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Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

Murder in Pigalle

Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black (Soho Press, 2014) is the fourteenth book to feature Aimée Leduc as our private detective who specialises in corporate security and computer investigations, finds herself pregnant at the most inconvenient time — taxes are due, people who owe the agency money are slow to pay, and the daughter of one of her friends decides to go missing. We’re steadily moving through history and have now arrived in June 1998 with the world (and France) caught up in the excitement of the World Cup. In one sense, this is the perfect moment to commit crimes because the attention of the majority is caught up in the “excitement” of hosting the competition. Yes France won the right to host for the second time and was all out to put on a good show both on and off the field (for those of you who don’t follow the game, France beat Brazil in the July final). As an aside, the baby’s father is Mélac, a police officer who’s at the bedside of his critically injured daughter in Brittany. Aimée hasn’t yet told him of his impending fatherhood which should tell you something of the nature of their relationship.

 

So there have been three rapes on young girls in and around Pigalle but, at the start of this book, the police have not connected the dots. Unfortunately, Zazie a thirteen-year-old girl who hero-worships Aimée has been inspired to investigate. One of her friends has already been raped and together, they have put together an identikit picture of the man. Zazie has also been talking to an old lady who was in the Resistance during the war, so she’s picked up quite a lot of the lore of secret message drops, surveillance, and so on. She’s even been into Pigalle at night and has photographs which, she thinks, show the man responsible. Sadly, Aimée is distracted when this subject is broached and does not listen with all her attention. So when Zazie fails to come home that evening, she’s caught by guilt and sets off to find her young protégée. That same night, Sylvaine Olivet, another of Zazie’s friends in found dead. It looks as though the rapist has turned into a murderer. It’s possible Zazie was a witness but the Brigade des Minuers is not interested in making Zazie’s disappearance a high priority.

Cara Black

Cara Black

 

As is therefore required in books like this, she and René Friant, her business partner, are pitched into a race against time to find the missing girl. The problem for Aimée is to reach the point where she might look beyond the serial rapist to what else might be going on in Paris (other than the football, of course). It’s easy for the readers because Cara Black sends quite an early signal the answer is going to require some lateral thinking. Nevertheless, Aimée bulls ahead and, as if to prove she’s on the right track, someone takes a shot at her, killing the woman she’s with. Yet, as all seasoned readers know, nothing is ever as straightforward as it first appears.

 

Putting all this together, we have an interesting serial rape case to work through. It’s actually based on a real-world crime and therefore has a certain plausibility about it. The setting in Paris is done well. That said, it’s always difficult to know where to draw the line on how much of the French language to include for local colour. Strictly speaking, all dialogue should be in English. Translating all but everyday words like “bonjour” is slightly insulting. This does have characters breaking out into phrases every now and then which is, I suppose, not unacceptable. Setting this in 1998 was an interesting choice, not only because of the football, but also because Pigalle was beginning a gentrification from a more seamy, sex-oriented area to a more respectable middle class area. So both Aimée and the location are in transition. The discussion of the pregnancy and how she will adapt her lifestyle to incorporate a baby are done well (we even have her absent mother helping from hiding and an interesting comment on the circumstances of her father’s death). The thriller elements also work well and put both mother and baby at risk (which is how it should be if the author is aiming for some degree of realism). This leaves Murder in Pigalle as one of the better books set in France with a good puzzle for our hero to resolve and a not unsympathetic view of the French law enforcement agencies and the complex way in which they are required to work.

 

For a review of another book by Cara Black, see Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

  1. July 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I found this a little disappointing compared with some of the earlier Cara Black books – but it’s difficult to maintain a uniformly high standard on all books in a long-running series. The 1998 World Cup was interesting, but I felt some aspects of the book had a ‘treading the water’ feel to it (could that be precisely because of Aimee’s pregnancy?)

    • July 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      I missed the last book so I was surprised to find her pregnant. Since she’s not exactly had the best upbringing parents can give, the fact she’s going to be a single mother is naturally worrying. Although she’s turned out reasonably well balanced, she’s not unnaturally preoccupied with not just the physical side of pregnancy, but also changing her mindset to include a more permanent “other”. If this book is anything to go by, having a baby in her arms is not going to slow her down at all — so long as she has a small army of people around her to keep the household ticking over, she’s going to be out there getting things done. Since this topic was approached unsentimentally, I was quite interested in how she reconciled her innate recklessness with the risk of losing the baby. To that extent, I thought the balance between the search for the missing child and the preparation for motherhood was successful. I thought the shooting was also well handled with the reaction of the ambulance crew just right. But the book is at its weakest in the scenes in the opera which I thought unduly melodramatic and failed to fit comfortably with the overall tone of the book. Not quite forty years ago, I worked backstage at the Paris Opera so I can confirm the general layout in the flies gallery described here, but accuracy in setting is not all that’s required. This means I agree with you that, good though this is, Murder at the Lanterne Rouge is better.

  1. July 21, 2014 at 1:07 pm
  2. July 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm

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