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The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Louis Bayard

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5794617,082 (3.84)122
Title:The Black Tower
Authors:Louis Bayard
Info:William Morrow (2008), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library, Books Read in 2012
Tags:fiction, 20th century, literature-American, mystery, adventure, fiction-historical

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The Black Tower by Louis Bayard (2008)


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The Black Tower by Louis Bayard is a historical mystery set in 1818 Paris involving the lost Dauphin of France, Louis-Charles (who would have been Louis XVII if Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette hadn't lost their heads in the revolution). The novel also features the historical François Vidocq, a former criminal who became France's first Director of Security and one of the first detectives of the modern era.

The writing is good - 1st person present, which is difficult to pull off but Bayard does quite well with snappy (and often humorously vulgar) dialog, flashbacks, a diary, correspondence, and fast-paced narrative. Got a little long in the middle, as modern novels often do, but the denouement was satisfying. Bit of an anti-religious bias (Bayard writes for Salon after all), but again, it's something many modern novels stumble over. Too bad, decreases their shelf life. My rating: 6 out of 10. ( )
  ResAliens | Feb 6, 2014 |
The premise tugged at me because of The Man in the Iron Mask, the whole deal with Richard III and the princes in the tower and all those women who claimed to be Anastasia, Grand Duchess of Russia, and it is a little of all those. The inclusion of Vidocq adds a veneer of hard-boiled detective which is weird for this period (and locale) of history, but strangely it works. It balances the social striving that consumes a lot of the lives of everyone else, Hector included. And poor old Hector is in need of structure and stability, especially once he’s hit with the cyclone that is Vidocq. Oh is he ever the man out of his element. Eventually he gets up to speed though and proves an able “assistant” for the hard-driving Vidocq.

Like any good piece of historical fiction, this book blends the real and the unreal so skilfully that it’s hard to distinguish. Hector Carpentier, his family and friends are wholly fictional, but the royal family and Vidocq are not and provide anchors of believability. Then there is Hector’s narration. He’s yanked out of his comfortable self-pity by Vidocq’s driving enthusiasm and persistence and his whole attitude of surrender, first to his circumstances then to the pull of the conspiracy theory. The way he tells the tale has the ring of truth. Most of it is conversational and there are no “as you know, Bob’s” at least none so glaring that I noticed. Luckily I knew enough about the French Revolution and Restoration to understand what was not explicitly explained. This time period really came alive for me in the broad strokes and in the details. The journal reports were especially squirm-inducing.

Why does the Aristocracy persist? Why do people who largely have been abused by it, seek to restore it? Why do most attempts to replace it fail? Why are humans so damned competitive and suspicious? Why do so few of us have deep compassion? Where does Vidocq get his wonderful toys? These are just some of the questions to turn over while you read about the missing would-be King of France. ( )
  Bookmarque | Jan 27, 2014 |
Very good literary historical mystery with excellent narration by Simon Vance. As others have said, Vidocq makes the book in many ways. He's a larger than life character (as I believe he was in real life) - gruff, profane, brilliant and humorous. My only complaint is that the last 25% or so gets darker than I was really comfortable with but I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to violence to defenseless characters. ( )
  CCleveland | Nov 27, 2013 |
Compelling historical mystery, with a good flavour of wit. I sat down for five minutes to read the first few pages of this novel... I put down the book some 200 pages later.
The story is about a man who, rather unconventionally, finds out that his father looked after the son of king Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who were killed in the French Revolution. Although everyone believes the boy has died, the truth is more complicated than that and the main character is lured into an amazing adventure.

Bayard manages to keep up the tension and lets his story twist and turn with a cliffhanger in almost every (short) chapter. The result is a cozy yet crispy book, ideal for a lazy, rainy afternoon. ( )
1 vote JustJoey4 | Nov 18, 2013 |
_The Black Tower_ by Louis Bayard is a very enjoyable historical fiction/mystery set in Paris and its environs during the period of the Bourban Bourbon Restoration, with numerous flashbacks to the Terror of the Revolution. It is a period of huge turmoil and horror for France, where hope and possibility were mingled with despair and the worst elements of the human heart. The story proper begins as the narrator, Dr. Hector Carpentier, recalls for us what is perhaps the most eventful period of his life. It is a time when he was struggling to find his place in a world full of both personal and political upheaval and whose most memorable event may have been his seemingly chance meeting with Eugène François Vidocq, the famous former criminal turned police investigator, considered by many to be the father of modern criminology. As Carpentier tells us: I’m a man of a certain age – old enough to have been every kind of fool – and I find to my surprise that the only counsel I have to pass on is this: never let your name be found in a dead man’s trousers.

Unfortunately for him, Carpentier has fallen prey to just such an occurrence and as a result becomes enmeshed in an investigation involving murder and conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of French society and threatens to engulf the nation in yet another political upheaval that could destroy what little remains of its tattered foundations. We learn, as events progress, that Louis-Charles the young son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, once thought to have perished in destitution while a prisoner in the eponymous Black Tower, may actually have survived and be in line to claim his rightful place as Louis XVII. Naturally there are many parties with a vested interest to see that this does not come about and the main story revolves around the efforts of Vidocq and Carpentier as they attempt to unravel the mystery of numerous bodies that keep accumulating in apparent connection to the afore-mentioned note bearing Hector’s name. As the mystery deepens and they are led to a strange and simple man going by the name of Charles Rapskeller who appears to be the centre of it all, the two men meet with greater resistance that threatens not only their lives, but the welfare of the nation.

Interspersed with the main narrative are sections from the diary of one of the former dauphin’s keepers. Written tersely in a sort of shorthand, they still manage to provide a bleak and moving picture of the horrors to which the former rulers of France were subjected. In both the flashbacks and the story proper Bayard excels at depicting characters that are people whose lives and circumstances are the result of the world around them and the events that have occurred in their lives. It is in these aspects that I think Bayard’s work shows its most compelling aspect. Regardless of how you feel about monarchy vs. democracy and the ‘realities’ of bringing about necessary political change, Bayard manages to compellingly show us that every action (or revolution) has a human cost. Ultimately this is a book that explores that human cost by taking a view of France from the Revolution to the Restoration and examining the impact of the turmoil of these events on individuals from the lowest to the highest levels of society (which flip-flopped throughout the period). It is in this personal examination of great political events and a concentration on well-drawn characters, without forgoing the complexity both of the people involved and the events into which they are thrown, that Bayard has his greatest success. Added to that is Bayard’s skill as a writer which makes the story move along at a brisk pace with many happy turns of phrase. All in all a very enjoyable reading experience.
( )
  dulac3 | Apr 2, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061173509, Hardcover)

Vidocq! Master of disguise and chief of a newly created plainclothes police force, Vidocq is a man whose name sends terror rippling through the Parisian underworld of 1818—and the inconsequential life of Hector Carpentier is violently shaken when Vidocq storms into it. A former medical student living in his mother's Latin Quarter boardinghouse, Hector finds himself dragged into a dangerous mystery surrounding the fate of the dauphin, the ten-year-old son of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette presumed to have suffered a cruel death years earlier in Paris's dreaded Temple. But the truth of what happened may be even more shocking—and it will fall to an aimless young man and the most feared detective in Paris to see justice done for a frightened little boy in a black tower . . . no matter what the cost.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Having used his mastery of disguise and surveillance to nab some of France's most notorious criminals, early nineteenth-century detective Vidocq teams up with obscure medical student Hector to track down the most challenging adversary of his career, a case with ties to the missing son of Marie Antoinette.… (more)

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