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The Black Tower

The Black Tower

4.0 38
by Louis Bayard

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From Louis Bayard, the acclaimed author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, comes The Black Tower, a stunning and pitch-perfect novel featuring the real-life criminal who transformed himself into the world’s first and greatest detective. In The Black Tower, Bayard deftly interweaves political intrigue, epic treachery, cover-ups,


From Louis Bayard, the acclaimed author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, comes The Black Tower, a stunning and pitch-perfect novel featuring the real-life criminal who transformed himself into the world’s first and greatest detective. 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 legendary investigator.

Editorial Reviews

"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."
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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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-”
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.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
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Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

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.


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.

What People are Saying About This

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.”

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.

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Black Tower 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
MarilynHS More than 1 year ago
The reader is drawn into the early 19th century world of France. It's a wonderful story about the "sudden" emergence of Louis-Charles, son of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. Could this dirty and unkempt prson with amnesia be thetrue heir apparent? Very interesting and uncommon character who is the detective trying to unravel the mystery. Very good!
TWTaz More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book. Thought it was a very entertaining mixture of fiction and history with a great cast of characters and a mystery that kept me interested right to the end. This was the first book I read by Louis Bayard and I immediately purchased The Pale Blue Eye after finishing The Black Tower. I would definitely recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Take my word for it, this is a very entertaining read . The mystery, the humor, the emotion, all make this one enjoyable experience . It will have you guessing right up to the last page....and then some .
Guest More than 1 year ago
Carve out some free time. You won't want to put this one down for a minute. I was fortunate to not have missed work due to lack of sleep, albeit I did miss a good part of Labor Day weekend reading 'The Black Tower' cover to cover! It's a great mystery, but Bayard has such a human quality and gives such depth to his characters. Best I've read since Pearl's debut novel 'The Dante Club'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For anyone who loves a great historical mystery this is the series for you! Louis Bayard has a distinctive form of writing bringing the early 19th Century France alive & filled with quirky characters such as Vidocq who has just iniciated the plainclothes force called the Sureté. He reminds me of Colombo who appear to be rumpled & annoying but highly intelligent & Sherlock Holmes who is also a master of disguise. You are drawn into the plot immediately & you won't be able to put this book down until you have finished the very last page. Then, you have this incredible desire to pick the book up & read it again! The mystery continues to the very last page! An amazing read! Louis Bayard is now my #1 favorite historical mystery writer! This series is a must read.....
Ktisue More than 1 year ago
I have to admit that I bought this book for the sole reason I had seen it before and it was cheap, but after reading it I might just make this author one of my regulars. The story is a dark historical fiction about France (mainly Paris) after the Napoleonic era. It was a bit of a struggle for me at first, getting along with the authentic names and places that were obviously french, but it did get easier as the book progressed. I found the book enchanting and difficult to put down. The twist at the end is fantastic, and I really like the tone that Bayard leaves off with. An excellent read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hector Carpentier, a Parisian medical student recounts his strange unexpected encounter with Vidocq, a former convict turned head of a mysterious police force and unusual informants known for its unusual luck in capturing some of Paris's most elusive criminals. When a murdered man shows up blocks from Hector's home with the name Dr. Carpentier on a slip of paper, Vidocq intends to do everything within his power to ferret out the truth. As the trial of clues unfold, the past comes back to haunt Hector and indeed Paris itself. Working together yet perhaps also trying to hide the truth, Hector's examination of medical records unveils a mystery ---- what if the young dauphin Louis-Charles, son of Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI had not died and somehow survived or even escaped from his imprisonment in the notorious Black Tower? In the meantime, a mysterious man with no memory has surfaced, a man with mysterious links to Hector and the past. Could he be the dauphin? Who might want this man dead badly enough to commit murder?// Louis Bayard's THE BLACK TOWER gives the reader a fascinating look into the Bourbon Restoration as well as the French Revolution's violence and excess that haunt his characters. The journals of the assistant to the doctor attending the dauphin surface, detailing the brutal results of abuse forced on a child in the anti-monarchy fervor of the Revolution. Louis Bayard gives reader a fascinating glimpse into characters and indeed a culture that seeks to erase the past and the origins in the name of justice. History and its effects are seen in the lives of his characters, a city and a country that struggles with its past origins. The changes in the lives of his characters as the past glory fades to a shadow of the past, a more sparse detached life creates a beautiful insight into the way history might have been experienced by people living it. THE BLACK TOWER brings forward the figure of the dauphin, not just as a tie to the monarchy, but as a little boy and a hope in the hearts of those who have lived through the Revolution.// With this beautifully crafted portrait of the times, Louis Bayard adds a riveting tale of suspense and mystery. Picking up in the character some credit as the inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin, Louis Bayard takes the reader on a journey to discover the historical and literary origins of detective work itself in the enigmatic Vidocq, a man who would later found the first known private detective agency in 1833. Vidocq is a man with amazing cunning, a man who can twist a confession out of anyone and strike fear into the most hardened criminals. As Hector and Vidocq make a thrilling hunt for the truth, the confrontation of their personalities, the emerging suspects, and plots of conspiracy merge to create a mystery that keeps readers guessing to shocking conclusion. Louis Bayard's THE BLACK TOWER is a delightful mix of literary and detective historical fiction blended with an exquisite fictional imagination, creating a historical 'what if' suspense tale that thrills while it also moves the heart. THE BLACK TOWER is a must read book for all lovers of historical fiction and suspense! THE BLACK TOWER is the kind of book that that demonstrates the best of literary fiction, a book that continues to elicit even more after the last page is read in the hearts and imagination of avid historical readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very different and, hence, enjoyable book. It's nice to get into a different period and learn a little history along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first Louis Bayard I have read. I was pleasantly surprised. I cannot wait to read his other books!
Bill44BL More than 1 year ago
Louis Bayard is a lovely writer. My wife and I heard the audio book The Pale Blue Eye and were hooked. The Black Tower is a different type of book but similar in its attention to history. However, it would be equally satisfying without the historical references. Fun for readers from teens to seniors.
wvhawk More than 1 year ago
For all Mystery and Historical fiction addicts. Bayard's research is authentic, and his historical detective, that Hugo used in Les Miserables, gives a stunning glimpse in his methods and what dwells deep within his personna. Bayard in Revolutionary France has his place like Phillippa Gregory during the reign of Henry VIII.
lnytns More than 1 year ago
Moved well, and I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end. Keeps you wondering - or does it?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a little predictable in the middle, with an interesting twist at the end. Not sure how historically accurate it was. This would not fall into my Must Read category, but it would make a good beach read.
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