four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
Louis Bayard
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0
Award Year: 
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A-The Black TowerHistory has treated Louis Bayard well: Mr. Timothy (2003) imagined Tiny Tim of A Christmas Carol as a young adult, and The Pale Blue Eye ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2006) featured Edgar Allen Poe as a West Point cadet-sleuth. The Black Tower, which takes place during the Restoration, is Bayard’s third historical thriller.

The Story: In 1818 Paris, former convict and chief detective Eugène François Vidocq, feared and revered for having captured some of France’s worst criminals, involves Hector Carpentier, a young medical student, in a murder case. The victim, found with Carpentier’s name in his pocket, had been on his way to find Carpentier’s father of the same name. Carpentier, senior, had cared for Marie-Antoinette’s and King Louis XVI’s son Louis-Charles before the young dauphin’s supposed death in Paris’s black tower years earlier. Vidocq at first suspects Carpentier’s role in the murder—but soon, he and Carpentier are hot on the trail to solving the mysteries of the murder and the lost dauphin.
Morrow. 352 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061173509

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The Black Tower reads more like Alexandre Dumas, though, with a little Conan Doyle mixed in. … Bayard winds the novel ever tighter, twisting it until a reader is sure the whole thing’s going to come unsprung." Yvonne Zipp

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"Bayard’s most admirable skill, though, is his ability to recast the past and blend it seamlessly with swiftly paced suspense. The Black Tower is dark, often funny, surprising and Bayard’s best example so far of a lean and accessible historical thriller." Connie Ogle

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Bayard creates not only a memorable picture of Vidocq but also recreates the chemistry of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as Hector serves to assist Vidocq and to analyze this genius of sleuthing. Readers will enjoy this good yarn: its characters, puzzle, plot and the plethora of historical details that re-create a past era." Rex Burns

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In Bayard’s hands, Vidocq becomes an arrogant, bullying, wine-swilling, foul-smelling underworld spy and master of disguise—and an utterly compelling character. … Bayard’s ending neatly yanks the Aubusson rug out from under our feet, and along the way 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." Ross King

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although he indulges in the kind of ornate prose one would expect from the period, as well as a sharp eye for the actual fashions of the era (‘Three waistcoats, worn one over the other, each a different shade of olive’), he keeps the action moving at a modern pace, piling on the chases and fight scenes. … Only at the end, when Bayard throws a few surprises in, does the logic begin to fold in on itself." Clea Simon

Critical Summary

Bayard draws his inspiration from history, and in this tight historical thriller, he revisits the tumultuous period following France’s Reign of Terror and Restoration. Vidocq, the first director of France’s Sûreté Nationale, is such a compelling real-life figure that not only does he make for a first-rate character study in The Black Tower—but he also served as the inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in Les Misérables. If Vidocq—by turns scary and larger-than-life—steals the show, other characters, including the sympathetic Carpentier, are no less compelling. The suspenseful plot, a jigsaw of history and identity; ornate, period-driven prose; and a sharp eye for setting and cultural mores elevate The Black Tower into a memorable novel.