'Eleven years after its original publication, Jef Geeraerts' THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR hits our shores in translated form. The novel is steeped in the world of political intrigue, with blackmail taking center stage.
Albert Savelkoul is the public prosecutor of the title - a very unlikable character who has married his way to the top, even though his marriage is pretty much in name only. As we find out from an interview, his wife details their union in very open terms, rattling off the reasons why Albert has had a mistress for pretty much the whole of their relationship. But he is not happy with just one mistress, and his wandering eye is squarely set in the direction of the family maid.
It's apparent from the start that Albert's wife is in cahoots with the ultra-right Catholic group Opus Dei, which looks like some sort of evil group hell-bent on world domination. Okay, maybe not domination, but wanting to get as many people as possible under their control. Even Albert is in their crosshairs; he might be a public prosecutor, but that doesn't stop him from being corrupt. He not only takes bribes for heroin dealers, but has a secret Swiss bank account.
Opus Dei makes it its business to corral Albert into its midst by blackmail and wanting his ill-gotten gains. The society is painted so sneering, it makes Albert more likable, even though he is just as bad. Geeraerts' writing is very dense in style and well worth taking a chance on, even if it's not an easy read, with some of the translation a bit stilted at certain points. Still, it's one of the more interesting novels yet to be issued by Bitter Lemon Press.
What is funny is that some readers will say that Geeraerts is ripping off Dan Brown with the inclusion of Opus Dei, even though this book came out long before THE DA VINCI CODE hit the stands. It seems that Geeraerts has an ax to grind with that Catholic group, and makes no excuses for it. For readers who want to take a chance on an interesting story that doesn't rely on the typical crime motif, THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR is filled with enough intrigue to make many race to the end.' - Bookgasm
'Jef Geeraerts was born in Antwerp and educated in Jesuit schools and has spent time as a colonial administrator and army officer in the Congo. He is Belgium's best known author after Georges Simenon and this crime novel is the first to be published in English.
The very able translation from the Dutch by Brian Doyle makes this a most readable psychological thriller.
Albert Savelkoul, the Public Prosecutor of Antwerp, has power, money and an aristocratic wife. He also has an expensive and high-maintenance mistress. This life is much to his satisfaction until the day that Opus Dei begins to take an interest in him. His life with all its sins and omissions is taken in hand by ultra-right fanatics of the Catholic Church of which his wife is a devout member. Sinister and effete aristocrats together with a corrupt judiciary put the squeeze on the hapless Albert and his previously comfortable life begins to unravel very quickly.
Witty and erudite, the author has filled his story with fascinating details about what it might be like to be on the wrong side of the mysterious Opus Dei.' - reFresh magazine
'Albert Savelkoul is the Public Prosecutor of Antwerp. He's rolling in money, can pull strings when he needs to and has a posh wife. But his idyllic life, supplemented by a beautiful mistress and his beloved horses, is threatened when Opus Dei take an unhealthy interest in him. It's all the fault of his wife, who is desperate for her sons to have titles. The Opus Dei big-wigs promise to help - just so long as she signs all her money over to them. THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR isn't your common-or-garden psychological thriller. At times, it even threatens to wander outside of the genre and not to return, as parody and Jef Geeraerts's bone-dry sense of the absurd intersperse the cat-and-mouse game that an unknowing Savelkoul becomes part of. This isn't a flattering portrait of Belgian society, which is seemingly mired in corruption at all levels, and riven by language differences. Added to the sordid mix is religious fanaticism and some voracious sexual appetites. Geeraerts - who is apparently the best-known author in Belgium after Georges Simenon - presents us with a picaresque series of characters. Aside from Albert's loyal Polish maid Maria, this isn't a bunch of people you'd care to spend any time with. But Geeraerts does manage to turn the seriously shifty Albert into a character you very nearly sympathize with as he tries to stop his life crashing around him. You can't call THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR a slick or quick read. It took me a while to get into it, and I suspect for a lot of people it might fail the 50-page test. But stick with it, and try to ignore the fact that it sags somewhat in the middle and threatens to lose what little pace it has. Things pick up again quite considerably, and it's not a spoiler to say that Geeraerts avoids a too-neat ending.' - Reviewingtheevidence
'A splendid reminder of the virtues of the traditional novel, this work tackles the territory of Balzac and Zola, not just in the solidity of its construction and characters, but in its readiness to tackle corruption in church and state.
In this novel by a Flemish writer (translated by Brian Doyle), Albert Savelkoul, the public prosecutor of Antwerp, is a powerful, well-heeled citizen. He has made his way up the ladder partly through marriage to an aristocratic and deeply religious woman.
He has a mistress, the lovely Louise, which does not prevent him from lusting after a Polish maid. He also has a Swiss bank account provided by Albanian heroin dealers, whose damning substance mysteriously turns out to be talcum powder under Albert's skilful management of the prosecution.
So far, so very unlovable, but greedy, lustful Albert comes to represent natural humanity; an Everyman. When he falls into the clutches of Opus Dei, shown as a sinister, bullying organisation hell-bent on blackmail, the reader cannot help supporting the fallible human being against the calculated manipulations of a sadistic priesthood.
Savelkoul enjoys the traditional pleasures of the haute bourgeoisie but has a generous affection for his Polish maid, whose devotion is the only sincere relationship in his life. For Albert's sexual and financial corruption have led him into fearsome entanglements. Amandine, his wife, falls under the influence of Opus Dei and is maltreated by a particularly twisted representative of the clergy.
Armed with proof of Albert's misdeeds, Opus Dei demands that his sons' inheritances, plus anything else they can lay their hands on, should be made over to them. At the same time, they gain access to Albert's Swiss account. The Gnomes of Zurich, it turns out, are no match for such an organisation.
The web of entrapment surrounding our poor fleshly prosecutor is complete. Will he and his Polish lover escape to safety in Scotland? In a tellingly human moment, he promises to be nice to everyone if he makes it. Everyman, indeed! '
'The Public Prosecutor is a rigorously crafted novel that welds together nasty characters, fervid sex, cunning greed, snaking corruption, disintegrating morality, and Machiavellian machinations to create a high-impact story of one man's sure and certain demise. Albert Savelkoul is a creep of the highest order but he became my creep as I read on in the novel; Geeraerts' genius is in provoking my protective feelings for a greedy, corrupt, pompous man by having him share intimate, revealing, horrific details of his life, and surrounding him with characters just as foul as he is but less-revealed to me. All the other characters are either out to get Albert or out to get whatever they can from him before he is gotten, gored, and gutted by someone else. I found myself hoping he might get away and run off with the only slightly likable character in the book. Geeraerts kept me guessing, hoping, and turning this way and that, looking for a way out for the increasingly entangled Albert. Up until the very end, I wasn't sure if the bad guys would win, which bad guys would win, and whether Albert wasn't, after all, the very baddest of them all.
The Public Prosecutor is not a tourist guide to Belgium, other than a meal of mussels outside the fancy coastal town of Knokke and a passing reference to the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (across the street from a hotel where a hot tryst takes place -- all trysts in this book are either hot or rendered un-hot by impotence). It is, however, a sharp picture of certain societal and political issues in Belgium, including the divide between the Flemish and the French, corruption and impotence in the government, and the presence and power of Opus Dei. It is also a great crime novel and a fascinating read but a painful one, at least for me: it is a book about really contemptuous people living vacant, indulgent, corrupt lives and, for the most part, getting away with it all.' - Read All Day
'Albert Savelkoul, the Public Prosecutor of Antwerp, has a loveless marriage with his aristocratic wife, a mistress living in a house he acquired by dubious means, and a well filled Swiss bank account. His wife, a supernumerary of Opus Dei, seeks their assistance to revenge her husband and use "The Company's " influence at the heart of government to ensure her sons are admitted to Belgian nobility, denied them through her marriage to a commoner. However, the price is high. None of the main characters attract sympathy. This is a luxuriously dark, page turner of a book with a parody of corruption at its core. It was written again a loss of public confidence in the Belgian judiciary and state, following the removal of a magistrate investigating the notorious Dutroux case. Geeraerts is a celebrated Belgian crime writer. This is his first book translated into English. Superb!' - Law Review of Scotland
'Bitter Lemon Press is known for its selectivity in publishing foreign mystery novels. I've discovered some fantastic writers previously unknown to me simply by randomly purchasing titles from this discerning publisher. The Public Prosecutor by Belgian author Jef Geeraerts is one such find, the first of his mysteries to be translated into English. This spellbinding noir focuses upon the interplay between secular political power and the shadowy influence of Opus Dei, a renegade faction of the Catholic Church. This is another one for Dan Brown fans, but-dare I say it?-much better.' - Mystery Lovers Review
'Albert Savelkoul is the public prosecutor of Antwerp. He has power, money, an aristocratic wife and a high maintenance mistress. Everything is apparently going along swimmingly. But what Albert doesn't know is that his wife is scheming with Opus Dei and their machinations are about to bring his world tumbling down. Jef Geeraerts' The Public Prosecutor is a hugely enjoyable psychological thriller, full of political corruption, which reminded me of Tom Sharpe. Albert shares a loveless marriage with Baroness Marie-Amandine de Vreux d'Alembourg who is linked to the ultra-right Catholic group and is soon making arrangements for her sons to be granted the title of Baron in return for a large proportion of Albert's wealth and property - without him knowing. Blackmail and violence follow as he finds himself trapped at the centre of a complex web of intrigue and double dealing. Somehow, Geeraerts has managed to make the shameless, arrogant and womanising Albert into an almost lovable character, a victim of a ruthless, fanatical right wing of the Catholic Church. Much of the time he thwarts their efforts to ruin him without even realising it and manages to find true love along the way. The author was born in Antwerp and was educated in Jesuit schools, which may explain his obvious loathing of Opus Dei who, here, are portrayed as corrupt and money-grabbing. He was a colonial administrator and army officer in the Congo and gained international acclaim for Gangrene Cycle, four novels based on his experience in Africa.
The Public Prosecutor is the first of his crime novels to be published in English, but if the others are up to this standard, then they're bound to be well received.' - Barking and Dagenham Recorder
'The Public Prosecutor of Antwerp is a very powerful man. For Albert Savelkoul his position had brought him wealth, power and status not to mention his aristocratic wife and a young mistress.However, just as Albert is not averse to twisting the truth and resorting to corrupt practices to get what he wants so are those around him with hidden agendas of their own. He shares a loveless marriage with his wife Baroness Marie-Amandine de Vreux d'Alembourg who is linked to the ultra-right Catholic group Opus Dei. Soon the Baroness is making arrangements with Opus Dei who have powerful supporters in Belgian society for her sons to be granted the title of Baron in return for a large proportion of Albert's wealth and property. The powerful figure of the Public Prosecutor finds himself trapped at the centre of a complex spider-web of intrigue and double dealing where his own life is at stake.
Author Jef Geeraerts (who is Belgium's best known writer after Georges Simenon) weaves a convincing tale of corruption and bureaucratic skullduggery amongst Europe's powerful elite in The Public Prosecutor.
Although the central figure of Albert Savelkoul is at heart a crook with expensive tastes in contrast with some of the repellent characters with whom he is surrounded he emerges as at least roguish and likeable.
Geeraerts's real disdain seems reserved for Opus Dei whom he portrays as being unswervingly greedy, rapacious and cruel. Whether they are worthy of such a portrayal may be open to debate but they make formidable villains within this effective thriller. Class, religion and politics are all targets for Geeraerts's bile along the way. The Public Prosecutor is a dark, sinister delicacy. Hail Mary indeed.' - Crime Time
'It took a decade for this novel to appear in English, and it has so now only thanks to the support of the Flemish Literature Fund. Prominent Belgian author Geeraerts doesn't go out of his way to make his central character very easy to identify with. At 64, dodgy prostate aside, Albert Savelkoul has the toned body of a 40-year old, leads a life of luxury and is chauffeur-driven to his job as Antwerp's Public Prosecutor every morning. The fly in the ointment is his status-obsessed wife, who makes a deal with secretive religious organisation Opus Dei to exchange her worldly goods for a title. The group discover that Savelkoul has a much younger mistress and a shady past, making him a prime candidate for blackmail, and as the plot gathers place the arrogant protagonist gradually begins to elicit the reader's sympathy. A superior thriller with a subtly satirical edge inspired by Belgian corruption scandals, this will suit those whose appetite for shadowy Catholic cabals was whetted by The Da Vinci Code.' - Glasgow Herald
'Any success that Albert Savelkoul has had in his adult life has stemmed from his fortuitous marriage to Baroness Marie-Amandine de Vreux d'Alembourg, who comes from a family of high social standing and wealth. He has risen to the position of Public Prosecutor of Antwerp and has quite a bit of power as a result. Unfortunately, he and his wife detest each other. Although they have two sons, they haven't had marital relations in years. Amandine has dedicated herself to a religious lifestyle; Albert has channeled his energies to his mistress of more than twenty years, Louise Dubois.
One of the rules of life is that no matter how things may be going, they are bound to change, and in this case, they do - for the worse. Amandine is campaigning to have their eldest son become a part of the Opus Dei. In order to do so, she will need to give up a large part of her worldly goods to the organization. The Opus Dei also takes an interest in Albert; his various peccadilloes make for ripe pickings in terms of their taking advantage of the situation. At the same time, Albert is experiencing some decline in his sexual abilities, which leads to a deterioration of his relationship with Louise. In fact, she leaves him. Surprisingly, he deals with the situation relatively well; in no time at all, he is involved in a torrid affair with his housekeeper, Maria.
I had a few disconnects in the book. For one thing, the interactions between Albert and Maria didn't feel very real to me. I failed to understand what they saw in each other. I also experienced character confusion, since several of the characters were relatively undeveloped. There were a few points in the book where the author broke the point of view. In one case, he went into a large digression dealing with his research on the Opus Dei; that background should have been woven into the narrative. In another, part of the tale was told from the point of view of Albert's favorite horse. That pulled me right out of the story.
The sections where Amandine dealt with the Opus Dei, as well as how they treated their son, were fascinating. The way that Albert faced their attempts to discredit him was quite clever. However, I found the conclusion didn't fit with the rest of the book. It seemed that Geeraerts wanted to shock the reader, but it wasn't done very smoothly. What he did really well was to detail the level of corruption and abuse of power in the political system, as well as exposing the extremism of an ultra-right religious organization, most especially its bodily mortifications.
Geeraerts is Belgium's best-known author after Georges Simenon. THE PUBLIC PROSECUTOR is the first English translation of one of his books. The fact that Bitter Lemon Press has made such works accessible to readers around the world is the reason that it is one of my favorite publishers.' - I Love a Mystery
'In contrast with Mankell, the warm-hearted psychologist of the individual, we find Geeraerts, a cold-blooded surgeon who lays bare the ills of a society. This thriller, so loyal to the genre that the irony and parody are barely perceptible, is relentless. The intrigues of Opus Dei and dubious financial manoeuvres are deftly juxtaposed with descriptions of fine restaurants and nids d'amour.' - Tagesspiegel Berlin
'Political corruption and the machinations of Opus Dei laid bare in a taut psychological thriller...'- ZDF
'Affluent Albert Savelkoul seems to live a near perfect life as the public prosecutor of Antwerp. He is affluent and influential due in part to the right marriage although his deeply religious wife Baroness Marie-Amandine de Vreux d'Alembourg detests him. His mistress Louise is beautiful and kind though he is considering a maid for that position. Finally he has a secret Swiss bank account concealed even from his spouse in which Albanian drug dealers donate in exchange for magically changing heroin into talc.
His wife arranges with the Opus Dei to destroy Albert. She gives them insider information that they use to blackmail the suddenly beleaguered Albert. The powerful Catholic group demands a cut starting with any inheritance he planned for his offspring. They also easily get into his Zurich account and wipe that out. Opus Dei operatives raise the ante further as they try to break Albert. He prays to God to allow him and his love to safely flee Belgium for Scotland.
The premise behind this great psychological suspense is that a big fish in a small pond can be eaten alive by a bigger fish. Thus corrupt Albert makes the thriller work as he goes from affluence to stomp upon roach rather quickly when someone more powerful sends him back to the masses as another nonentity. Fans will relish this deep character driven tale of corruption and back stabbing as the norm especially for one climbing up the ladder of affluence and influence only to be thrown down by someone higher up. Jef Geeraerts provides a powerful indictment of western civilization circa 1999 as a "Bitter Lemon " whether it is Belgium, Scotland, or the United States.' - Mystery Gazette
'The Public Prosecutor, by Belgian author Jef Geeraerts (translated by Brian Doyle) is a very dark thriller that reminded me alternately of Dominique Manotti's crime novels and Evelyn Waugh's satirical novels. The novel has a terse, almost pictorial style, with multiple points of view (which is what reminded me of various of Manotti's books) and a dark, dyspeptic view of humanity (and of the characters in the story) reminiscent of Waugh's early books, in which there are no heroes and no positive outcomes. Albert Savelkoul, the closest thing to a central character in the novel, is an Antwerp public prosecutor with a good deal of power and plenty of money (some of it not strictly legal), but also a wife he detests and a mistress who is beginning to wander. Courtesy of his wife and son, he will soon also have Opus Dei, the dark underside of Catholic piety, to contend with. What ensues is comic but without jokes: the plot's machinery purrs along toward a conclusion that will not be foreseen but is inevitable, once you get there. There's plenty of violence (social, psychological, and literal) but no murder until the very end. Instead of a crime investigation, the reader sees various self-interested parties in conflict, conspiring against one another even when they don't know that the other is pursuing them. Private investigators working for Opus Dei set in motion one plotline when the bungle a surveillance, leading to the death of a dog (theirs) and a horse (their target's). Savelkoul is thrust into an investigation of his own while his private life shifts from complacency into fears for his health and the discovery of perhaps the love of his life.
He's also plotting against the unseen forces that are ranged against him, and using unsavory associates in ways that implicate him in their violence. Apart from Savelkoul, the most vivid characters are the several Opus Dei members that are seen conspiring to strip Savelkoul's family of their money and property (for the glory of God and Opus Dei) and the family's Polish maid. The Opus Dei sections are quite descriptive (though who knows how accurate) about that secretive organization: chilling in their depiction of ruthlessness and the members' extreme piety. Some readers may not be happy with the conclusion, but Geeraerts is not writing a conventional thriller, he's investigating corruption in Belgian politics and in religious extremism of the home-grown variety. A sunnier ending would betray his satirical and social purpose, as well as violating the tone and thrust of the story. The Public Prosecutor is one of the sharpest, darkest, and in its own way most enjoyable of the estimable Bitter Lemon Press's recent publications. The actual Bitter Lemon cover suggests the class pretensions of some of the characters--an alternate cover that's posted at fantasticfiction.co.uk is more ominous and ambiguous, but is actually a depiction of a woman with a horse, suggesting one element of the story and also the upper-class ambience. All in all I think I like the one they actually published better.' - International Noir Fiction