"I WANT TO FIND THE PULSE OF FRANCE," Cara Black told Bookmarks. "I want to understand what makes the city unique and different, what gives it its own flavor." In her 13 crime novels featuring private investigator Aimee Leduc, each set in a different arrondissement, Black lays a finger on the pulse of Paris while delving deep into the city's history, cultural diversity, and social conflicts. Her debut novel, Murder in the Marais (1990), set in Paris in the early 1990s, investigates Nazi war crimes, wartime romance, and a nefarious neo-Nazi group. Since then, Black has explored corrupt Haitian politics, secret medieval guilds, Algerian immigrants, militant Turkish groups, conflicts between environmentalists and oil companies, and a radical Basque terrorist group, among other topics. Her unearthing of Paris's hidden social and cultural wars is so significant that last spring she received the prestigious le Medaille de la Ville de Paris (the Paris Medal), which recognizes service to Parisian culture.
Black's heroine, Aimee Leduc, is as unique as her settings. Zipping around on her pink Vespa, Leduc wears pencil skirts, heels, and Chanel; with her oddball partner Rene Friant, a dwarf, she uses a laptop, even though she has to use dial-up (it's the 1990s, after all), to hack into government databases. She's attracted to the bad boys and has trouble paying her bills. Born to an American mother who disappeared when she was eight and a French police investigator father, Aimee dropped out of med school at the Sorbonne to take over her father's detective agency after he was murdered. "I think of Aimee as an arc of a character," Black said, "which turns into a journey for both of us. What will this woman face next? Aimee has allowed me to discover parts of Paris we've all been to, but to scratch deeper below the surface to bring to light parts we don't usually see."
In Murder Below Montparnasse (reviewed on page 40), Black's 13th novel in the series, Aimee is hired to protect a long-hidden Modigliani painting--but she soon becomes caught up with a dangerous Serbian thugs, political activists, and Russian oligarchs. For Aimee, it's all in a day's work. For Black, it's a little bit more.
BOOKMARKS: What was the inspiration for Murder Below Montparnasse?
CARA BLACK: The 14th arrondissement is a very quiet area of Paris, best known for the Catacombs. Several years ago, while researching another book, I was...