"A decadent tale. Commissioner Lefevre's philosophical discussions with artists and poets and a creepy Belgian dwarf are fascinating."—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book 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 séances. 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.
Flemish author van Laerhoven makes his U.S. debut with this intense historical crime thriller, winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize in 2007. As 1870 Paris suffers hunger, angry mobs, and Prussian shelling, melancholic police commissioner Paul Lef vre stumbles upon a murder victim in a brothel. Written on a piece of paper near the body are verses from Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, who died in 1867. As new corpses appear, Lef vre and his assistant realize that all the victims once opposed Baudelaire in some way and that the menacing stanzas accompanying each body are in the poet's own handwriting. Is an ardent supporter taking revenge, or is Baudelaire's ghost afoot? Though the journals of an androgynous confidence trickster, who claims a twisted bond with the poet, offer clues, both policemen find their lives imperiled before the truth emerges. Overabundant philosophical exchanges slow the pace, and the explicit pain and perversity will disturb some readers. Still, the intricate plot, menacing atmosphere, and rich evocations of period Paris have undeniable power.