Author: Bob Van Laerhoven
Genre: historical, mystery
Published: April 15 2014
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.
As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire's controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet's exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind's Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.
A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.
Bob Van Laerhoven is an accomplished, convoluted mystery writer. That much is evident from the way he sets his scenes, uncovers the various angles, explores all the possible avenues before the end of the story. The mystery (and the blurb) are what drew me to this book in the first place, and Baudelaire's Revenge was a tricky, interesting read from the first. The palpable and tense atmosphere of a Paris at war only adds to the pervading atmosphere, making this a memorable novel.
I admit the novel's lack-of-length made me nervous at several points of the story. At the beginning. when I didn't see how it could be tidily wrapped up in just 200 more pages. And also at 210 pages in, when I still didn't know who the antagonist was..... that was one of the charms of reading a Laerhoven mystery. Despite the slim length, the mystery is a complete creation. It's convoluted and unsolvable until the author wants it solved, which is refreshing and frustrating (in a fun way) for readers who like to fancy themselves sleuths.
Though the focus of the novel is clearly on the murders and the subsequent attempts to uncover the culprit, Laerhoven gives his readers an excellent idea of what Paris could have felt and looked like at the time. The atmosphere is well done, with characters from various aspects of the city lending voice to createa real feel for the locations shown. I never really felt the war as a pressing and imminent concern, but that could be because I was entirely caught up in the investigation into Baudelaire's Ghost.
Baudelaire's Revenge succeeded at confusing me and surprising me. It's a thriller and a mystery and a historical fiction novel. I could have used some more characterization for the two main characters, but overall, I finished this novel impressed with the authorial sleight of hand on display.