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Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

July 21, 2014 4 comments

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.

 

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge by Cara Black

June 28, 2012 2 comments

When you set any book in an environment unfamiliar to readers, authors can panic and insert large descriptive passages and infodumps, hoping to give all-comers a reasonable insight into the context for the action. For these purposes, there’s no difference between genres. A romance can be set in any country, a historical novel in any century, a science fiction novel on any planet, and so on. The question is how to strike a balance between the need to move the story forward and the need for readers to understand the difference between the world they are familiar with and the world in which the book is set. Most readers in the West might find the setting in, say, Kolkata (Calcutta) or Bangkok as alien as one set on a hypothetical Mars. Equally, in these days of globalised markets, a book written by an American for the American market can turn up on the shelves of bookshops in Huddersfield and Kuala Lumpur. The experience for a British or Malaysian reader is to be plunged into an alien world where the culture is radically different and not explained. Not unnaturally, the American author expects the American readers to know and understand how life works in their home country. Yet, American authors also realise a significant portion of their readers are somewhat parochial and have little or no knowledge of life outside America. So, when American authors write about life in Paris, they tend to oversupply details of the physical and cultural environment. British readers have been jaunting across the Channel for centuries and have a more detailed understanding of the French and their capital city. Malaysians would still be lost.

 

From all this, you will deduce that Murder at the Lanterne Rouge by Cara Black (Soho Press, 2012) starts slowly as the author tries valiantly to bring American readers up-to-speed on all things Gallic. I was fascinated to see what an American author believes, (a) it’s important for her readers to know about life in Paris, and (b) by implication, how little she believes they actually know. This is the kind of book people will call atmospheric because it spends a considerable amount of time describing the air the characters breathe. This is not to unfairly criticise any of those involved. Sometimes the best way to educate people is through entertainment. Americans taking the time to absorb the detail contained in this book will emerge more knowledgeable. All praise to President Obama who’s obviously recruiting authors into a revamped Head Start plan to enhance adult education levels — note to publisher: perhaps a world map showing where France is would complete the package.

Cara Black comfortable in the boulevard café milieu

 

So here I make an apology. There have been rather a lot of books featuring Aimée Leduc and her business partner René Friant, but this is my first. As a stand-alone, it works well although, from many of the events, it’s obvious I would have enjoyed it more if I had understood how everyone fits together. As a series character, Aimée Leduc is both a throw-back and a modern woman. In the period just before World War II, there were number of French heroines like Simone Darthel who enjoyed the life of the rich while solving crimes and fighting for justice. Two features are relevant. All the details of their wardrobes were offered up as advice to their female readers. Second, they were aspirational figures showing that modern women could have better lives as independent individuals, holding down exciting jobs and proving they were equal, if not superior to, the men who desired them as they moved casually through the cafés and restaurants in their designer clothes (in search of criminals, of course). In more modern times, we have figures like Nikita as initially developed by Luc Besson and then transformed into a television character where, in a noirish way, our female secret agent/assassin fights terrorism and confronts a brutal world while trying to retain some sense of her own morality.

 

I mention this because although Aimée Leduc works as a private investigator specialising in IT security, she’s very much wrapped up in the word of spies and their handlers. That forces her to deal with both the local Parisienne police (courtesy of her French father) and the acronym-infested world of espionage (thanks to her American mother). Although she doesn’t quite have Nikita-level physical combat skills, she’s more than able to look after herself and, even though she picks up damage, is tough enough to keep going until she’s seen off the threat. As to the story itself, we’re quickly into the scandal-ridden world of the illegal immigrants from China and the sweatshops that provide stock to both legitimate and counterfeit fashion outlets in Europe. For such a subculture to survive, there has to be corruption both in the police and the relevant government departments charged with tax collection and the enforcement of labour laws. Cara Black gives us a whistle-stop tour and then dives into the more rarified world of the Guild system, life in the grandes écoles, life as it was in the 14th Century, life in the world of high technology. In other words, when it comes to research, she’s in part rerunning the Dan Brown trope of great truth buried in history — all it takes is a skilled detective with academic skills to dig it out.

 

So there we have it. I thought the opening third was overburdened with facts about life in Paris but, once the plot really gets started, Murder at the Lanterne Rouge becomes one of the best of the thrillerish PI novels of the year so far. There’s genuine interest and excitement as the focus slowly shifts away from the somewhat clichéd Chinatown subculture thread and becomes a more intense race to unravel the high technology conspiracy. Those of you who are unfamiliar with life in Paris may well find all the facts offer plenty of local colour and enhance your general understanding of life outside your city. This would make the book double-plus good for you. Coming new to Cara Black, there’s sufficient here for me to want to read more. As and when I have the time, I’ll start browsing through one or two of the eleven previous Aimée Leduc titles to see if they are as good.

 

For a review of another book in the series, see Murder in Pigalle.

 

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

 

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