This search is what lead me to Caleb Carr's "The Alienist" (one of my favorite books) and to the "Maisie Dobbs" series, to name but a few. What is the unifying theme? The authors attempt to transport us to different places and different times, perhaps fictionalizing a little bit of history in the process, bringing this time and era alive for us. This is so much more interesting than yet another novel set on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Enough of those. Unless you're Michael Connelly and such a superb writer you can make it seem fresh. For the rest of you, enough.
So, when I first read about "The Black Tower" on Amazon Vine, my interest was piqued. I have never heard of Louis Bayard, but the novel's setting in France, right after the Restoration, was intriguing. As soon as I picked up the book, I was unable to put it down.
Bayard immediately captures the feel of the time, giving us an almost photographic view of what the people and the sights were like. Of course, I have no first hand knowledge to compare against but Bayard writes about these things in both an open and authoritative way, making them accessible to us.
But Bayard also reinvents an actual historical figure for his detective. Vidocq, the first director of the Surete, is at the heart of this mystery. Known as a man adept at creating disguises. Vidocq dresses as a beggar familiar to Hector Carpentier, a 26-year-old doctor, in order to get past the young man's defenses. Hector soon learns a man was killed and had his address on his person, leading the detective to Hector. Soon, the two are working together to uncover the mystery of a young man who may be the long lost Dauphin of France. Naturally, there are many people who would both welcome and hate to have such a discovery made, so Vidocq and Hector find themselves in a lot of danger almost immediately.
Bayard has a real gift for bringing the historical facts into balance with his artistic license, blending them to create a story rich in detail while still entertaining. He introduces to Hector's mother, who has been forced to rent out rooms in their home since her husband died many years ago. The home is filled with a collection of boarders who add spice to the story. And Vidocq has a number of associates whom Bayard weaves into the story.
Another thing I really enjoyed about "Tower" was the fact that Bayard's characters actually experience some real danger. At times, they are in harm's way and come away with the scrapes, bruises and more to prove it.
As the story progresses, Bayard reveals the levels of a conspiracy so deep it would be as welcome in today's society. But from our limited knowledge of this period, and the well-documented attempts of various monarchs to retain their power, the conspiracy seems well founded and completely believable.
"The Black Tower" was immensely enjoyable. So much so that I purchased Bayard's two earlier books, both of which appear ready to deliver enjoyable, unusual stories much like his newest.