Murder darkens the City of Light

Murder in the Marais by Cara Black, a celebration of Soho Crime’s 25th anniversary


Murder in the Marais delves into the darkness of the City of Light.

The first novel in the best-selling series introduces Aimée Leduc, whose investigations rely more on hacking than detecting. She’s young, she’s beautiful, and she’s just a tad bit unbelievable – but she’s oh-so enjoyable. The mystery is complex, at times too complex and unnecessarily complicated, with a backstory that is never fully revealed and some extraneous storylines here and there.  But these are minor distractions. The strength of the story is the setting, not merely the contemporary Paris of 1998, when the mystery was first published, but also the Paris of the past when Nazis occupied most of France . . . and most of Europe.

It’s a dark mystery, with Nazis and neo-Nazis and swastikas carved on the foreheads of the quick and the dead, but the depictions aren’t too violent nor are the sexual encounters too graphic. It’s the kind of novel that, for me, was meant for e-readers, because it is so easy to look up anything that is unfamiliar for those of us whose French is rusty (or non-existent). I took several quick detours, to search for photographs of buildings Black described or translations of phrases I couldn’t quite tease out, but they were quick because I wanted to go back to the story.

I chose to read this, as I chose The Last Detective by Peter Lovesey, as part of Soho Crime’s 25th anniversary reading challenge, and I’m glad I did. Yes, it has some flaws – but it has so much promise that I’m quite eager to read the second book in the series and expect to want to read the other 14 mysteries. Soho Crime is celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction with a reading challenge, and I’m reading my way through Cara Black over the next two months.

Note:  Sis received an advanced reading copy from Soho Press and NetGalley, and she’s most grateful to them for the introduction to Leduc and her guided tour of a part of Paris that Sis visited, briefly, 15 years before.

Description: Meet Aimée Leduc, the smart, stylish Parisian private investigator, in her bestselling first investigation.  Aimée Leduc has always sworn she would stick to tech investigation—no criminal cases for her. Especially since her father, the late police detective, was killed in the line of duty. But when an elderly Jewish man approaches Aimée with a top-secret decoding job on behalf of a woman in his synagogue, Aimée unwittingly takes on more than she is expecting. She drops off her findings at her client’s house in the Marais, Paris’s historic Jewish quarter, and finds the woman strangled, a swastika carved on her forehead. With the help of her partner, René, Aimée sets out to solve this horrendous murder, but finds herself in an increasingly dangerous web of ancient secrets and buried war crimes.

About the author:  Cara Black lives in San Francisco with her bookseller husband, Jun, and their dog. Black is a San Francisco Library Laureate.  The 16 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, set in Paris, have put her on the bestselling lists of the NY Times and USA Today. Several of her novels have been nominated for the prestigious Anthony and Macavity Awards, and she has received a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris (the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture), and invitations to be the guest of honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime. The Aimée Leduc series has been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, and Hebrew. 

Cara was born in Chicago but has lived in California’s Bay Area since she was five years old. Before turning to writing fulltime, she tried her hand at a number of jobs: she was a barista in the Basal train station café in Switzerland, taught English in Japan, studied Buddhism in Dharamsala in Northern India, and worked as a bar girl in Bangkok (only pouring drinks!). After studying Chinese history at Sophia University in Tokyo–where she met her husband, Jun, a bookseller, potter, and amateur chef–she obtained her teaching credential at San Francisco State College, and went on to work as a preschool director and then as an agent of the Head Start program, which sent her into San Francisco’s Chinatown to help families there–often sweatshop workers–secure early care and early education for their children. Each of these jobs was amazing and educational in a different way, and the Aimée Leduc books are covered in fingerprints of Cara’s various experiences.

Her love of all things French was kindled by the French-speaking nuns at her Catholic high school, where Cara first encountered French literature and went crazy for the work of Prix Goncourt winner Romain Gary. Her junior year in high school, she wrote him a fan letter–which he answered, and which inspired her to make her first trip to Paris, where her idol took her out for coffee and a cigar. Since then, she has been to Paris many, many times. On each visit she entrenches herself in a different part of the city, learning its secret history. She has posed as a journalist to sneak into closed areas, trained at a firing range with real Paris flics, gotten locked in a bathroom at the Victor Hugo museum, and–just like Aimée–gone down into the sewers with the rats (she can never pass up an opportunity to see something new, even when the timing isn’t ideal–she was headed to a fancy dinner right afterwards and had a spot of bother with her shoes). For the scoop on real Paris crime, she takes the cops out for drinks and dinner to hear their stories–but it usually turns into a long evening, which is why she sticks with espresso.