The Black Tower
By Louis Bayard
What happened to Louis the Seventeenth, the young Dauphin of France? A child when he and his family were taken prisoner by the French people, his body was never identified after his death was announced. In 1818, years after his supposed death, the monarchy has been restored but the city is still tense and citizens unsure of their new rulers.
Hector Carpentier is a medical student living with his mother and the borders they share their house with when Vidocq, a well-known and well-feared detective, approaches him on his way home one afternoon asking why a dead man had his name. Hector has no answers and Vidocq wants them. He drags him along on his investigation, disguising him when necessary, and pulling him deeper into the mysterious disappearance of the young Dauphin. When a young man is found who may indeed be the true Dauphin, Hector is torn between finding the truth and wanting to protect the terrified and simple man.
I don’t read many mysteries but I found this one to be rather satisfying. I didn’t care as much for the characters as I did the setting here though. I like stories from this time period and anything where Marie Antoinette is featured. She doesn’t play a big part here, it’s more her memory, but I found the mystery surrounding the events of those times appealing.
Vidoq is a great detective character. He’s a former criminal and part of a new plain clothes police division in Paris. He obeys no rules, is uncouth, and terrifying in his means. Torture has no negative connotations and he feels liberal use is what is called for when dealing with criminals. He’s not a likable person, although he has his moments, but he does add a dark and unsuspecting air to the story.
If you’re looking for a quick, entertaining read, The Black Tower works. It moves fast, the setting is interesting, and the characters are engaging.