I don’t bring you a review, strictly, today, because the author, whose work I’ve had the pleasure of reading and enjoying in the past, got in touch with me at an early stage of the book’s creation, asking for my feedback, so the final novel has seen some changes since, and I wouldn’t be able to offer a detailed account of it, but even in its early stages it was such an extraordinary book, that I had to share with you a few thoughts, and the details of it as well.
Terreno, 1983, Latin America. After a dictatorship of ten years, the brutal junta, led by general Pelarón, seems to waver.
Alejandro Juron, guitarist of the famous poet and folk singer Victor Pérez who’s been executed by the junta, is released from the infamous prison “The Last Supper.” The underground resistance wants Alejandro to participate in its fight again. But Alejandro has changed.
Consumed with guilt by the death of his friend Victor, whom he betrayed to his tormentors, Alejandro becomes the unintended center of a web of intrigue that culminates in a catastrophic insurrection and has to choose between love and escape.
A love story, a thriller and an analysis of the mechanisms that govern a dictatorship, Alejandro’s Lie is a gripping novel about violence, betrayal, resistance, corruption, guilt and love.
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Laerhoven published 43 books in Holland and Belgium. Some of his literary work is published in French, English, German, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Four time finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year with the novels “Djinn”, “The Finger of God”, “Return to Hiroshima”, and “The Firehand Files”. Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for “Baudelaire’s Revenge,”which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”.
In 2018, Crime Wave Press published “Return to Hiroshima”, after “Baudelaire’s Revenge” his second novel in English translation.
His collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions,” first published by The Anaphora Literary Press in the USA in 2015, was hailed as “best short story collection of 2015” by the San Diego Book Review. The collection is translated in Italian, (Brazilian) Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
In 2018, The Anaphora Literary Press published “Heart Fever,” a second collection of short stories. “Heart Fever,” written in English by the author, is a finalist in the Silver Falchion 2018 Award in the category”short stories collections”. Laerhoven is the only non-American finalist of the Awards. The quality English book site Murder, Mayhem & More chose “Return to Hiroshima” as one of the ten best international crime books of 2018. In August 2021, Next Chapter published a third novel in English: “Alejandro’s Lie,” set in a fictitious Latin American dictatorship.
Here, my thoughts about the novel, and links to the reviews of two of his other novels:
Alejandro’s Lie is a lyrical novel that will resonate with readers familiar with the history of many countries (not only South-American) that have suffered under the rule of dictatorships and corrupt governments. A gripping plot, beautifully written, filled with characters trying to remain true to themselves in impossible situations while confronting evil, which will touch the hearts of all who read it. It’s a fabulous story, full of tragedy, wonder, and magic.
You can access my review of Baudelaire’s Revengehere.
Thanks to Bob for thinking about me and sending me an early copy of his fabulous new novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to keep reading, laughing, and enjoying every day of your lives. Take care!
I bring you the review of the next book in a series that has quickly become one of my favourite police procedurals.
The Dark Web Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 4) by Brian O’Hare
I AM NEMEIN. I AM EMOTIONALLY DETACHED FROM MY KILLINGS. I AM NOT, THEREFORE, A MURDERER. I AM AN INSTRUMENT OF NEMESIS, A PUNISHER.
This is a theme running through a number of blogs on the Dark Web, written by a serial killer. He is highly intelligent and employs philosophical argument to justify a series of gruesome murders. However, he describes the killings in lurid detail, and with such gloating relish, that he utterly negates his delusion of detachment and reveals himself to be a cold-blooded, narcissistic psychopath.
Sheehan and his team rush headlong down a series of blind alleys in the pursuit of the psychopath, who continues to murder his victims with impunity. He is fiendishly clever, utterly ruthless, and tests Sheehan’s famed intuition to the limit. Indeed, Sheehan only learns the truth during a horrific climax when some members of his team experience a most harrowing ‘laceration of the soul’ that they will never be able to forget. It is unlikely that the reader will either.
“The first thing I thought after reading this book is: Why isn’t Brian O’Hare better known in the crime writing world? This man is extremely talented, and his book a wonderful ‘whodunnit’ that left me guessing until the end.” [Joseph Sousa, Crime Writer]
“Head and shoulders above most mystery authors who are published today, Brian O’Hare deserves a wider recognition. You won’t regret purchasing his books.” [C&B Todd, Amazon Reviewer]
Brian O’Hare, MA, Ph.D., is a retired assistant director of a large regional college of further and higher education. Married, three children, ten grandchildren, one great grandchild. He plays golf three times a week off a ten handicap and does a lot of voluntary work. Any writing he has previously done was academic…very much restricted to a very specific readership. Several articles in educational journals were followed by a number of book-length reports for the Dept. of Education and the University of Ulster.
He has also written an interesting biography of a man who daily performs amazing miracles of healing…The Miracle Ship. That is currently available in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. Hopefully those who read it will spread the word and write reviews to help John’s message to reach the hearts of many, many people.
Brian had a liver disease since childhood which resulted in him taking early retirement a number of years ago. In 2002 he had a liver transplant but is strong and healthy now. He continued to do academic writing well into his retirement and followed that with a memoir about his liver transplant, dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual experiences that came from that period in his life (A Spiritual Odyssey, published by Columba Press, Dublin).
Recently he experienced a desire to write fiction. Hence Fallen Men. It is a story about three priests…but it is religious in much the same way Thornbirds was religious. He has also finished a second book. It’s quite different from Fallen Men… a detective mystery inspired by an old 14th century painting of the Last Judgement. It’s called “The Doom Murders”, and it is available on Kindle and in print. Brian’s publisher’s liked The Doom Murders so much that they commissioned a series. The second book in the series, “The 11.05 Killings“, has now been written. Obviously it features the same detectives as in The Doom Murders. The book is now going through the editing and formatting process by Crimson Cloak Publishing, a cover is being designed, and the book will be ready for publication early in 2016. The third book in the series, The Coven Murders, is currently being written.
To launch the print version of TheDoom Murders, CCP asked Brian to write a couple of short stories, featuring Inspector Sheehan. These were originally intended to be Facebook games (i.e. a kind of ‘see the clues, guess the killer’ thing) but the publisher liked them so much that she has started a new line called Crimson Shorts. Brian’s two shorts ( a third will shortly have to be written to launch The 11.05 Killings) Murder at Loftus House and Murder at the Roadside Cafe are now available on Amazon in Kindle and print versions.
Also now available on Kindle (as well as print) is the story of Brian’s liver transplant and the growth in spirit he experienced as he waited for almost a year, not knowing if he was going to live or die. See: “A Spiritual Odyssey [Diary of an Ordinary Catholic]”
I received an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
Although this is the fourth book in the Inspector Sheehan Mystery series, this is the third book I’ve read because I caught up on it in the second book, the 11:05 Murders and I have kept reading the new ones (you can check my review of The Coven Murders here, where you will also find a link to my review of the previous book). And I can confirm that I have enjoyed them all. By the way, any readers of this book who enjoy it but haven’t read the first one in the series either, I recommend you keep reading the book until the end, including the extra materials, because the author kindly offers copies of the first book to any readers who request them directly. So there’s no excuse. (And that makes me think… what am I waiting for?)
This fourth instalment in the series has all the elements fans have come to love, and any readers of police procedurals would expect to find. There are weird murders, a clever and truly twisted murderer, bizarre clues and possible motives, plenty of red herrings, twists and turns galore and a fascinating background to the story (the dark web, a pretty unique club, corruption, debauchery, blackmail… even Brexit makes an appearance!). If you love puzzles and crosswords you’ll have a slight advantage when trying to solve the case, but you need to keep your wits about you and pay close attention to even the smallest details (although I must confess that I did not guess the murderer this time, and I was derailed by a red herring. In my defence, though, I did uncover one of the major clues faster than the members of the team and even the expert, but then, although I hardly do crosswords these days, I used to be a fan).
It also has the Northern Irish setting that is always an important aspect to the stories in the series, and in this case there are no paranormal aspects, like in the last book, but we have interesting philosophical and moral debates about the nature of justice, retribution, and the risks inherent in taking the law in one’s hands.
One of my favourite aspects of the books in this series is the interaction between the members of the team, who are all unique but work together well, despite moments of tension and misunderstandings. We get to learn more about the characters, we see how even some that seemed very set in their ways have developed and play a bigger role in this novel, and I was pleased to catch up with them. That does not mean this book cannot be read as a stand-alone. In fact, the author has followed readers’ suggestions and has added a list of characters at the beginning of the book, including the members of the team and also those pertaining to the story, and he has also included terminology used by UK police, to make sure that readers not familiar with it have no difficulties following the action, making it even easier to follow. Although there are passing references to events from previous novels, these are not fundamental to the story or the development of the plot, and there is no cliff-hanger at the end either, so don’t hesitate to read the novel if you like the sound of it. My only word of caution would be that you are likely to get hooked onto the series, so, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The book is written in the third person, mostly from Sheehan’s point of view, although also from some of the other members of his team, and we also get a prologue (pay attention) and extremely intriguing blog posts interspersed in the book, that are clearly related to the action, that is narrated in chronological order. There is sufficient background provided to all the topics that come up in the story to ensure readers can enjoy it, but this does not unduly delay the action, and the writing flows well, and gathers momentum as it goes along. As I’ve said, it’s impossible to read the book without getting caught up in the intrigue and debating the clues as if you were another member of the team.
This is a strong and solid police procedural, with a fascinating and pretty dark case that will suppose a first-rate challenge for those who love a bit of detecting, and look for an interesting background and characters they can root for. Another gripping book by Brian O’Hare. I am eagerly awaiting the next one.
Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep reading and smiling! ♥
1995, Japan struggles with a severe economic crisis. Fate brings a number of people together in Hiroshima in a confrontation with dramatic consequences. Xavier Douterloigne, the son of a Belgian diplomat, returns to the city, where he spent his youth, to come to terms with the death of his sister. Inspector Takeda finds a deformed baby lying dead at the foot of the Peace Monument, a reminder of Hiroshima’s war history. A Yakuza-lord, rumored to be the incarnation of the Japanese demon Rokurobei, mercilessly defends his criminal empire against his daughter Mitsuko, whom he considers insane. And the punk author Reizo, obsessed by the ultra-nationalistic ideals of his literary idol Mishima, recoils at nothing to write the novel that will “overturn Japan’s foundations”…
Hiroshima’s indelible war-past simmers in the background of this ultra-noir novel. Clandestine experiments conducted by Japanese Secret Service Unit 731 during WWII become unveiled and leave a sinister stain on the reputation of the imperial family and the Japanese society as a whole.
PRAISE FOR RETURN TO HIROSHIMA:
Van Laerhoven’s Return to Hiroshima might well be the most complex Flemish crime novel ever written.
Fred Braekman, De Morgen, Belgium
A complex and grisly literary crime story which among other things refers to the effects of the nuclear attack on Japan.
Linda Asselbergs, Weekend, Belgium
Van Laerhoven skillfully creates the right atmosphere for this drama. As a consequence, the whole book is shrouded in a haze of doom. Is this due to Hiroshima itself, a place burdened with a terrible past? Or is the air of desperation typical for our modern society
Jan Haeverans, Focus Magazine, Belgium
Van Laerhoven won the Hercule Poirot Prize with Baudelaire’s Revenge. You’ll understand why after reading Return to Hiroshima
Eva Krap, Banger Sisters
Bob van Laerhoven was born on August 8th, 1953 in the sandy soil of Antwerp’s Kempen, a region in Flanders (Belgium), bordering to The Netherlands, where according to the cliché ‘pig-headed clodhoppers’ live. This perhaps explains why he started to write stories at a, particularly young age. A number of his stories were published in English, French, German, Spanish and Slovenian.
Van Laerhoven made his debut as a novelist in 1985 with “Nachtspel – Night Game.” He quickly became known for his ‘un-Flemish’ style: he writes colourful, kaleidoscopic novels in which the fate of the individual is closely related to broad social transformations. His style slowly evolved in his later novels to embrace more personal themes while continuing to branch out into the world at large. International flair has become his trademark.
Bob Van Laerhoven became a full-time author in 1991. 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 2004. Echoes of his experiences on the road also trickle through in his novels. Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, Gaza, Iran, Mozambique, Burundi, Lebanon, 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, theatre pieces, biographies, non-fiction, letters, columns, articles… He is also a prize-winning author: in 2007 he won the Hercule Poirot Prize for best crime novel of the year with “De Wraak van Baudelaire – Baudelaire’s Revenge.” “Baudelaire’s Revenge” has been published in the USA, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium. Russian and Italian translations are in the making. In 2014, a second French translation of one of his titles has been published in France and Canada. “Le Mensonge d’Alejandro” is set in a fictitious South-American dictatorship in the eighties. The “junta” in this novel is a symbol for the murderous dictatorships in South-America (Chile and Argentine, to mention two)during the seventies and beginning of the eighties. In The Netherlands and Belgium, his novel “De schaduw van de Mol” (The Shadow Of The Mole) was published in November 2015. The novel is set in the Argonne-region of France in 1916. An English translation of the novel will be available in the US in 2017.
“Baudelaire’s Revenge” is the winner of the USA BEST BOOK AWARDS 2014 in the category Fiction: mystery/suspense.
In April 2015 The Anaphora Literary Press published the collection of short stories “Dangerous Obsessions” in the US, Australia, the UK, and Canada, in paperback, e-book, and hardcover. “Dangerous Obsessions” was voted “best short story collection of 2015 in The San Diego Book Review. In May 2017, Месть Бодлерa, the Russian edition of “Baudelaire’s Revenge” was published. “Dangerous Obsessions” has been published in 2017 in Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish editions. Spanish and Chinese translations will follow in 2018.
Thanks to the author for providing me a paperback copy of the book that I freely chose to review.
I read and reviewed Baudelaire’s Revenge some time ago (you can check that review here) and I was fascinated and intrigued by it, so I did not think twice when the author told me he had published a new novel. Van Laerhoven’s work has won awards, been translated into several languages, and he has a unique voice that stays with the reader long after finishing the book. I don’t mean the stories and the plots of his books are not interesting (they are fascinating), but the way he writes about the historical period his stories are set in, and the characters he follows and analyses are distinct and unforgettable. His words are, at once, poetic and harsh, and they perfectly convey both, the utmost beauty and the extremes of cruelty and dejection that can be found in human beings.
When I reread my previous review, while I was preparing to write this one, I realised that much of what I had written there (apart from the specifics about the plot and the characters) applied also to this book. The author once more writes historical fiction, although this time it is closer to our era. The main action takes place in Japan in 1995, although, as the title might make us suspect, the story also goes back to 1945 (and even before) and towards the end of the book we have scenes set in that period, with all that involves.
The story is mostly narrated in the third person from the points of view of a variety of characters, a police inspector (who has to investigate the murder of a baby, a strange attack at a bank with a large number of casualties, and a bizarre assault on a tourist), a female photographer, a young man and a young woman members of a strange sect, a strange man/God/demon (who is more talked about than actually talking, although we get access to his memories at some point). There are also fragments narrated by a woman, who is in hiding when we first meet her, and whose identity and mental state will keep readers on tenterhooks.
Apart from the mystery elements and from the bizarre events, which at first seem disconnected but eventually end up by linking all the characters, I noticed some common themes. Families, family relationships, and in particular relationships between fathers and sons and daughters, take centre stage. The inspector’s search for his father and how that affects his life, the young woman’s relationship with her father, at the heart of the whole plot, the photographer’s relationship with her father, another famous photographer, and her attempts at finding her own identity as an artist… While some characters seem totally amoral (perhaps because they believe they are beyond usual morality), others are trying to deal with their guilt for things that they did or did not do. Some of the characters might feel too alien for readers to empathise with, but others experience emotions and feelings fully recognisable, and we feel sad for some of them at the end, but relieved for others. The claustrophobic and pressured atmosphere running against the background of the atomic bomb and its aftermath are perfectly rendered and help give the story an added layer of tension and depth.
This is a book of extremes and not an easy read. Although the language used is lyrical and breath-taking at times, there are harsh scenes and cruel behaviours described in detail (rape, drug use, torture, violence), so I would not recommend it to people who prefer to avoid such kinds of reading. I’ve seen it described as horror, and although it does not easily fit in that genre, in some ways it is far more unsettling and scarier than run-of-the-mill horror. This novel probes the depths of the human psyche and its darkest recesses, and you’ll follow the author there at your own peril.
I wanted to share some samples I highlighted that should not provide any spoilers for those thinking about reading it:
Books protected me from reality. I remember them as a choir of pale shapes, sometimes hysterical, other times comforting, vividly prophetic, or disquieting, like a piano being played in the dark. I’ve always been convinced that stories influence the mind: they haunt regions of the brain where reason has lost its way.
This one I find particularly relevant to this book (and I think most writers would know perfectly well what it’s getting at):
“Writers are like God. They love their characters, but take pleasure in the suffering they put them through. They torment themselves through the puppets they create and in the midst of the torment they discover a sort of rage, the rage you need to create. There’s a lot of sadomasochism in the universe and literature has its own fair share.”
Here, one of the characters talks about how she feels when she is depressed:
Her malady gave her the impression that the buildings and the people she saw were nothing more than pixels of energy bundled together by an insane artist who could shift around the worlds inside him like pieces of chess.
This ‘ultra-noir’ novel, as the blurb aptly describes it, is an extraordinary read, but is not a book for somebody looking for a typical genre thriller with slightly twisted characters. This is far darker than most of the thrillers I’ve read. But don’t let that put you off. As I said in my previous review of another one of the author’s novels, ‘if you’re looking for a complex and challenging historical novel and don´t shrink from dark subjects, this is a pretty unique book.’
Thanks to the author for his book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!
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