Today I am delighted to be sharing my review for Return To Hiroshima by Bob Van Laerhoven. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invite and to Bob for my e-copy of his book.
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.
I think the cover for this book is quite grim and sinister looking. The story inside is as equally as grim and definitely more sinister than I was expecting and also very intense. It did require a lot of concentration on my part for the beginning 25%. Characters were quickly introduced in rapidly alternating chapters. At times it was a struggle to keep up with who was who and what role they were going to play. Then suddenly I started to get a feel for them, starting to recognise them easier and started to be able to pay more attention to the story instead and then I really was able to enjoy it at a whole other level.
The story is one of a dark and drug-fuelled nature with corruption and the search for power and dominance. There was a heavy feel of Japanese culture and society throughout and the expectations of the different generations. Expectations of themselves as well as others. I found the concept of anyone not being 100% Japanese and therefore seen to be an outcast, a hard one to read about, though I do understand it as part of the culture of the time.
Society clashes between the older generation and their demand of respect and obedience against the new younger culture seeking their own lives and enjoyments to be very interesting. It was a good blend and balance of the old and the new. There is some hard reading when dealing with the camps and research centres during WWII. Some horrific experiments and treatments tried and given to prisoners was appalling, but I understood its place in the story. This period in history, that includes the Atomic Bomb, is a hard part of human history.
This is definitely a book that you can say has a plot that is definitely multi-l;ayered. As I have mentioned the prison camps and atomic bomb have a part in this story, as well as the 1995 Sarin gas attack in Tokyo. Te author has mixed and intertwined fact with dark and disturbing fiction to create a intricate, mysterious and intense reading journey.
The characters are as intense as the plot itself. A Yakuza boss who believes he is a Japanese demon, a Police Officer who is of mixed race, A German Photographer, a Belgian diplomats son are just the tip of the iceberg. It seemed that each character had a secret or something to hide and I wondered who I could trust and if any of them were actually telling the truth. Even now I am not completely sure who was truthful or in fact were they believing their own idea of their own version of the truth.
There is no mistake this is a dark noir read, the descriptions and vivid imagery are amazing and do at times make for uncomfortable reading. This is not a book I would recommend to readers who are after a quick read. If however you are after a book that requires patience and concentration, especially at the beginning, then this is the one for you. I found myself taking regular breaks as I read to be able to absorb the details.
This is a book I would recommend to readers who like crime, thriller, and mystery that is dark and definitely on the noirish side. I did check to see if “noirish” was actually a word and checked out the Collins Dictionary and this is what they had as the definition for
Noirish “2…a genre of crime literature in which the characters are tough or cynical and the settings are bleak…” and that definitely applies to this book.
About the Author:
A fulltime Belgian/Flemish author, Laerhoven published more than 35 books in Holland and Belgium. Some of his literary work is published in French, English, German, Slovenian, Italian, Polish, and Russian. Three time finalist of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Mystery Novel of the Year with the novels “Djinn”, “The Finger of God,” and “Return to Hiroshima”; Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for “Baudelaire’s Revenge,” which also won the USA Best Book Award 2014 in the category “mystery/suspense”.
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. “Retour à Hiroshima”, the French translation of “Return to Hiroshima,” is recently finished. 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.
Social Media Links –
Russian website for Месть Бодлера, the Russian edition of Baudelaire’s Revenge
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