So I carry around a lot of trivia in my head, and most times I do well answering questions on Jeopardy, but there are two categories that would cause me to lose if I ever appeared on the show. The first would be 80’s music, and the second would be royalty, be it British, French or any other, I know little about all those Henrys, Edwards, Tudors, Stewarts or the French Bourbons. So after finishing my latest read I showed it to my wife and told her I thought she would like it. Her response was “You reading about royalty?” Anyway Book 21 for 2012 is Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower. The book caught my eye a while ago at Barnes & Noble and a couple of weeks ago when I found it on the bargain table for $ 3.99 I couldn’t pass it up. The book opens with the following passage:
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
So begins the story of Hector Carpentier, who soon meets Vidocq, chief of the newly created French Sûreté Nationale . Vidocq the ex-criminal now turned policeman enters Hector’s home and wants to know why the dead man (from the above) a certain Monsieur Chretien LeBlanc had a paper with Hector’ s name on it in his pocket when he is murdered! Soon Hector is plunged into a mystery that involves his father, and the son of Louis XVI – Louis-Charles who died in 1795 in The Black Tower or did he? Could he have survived and what was Hector’s father’s connection to the events!!
Set in 1818 Paris during the Restoration , Bayard recreates the feel of the city during that time period, as well as, the city during the bloody French Revolution. Through the words of Hector’s father’s diary the reader is given a glimpse of the horrible conditions under which young Louis-Charles is kept in the Black Tower.
The characters come alive especially Vidocq, regarded as the first private detective! Vidocq was a life long criminal who in 1809 turned his life around and went to work for the police as a spy. In 1811, Vidocq informally organized a plainclothes unit, the Brigade de la Sûreté (“Security Brigade”) and December of 1813, Napoleon Bonaparte signed a decree that made the brigade a state security police force, it was called the Sûreté Nationale. Vidocq felt that to catch a criminal you had to think like a criminal. Additionally, he was a master of disguise. He was disguised as a beggar when he initially meets Hector in The Black Tower and frequently used disguises throughout the novel!
The book is one of my favorite reads of the year and this morning I went to the library and checked out The Pale Blue Eye , in which a young Edgar Alan Poe is a main character. So check out the wonderful writing of Louis Bayard!