his dealing almost exclusively in decadence, debauchery and eroticism.

This whole thing takes place during 1870s Paris, when investigative techniques were still rather limited in comparison to what is available in modern times, leaving our protagonist with little else but the vague clues he finds and the deductions he himself can make.

As the investigation moves further and further into dark, tense, violence and hatred-filled streets of the city where the rich are so far above the poor they cannot even see them, we are treated, mainly, to three different things: the case itself, the upheaval in Paris during the 1870s, and of course, the art of poetry itself.

Bob van Laerhoven manages to seamlessly mix all of these elements together and weave a a gut-wrenching and tragically beautiful story that retains your attention on all fronts. There are no punches pulled here, and a sanitized portrayal of that society at that time is the furthest thing possible from the author's goals.

Instead, he instills an atmosphere of moral rot and decadence, one that depicts the world as a hopeless gutter where all hopes and dreams are washed down (such was my perception of it, at the very least).

Despite the fact that the chase for the killer and the investigation itself take up a large part of the novel, this is certainly not one of those lighter reads you'll go through on the subway.

As you would expect with a book that deals in poetry, it is jam-packed with philosophical thoughts on the biggest topics in life, the ones we can talk about endlessly, being able to arrive only to the conclusion that in the end, we only know that we know nothing.

If you delve deep enough into it, you will end up reflecting rather profoundly on life and death, the apathy of human beings, the terrifying pitfalls of materialism, the loss of identity in times of great turbulence, just to name a few of them.

Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob van Laerhoven (Book cover)
To conclude, this book is certainly a remarkable tour de force in the crime genre, providing at the same time an enthralling chase after a theatrically-inclined killer where the reader can't help but try and surpass the protagonist, and a rather deep study of the human character and of the countless questions that have, do, and will keep us all awake at night.

Highly recommended for those who seek a lot of depth to their murder mystery-related entertainment.

Bob van Laerhoven (Author)

Bob van Laerhoven

Personal site

Bob van Laerhoven is a Flemish author whose 30+ novels have been published in Belgium, France, Canada and The Netherlands.

His 2007 novel Baudelaire's Revenge was the winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best crime novel of the year.

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