I love a good historical novel, especially a historical mystery that takes me (with as little mental friction as possible) into the world of a long-lost era. I admire writers who are capable of doing this because they've single-handledly pulled off two very difficult tasks: 1)devising a great storyline and 2) creating a seductive texture of period details and color based on serious historical research. They've managed to work their way through the strata of endnotes and bibliographies without losing their storytelling energy. Author Louis Bayard deserves high honors for his ability to tell a historically convincing and thrilling tale, and make it look incredibly easy. He does both in his most recent work, The Black Tower, now available in paperback. For about the cost of a movie ticket, you can enjoy quite a few more hours of thrilling, cinematic entertainment.
Bayard's novel takes us into the streets, homes, and marketplaces of Restoration-era Paris, just as the medieval neighborhoods are giving way to Baron Haussmann's wide boulevards. In the city's back alleys we meet Vidocq--the first hard-boiled homicide detective of the nineteenth-century. He's a master of disguise, a man of huge appetites, and unconventional ideas, who thinks nothing of bending the law to catch a criminal. Much to his chagrin, Vidocq finds he must rely upon a hapless young physician named Hector Carpentier to solve a puzzling torture-murder having to do with Carpentier's father--also a physician, who secretly treated the imprisoned heir to the French throne, none other than Louis Charles, the son of Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette. The odd couple of Vidocq and Carpentier must work quickly to catch the murderer, before the young doc becomes the next victim.