Reading guide for The Black Tower by Louis Bayard

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The Black Tower

by Louis Bayard

The Black Tower
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2008, 368 pages
    Oct 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


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 have been known only to Hector's own father.

Questions for Discussion

  1. In The Black Tower, Louis Bayard depicts a Paris that has gone through many political and social upheavals. How have the attempts to sweep away the past failed? Are countries able to shed their history completely?
  2. The relationship between parent and child is a theme that plays out throughout the book. How are the characters' lives affected by the actions of their parents?
  3. How can the senior Dr. Carpentier reconcile the things he did and saw in the Temple with his medical ethics? How do his notes reflect the change in his feelings? Why do you think he never told his family of his experiences?
  4. How does the relationship between Hector and Vidocq evolve over time? Does it ever approach an equal partnership?
  5. How much of Vidocq's personality is shaped by his past? How much is a self-creation?
  6. Vidocq is considered by many to be the father of modern detection. How are his methods different from today's? How are they the same? In what ways did Vidocq's policing techniques represent a departure from his predecessors?
  7. What is the significance of the Baroness having different-colored eyes? How are her actions shaped by her experience as an emigré?
  8. Hector comments that the Duchesse d'Angoulême left the Temple but the Temple never left her. What does he mean by that? How is the Duchess changed by her contact with Charles?
  9. Even after the French Revolution, Paris was visibly split between the upper and lower classes. How does that division play out in criminal terms? Do the events of The Black Tower predict, in any way, the ultimate downfall of the Bourbon dynasty?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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