Thursday, July 3, 2014

Interview With Bob Van Laerhoven, Author Of BAUDELAIRE'S REVENGE (GIVEAWAY US/Canada)

Author: Bob Van Laerhoven
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Published by: Pegasus Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover, 268 pages 
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
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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.

Interview with Bob Van Laerhoven

1)   Great to have you on the blog, Bob! You're the author of about 30 books in the mystery/thriller genre and winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for the best crime novel of the year 2007. How did you find your call as a writer of crime fiction? And a prolific one at that!
Thank you for having me. As a foreign author I understand that receiving  the opportunity on an American blog to talk about writing in a small country like Belgium is a prerogative. But to answer your question….Well, I haven’t been an author of thrillers all my life. I started out as a  literary author when I was almost thirty – so thirty-one years ago J -  but even then there were aspects in my novels which were termed, over here in The Netherlands and Flanders, as “suspenseful”. Unlike my Flemish colleagues, I didn’t write about my own region or country. My novels were situated in other times, other countries, although some characters were Flemish. I became “the stranger in our midst” in Flanders and was looked upon as a writer who was a bit odd and “special”. On the one hand, I wanted to belong, on the other I enjoyed this status of “strangeness” because, at that time, I wanted to be “different”. I was different all-right, because, driven by a lust for an adventurous life, I eventually became a travelling author, mostly in war-torn countries. During that period, which lasted 13 years, my novels began to change: they became more dark and thrilling. In the nineties, I had the feeling that my “literary pen” had become blunt after 14 novels. So, as an experiment, I wrote and published a detective-series with the South-African half-breed commissioner Peter Declerq (his mother was Flemish, his Father a black South-African) and his side-kick, the Flemish inspector Samantha – Sammy – Duchène. I had a lot of fun with this series which consisted out of 5 novels: Double Track, Mosque, Djinn, Poppy, and The Finger of God. But after these five titles, I noticed that writing the series wasn’t a routine as yet, but threatened to become one. So I made sure that “The Finger of God” was the last one in the series, after which I truly began writing what has made me stand out in Flanders: the cross-over between literature and the suspense novel: Baudelaire’s Revenge, which won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best suspense-novel of the year, The Woman who loved Dante, Return to Hiroshima, Black Water, Alejandro’s Lie….So you see, my literary  quest was a journey of discovery…which is still going on…
2)   Your historical novel, Baudelaire's Revenge, vividly portrays the 19th century Parisian society as well as the dark underworld the poet Baudelaire was a part of. How did you get hooked on that historical theme? Can you tell us more about the genesis of your book?
After writing the series with Declerq and Duchène mentioned above – by the way, it was the only series I ever wrote – I wanted something completely different. I searched and I searched and, by chance, I found a manuscript that I had written when I was about 27. In the mean time I was 55.  “Fencing” was the title of that long forgotten manuscript. It wasn’t finished because I had abandoned the project at that time. Leafing through it with a feeling of nostalgia, I noticed  it was a kind of “mystery”- tale set in Paris in the 19th century. There were a lot of gloomy characters in it, but the story itself was like a maze which led to nowhere. But I also saw that I had used verses of Charles Baudelaire in that old text and I remembered my fascination for this decadent and hugely talented poet when I was about seventeen and learned French just to be able to read Baudelaire. There came a spark…A feeling I was on to something…And I began to write, a totally different story from “Fencing”, but with the same threatening and somber aura, a tale of poets, murderers and thieves in besieged Paris in 1870 where the starving workers were rumored to eat their dead while the nobility lived in a frenzy of orgies and depravity. Slowly but irresistibly, “Baudelaire’s Revenge” took form.
   3) How did you prepare yourself to write about that particular setting and time in history? Travel, books, library research?
I’m rather stubborn I travelled a few times to Paris, for sure. With the high-speed train, it’s only an hour or so from Brussels. Although modern-time Paris is a bustling and sometimes rude city – go on and order a coffee in a Parisian pub J - it still has that almost mythical flair and that unique Parisian way of life of “À quoi bon?” (an almost untranslatable way of saying: fuck the world and every creature on it J). I tried to capture the atmosphere of nineteenth-century Paris through the lens of the modern-day city and I let myself be helped by books and the internet, but also by old engravings which depicted everyday life in 1870. When you’re writing a historical novel, there are many problems to overcome: what did the people eat, how did they dress, what were there morals, how was the social and political situation, what were the fads of that era, the literature, the arts, the social divide between classes? So many details to solve….But, my mother would always say…. J: “Roberreke – that is the diminutive of “Robert”, my full name – Roberreke, you’re a very stubborn boy and nothing good will come out of it!” My ma was right, I became an author, and what good is that? But at least, I published more than 30 novels and some did very well…J

4)   What did you want to capture in particular about the time period and characters of your story?
In particular? The beginning of individualism, the sensitivity of Modern Times, and the ravaging and debilitating implications of syphilis, the AIDS of the nineteenth century. But there’s more. Already in Roman Times, they knew about the “delusions of the mind” war could bestow on a soldier. In the novel, this is clearly visible in the characters of Commissioner Lefèvre and inspector Bouveroux who have fought, many years ago, in the Algerian war but still feel the emotional consequences of that period. Moreover, on a broader scale,  “Baudelaire’s Revenge” contains a warning for these times: when the gap between rich and poor becomes overwhelming, history teaches us that invariably violence will erupt and shake the very foundations of society. And then – a sensitive topic for Americans, I suppose, since, in general, Americans are more religious than Europeans – there is the decline of religion that accompanied the modern feeling of individuality and the senselessness of life: “God is dead and the skies are terrifyingly empty.” It was this sentiment, for the first time intensely experienced by a lot of intellectuals, that led to a decline in morals and ethics.
5)   As a writer of thrillers and mystery novels, do you favor historical accuracy, verisimilitude, or simply a good story?
Nice question. Since I am in essence a writer of “cross-over” novels, I favor historical accuracy in some aspects, verisimilitude in other aspects, and on the whole not only a good story but one that makes you reflect on life and death and what it is to be human. I think literature should make us ponder about ourselves by showing humanity in its various manifestations. I tend to show the bleak side of humanity, I know that this is maybe not very commercial, but “someone’s got to do it”….I want the reader of my novels to look him- or herself in the eye and wonder if the same vicious and greedy impulses which ravage the characters in the book  also now and then visit him or her. We are a species that is on the brink of destroying its own habitat and that of other beings – I consider some animals, especially horses and dogs and cats, to have a “soul”, so we need to take a good look into ourselves, and we need to do it fast.
6)   What do you think Baudelaire would say if he could read your novel?
He would have the feeling he was looking in a mirror. You can say that Baudelaire was the most elegant but also the most daring representative of that all-pervading feeling of melancholy and lust for death that was called (and still is) “spleen”.  Spleen is the burden of life, the uncertainty of the soul, the fear of death and the possible afterlife, spleen is the “flight forwards” of the soul in decadence and depravity while it longs for innocence and beauty…Spleen is poetry but also the gutter…
7) What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m completing the last draft of the manuscript of “The Shadow of the Mole”, a novel set in 1916 in the Argonne in France, more specific in “Fille Morte” (Dead Girl), a somber part of the woods where heavy fights between the German and the French armies were going on, but also in other periods in Vienna and in Paris. WW1 serves as a general background for the story, but it isn’t essentially a novel about the war but about reality and delusion and how we can get lost between the two. It’s an ambitious novel, but more than probably it will be my last historical novel.  After this, I want to write a few novels set in contemporary settings, if my Muze gives me the inspiration and a Higher Spirit the years to live…. J

Bob, thank you for this fantastic interview! Best of luck with your writing - I would love to have you on the blog to talk about your next published work.

2 copies of Baudelaire's Revenge are up for grabs!!! To enter the contest, please become a GFC follower of this blog (you can also like Mina's Bookshelf on Facebook to increase your chances to win), leave a comment about this interview, and include your email address. This giveaway is open to US and Canada residents. Good luck!

Praise for Baudelaire’s Revenge

“[An] intense historical crime thriller. The intricate plot, menacing atmosphere, and rich evocations of period Paris have undeniable power.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Vigorous. A finely-tuned balancing act between style and content. Add to all this the extremely convincingly painted tragic characters and the multitude of mysterious figures, and what you get is a winner who gives added luster to this jubilee edition of the Hercule Poirot Prize.” (The jury of the Hercule Poirot Prize)

“Van Laerhoven packs much complexity into 256 pages, giving this historical mystery the heft of a far longer work ( …) The book’s main preoccupation is the conclusive demonstration that everyone is guilty of something—the only mystery is, to what degree? The flowers of evil, sketched in lurid botanical detail…” (Kirkus Reviews)

“(A) decadent tale….Commissioner Lefèvre’s philosophical discussions with artists and poets and a creepy Belgian dwarf are fascinating….” (NY Times Book Review)

“Published for the first time in English, this roman policier isn’t so much a straight detective story (although there are two detectives in it) as an evocation of a mind-set that now seems extravagant: the 19th-century poet’s fascination with sex and death. It’s no wonder this title won the Hercule Poirot Prize: the author is Belgian, as is the prize, and the twisted plot is as complicated as Agatha Christie’s most convoluted mystery. Mystery aficionados will love this pastiche of Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe.” (Library Journal)

“(A) gritty, detail-rich historical mystery novel involves the reader in a subtle narrative web. This complex mystery from an award-winning Belgian author joins history and literary history to create a sly, smart revenge tale.” (Shelf Awareness Pro)

Watch the Book Trailer


Buy the Book

About the Author

Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991 and has written more than thirty books in Holland and Belgium. The context of his stories isn’t invented behind his desk, rather it is rooted in personal experience. As a freelance travel writer, for example, he explored conflicts and trouble-spots across the globe from the early 1990s to 2005. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar… to name but a few.
During the Bosnian war, Van Laerhoven spent part of 1992 in the besieged city of Sarajevo. Three years later he was working for MSF – Doctors without frontiers – in the Bosnian city of Tuzla during the NATO bombings. At that moment the refugees arrived from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica. Van Laerhoven was the first writer from the Low Countries to be given the chance to speak to the refugees. His conversations resulted in a travel book: Srebrenica. Getuigen van massamoord – Srebrenica. Testimony to a Mass Murder. The book denounces the rape and torture of the Muslim population of this Bosnian-Serbian enclave and is based on first-hand testimonies. He also concludes that mass murders took place, an idea that was questioned at the time but later proven accurate.
All these experiences contribute to Bob Van Laerhoven’s rich and commendable oeuvre, an oeuvre that typifies him as the versatile author of novels, travel stories, books for young adults, theatre pieces, biographies, poetry, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author:  in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best thriller of the year with his novel De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.
For more information please visit Bob Van Laerhoven’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, June 9
Review at
Book Nerd
Tuesday, June 10
Review at
Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, June 12
Review & Giveaway at
Words & Peace
Monday, June 16
Review at
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, June 17
Interview at
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, June 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at
Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, June 19
Review at
A Bookish Girl
Friday, June 20
Interview & Giveaway at
A Bookish Girl
Monday, June 23
Review at
Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Layered Pages
Tuesday, June 24
Interview at
Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, June 25
Review & Giveaway at
100 Pages a Day
Thursday, June 26
Review at
A Book Geek
Review at The Lit Bitch
Friday, June 27
Review at
A Bibliotaph’s Reviews
Monday, June 30
Review at
Reading the Past
Tuesday, July 1
Review & Giveaway at
A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, July 2
Review at
Layers of Thought
Spotlight & Giveaway at Books and Movies
Thursday, July 3
Review at
Impressions in Ink
Review, Interview, and Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf
Feature & Giveaway at bookworm2bookworm’s Blog


  1. What an excellent, atmospheric book trailer! It sums up the book beautifully!
    I follow your blog. Thank you for the giveaway.

  2. Lovely and fascinating interview Mina. Mr. Van Laerhoven's answers to your questions are so compelling. I was mesmerized. Thanks to both of you!

  3. I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy! I'm a GFC follower (skkorman)!

    skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net