“Baudelaire’s Revenge” by Bob Van Laerhoven
Available from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Barnes & Noble (Print) or IndieBound
Released on: 15 April 2014
I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, as part of the book’s blog tour.
Description: 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.
Review: This was an interesting book.
It was very atmospheric, and the author–particularly early on when introducing characters–had a very lyrical way with the descriptions. Little things that painted a vivid image without overdoing it, and I liked that a lot. The setting was also painted this way, the backdrop of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and events of Paris that followed. Since this is not a historical time/place that’s my area of expertise, I can make no claims on its accuracy but it painted quite a picture. (The same with Baudelaire. Another area not my expertise, but a well painted picture.)
The primary characters are remarkably flawed, but intriguing. Through them and salient points of their history, the story is carried along at a wonderful pace. It steadily builds in mystery and tension, and some humor, and carried me with its intrigue.
Then…something happened towards the end. Roughly three quarters of the way in, as we are moving towards the climax of the story. It felt like the story got…lazy. For several chapters, the intricate mysteries being woven were partially revealed through long monologues by characters, which wasn’t as gripping as learning it through events, and then some scenes that should have given us satisfaction in being seen (Shown) were given to us in small bits of Tell and retrospect. I was a little disappointed in some of the revealed motivations, but maybe I would have been less so if this section hadn’t irked me in its execution.
Bearing in mind that everything leading up to it had been much more written out, drawn out. So this, to me, was a discomfiting change.
For the very ending, the last two or three chapters, it did improve again. Some interesting twists that you may or may not see coming, and an ambiguous ending which suited the tone of the book, but that one section of dissatisfaction could not be entirely gotten past for me and has given this book a lower rating than I would have otherwise.
Still, it was intriguing and the author wove a good tale, and had an engaging way with words, so I cannot say I disliked it.
(I will note that this is definitely an adult book, as many themes, conditions and acts related to violence or sex (mostly sex) were discussed or written out. The author had an almost clinical way with those scenes, however, that I think added well to the atmosphere.)
So, over all, I’m going to say 3 Fireballs. It had a lot going for it, but that one section–when the book should have been at its best and, for me, fell short–just kind of left a lingering dissatisfaction. A different reader may feel differently, however, and all the good points will do more for them.