September 2007

Colleen Mondor

fiction

Murder in Montmarte and Murder on the Ill Saint-Louis by Cara Black

Cara Black has been hailed for some time now for her Paris-based mystery series about the adventures of computer security expert Aimee Leduc. In her two most recent titles, Murder in Montmartre and Murder on the Ill Saint-Louis she turns the tension up a notch by moving further into Aimee’s personal life. More than anything though these books are about the seedy side of Paris, a place that Black is brilliant about exposing and captures so effectively, with all its darkness and danger, on the written page.

In Murder in Montmartre, Aimee’s childhood friend Lauré, who is now a policewoman, is accused of killing her partner on a snow swept roof. Aimee was with them both only moments before the murder and is convinced of Lauré’s innocence. As she was injured in the confrontation and can not adequately explain what happened, it falls to Aimee to uncover the truth. Investigating the murder of Officer Jacques Gagnard takes some bizarre twists and turns, which include illegal gambling, Corsican separatists and the unsolved death of Aimee’s own father years before. As she rushes around following one small lead after another, the case against Lauré builds, even as her physical condition degrades. This gives Aimee’s mission an air of urgency that is greater than previous entries in the series, as she realizes she is the only one between freedom and prison for Lauré.

As always, Black has a lot going on in this mystery which on the surface seem unrelated but slowly and satisfyingly tie together. Western readers might be completely unfamiliar with the relationship between France and Corsica and the terrorist groups actively fighting against French authority but Black uses the character of a Corsican musician, Lucien, to explain the conflicts between Corsicans and the French and infighting between the separatist groups. Lucien is drawn into the murder because he was present at a nearby party and there was someone else on that roof who must have killed Jacques -- someone who was heard to speak Corsican.

The plot moves fast and furious in Montmartre; a delusional Lauré whispers something that her hospital bed that her father made her promise never to reveal to Aimee, about her own father and what happened when the men were both officers. Lucien discovers his childhood love is now married to a powerful Frenchman and even a discussion of Surrealists painters finds its way into the text, through a slight but significant Corsican connection. Most compellingly, Aimee hears the story of a French woman, a witness, who was fathered by a German soldier during the war: “'Sorry?' She gave a short laugh. 'So were the women, so are we, the children. Children of the enemy. Raised in guilt for who we were. Our very existence was cause of shame.'”

Ultimately, as it so often is with murder, the story comes down to lies and money. But along the way Black takes such fascinating trips through history and politics that readers are kept hanging on each and every word. Not much really changes in Paris, Black seems to be saying with this book, not much can change in a place where the history is so deep one can not escape it.

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis is a more a 21st-century mystery as it involves a conflict between environmentalists and a corporation bent on deep water oil exploration. For Aimee, it all starts with a mysterious phone call and an abandoned baby that she is begged to take care of. She has no idea where the baby came from or who the caller was but can hardly resist helping. This starts a long look at Aimee’s maternal instincts, something that has not even been hinted at previously, and provides several opportunities for her long time friends (most notably business partner Rene) to show their stuff when it comes to infant care. Someone has written what appears to be a numerical code on the baby. Then in short order a body of a young woman is discovered in the river right near Aimee’s home -- which is also near the baby’s hiding place -- and a riot breaks out at a environmentalist protest march. Aimee is soon on the hunt for a young woman who might have been the baby’s mother but either way is tied to all of it, including the riot, and holds far too many answers to be safe.

Black again ties a lot of fascinating history into a thoroughly contemporary tale. In this case, one of the key players, a young man who unwittingly was part of the riot, is also a crown prince of Poland, a country whose monarchy ended in 1945. Krysztof is an idealist when it comes to the environment and a realist when it comes to his thoroughly extinguished royal line. He wants to save the world but his intentions are lost in a lot of circumstantial evidence that has him at the center of a big mess. On the run he tries to find his friends who were gathering critical evidence against the company they were peacefully protesting before everything went wrong. He finds one of them in the morgue and that is where Aimee catches up with him.

But of course, this is a Leduc mystery so even though she has the dead girl, the baby and Krysztof, Aimee still doesn’t know what is going on, or who is behind the murder or the terrorist acts against the corporation. Black gets very timely; the very hint of a group using bombs to make its point is enough to send everyone in the government into anti-terror overdrive and as the environmentalists try to make their point about the corporation being a dirty polluter they find themselves drowned out by headlines covering the threats of violence. This means of course that it gets to be business as usual over at the corporation. Which makes you wonder, just who are all those threats working out better for: the environmentalists who are ending up dead, terrified or split apart by infighting or the corporation that is about to get a huge government contract?

Again there is a twist back to the Second World War with a witness who has seen a lot, but is not sure what time she saw it in. And finally, after all the plots and subplots are revealed, there is still the baby and just what Aimee must do for her.

As in Murder on the Montmartre, Black has crafted a tense and finely tuned mystery here that hinges on multiple key plot points which brush past readers at a bullet pace. The story is right on target for the world today and the connections between Polish royalty, death camp victims, polluters and the Parisian homeless are made swiftly. Through it all Black maintains a smart and well thought out mystery that demands readers remain attentive to each small detail. In another writer’s hands this might be difficult but for fans of Leduc, it will be business as usual. Readers looking for such deeply thought out tales should turn to the Aimee Leduc series for edge-of-your-seat action and intelligent commentary on the world and the past. They will not be disappointed with what they find.

Murder in Montmartre by Cara Black
Soho Crime
ISBN: 1569474451
306 pages

Murder on the Ill Saint-Louis by Cara Black
Soho Crime
ISBN: 1569474443
294 pages