Black Tower (Bayard)

The Black Tower 
Louis Bayard, 2008
512 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061173516

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, Louis Bayard 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Springfield, Virginia, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.A., Northwestern University
Currently— Washington, D.C.

Louis Bayard is an author of 9 novels, many of which draw their inspiration from history. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bayard grew up in Northern Virginia. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.A. in journalism from Northwestern University.

Bayard's most recent work, Courting Mr. Lincoln, was published in 2019. His historical mysteries include Mr. Timothy (2003), The Pale Blue Eye (2006), The Black Tower (2008), The School of Night (2010), and Roosevelt's Beast (2014). The Pale Blue Eye, a fictional mystery set at West Point Academy during the time Edgar Alan Poe was enrolled, was shortlisted for both the Edgar and the Dagger Awards. His works have been translated into 11 languages.

Bayard has also written book reviews and essays for The Washington Post, New York Times, Salon and Nerve. He has appeared at the National Book Festival, and he has written the New York Times recaps for Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall.

Earlier Bayard worked as a staffer at the U.S. House of Representatives for D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. He also served as press secretary for former Representative Phil Sharp of Indiana. He continues to live in Washington where, in addition to his own writing, he teaches fiction writing at George Washington University (Adapted from online sources, including Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/9/2019.)

Book Reviews
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.
Marilyn Stasio - New York Times

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.
Ross King - Washington Post

(Starred review.) A compelling and sympathetic narrator instantly draws the reader into Bayard's stellar third historical detective novel. In 1818, the notorious Vidocq, a master detective who's rumored to work on both sides of the law, pulls 26-year-old Parisian doctor Hector Carpentier into a torture-murder inquiry. The victim, Chrétien Leblanc, died without revealing that he was on his way to visit Carpentier, news that comes as a complete shock to the doctor, as the dead man was a stranger to him. Vidocq soon discovers that Leblanc was actually in search of Carpentier's late father, who bore the same name. The elder Carpentier cared for Louis-Charles, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette's young son, who died in prison in 1795. Bayard keeps the reader guessing until the end, though the puzzle aspect is less prominent than in his previous novel, The Pale Blue Eye, which featured Edgar Allan Poe as sleuth. Few writers today can match the author's skill in devising an intelligent thriller with heart.
Publishers Weekly

Bayard 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.
Ron Samul - Library Journal

Having previously channeled Dickens and Poe, historical novelist Bayard 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 succession of 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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
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'Angouleme 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?

10. Do you believe Charles was the lost dauphin? How would history have been different if Louis the Seventeenth had reclaimed his throne?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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