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Literature / The Black Coats

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"Will there be daylight tomorrow?"

A series of novels written from 1863 to 1875 by French author Paul Féval. The books chronicles the history and exploits of an all-powerful criminal network (possibly the first of its kind in fiction) known simply as Les Habits Noirs or The Black Coats.

In the books, The Black Coats are led by Colonel Bozzo-Corona, a sinister old man who may or may not be immortal. Other high-ranking members of the organisation includes the Colonel's right-hand man, Toulonnais de L'Amitié aka Lecoq, and Marguerite de Soulas, the false Countess of Claire.

The books in the series are:

  • The Parisian Jungle (1863)
  • Heart of Steel (1865)
  • The Sword Swallover (1867)
  • Salem Street (1868)
  • The Invisible Weapon (1869)
  • The Companions of the Treasure (1870-72)
  • The Cadet Gang (1874-75)

This series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: Most of the members of the high council, but especially the Colonel.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Black Coats are connected to various real life Secret Societies including the Rosicrucians and the what would become the Italian and Corsican Mafias.
  • Arc Words: "Will there be daylight tomorrow?"
  • The Artful Dodger: Pistolet aka Clampin, the hero of the fourth book, who is also an Amateur Sleuth.
  • As Long as There Is Evil: The Colonel's speech in The Invisible Weapon:
    "I had a strange dream the other night, I saw myself a hundred years from now, speaking to a man whose father has not yet been born, but who was already wearing a grey beard, and telling him that there are only two things that shall not die: God, who is Good, and I, who am Evil!"
  • Bat Family Crossover: 4 earlier Paul Féval works, including John Devil, are retroactively made in Continuity with this saga in Salem Street.
  • Batman Gambit: In The Invisible Weapon it's explained that the "Pay The Law" stratagem depends on the assumption that one someone is being set up to be framed, in a seemingly hopeless situation, that they will flee thus only making them look even more guilty. It's had a 100% success rate so far.
  • Big Bad: Colonel Bozzo-Corona
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The characters engaging in it don't know that they're siblings.
  • Clear My Name: The plot of the first book in the series.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: All the members of the high council suffers from this.
  • Conlang: All the members of The Black Coats speak in coded phrases. For example, the question, "Will there be daylight tomorrow?" means, "Are we going to commit a crime?"
  • Corrupt Cop: Lecoq.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Julian who kills the Colonel prior to the first book and goes on to impersonate him.
  • Diabolical Master Mind: Again, all members of the High-Council, but especially the Colonel.
  • Driven to Suicide: Remy d'Arx in The Secret Weapon
  • The Dragon: Lecoq
  • Faux Affably Evil: When you get down to it, none of The Black Coats have any real redeeming traits, but they are definitely entertaining villains.
  • Fiction 500: The Black Coats' hidden treasure, whose location is known only to the Colonel contains among other things, IOUs in amounts high enough to bankrupt Europa and America, several columns of gold coins, with 3,000 coins in each pile, etc. Naturally, the Colonel can't resist bragging about this when he shows the treasure to Vincent Carpentier:
    "I am gold, I am wealth, I'm the power of money which none can resist. You must not compare me to Kings or Emperors or anyone who lives upon the Earth. I have only two rivals: One in Heaven, the other in Hell. For only God, if God exists, and Satan, if Satan exists, can say as I do: Everything in the World is mine, for I own it all!"
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: We eventually learn that the Colonel is identical to the real-life bandit Fra Diavolo.
  • Immortality: The Colonel, is hinted to be immortal, though what type he is is never made clear. We learn in Salem Street that he survived being hanged once, but on the other hand, Julian was able to kill him.
  • Klingon Promotion: Is the family tradition of the Colonel's family. Julian does succeed at this over his father.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Countess Francesca Corona a.k.a. Fanchette, The Colonel's Granddaughter. The Ur-Example perhaps, complete with falling for the Hero in the first book. Her mother Francesca Policeni is dead before the narrative begins. From what we hear, she might have been Daddy's Little Villain.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Samuel
  • Prequel: The fourth and fifth books take place earlier than the first and the second. Since, Feval had killed both his main villains in the first book, this gave him the opportunity to bring them back.
  • Psycho for Hire: Coyatier, The Black Coats' executioner, who even the other members are afraid of.
  • Retcon: Later in the series we learn that the Colonel who died at the end of the first book was actually the original Colonel's nephew, Julian, who had killed him and taken his place, unbeknownst to other members of the high council. We later learn, that Julian simply faked his death, using the Colonel's embalmed corpse.
  • The Starscream: Lecoq would like nothing more than to dispose of Colonel Bozzo and take his place, so would every other member of The High Council for that matter.
  • The Syndicate
  • Ur-Example: The Black Coats is arguably the first criminal organization of its kind in fiction and thus may qualify as this.
  • The Commissioner Gordon: Monsieur Badoit is this for Pistolet in Salem Street
  • The Vamp: Marguerite de Soulas aka Countess of Claire
  • Villain Protagonist
  • Villain with Good Publicity: All the members of the high council are highly respectable members of society. For example, the Colonel is never seen as anything but a philanthropic old man, whereas Lecoq is the chief (or at least a high-ranking member) of the Sureté, the French National Police.