Monday, March 4, 2013

Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black

Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black

I had been curious about Cara Black’s detective Aimee Leduc after encountering one of the earlier novels at Center for Fiction right before I was scheduled to travel to Paris.  Cara Black’s series is set in Paris as is clear from the titles:  Murder in Clichy, Murder in Montmartre, Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, Murder in the Rue de Paradis, Murder in the Latin Quarter, Murder in the Palais Royal, etc.  At the time, I had a huge stack of books to review and hadn’t had a chance select which of the novels to read or even to read more.    So, Murder Below Montparnasse is my first Aimee Leduc novel.  

Murder Below Montparnasse is set in modern day Paris, February 1998, at the time that cell phones and the internet were part of everyday life but before we could access information everywhere and at anytime.  Our heroine, private investigator Aimee Leduc is a young, svelte, fashionable woman with her own sense of vintage style.  Her father and grandfather were both Parisian police and she grew up learning how to investigate crime scenes and analyze information.  Leduc has a talent for disguise as well but her disguises are tres chic.  In fact, Leduc has an impressive collection of couture that she’s amassed over the years. Quite a lot of it seems to be second hand or vintage but of the finest quality, well maintained, and well put together.  Leduc is glamorous and fashionable in the way we imagine a beautiful Parisian woman steeped in knowledge of fashion can be - Cara Black paints a picture that I wish I could see on screen or to be even more ambitious, that I could be for a day.

In this particular novel, Leduc has successfully aided her godfather Morbier in a sting operation.  She’s had a grueling day, physically and emotionally, as her partner and best friend, Rene has opted to leave their partnership for a lucrative and exciting career in a growing tech start up in Silicon Valley.  As Leduc checks in to her office at the end of the day, she finds a missive with a retainer of 5,000 francs and a plea to help protect a valuable painting.  The missive comes with an unusual reference to her mother - an internationally sought character who disappeared from Leduc’s life when she was a young girl.  Leduc is drawn in but as she heads to meet the new client, Leduc and her colleague are thrown into a fatal accident.  

When she does meet the client, he is cagey and then upset to learn that the valuable painting had just disappeared. He asks Leduc to hunt down the missing art as he owes a debt to “the Fixer”, Leduc’s mother.  Leduc is intrigued but leaves with little background information and without knowing anything about the painting.  

As Leduc searches for information on her client, the painting, and its unusual significance, we enter the world of Paris during the time of Picasso, Modigliani, Braque, etc.  living in the cramped and poorly heated apartments of Montparnase.   As Leduc tracks down the history behind the painting, Black takes us to a fascinating period in French and Russian history and introduces us to a complication that could alter history forever.  

Aimee Leduc stands out among detective heroes as her femininity and fashionability are a large part of who she is and how she behaves.  Cara Black gives us a clear sense of who she is from the Chanel No. 5 that she carries in her second hand Louis Vuitton purse to the clothes that she puts together with an incomparable style.  The brands, the clothes, the attitude are all part of this unique character that I couldn’t help but become fascinated by.   It seems that in Aimee Leduc, Cara Black gives us a female detective that women readers can follow both for her detective adventures and for her sense of style and romance. 

ISBN-10: 1616952156 - Hardcover $25.96
Publisher: Soho Crime; First Edition edition (March 5, 2013), 326 pages.
Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher.

About the Author:
Cara Black lives in Noe Valley with her bookseller husband, Jun, owner of Foto-Graphix Books, and her son, Tate. She's a San Francisco Library Laureate, Macavity and three time Anthony award-nominee for her series, Aimée Leduc Investigations, set in Paris.