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The Black Tower
The Black Tower
by Louis Bayard

A must read for detective fiction and French history lovers
Louis Bayard's The Black Tower is an intriguing blend of several genres: literary historical fiction, detective suspense and "what if" fiction. Fascinating characters, history and a murder mystery, combine to make this book a thrilling read for fiction lovers and a must read for detective fiction history lovers. Louis Bayard creates a thrilling mystery while also combining history and the personal in a people and culture who have been conditioned to erase history.

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, a historical glimpse that some readers might find eerie and thought-provoking for relevance to modern times, all the more so because The Black Tower does not pretend to analyze politics but rather gives a portrait of historical and fictional characters of a different time and culture. 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.

The Black Tower in and of itself is a great read for suspense and historical fiction lovers on many levels from an enthralling pleasure read to those looking for something deeper. However, I feel that its beauty and exquisite craftsmanship will be most thoroughly enjoyed by readers willing to explore inside and outside the book in terms of history and literary history rather than readers wishing to quickly consume the book.

Publisher: William Morrow (August 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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