The Black Tower

The Black Tower

4.0 38
by Louis Bayard
     
 

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"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… See more details below

Overview

"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 Eugene Francois 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, LouisBayard interweaves political intrigue, epic treachery, cover-ups, and conspiracies into a portrait of family redemption - and brings to life an indelible portrait of the mighty and profane Eugene Francois Vidocq, history's first great detective.

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Editorial Reviews

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.
—The New York Times
Ross King
…a clever follow-on from his two previous historical thrillers, Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye. Like them, The Black Tower weaves history and fiction together in the trademark style—linguistic brio, a slickly unfolding plot, a raft of colorful characters—that has propelled Bayard's work into the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league…In Bayard's hands, Vidocq becomes an arrogant, bullying, wine-swilling, foul-smelling underworld spy and master of disguise—and an utterly compelling character.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Occasionally, a brilliant audio can improve upon the print original. Simon Vance's skillful enactment of a cast the size of Balzac's The Human Comedy is a joy. The characters include the credibly naïve and incredibly good bourgeois narrator, Dr. Hector Carpentier; several members of the royal family; and, of course, the servants, soldiers and government hacks that form the majority of the populace. Most amazing is Vance's portrayal of Vidocq, a criminal turned police inspector. A master of masquerade, Vidocq takes on many disguises, complemented here by unique voices. When uncloaked, Vance returns Vidocq to his natural speech, a sort of East Ender drawl. Vance smartly avoids pasting French accents onto the characters. The pace is perfect, as Vance skillfully swirls the reader through a complex Restoration plot that is sure to please. A Morrow hardcover (Reviews, July 21). (Oct.)

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Library Journal

Making his Morrow debut, Bayard (The Pale Blue Eye) sets his latest historical adventure in the streets of Paris as the blood lust of the revolution subsides. It is 1818 when Vidocq, a former convict and the (real-life) founder of the newly created plainclothes investigative force known as the Sûreté, tracks down obscure medical student Hector Carpentier, whose name was found in the pocket of a dead man. As they work through the clues together, they move from the slums of Paris out to the royal gardens of Saint-Cloud. The duo soon realizes that the murders they are investigating may be connected to the whereabouts of Marie Antoinette's lost son, said to have died in the Black Tower. Then they conclude that they might have found the lost prince. As Vidocq and Carpentier fight to keep him alive, they face a dark cover-up and evil alliances that will shape the history of France. Bayard's well-crafted mix of history and suspense keeps this novel from getting bogged down in historical trivia. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/08.]
—Ron Samul

Kirkus Reviews
Having previously channeled Dickens and Poe, historical novelist Bayard (The Pale Blue Eye, 2006, etc.) throws down the gauntlet to Dumas in another high-energy melodrama. Set in early-19th-century Paris and environs, the book recounts the life-changing experience of medical student Hector Carpentier, who's enlisted by celebrated police detective Eugene Vidocq (a real historical figure) to follow clues suggesting that members of the recently restored Bourbon monarchy known to have been executed by the Jacobins who overthrew them did not include the Dauphin Louis-Charles, younger son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A scrap of paper bearing Hector's name, a meeting with a down-at-heels baroness and an astonishing accretion of details concerning the late M. Carpentier pere, who had himself pursued a medical career, enable Vidocq to persuade the initially disbelieving Hector that his humble father, an artisan of no particular accomplishment, "might have rubbed shoulders with a Bourbon or two." Dastardly plots, thrilling last-minute rescues and escapes, the destruction by fire of the boardinghouse run by Hector's stoical mother and the mystery surrounding the docile man-child, who may be the one who might be king, are cast together in a whirligig narrative whose impertinent momentum never flags (despite the appearances of enough red herrings to overpopulate a sizable sea). Young Carpentier is a perfectly suitable unwilling (and quite sensibly unheroic) hero, and the ego-driven, Rabelaisian Vidocq drags the story along by his flaring coattails, never fearing any challenges to his wit and resourcefulness (his eccentric jocosity, however, often feels forced). 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. Agent: Christopher Schelling/Ralph M. Vicinanza
Christian Science Monitor
“A tale that has as much energy and cunning as the detective propelling it forward.”
Washington Post
“Bayard is a fearlessly confident writer. We are treated to all of the narrative verve and sly wit—both plot twists and turns of phrase—that make his books such a pleasure to read.”
Miami Herald
“Bayard doesn’t revisit the past so much as reinvent it, historically and literarily, with a great deal of style, wit and suspense. Dark, surprising and Bayard’s best example so far of a lean and accessible historical thriller.”
New York Times Book Review
“Louis Bayard repairs to Paris for another daring historical adventure. Bayard makes brilliant application of Vidocq in the fanciful adventure. No snatch–and–run researcher, Bayard takes care to capture Vidocq’s roguish voice and grandiose affectations.”
Wall Street Journal
“Louis Bayard finds fictional inspiration in historical fact. He has emerged as a writer of historical thrillers in the vein of Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist, and 19th century writers such as Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Christo.
Creative Loafing
“Top-notch historical fiction. Bayard’s is the kind of popular fiction readers are thrilled to discover: equal parts effective plotting, lean but distinctive prose and characters and dialogue that brim with life from the outset. A royally entertaining read.”
Rocky Mountain News
“In his fast-moving tale, Bayard deftly places details to make history come alive.”
Louisville Courier Journal
“A fascinating detective story about one of the world’s most compelling mysteries. Bayard’s scholarly and beautiful, heart-stopping prose always keeps before us the possibility of an improbability - what mystery is all about.”
USA Today
“In the world of historical fiction, Louis Bayard is a master at blending history into intelligent thrillers.”
Booklist (starred review)
“In addition to the many fine, quirky character portraits and the visceral depiction of a chaotic France still reeling under the regime change, Bayard offers a rip-roaring plot full of smart and funny turns.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Delicious. [Bayard] inbues(s) 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-”
Booklist
"In addition to the many fine, quirky character portraits and the visceral depiction of a chaotic France still reeling under the regime change, Bayard offers a rip-roaring plot full of smart and funny turns."
Matthew Pearl
“The Black Tower breathes life into the world’s first police detective, Vidocq, a literary feat that happily waited for this novelist. As the gripping and nuanced story races through the parlor rooms and back alleys of Paris, Bayard shows why he is at the forefront of literary historical fiction today.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061173509
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/26/2008
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

A writer, book reviewer, and the author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, Louis Bayard has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Salon.com, among other media outlets. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt

The Black Tower


By Louis Bayard
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008

Louis Bayard
All right reserved.


ISBN: 9780061173509


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 to say I recall the lads I went to medical school with better than I recall my own father. And Mother . . . well, she's present enough after all these years, but from some angles, she's not quite as real as Charles. Who was perhaps not real at all but who was, for a time, like family.

I think about him every time I see a penta. One glance is allit takes, and I'm standing once more in the Luxembourg Gardens, somewhere in May. I'm watching a pretty girl pass (the angle of her parasol, yes, the butter brightness of her gloves), and Charles is brooding over flowers. He is always brooding over flowers. This time, though, he actually plucks one and holds it up to me: an Egyptian star cluster.

Five arms, hence its name. Smaller than a whisper. Imagine a starfish dragged from the ocean bottom and . . . never mind, I can't do it justice. And, really, it's not so remarkable, but sitting there in the cup of his hand, it lays some claim on me, and so does everything else: the Scottish terrier snoring on a bench; the swan cleaning its rump feathers in the fountain; the moss-blackened statue of Leonidas. I am the measure of those things and they of me, and we are all—sufficient, I suppose.

Of course, nothing about our situation has shifted. We are still marked men, he and I. But at this moment, I can imagine a sliver of grace—the possibility, I mean, that we might be marked for other things. And all because of this silly flower, which on any other day, I would have stepped on like so much carpet.

He's been on my mind of late, because just last week, I received a letter from the Duchesse d'Angoulême. (She is staying at Count Coronini's estate in Slovenia.) The envelope was girt round with stamps, and the letter, written in her usual shy hand, was mostly an essay on rain, sealed off by prayers. I found it comforting. Word has it that the Duchess is penning her memoirs, but I don't believe it. No woman has clutched her own life more closely to her bosom. She'll hold it there, I expect, until the coroner assures her she's dead.

Which may be a long time coming. God's funny that way. The more his servants pine for his presence—and make no mistake, the Duchess does—the longer he keeps them shackled to the old mortal coil. No, it's the blasphemers he's aching to get his hands on. Take Monsieur Robespierre. At the very height of the Terror, Robespierre decided that the name "God" had too much of an ancien régime color to it. In his capacity as head of the Committee of Public Safety, he declared that God would henceforward be known as the Supreme Being. There was some kind of festival, I believe, to celebrate God's promotion. A parade, maybe. I was only two.

A few months later, with half his jaw shot off, groaning toward the scaffold, was Robespierre already composing apologies? We'll never know. There was no time for memoirs.

Me, I have acres of time, but if I were to write up my life, I don't think I could start with the usual genuflections—all those ancestors in halberds, I mean, the midwives catching you in their calloused mitts. No, I'd have to start with Vidocq. And maybe end with him, too.

A strange admission, I know, given that I spent no more than a few weeks in his company. Fifteen years have passed with virtually no word from him. Why, then, should I bother revisiting the terrible business that brought us together?

Not from any hope of being believed. If anything, I write so that I may believe. Did it really happen? In quite that way? Nothing to do but set everything down, as exactly as I can, and see what stares back at me.

And how easily the time slips away, after all. I need but shut my eyes, and two decades vanish in a breath, and I am standing once more in . . .

The year 1818. Which, according to official records, is the twenty-third year in the reign of King Louis XVIII. For all but three of those years, however, his majesty has been reigning somewhere else entirely—hiding, an unkind soul might say, while a certain Corsican made a footstool of Europe. None of that matters now. The Corsican has been locked away (again); the Bourbons are back; the fighting is done; the future is cloudless.

This curious interregnum in French history goes by the name of "the Restoration," the implication being that, after senseless experiments with democracy and empire, the French people have been restored to their senses and have invited the Bourbons back to the Tuileries. The old unpleasantness is never alluded to. We have all seen enough politics to last us a lifetime, and we know now: to take a hard line is to take a hard fall.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Black Tower by Louis Bayard
Copyright © 2008 by Louis Bayard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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