Earlier this summer a fellow book blogger shared that she was reading Murder on the Quai (the most recent release in the series). I was instantly intrigued as I had recently finished all the books in the Tana French Dublin Murder Squad series and was aching for a new mystery. It didn’t hurt that the scene for Murder on the Quai was Paris. My interest in all things francophone was piqued.
Months later and three books down, I have become smitten with Cara Black’s mystery series.
Darker Side of Paris
Black’s treatment of Paris as gritty and noir appealed to my dislike for the superficial side of the city. There is no denying that Paris is a must-see, but the City of Lights is more than landmarks and croissants. Paris has a complex history that runs as deep as the catacombs and embraces more nuance than the standard timeline of conquerors, emperors, and war can encompass. Black touches upon this immense history, just as Eleanor Beardsley describes in this 2009 NPR article.
It is this approach to Parisian history that continues to hold my attention three books later.
In the first book of the series, Murder in the Marais, Black explores the silent history of Nazi occupied Paris. She takes readers into the historically Jewish arrondissement of the Marais where questions about family, right and wrong, and love swirl amidst whispers about a painful time.
Murder in Belleville introduces readers to the highly emotional issue of immigration in France. Through the story of a sans-papiers (illegal immigrants) hunger strike in a church and complex, international politics, Black writes a timeless narrative that reads as if it were written about today’s France rather than the country in the late-1990s.
From the landmarked hill of Montmartre to the vast network of tunnels below the city, Black introduces readers to a side of Paris many don’t even imagine exists. She uses true life incidents learned from various Parisian residents weaved with detailed history to transport readers beyond the traditional facade of the famous city.
Enigmatic Leading Lady
Clara Black’s series centers on Aimée Leduc, an enigmatic Parisian who evades all stereotypes. Aimée is at once your fashionable Parisian woman, wearing Chanel skirts and silk scarfs. Yet, she also blends into the less formal sides of Paris, wearing leather jumpsuits and befriending 1960s terrorists.
Part of Aimée’s insider-outsider status, comes from her parentage — French father and American mother. Aimée, raised by her father, continues to try and connect with her absent mother by living in the United States and adopting American mannerisms. For example, Aimée’s bluntness sometimes alienates some of the more bourgeois Parisians she meets. It’s also this directness that probably helps her in finding the bad boys she is so fond of.
While Aimée’s identity changes depending on the requirements of undercover, she remains a lead character readers can support. I found myself connecting with Aimée’s struggle to balance love, work, and friendship as she investigates everything from her mother’s political past to the death of a Jewish woman. Aimée continues to be torn between her obligations, her insatiable curiosity, and compassion for those who ask for her help.
Aimée often reminds me of a more amiable version of Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. Both women are tech savvy, elusive, and a bit rough. The narrative surrounding Aimée, however, allows reader to relate with her better and to understand her mind. Black does, after all, write from Aimée’s perspective, whereas Larsson wrote his series as an omniscient narrator.
Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc Investigations series is worth the read! You’ll be ensnared in Aimée’s Paris from the first chapter and after binge reading the first three books in the series, you may need to use all your will power to pull yourself away from your new murder mystery obsession.