Cara Black: Murder in Passy

Cara Black’s series character, Aimee LeDuc, may be one of the coolest in mystery fiction, not a genre known for its high “cool” quotient. I’d equate her to characters like Cornelia Read’s Madeleine Dare, Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan, and especially Sujata Massey’s way cool Rei Shimura. Aimee is a P.I. in Paris who wears lots of black, leather pants, and red hightops, and gets around town on a pink scooter. Her business partner, the dapper midget Rene, is a nice foil. Each novel in this now long lived series is set in a different Paris neighborhood; this one takes place in the upscale Passy.

The books are set slightly in the past to capture some of the turmoil happening in Paris in the late 90’s; this one focuses on Basque terrorists. Black’s starting point is the rehearsal dinner for her old friend Morbier’s lady friend Xavierre’s daughter. Morbier, a policeman, is caught up in another high profile case and can’t attend, but he sensed some fear in Xavierre’s voice that he wants to see if Aimee can get a handle on.

Though Aimee attends the party (in vintage Chanel, no less), Xavierre laughs off Morbier’s fears. Aimee is still vaguely troubled, but she can’t really put a finger on anything. However the brutal discovery in the alley behind the house of Xavierre’s body proves Morbier’s fears correct; he, however is quickly identified as the prime suspect and hauled to jail. Aimee is on the case to help this old friend of her father’s, and as things often do in a Black novel, they explode.

Weaving her way through the labyrinthine streets of Paris, Aimee begins to peel back layers of the Basque separatist movement, focusing on the extremists. The atmosphere of the city is almost palpable, and that’s one of the real charms of these books. While I’ve never been to Paris, I almost feel that I have and reading the books almost makes you feel you can smell the gateau and espresso. That said, these novels are far from fluffy.

The plot is complex and eventually involves the kidnaping of a minor royal along with an explosion and a few other casualties. The pace never lets up, so if you need to take a breath, too bad for you – Black and Aimee have already sprinted ahead. The ending is appropriately moving, though Black is not a sentimental writer. She has, however, created characters so indelible that you not only won’t forget them, you’ll be moved by them.