The Award Winning Belgian Author Bob Van Laerhoven
Bob’s award winning novel Baudelair’s Revenge has received yet another brilliant five star review.
Ross Macdonald, one of the pioneers of the hard-boiled mystery novel, once posited the theory that the modern detective story flows from Baudelaire, who, it should be noted, translated Poe and felt a deep emotional connection to the man who by most accounts invented detective fiction. Baudelaire’s supposed contribution according to Macdonald was to see the modern city as though it was a model for Dante’s Inferno. It is therefore particularly interesting to have a mystery novel so deeply inhabited by the poet’s ghost as Baudelaire’s Revenge.
Baudelaire is not a character in this book, which takes place in 1870, three years after Baudelaire’s death. But Baudelaire’s spirit haunts the Paris of the novel. It is a Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, a Paris where the rich amuse themselves with drugs and liquor and perverse sexual adventures and the poor are hungry and subject to the Prussian shells falling all around.
But the Prussians are not in the city yet, and so they only form the outer circle of the novel’s Hell. Baudelaire is at the center of the darkness. The novel is about a serial killer choosing victims from among those who tormented Baudelaire during his life. And beside each victim is a piece of Baudelaire’s poetry.
Paul Lefevre, the police commissioner, and his assistant Bernard Bouveroux, are opposites. Lefevre is intensely attracted to prostitutes and understands the call of sex in a way that his assistant cannot, for Bouveroux mourns for his dead wife but without approaching another woman.
Baudelaire’s Paris in this novel is not a hospitable place for every reader to spend time. The corpses, the bizarre characters, and the explicit sexual descriptions are not for everyone. Neither are the serial philosophical discussions or even the discussions of art and poetry. The author writes in an unusual way for a detective writer. He tells instead of showing, violating every rule ever uttered at a writing workshop. Action is not seen but talked about.
But without question, this is an extraordinary book. It is unfair simply to call it well-written. The prose is lush. Here is the first sentence: “Life and death had taught Commissioner Lefevre to love poetry and wenches, and in spite of his fifty-three years, he still wasn’t certain which of the two he admired most.” It’s impossible to stop reading after a sentence like that.
The characters are what make the book. Their inner demons, their wild, dark drives and creative imaginations take us inside Baudelaire in a way that is deeply revealing.
It is a book readers will want to read slowly. It should be noted that Brian Doyle, the book’s translator into English, has done an unbelievably excellent job. The sentences, dark as they sometimes are, are rendered with astounding verve.
If, as his mother claimed, Baudelaire was furious throughout his life because he had been born, readers of the book will understand why when they experience the dreadful horror he witnessed and see inside these characters’ hearts of darkness.
Many congratulations my friend.