Summary and book reviews of The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower

By Louis Bayard

The Black Tower
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    368 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

Vidocq. The name strikes terror in the Parisian underworld of 1818. As founder and chief of a newly created plainclothes police force, Vidocq has used his mastery of disguise and surveillance to capture some of France’s most notorious and elusive criminals. Now he is hot on the trail of a tantalizing mystery—the fate of the young dauphin Louis-Charles, son of Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI.

Hector Carpentier, a medical student, lives with his widowed mother in her once-genteel home, now a boardinghouse, in Paris’s Latin Quarter, helping the family make ends meet in the politically perilous days of the restoration. Three blocks away, a man has been murdered, and Hector’s name has been found on a scrap of paper in the dead man’s pocket: a case for the unparalleled deductive skills of Eugène François Vidocq, the most feared man in the Paris police. At first suspicious of Hector’s role in the murder, Vidocq gradually draws him into an exhilarating—and dangerous—search that leads them to the true story of what happened to the son of the murdered royal family.

Officially, the Dauphin died a brutal death in Paris’s dreaded Temple—a menacing black tower from which there could have been no escape—but speculation has long persisted that the ten-year-old heir may have been smuggled out of his prison cell. When Hector and Vidocq stumble across a man with no memory of who he is, they begin to wonder if he is the Dauphin himself, come back from the dead. Their suspicions deepen with the discovery of a diary that reveals Hector’s own shocking link to the boy in the tower—and leaves him bound and determined to see justice done, no matter the cost.

In The Black Tower, Bayard deftly interweaves political intrigue, epic treachery, cover-ups, and conspiracies into a gripping portrait of family redemption—and brings to life an indelible portrait of the mighty and profane Eugène François Vidocq, history’s first great detective.




Chapter One

The Beggar at the Corner

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.

Name, yes. Mine is Hector Carpentier. These days, Professor Carpentier, of the École de Médecine. My specialty is venereology, which is a reliable source of amusement for my students. "Come with us," they say. "Carpentier's going to tell all about the second stage of syphilis. You'll never screw again."

I live on the Rue du Helder, with an orange tabby named Baptiste. My parents are dead, I have no brother or sister and haven't yet been blessed with children. In short, I'm the only family I've got, and at certain intervals of calm, my mind drifts toward those people, not strictly related, who took on all the trappings, all the meaning of family - for a time, anyway. If you were to pin me down, for instance, I'd have ...

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Introduction

Vidocq. The name strikes terror into the Parisian underworld of 1818. As founder and chief of the newly created plain-clothes force known as the Sûreté, Vidocq has used his mastery of disguise and surveillance to nab some of France's most notorious and elusive criminals. But to meet his greatest challenge yet, he will need the help of Hector Carpentier, a young medical student whose name has turned up on a dead man's body. Hector and Vidocq follow the mystery's trail from a Marais slum to the royal gardens of Saint-Cloud, and as more bodies rise up around them, they find themselves tantalizingly close to unveiling an explosive secret—the whereabouts of Marie Antoinette's son—whose ultimate fate may ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Good books satisfy a reader's curiosity about plot points. Excellent books do that plus they leave a reader with more, rather than less, to ponder about life and the world we live in. Damn you, Bayard, your book with all its questions will haunt me for a long time to come.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Marilyn Stasio

Bayard makes brilliant application of Vidocq in this fanciful adventure…No snatch-and-run researcher, Bayard takes care to capture Vidocq's roguish voice and grandiose affectations, as well as the melodramatic substance of his published memoirs.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

[W]hile Bayard handles this far-fetched material with a light touch, he also manages to imbue his characters with real soul. You may find yourself, more than two centuries after the fact, aching over the fate of the pitiful young Dauphin. A-

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Few writers today can match the author's skill in devising an intelligent thriller with heart.

Library Journal

Bayard's well-crafted mix of history and suspense keeps this novel from getting bogged down in historical trivia. Recommended for all libraries.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. The novel's witty successionof trapdoor endings, culminating (we think) in "the quietest of abdications," keeps surprising us long after it seems Bayard's plot has nowhere else to go. Who says they don't write 'em like this anymore? Long may Bayard reign.

Reader Reviews
Kim

Excellent historical fiction
I read a lot of historical fiction, and I have to admit this was one of the more enjoyable novels I’ve chanced upon in awhile (thank you, Bookbrowse!). The plot revolves around a young doctor who, through chance, becomes involved in a mystery ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Vidocq Society
"Legend has it that if you give Vidocq two or three of the details surrounding a given crime, he will give you back the man who did it---before you've had time to blink. More than that, he'll describe the man for you, give you his most recent address, name all his known conspirators, tell you his favorite cheese. So compendious is his memory that a full half of Paris imagines him to be omniscient and wonders if his powers weren't given him by Satan." - Hector Carpentier speaking in The Black Tower.

What red-blooded criminal investigator wouldn't want to be just like the legendary Vidocq? Count former FBI agent Bill Fleisher, co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Vidocq Society among the Frenchman's ...

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