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Publisher's Summary

From the acclaimed author of The Pale Blue Eye, this literary thriller features Eugène Vidocq, a criminal who transformed himself into the world's first and greatest detective.

After the execution of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and the death of their son, the Dauphin, the Bourbon monarchy has at last been restored.

Dr. Hector Carpentier leads a very quiet life, until he meets legendary police officer Vidocq, who has used his mastery of disguise and surveillance and his extensive knowledge of the Parisian underworld to capture some of the most notorious and elusive criminals. Now, with the help of Carpentier, Vidocq may prove that the Dauphin lives, which could change the course of history.

©2008 Louis Bayard (P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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  • Overall

Good but not Great

This audiobook was well worth a credit and my time - enjoyed it quite a lot. A couple of things that were quirky for me: It's set in 1818, but written recently (although I didn't realize that when I started listening to it). Since I've listened to a lot of books written in 19th century, when I started this book, at first I thought the writer very clever, but then when the dialog contained modern swearing, I realized that this is a modern interpretation of a mystery that happened at that time. And a good mystery it is, although the climax is too sensational for me.

The story is set in France with many references to that time and royalty and revolution, which sent me to Wikipedia to clarify some references in the story (this is not a bad thing for me, but be aware).

Simon Vance acted all the parts (mostly all french) with his usual brillance, however, he doesn't attempt a french accent other than with the many french names (which I thought he did great with). So, a lower class french character gets a lower class English accent. I just had to remind myself in the beginning that this was set in Paris, not London.

This isn't a fast paced action packed thriller, but a mystery with more than enough interesting characters brought to life by Vance with enough plot and historical references to make the listen interesting and enjoyable.

72 of 72 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating period of history, good mystery

The book deals with an engrossing mystery surrounding the fate of Louis-Charles, the Dauphin of France, the son of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI. The detective in this case, widely believed to be the first private detective, is Vidocq, and the book is well worth reading just for this character. The writing is skillful, moving, and often very funny. It's hard to go wrong with Simon Vance, and he's chalked up another A+ with his narration of The Black Tower. Highly recommended.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Truly Engaging and Clever

I loved this book! Colorful, intriguing characters that come to life. You feel as if you are there in the middle of all this. And the twists!!! You never see them coming! I hope the author writes more with these characters as they are sure to become a favorite among those that adore historical, clever, intelligent detective novels. My ONLY eyebrow raise is the narrators attempt at a woman's voice, it falls a bit flat, but he is a perfect voice for the story overall.

49 of 50 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Louis Bayard: The Black Tower

A brilliant reading by Simon Vance whose beautiful and expressive voice brings the story-and the marvelous characters, to life. Carpentier and "Vidocq" are a partnership worthy of Dickens. Genuinely mysterious, vivid, comic.. absorbing from beginning to end. One of the very best on audio.

40 of 41 people found this review helpful

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Excellent, Exciting, I wish there was more

I was skeptical when I first purchase this book. Although a fan of historical fiction, I prefer novels that include actual historical figures to chronologically follow true events as closely as possible. However, the author did a superb job taking you back in time, allowing for a possible series of events to take place and then explaining why they were never heard of afterwards. In short, you leave the book almost believing everything happened exactly as written. I give credit to Vance as always for delivering an excellent performance, and for giving each character not only a voice but a personality as well.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


Louis Bayard has written yet another exceptional historical novel. Perhaps even more than with his previous, the main characters are very, very well drawn. The story is fast paced and the details are fascinating.
Simon Vance is a treasure whose skills as a narrator ('narrator' is an insufficient term, 'performer' may be closer to the mark) must be protected at all costs! He, Roy Dotrice, Barbara Rosenblatt and only a few others are in a category all unto themselves.
In this work, Mr. Vance breathes life into characters (Vidocq in particular) already well defined by Mr. Bayard.
A truly great story and a truly great narrator.

44 of 47 people found this review helpful

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Nice blend of historic and fiction

The premise tugged at me because of The Man in the Iron Mask, the whole deal with Richard III and the princes in the tower and all those women who claimed to be Anastasia, Grand Duchess of Russia, and it is a little of all those. The inclusion of Vidocq adds a veneer of hard-boiled detective which is weird for this period (and locale) of history, but strangely it works. It balances the social striving that consumes a lot of the lives of everyone else, Hector included. And poor old Hector is in need of structure and stability, especially once he’s hit with the cyclone that is Vidocq. Oh is he ever the man out of his element. Eventually he gets up to speed though and proves an able “assistant” for the hard-driving Vidocq.

Like any good piece of historical fiction, this book blends the real and the unreal so skilfully that it’s hard to distinguish. Hector Carpentier, his family and friends are wholly fictional, but the royal family and Vidocq are not and provide anchors of believability. Then there is Hector’s narration. He’s yanked out of his comfortable self-pity by Vidocq’s driving enthusiasm and persistence and his whole attitude of surrender, first to his circumstances then to the pull of the conspiracy theory. The way he tells the tale has the ring of truth. Most of it is conversational and there are no “as you know, Bob’s” at least none so glaring that I noticed. Luckily I knew enough about the French Revolution and Restoration to understand what was not explicitly explained. This time period really came alive for me in the broad strokes and in the details. The journal reports were especially squirm-inducing.

Why does the Aristocracy persist? Why do people who largely have been abused by it, seek to restore it? Why do most attempts to replace it fail? Why are humans so damned competitive and suspicious? Why do so few of us have deep compassion? Where does Vidocq get his wonderful toys? These are just some of the questions to turn over while you read about the missing would-be King of France.

26 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • KP
  • United States
  • 05-07-14

Second Half Better Than the First

This caught my eye because of the narrator (Simon Vance, who is always fantastic), the time period (turn of the century 1800's France), and the genre (classic detective, in this case named Vidocq). The story got off to a slow start, but ultimately was an enjoyable mystery with wonderful doses of historical fiction. If I were rating just the second half, I would give it four stars. Worth a listen!

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathy
  • FAIRFAX, VA, United States
  • 01-21-15

Before there was Sherlock Holmes, there was Vidocq

Who was real! And whose life inspired writers like Victor Hugo, Honore de Balzac, Herman Melville, and (apparently) Edgar Allan Poe.

"The Black Tower" is a wonderful fictional account of Vidocq and the mystery surrounding the last Dauphin set in early restoration Paris. And Louis Bayard's rendering of the tale would do credit to Alexandre Dumas. The writing is beautiful and detailed, yet the story never drags. And Simon Vance's narration brilliantly brings the characters to life.

If you're into historical fiction or mystery, this is the perfect audiobook to take your mind off of boring chores like housecleaning or to help pass the time on a long trip. I look forward to reading/listening to more of Bayard's novels.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • JD
  • 12-08-14

Felt a bit let down here.

I wanted to like this one, I've seen enough good reviews of it that I feel like I really SHOULD have liked it. Unfortunately, I don't think I took the critical reviews seriously enough.

The Good: The story marched out neatly enough- and Bayard certainly stuck to history very well. Vidocq is well portrayed, an arrogant scoundrel with a keen eye for uncovering criminals. And there's a particular scene involving a guillotine that I thought was very well written.

The Frustrating: The conclusion of this story was far too convoluted. This was the thing that every negative reviewer brings up and I ignored. Dear potential credit-spender, don't ignore those reviews. You'll regret it.

If you know your history, and in particular the results of a certain DNA test that was performed in the year 2000 that identified a certain body belonging to a certain royal person- you'll know WHY Bayard had to include so many twists in his plot. That is, if he wanted to make his story sound historically plausible. Still, what he did to make the scientific find fit into his telling of events... well it's jarring and a bit clunky. He does make an attempt at being clever, he left a clue within a quote from someone called Father Time at one point in the story. It didn't quite work.

Side Note: As for Simon Vance's performance, he is brilliant, as always. I will never hesitate to listen to something he has narrated. I have to agree with other reviewers who found it odd that the publisher chose to use his voice, however. He's English- very, very English. The Black Tower is (supposedly) told from the perspective of a non-English speaking Frenchman.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful