A Two-Fer at the B&N Review
The Barnes & Noble Review runs a long and a short piece of mine this week. The long piece is a review of Louis Bayard’s historical thriller THE BLACK TOWER:
Writers of historical fiction are often faced with a problem: if they include real-life people, how do they ensure that their make-believe world isn’t dwarfed by truth? The question loomed large as I began reading The Black Tower, Louis Bayard’s third foray into historical fiction and fifth novel overall. He had already pulled off the conceit of recasting Timothy Cratchit from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as a Victorian-era sleuth in Mr. Timothy (2003), and succeeded in depicting Edgar Allan Poe as a young, petulant West Point attendee in The Pale Blue Eye (2006), justly nominated for Poe’s namesake award. So learning that The Black Tower revolves in large part around the exploits of Eugene Francois Vidocq (1757-1856) increased my already high expectations, not to mention commensurate worries.
For Vidocq, the high-flying, outsized founder of the Sûreté Nationale, arguably the first formal police service, is a slippery figure. His transformation from petty criminal to detective grew out of a need to escape a life on the run and inform on other criminals. His contributions to detection are legion, from making plaster casts of shoe impressions to ballistics examination, contrasting his philandering nature and enigmatic personality. Vidocq came off so larger-than-life in his 1827 autobiography (helped by the embellishments of his ghost writer) that it’s little wonder he served as the inspiration for Poe’s landmark detective protagonist C. Auguste Dupin — and possibly warded off writers aspiring to make something of his exploits….
The short review is of a long-lost collaboration between the young Jack Keruoac and William S. Burroughs, AND THE HIPPOS WERE BOILED IN THEIR TANKS, that’s finally seeing the light of day. It’s more curiosity than standout achievement but “diehard Kerouac and Burroughs fans, however, should seek this volume
out for its insight into what these brash young talents would later