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The Black Tower

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  3,056 Ratings  ·  426 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
132nd out of 1,307 books — 3,430 voters
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Best Books of 2008
307th out of 1,550 books — 6,861 voters

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Community Reviews

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This tale reminded me of the York princes in the tower. But this story is about Prince Louis-Charles who, if crowned, would have been Louis XVII of France. Instead Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie-Antoinette, died in prison at the age of ten - or did he? Both the English and the French tragedies lent themselves to mystery, conspiracy theories and umpteen pretenders. In this novel the larger than life character Vidocq (1775-1857) of the French Sûreté and the narrator, Hec
Will Byrnes
Jan 06, 2014 Will Byrnes rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2012 Terry rated it really liked it
_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
Jun 23, 2016 Susan rated it it was amazing
This was my second book by this author, and I loved it....
Set in France during the restoration, Hector Carpentier, a failing medical student, becomes embroiled in a very strange investigation into whether the Dauphin, the son of King Louis XVII and Marie Antoinette was murdered whilst he was imprisoned in the Black Tower, a dreadful prison in Paris also known as the Temple, or if he was rescued by Hector's father, a Doctor, who it seems, was called in to treat the desperately ill little boy.
Jul 02, 2009 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: 52-in-2009
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
Jann Barber
May 09, 2012 Jann Barber rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 14, 2009 Liza rated it it was ok
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
Oct 06, 2014 Bettie☯ rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Onwards to Laura
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Pressie from Wonderful Wanda
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 25, 2010 Laura rated it it was amazing
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....
Bob H
Feb 22, 2016 Bob H rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 18, 2009 Judy rated it really liked it
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
Jan 06, 2014 Sharla rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Whitney Collins
Apr 03, 2016 Whitney Collins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-david
Louis Bayard is a master of historical fiction. He manages to transport the reader to another time and place and weave a fantastical, page turning fictional mystery, as well as incorporating historical elements and characters. I found myself unable to stop reading to get to the bottom of the mystery, while at the same time, constantly researching the real life people and events included in this story, longing to know more. He made Paris come alive; from the squalor of those living in poverty, to ...more
Paul Pessolano
Feb 17, 2011 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
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
Catherine Delors
Oct 08, 2008 Catherine Delors rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 29, 2011 Jerelyn rated it really liked it
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
Jill Hutchinson
Aug 13, 2011 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Vidocq....the most famous police detective in French history and feared by all. In this book,when a man is found dead Vidocq arrests a physician who he initially mistakes for the young man's late father of the same name. The physician's father's name is found on a slip of paper in the corpse's pocket but what does it mean? Periodically the story slips back in time to record the diary of someone who is treating a prisoner of the Revolution. We soon realize that it is the father's record of his ...more
Dec 20, 2008 Keonaona rated it it was ok
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 *Don't Be A Grinch*
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 ...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
Nov 01, 2011 Clare Cannon rated it liked it
Shelves: adults
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
Tara Lynn
Nov 28, 2008 Tara Lynn rated it liked it
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 ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Babette rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-suspense
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!
This is the first mystery that I can truly say that I have enjoyed, that statement alone is monumental. I can't tell you how many times I have abandoned the genre. There was intrigue, wittiness, drama, conspiracy and of course the setting. One of the reasons I didn't give it 5 stars is that the atmosphere of the era that this book was set in didn't feel correct. The only time that I was reminded was when a powdered wig or bloodletting was mentioned. All in all, pretty darn good.
Dec 18, 2015 Dawn rated it did not like it
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.
Amy Siegfried
Sep 13, 2013 Amy Siegfried rated it really liked it
I became quickly intrigued by this novel. I liked the characters and the fact that it took place in Paris...icing on the cake. The story was well written and moved along at a great pace. It was not predictable in any sense-this is not your typical "missing royal" story. Well crafted story.
Laura Lee
May 23, 2012 Laura Lee rated it really liked it
Loved it. Marie Antoinette's son in the tower. Did he live or not? Who is who? Great mystery and fun read.
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Black Tower 4 34 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.
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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.” 7 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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