By Bob Van Laerhoven. (Pegasus Books, 267 pages, $14.95)
The Prussians are bombing Paris and people are eating rats, but Police Commissioner Lefèvre has bigger concerns.
Someone is bumping men off in grisly ways and leaving behind verses from the recently deceased poet Charles Baudelaire — in his handwriting. Police discover links between the self-destructive critic of 19th-century “modernity” and the victims: a writer who rejected Baudelaire’s ideas about art, a rival poet, a magistrate who fined him for offending public morals with his collection “The Flowers of Evil.”
The investigation leads Lefèvre into the dark Parisian underworld where charlatans sell phony spiritualism and cocottes provide relief in shadowy brothels. As the story unfolds, Lefèvre reveals his own dark past. The plot leads readers into some truly twisted tales of sex and violence, evocative of Baudelaire’s own writings and positioned against the true story of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
The book was awarded the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel of the Year in Van Laerhoven’s native Belgium.
Its examination of evil reminds me of the “Shadow of the Wind” Gothic novel series, while the short chapters recall “The DaVinci Code.” “Baudelaire’s Revenge” is a more disturbing duel with the devil than either of those, with a cast of flawed, tormented characters who would have felt welcome in the company of Baudelaire himself.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB
By David Lagercrantz, translated from the Swedish by George Goulding. (Alfred A. Knopf, 400 pages, $27.95.)
Lisbeth Salander, the prickly, haunted hacker-genius from the late Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, is back. So is Mikael Blomvist, the investigative journalist at the center of the Swedish thrillers that topped bestseller lists a decade ago — after Larsson’s death and before he completed his planned 10-novel series. His estate authorized Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz to write a fourth in the series, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.” It’s as good as the originals.
A few years have passed since Salander and Blomvist confronted her criminal-spy father. He’s dead, but his illegal network lives on, entangled in international crime. Salander and Blomvist have lost touch with each other. His magazine, Millenium, is losing money as its glory fades in the social media era. But Salander is still at her computer, digging and exposing treachery in a thrilling sequel that brings two unforgettable characters back together.