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The Black Tower

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  2,736 ratings  ·  393 reviews
Vidocq! Master of disguise and chief of a newly created plainclothes police force, Vidocq is a man whose name sends terror rippling through the Parisian underworld of 1818—and the inconsequential life of Hector Carpentier is violently shaken when Vidocq storms into it. A former medical student living in his mother's Latin Quarter boardinghouse, Hector finds himself dragged ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 26th 2008 by William Morrow (first published 2008)
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Best Historical Mystery
126th out of 1,125 books — 2,994 voters
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299th out of 1,417 books — 6,824 voters

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Community Reviews

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Will Byrnes
Bayard likes to take on old authors and have some fun with their worlds. In this case he is channeling Dumas in a fun mystery/adventure set in 19th century Paris. Scars from the Revolution still bleed. Napoleon has had his Waterloo and the monarchy has been restored. But who is the rightful heir to the aging Louis the 18th?

Our hero, narrator and everyman is Hector Carpentier, a doctor of venereology, who lives a stunted life at his parental home, a survivor among many of the trials of revolutio
_The Black Tower_ by Louis Bayard is a very enjoyable historical fiction/mystery set in Paris and its environs during the period of the Bourban Bourbon Restoration, with numerous flashbacks to the Terror of the Revolution. It is a period of huge turmoil and horror for France, where hope and possibility were mingled with despair and the worst elements of the human heart. The story proper begins as the narrator, Dr. Hector Carpentier, recalls for us what is perhaps the most eventful period of his ...more
The Black Tower by Louis Bayard (pp. 400)

Bayard tells the story of the possible lost King of France (Louis-Charles) during the Restoration through the exploits of Vidocq, the famous and feared chief of the newly established undercover police force and a Parisian doctor. As historical fiction goes, Bayard balances the details of the period, plausibility, and moving the plot along better than most. The French Revolution and fast-moving, enjoyable fiction are not two ideas that I find go well toget
I think that I like historical fiction, but maybe I really don’t. There are a number of things that are almost inevitably true in historical fiction that drive me absolutely up the wall:

There’s always a character (often the protagonist) who is wise beyond his time period
Someone famous wanders through the plot, no matter how improbably
No one really sounds like they’re actually from the period in which they’re living
The Black Tower is about an amazingly prescient proto-detective and his amazingly
Jann Barber
I realize this is my second 5-star review in a row, but this book deserves it! I have never read anything by Bayard before, although "Mr. Timothy" has been on my book shelves for at least a year.

Reading this book was like unstacking a set of Russian nesting dolls. There were stories within stories, and plenty of twists and turns. I enjoy books that keep me guessing until the end...and even after I've turned the final page. This was one of those books.

I found the character of Vidocq to be fascina
Generally historical fiction is not my first pick on the bookshelf. But I've been hearing good things about Louis Bayard's latest books, so wanted to check one out for myself. This one is really fascinating. The main character is Eugene Francois Vidocq, the founder of the Surete Nationale--the first professional police force. I've read his biography so I was skeptical about how he would be presented in the book. A total bull's eye. The story is told by a young medical student, Hector Capentier, ...more
I guess you would call this a historical mystery. Set in France, the book is more than a little dark but if you love words and the beauty they can create inside your head, you've got to like this book. Amazing how a really good writer can make almost anything palatable. There is humor here and lovely almost poetic passages. The end is a bit unresolved. The one the reader has been sure was Charles seems not to have been. Or was he? I like to think he was and somehow the dangling ends here don't b ...more
Apr 25, 2010 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Susanna
Recommended to Laura by: MPB
Just arrived from Sweden, kindly sent by my dear friend Bettie. It will follow its journey to USA....
Vivi Vocat
Oh, I have mixed feelings for this book, the fickle little thing. Sometimes I couldn't put it down; it was so good, while other times it bored me to tears.

It was well written and paints a very gritty and real picture in vivid prose, but the plot seemed a tad contrived to me and the ending was plain convoluted. The historical setting is fascinating and adequately brought to life. I found the main characters colorful, however they were more annoying than interesting, maybe because they either beh
Bob H
It's Paris in 1818, and Hector Carpentier, the first-person narrator, is involved in a shabby murder that attracts the attention of Eugene Vidocq, ex-convict and now master detective. From this point on, Vidocq pulls Carpentier through a rainy and sordid Paris as this murder investigation leads to another mystery, that of Marie Antoinette's son, Louis-Charles (Louis XVII) who had died in prison during the Revolution. Or did he?

The novel is a masterpiece, an evocation of the worn-down Paris of th
Paul Pessolano
As in his first book, "The Pale Blue Eye", Bayard takes some liberty with historical events and builds a mystery around them. In "The Pale Blue Eye" he used Edgar Allen Poe as his focal point. In "The Black Tower" he uses the Lost King of France, Louis XVIII as his catalyst for this mystery.

When Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were executed, their son was imprisoned at eight years old. He was never let out of his cell, his body and clothing were infested with lice, he was given slop to eat, and w
I finished The Black Tower by Louis Bayard. This is the first of his books I have read.

It has the crass multi faceted Vidocq the father of modern investigative techniques, teaming up with the young Dr. Carpentier whose father was Physician to the children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette while they were imprisoned in the Temple.

Called to investigate the murder of a man with Dr. Carpentiers name and address found with the body, Vidocq finds he is not just investigating a murder but the possibi
Catherine Delors
The setting is 1818 Paris. The Bourbons have been unsteadily restored to the throne of France after the successive upheavals of the Revolution and Napoleon's reign. The novel features no less a character than the legendary (yet historical) convict turned detective Vidocq.

The narrator, naive medical student Hector Carpentier, crosses Vidocq's path, and also that of a young man who might be Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Hector will soon come to understand that there is no
Read this mostly because it was set in the same neighborhood where I stay when I'm in Paris--in fact the protagonist lives on the same street as the apartment where I stay.

After Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were killed, their children lived on for some time in the black tower of the Temple. Eventually, the Dauphin, he who would have been Louis XVII, died. Or did he? That's the premise of the novel. The story itself is all right, but not especially brilliant. Mostly I liked seeing and reading a
3.5 stars. Exciting but disappointing. A fun story full of twists and turns; Vidocq saves the book. But anachronistic vocabulary keeps jarring the reader out of the story. Twenty-first century slang just doesn't sound right coming from the lips of nineteenth century Parisians.

Bayard might have consulted The Moonstone, Bleak House or Les Misérables to get the atmosphere more right.
Kirsten *Dogs Welcome - People Tolerated"
There is something about a Louis Bayard novel. You are transported to back in time to another world. The book usually features a historical or literary character. In this case, it is the figure of Vidocq, the first forensic detective, and the place is post-revolutionary France. A search for the missing Dauphin, the heir to the throne. One of the other features of a Louis Bayard novel is that you are left feeling that perhaps these events actually occurred.

Another thing is the books seem to get
I'm glad that I read this in audiobook format. Not only is Simon Vance a wonderful narrator but his voice is perfect for historical fiction. Also, I know my weaknesses and at several tense points in the story I would have been very tempted to "peek" at the end if I were reading a traditional book. Ultimately that would have spoiled a lot of my enjoyment of the book because Bayard leaves the events of his story open to (at least) three different interpretations by the reader, adding layers of pos ...more
Tara Lynn
I love historical crime novels as a rule, but I think that the writing style of this one may have kept me from enjoying it as much as I would have liked. If you're looking for a great recommendation in this genre, I'd suggest The Alienist, by Caleb Carr. the story itself is phenomenal, and the characters are so memorable that I was bitterly disappointed to find out that he'd only done two books featuring that cast of characters. His research is also immaculate, and while reading the book you oft ...more
Enjoyed this story very much, look forward to reading more by this author.

Most of the tale is set in post revolutionary France, just after the reign of Napoleon (he is in exile on Saint Helena). 1818 and people are still afraid for their lives and no one is safe from the government. Especially the remaining aristocracy. Rumors abound that a very particular aristocrat that had long been thought dead was in fact alive.

This is a stand alone novel which is too bad since 2 of the main characters woul
Clare Cannon
Not as exciting as I expected, but a short mystery about the young boy Louis XVII who had supposedly died as a captive in the black tower after the French revolution. It is evenly paced and the mystery builds consistently and is relatively engaging, but overall it is not a thrilling read, nor complex enough to afford any deep historical insights. Characters are steady but not developed enough to make you care about them. There is frequent bad language and rough talk throughout, as well as a few ...more
Michelle L
Jan 30, 2015 Michelle L rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, mystery fans
Actually rate it at 4-1/2 stars. The author's Poe novel, The Pale Blue Eye, was an adventure and half, full of easily borne research and fascinating characters, and this is another winner.

An inventive and somewhat gleeful look at both the legendary grand-daddy of super-sleuths, post-Revolutionary Paris's plainclothes police creator, Vidocq, as well as the many versions - mainly wishful - of what happened to the missing 10-year-old dauphin following the royal family's imprisonment..Bayard's nuan

Shelby Lee
I have always been really into France. I'm not sure when it started, I don't remember waking up one day and thinking, "I'm going to aggressively like France to the point where it's obnoxious to everyone around me", and yet I do. From the time that I was little it's been something I thought about and talked about. I used to regularly lie to people (strangers, friends, anyone really) and tell them I was born in France. Sometimes when I talk to people now I let them think both my paternal grandpare ...more
"D'you know," he said - he was staring into his cup, I remember - "there's one thing I can never really forgive myself for." I asked him what that was, and he said: "I actually believed that one boy's life was worth more than another's." And before we parted that morning, he said one more thing. He said, "It's true what you used to tell me, Junius. I am no republican."

There was once a boy-king who was held prisoner in a black tower - waiting for death. And his doctor came up with a plan.

Time di
How I like Louis Bayard. This book was especially fun because it introduced me to Vidocq, a convict who founded the Surete in Paris. The mystery is about the 'lost king,' Louis XVII. The plot holds one's attention and the characters are terrific. I am going to read the two remaining published books of Bayard, which are not mysteries, it seems. And I look forward to whatever his next contribution will be. I hope it arrives soon!
Black Tower - Louis Bayard
audio performance by Simon Vance
4 stars

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.

Dr. Hector Carpentier is remembering a strange and significant piece of his past. It involves the mystery of a Bourbon prince, the historical, criminal, criminalist, Eugene Francois Vidoqc, and a murder or two. The story has three
A semi-serious comedy crime drama that only happens to take place in Restoration Era France.

Really the only reason this book was written was to give Bayard a reason to play with Vidocq, a truly larger than life historical figure of the era whose Memoirs are far stranger than anything you will find in this very un-serious novel. In mood, it strikes very near the vein of the recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations, with plenty of cute asides and observations in addition to an actual crime investigation
This was not a style of story I enjoy. It came across as a very large newspaper article that left me feeling nothing for the characters, no love or hate, no interest or empathy.

I am also not a big fan of conspiracy theory story lines.
Not as engaging as The Pale Blue Eye, and sometimes there were elements of the plot that were unclear and had me reading previous pages to see what I missed. Set in an interesting time and place, with a credible premise, there was enough to keep me reading until the end, although the ending wasn't very satisfying. Without giving away any spoilers, I'd say the ending worked better conceptually than story-wise. I never completely warmed up to the characters and the stakes of the journey they took ...more
This is the second Bayard novel I've read and won't be the last. (Mr. Timothy was a great homage to Dickens.) In this entertaining whizgig of a tale, Bayard explores the mystery of what happened to the lost dauphin. The story is set in the Restoration period nearly thirty years after the French Revolution and features a first person narrator, Dr. Carpentier, who may or may not be ultimately reliable, and a genius detective, Vidocq, who bares more than a passing resemblance to Sherlock with his u ...more
Elspeth G. Perkin
Graphic in description and creative in overall execution, The Black Tower follows the voice of a young medical student who finds himself pulled from his humble life into a murder investigation that involves the death of an unknown man who is curiously found with the name of the young student on his person. In 1818 Paris murder is common enough in the seamy alleys but when confronted with not only the scrawled name but the additional evidence that the deceased was tortured well that certainly wil ...more
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Black Tower 4 33 Nov 19, 2012 09:37AM  
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A staff writer for, Bayard has written articles and reviews for the New York Times, the Washington Post,, and Preservation, among others. Bayard lives in Washington, D.C.
More about Louis Bayard...
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“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.” 5 likes
“Messieurs,” interjects the Baroness. “If you insist on communicating sotto voce, we might as well adjourn to my lodgings.” A light pinking in her cheek as she ponders the implications. “In my younger days, I should have balked at bringing two gentlemen home. I’m now at the age when it might ectually enhance my reputation.” 0 likes
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