My reviews are written in the order in which I read books, not that in which they appear, so whatever merits they may have, topicality is not among them. That said, I read Louis Bayard's most recent novel, Roosevelt's Beast, within a week of its release, and was so drawn in by his style and the ease with which he juggles genres that I decided I had to read everything he's written. First The School of Night, which deftly toggles between contemporary DC and early seventeenth-century England; next Mr Timothy, recounting the grown-up adventures of Dickens' Tiny Tim--he lives in a brothel and supplements Uncle Ebenezer's stipend by robbing corpses fished from the Thames, by the way; and now The Black Tower.
The title refers to the Temple, a fortified monastery in Paris once home to the Knights Templar and later a royal prison cousin to the Bastille. Pulled down by Napoleon, among its final prisoners was the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. After his father's death, royalists called the boy Louis XVII, but before he had a chance to enjoy the title he died--probably as a result of maltreatment in prison--and was buried in an unmarked grave. Thus when Napoleon fell--and bounced; he was exiled not once but twice--the Bourbons were restored in the form of the boy's uncle, Louis XVIII. (Obviously they just really liked that name.)
The novel opens in 1818, a few years into the Bourbon Restoration. Bayard lets us into this transitional time with a few graceful details: the outlines of N's still visible on freshly painted doors; smashed pottery decorated with Napoleonic bees. The protagonist is a recent medical student named Hector, who lives quietly in his mother's boardinghouse and still mourns his father, a glassgrinder. But then the legendary detective Vidocq yanks him into a swirl of murder and intrigue around the late boy-king Louis XVII. Did he really die in the Tower? Is he alive, and somehow tied to a string of murders among Bourbon loyalists? I can't go further on pain of a spoiler, so suffice it to say that Bayard skillfully handles a complex and compelling plot firmly rooted in historical reality and peopled by convincing, lively characters.
Read this book. And everything else Bayard writes.