Baudelaire’s Revenge

Written by Bob Van Laerhoven Brian Doyle (trans.)
Review by Kristina Blank Makansi

“Love could be the cruelest motive, he thought. And blood the oldest messenger.” As the Prussians bear down on Paris in 1870, a series of brutal murders captivates the attention of besieged workers and aristocrats alike, providing a bizarre distraction from the hardships of war. Each corpse is found with lines from the scandalous work of the recently deceased poet, Charles Baudelaire, seemingly written in the poet’s own handwriting. Commissioner Lefèvre, a lover of poetry, and his old comrade-in-arms from the Algerian War, Inspector Bouveroux, investigate as the bodies pile up and the intrigue deepens by degree into the seamier side of Paris and the darker side of human nature. With flashbacks from Algeria and a mysterious memoir, the two struggle with their own mortality and confront their own acts of violence.

Up until the very last page, I wasn’t sure what to make of this book. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, but that is not because of the violence or sex, per se, but rather because it so provocatively examines the connections between violence and sex, life and death, love and hateful revenge. Beautifully written and deftly translated, Baudelaire’s Revenge mixes the mystery of the crime novel with the sophistication of a philosophical treatise to produce a literary thriller that is both stylish and tragically appalling.