Noe Valley Voice March 2005

Cara Black's Fifth Parisian Mystery Hits the Streets

By Olivia Boler

Fans of Noe Valley author Cara Black will be happy to know that they can head down to Cover to Cover or the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore on March 15 and pick up a copy of the fifth installment in the Aimée Leduc mystery series, Murder in Clichy. The four previous novels in the series are Murder in the Marais (1999), Murder in Belleville (2000), Murder in the Sentier (2002), and Murder in the Bastille (2003). All of the books are published by New York's Soho Press.

But as far as book signings go, one must head out of the neighborhood, for now anyway. Black will be at the Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter Street, on March 21 at 6 p.m.; The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, on April 5 at 7 p.m.; Stacey's Bookstore, 581 Market Street, on April 7 at 12:30 p.m.; and A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, 601 Van Ness Avenue, on April 10 from 3 to 5 p.m., for the Sisters in Crime Spring Soiree.

Black's full calendar is on her web site, She hopes to have some events scheduled at Cover to Cover and the Mystery Bookstore, where she hangs out frequently, this summer.

For those unfamiliar with Black's mystery series, her central character, Aimée Leduc, is half-French and half-American. She works in computer security and lives on Île St. Louis in Paris, France. During her last adventure, Leduc was blinded, and so in Murder in Clichy, she and her partner René, a "computer-hacking dwarf," decide they need to live healthier lives. They give up coffee and consult with a Vietnamese nun at a Cao Dai temple for guidance in meditation. One thing leads to another, and before you can say om, Leduc finds herself in Paris's 17th Arrondissement with a murder to solve and a stolen piece of ancient jade to recover. According to Publishers Weekly, "[W]eaving culture, history, and suspense, Black scores again" with Clichy.

Black first came across the Cao Dai religion while reading Graham Greene's The Quiet American. "It was founded in the 1920s in Vietnam, when the French still ruled," she explains. "Cao Dai saints include Buddha and Balzac." She was able to research the order close to home, since there's a Cao Dai temple in San Jose.

For background on the stolen jade, Black spent a lot of time at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and also at a jade museum in Paris, Musée Cernuschi. She used her frequent-flyer miles and slept on a friend's couch in the Parisian neighborhood of Montmartre.

Black usually goes to Paris twice a year for research. Asked how long these trips take, she answers quickly, "Never long enough." Still, she emphasizes that it's not glamorous work. She scours the landscape, just like her alter ego Leduc. The 17th Arrondissement (Paris is divided into 20 districts, or arrondissements) stretches from the tony neighborhood surrounding the Arc de Triomphe northeast to the gritty suburb of Clichy, where many poor immigrants make their homes.

Black compares Parisian arrondissements to small villages within a big city, "like Noe Valley," and says each one has its own flavor (see an excerpt from her book, printed this page). It's these flavors that drive her to write.

What she finds fascinating about her craft, even more so than creating mysteries, is character. "Sometimes, when I'm on the Métro late at night, I'll see someone else sitting near me and just wonder, what is his story?" Within the pockets of Paris, Black finds a plethora of material to feed her creativity.

When not "crawling around the Parisian sewers," Black is writing in her Alvarado Street home, where she has lived since her son Shuchan was 18 months old (he's now almost 16). Her husband Jun Ishimuro owns Foto-Grafix Books, a bookstore inside the Cartoon Art Museum.

These days, Black is deep into the research of Aimée Leduc book number seven. That's right: seven. A draft of book number six, titled Murder in Montmartre, is already with her publisher.

At the beginning of March, Black will be heading to Paris briefly, for a talk at the American Library. While there, she plans to blog (keep an online journal). She invites any and all of her Noe Valley fans to visit her blogspot and leave comments (

Excerpt from Murder in Clichy by Cara Black

"Near Place de Clichy." He spoke fast. His breath came over the phone in gasps.

"Say 10 minutes, by the Métro. But can't we meet at my office?" Aimée asked.

"Stand in front of the boulangerie," he said. "Across from Sainte-Marie des Batignolles Church."

Odd. But she knew it was a crowded, busy place. And it should be safe. Easy to melt away in the crowd if this man turned out to be even more strange than he sounded.

"How will I know...?" she began.

"I'll find you."

Why all the mystery? she wanted to ask. But he'd hung up.

She knew Clichy, the less-chic part of the many-faced 17th, a district containing two worlds.... An arrondissement of elegant consulates and the best closet-sized Turkish kebab shops this side of the Seine. Now, noticing the Mercedes parked between trucks on the street, Aimée became aware of a newer cross-section of moneyed bourgeoisie and hip médiathèques, added to the traditional working-class population of Clichy.

Aimée ascended the Place de Clichy Métro steps, slipping on her leather gloves against the chill November wind. Late-afternoon commuters surged around her. Darkness descended before six this time of year. She passed La Fourche, the fork, dividing the quartier into the "good" 17th and the "bad." More than in any other part of Paris, the architect Haussmann had stamped his signature here in the last century. The image the world thought of as Paris: broad, tree-lined boulevards riven by the classic graystone five-storied buildings with metal filigreed balconies and chimney pots on the roof tiles like organ pipes.

She reached Batignolles Park with its rolling lawns and black swans gliding across the small lake. The fretwork of plane trees, puddles, and clumps of wet leaves faced real estate immobilier offices and antique shops. A gunmetal sky threatened, and she hoped Thadée Baret wouldn't be late. The fat rain clouds reminded her of Atget's black-and-white turn-of-the-century photos. Blurry, bleak, and evocative of time past. Beyond lay the derelict train yards, part of the 19th-century ceinture, the railway belt circling Paris. Their walls were bright with silver graffiti.

Suddenly, she entered a cobbled crescent with a village feeling. Two-story buildings lined the street, and old people congregated on the green slatted benches by the clock tower of the columned church: a pocket of "old" Paris.

Copyright © 2005 by Cara Black. Reprinted by permission of Soho Press, Inc.