Mystery writers these days seem to be required to stake out a geographical territory – Donna Leon has Venice, Steven Saylor has ancient Rome, Sara Paretsky has Chicago, etc. – and give it the status of a character in their novels. American writer Cara Black has chosen Paris as her private detective’s turf and moves the action to a different neighborhood in each novel.
After using the Marais, Belleville, Sentier, Bastille and Clichy quarters as settings in her previous books, Black’s latest, Murder in Montmartre (Soho Press, New York), takes us to the hillside “village” topped by the Sacré Coeur. Her detective, Aimée Leduc (whose last name is borrowed from a real Paris detective agency), is a leggy young woman with big eyes, spiky hair and, often, spike heels that are singularly unsuited for climbing around on icy rooftops or chasing criminals through cemeteries.
This sexy detective is the type who would never forget to apply her Stop Traffic red lipstick, even when she is racing down the marble stairs of her Ile Saint-Louis apartment building on her way to follow up on a hot tip.
The author lives in San Francisco but travels regularly to Paris for hands-on research, even consulting with contacts on the French police force to get the details right, which she usually does. She also works hard to explain references that might be obscure to people unfamiliar with French language and customs, and adds historical background along the way. This is usually done fairly seamlessly, although we are occasionally aware that we are being given a little lesson on things French.
As mysteries go, Murder in Montmartre is well-written – with some bumps along the way – and engrossing, with a more literary style than most and strong characterization for the main character and most of the peripheral ones. The very feminine Aimée’s physical and verbal assertiveness, however, seem much more characteristic of an American (think “Sex and the City”) than a French woman.
Black has created a complicated – often too complicated to follow – plot that is a bit too easily resolved by newly revealed information and coincidences at the end, but that seems to be the case for most mystery novels. All in all, Murder in Montmartre is a fun read for anyone who loves Paris or a good detective novel.Favorite