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By Olivia Boler
Noe Valley mystery writer Cara Black has done it again. The eighth book in her Aimée Leduc Investigation series, Murder in the Rue de Paradis, was published March 1 by Soho Press, and it's already garnering accolades. Publisher's Weekly deemed it "riveting," Library Journal gave the book a starred review, and the Sacramento Bee chose it as its March book club pick.
Don't be surprised to see it fly off the shelves. Black's last book in the series, Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, was on the San Francisco Chronicle's Bay Area bestseller list for 11 weeks.
If you haven't followed the fictional adventures of Aimée Leduc, she's a half-American, half-French private detective and computer security specialist with an office near the Louvre in Paris and a penchant for solving murders.
In the new novel, Aimée's recently betrothed, Yves, an investigative journalist, is the victim, and his death just might be tied to jihadi terrorist activities. Taking place in August 1995, the book's plot is based on real events, including the bombing of a Parisian Métro station, Saint-Michel, which resulted in eight deaths.
"Most people have said this one feels political," says Black, who penned her first Leduc mystery, Murder in the Marais, in 1999.
As in the previous seven books, the crime in Rue de Paradis takes place in a certain arrondissement, or district, in Paris. This time it's the 10th arrondissement, more specifically "Little Istanbul," a neighborhood Black discovered while researching Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis. "There are Turkish coffee shops, storefront mosques, men smoking hookahs, and Kurds live there too," she says. "I didn't know anything about it..., but I became fascinated by the area. I learned about the Kurds in Turkey and Kurdistan. Many in Paris spoke Turkish and Kurdish, and I thought, Aren't those two supposed to be enemies?"
When she dug deeper, she learned that in the early 20th century the district was an enclave for Eastern European immigrants who worked in manufacturing, mostly fur coats and leather goods. Rue de Paradis itself was, and still is, a street full of china and crystal shops, where couples go to register for their wedding gifts.
Black's standard method of research involves walking around Parisian neighborhoods, taking photos and recording interviews with residents and shopkeepers. Much of the local color works its way into her writing, like a subplot involving Aimée's friend and business partner René, who wants to buy some property in the 10th on Rue de Désir.
The photo of the stairway shown at right was the inspiration for the book's description of "winding stairs bordered by a chipped curlicue ironwork banister," part of the property René desires. "In 1995, the bobos [bourgeois bohemians] were moving in, making lofts for cheap rent and remodeling," Black says. "It was kind of gritty. But today, it's a hip neighborhood--stylish and trendy--with an ethnic mix."
It's a transition Black finds interesting and complex, reflected in Paris' history and politics. "For me," she says, "writing is always about a sense of place."
The place where she does most of that writing is her home on Alvarado Street, where Black has lived--with husband Jun Ishimuro and college-bound son Shuchan--for close to 17 years.
And that's where she'll be polishing her ninth Leduc book, Murder in the Latin Quarter, due out in March of 2009. "It's being copyedited right now," she says.
Murder in the Rue de Paradis is available at Cover to Cover Booksellers, Phoenix Books, and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. Black will be reading and signing books at several San Francisco bookstores this spring, including the Booksmith on Haight Street (March 12), Bookshop West Portal (March 18), and the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore on 24th Street (May 9, 2 p.m.). For details about these and other readings, go to her website, www.carablack.com.
Murder in the Rue de Paradis
An excerpt from the novel by Cara Black
Paris, August 1995
Pigeons scattered and fluttered under the rue de Rivoli's nineteenth-century arcade as Aimée Leduc shut the taxi door. She fanned herself in the dense humid heat that clung blanket-like over the street, which was deserted except for a bedraggled group of Japanese tourists. Across from her, the street lamp's glow was reflected as gold from the tall windows of the Louvre's Cour Carrée.
"Au revoir, Jean-Paul," she said, eager to leave her blind date.
"You sure you won't come for an aperitif?" Jean-Paul asked from the taxi's back seat. A fortyish ministry fonctionnaire with a red tie, blue shirt, and thinning hair, Jean-Paul had discussed his stamp collection over espresso.
"Desolée, too much work," she said.
He waved away the francs she held out to him through the open taxi window and grasped her hand. "Then the theater tomorrow," he said, "I'll call you when I get home."
Aimée hurried past the corner café on rue du Louvre into the deepening twilight shadows mottling her office building. As she mounted the staircase to Leduc Detective's third-floor office, she vowed, no blind dates. Never again. No matter how desperate she felt.
She switched on the office light, her eyes resting briefly on the chipped carved ceiling moldings, the dim chandelier, the pile of bills on her desk. A faint breath of air from the window stirred, pierced by the insistent whine of a siren from the Seine. Another long evening stretched ahead of her: balancing accounts and drafting more computer IT proposals to potential clients. But there was no man in her thoughts.
The office phone rang. Jean-Paul already? She dreaded having to come up with more excuses not to see him again.
"Leduc Detective," she said.
"My partner likes your IT proposal, Aimée," said Michel, the head of Microimage.
She almost dropped the phone. Only yesterday she'd left a proposal at his video post-production company.
"Michel, you want me to consult?"
"Bring a contract, Aimée. We're having a blowout party for our big project!"
The thump of a bass guitar vibrated over the phone.
"So we can celebrate?"
"You and a few others."
A plum consulting job!
"I'm on the way."
She grabbed a standard contract from the desk drawer, stuck it in her laptop bag, and opened the office armoire. Her trusty little black dress and pearls wouldn't do. Not for Michel's. She searched through the hangers, past the blue work jacket, the electricians overalls, finding a leather halter dress, then a strapless Louis Feraud chiffon more suited for the runway. But she ended up in a '60s minidress composed of tiny black mirror-like sequin rectangles. Vintage Carnaby Street. She outlined her eyes with kohl and knotted a scarf around her neck. After all, it was business.
Back on rue du Louvre, she caught a taxi, then turned off her phone to avoid Jean-Paul's call. Approaching Michel's district on the wide shop-lined boulevard leading to Gare du Nord, the taxi turned left at a soot-stained old convent wall. Here the streets narrowed. A couple emerged, laughing, from a dimly lit bistro. The taxi passed a dark warehouse, the side of an old building still bearing a faded blue Dubonnet advertisement, and let her off in front of an arched stone passage between shadowy buildings.
Aimée choked in the haze of blue smoke as she stood wedged among the bodies dancing to a pounding techno beat at Microimage's party. Microimage's sandblasted stone walls vibrated; half-filled glasses of rouge-limonade rippled as they stood on the concrete slabs serving as tables. Red velvet drapery swags hung from the arcing iron metal struts in the former leather factory.
Perspiration dampened her bare shoulder blades. Fresh air, she craved fresh air. She thanked God she'd chosen vintage, considering the eclectic crowd around her. Her laptop-bag strap dug into her bare shoulder, but she shot a grin at Michel, the savvy red-headed twenty-something Microimage founder who had the attention span of a gnat. His arm draped a tall Goth type clad head-to-toe in black lace, and he gave Aimée a thumbs-up.
"Nice outfit," he said. "I like consultants who complement the decor. We'll sign the contract; pick it up day after tomorrow."
She reached out to shake his hand.
"My way of doing business," he said, or at least that's what she thought she heard as he handed her a tangerine from his pocket. She was thrilled to snag the consulting job. The retainer would cover her office rent and more. Dry-mouthed, she peeled the thin skin away from the pulp as she worked her way toward the door. The citrus essence clung to her fingers. She scanned the crowd.
She popped a tangerine segment into her mouth, enjoying the sweet burst of flavor. She avoided a karate chop from a gesticulating, long-haired journalist in black leather pants attempting to drive home a point. His audience was composed of a télé exec, a sweater knotted around his shoulders, and a rail-thin model in a belted T-shirt passing for a minidress. Just. A crowd interested in racking up business connections and on the prowl for an adventure, the one-night kind. Not her type. Forget meeting a man here, she thought. Conversation was next to impossible against the blasting beat.
She edged her way out the door, inhaled the warm air, and gazed around her. The warehouse at the end of the cobbled courtyard housed a recording studio. Lining one side of the yard was an old glass-windowed workshop, now an architect's office; and beside it stood the wooden storefront of a shuttered lute-repair shop.
Behind her, the Turkish concierge swept up leaves and scooped them into a bin. She'd left the consulting proposal with him yesterday to be hand-delivered to Michel upon his return.
"Bonsoir." She smiled and nodded to the concierge.
"Bonsoir, Mademoiselle," he said.
The dense August evening air lay still and heavy. A figure was leaning against the cream-colored stone walls under the glass-awninged marquise canopy.
No trains ran this late after the terrorist Metro bombing a few days ago in Saint-Michel that had claimed eight lives. She stuck a stop-smoking patch under her arm and wondered what her chances were of catching a taxi this time of night.
A voice came from the shadows. "So you're still trying to quit."
That familiar voice. The tilt of the head...she froze. But it couldn't be...he was a continent away.
Yves, her former boyfriend, stepped into the light. And her breath caught. His dark eyes were more deep-set, but he had the same long black hair and snaking sideburns; this was a more tanned, gaunter version of the man she'd maintained an on-again, off-again relationship with.
"Cairo not hot enough for you, Yves? But...how did you find me?" she said, trying to cover her confusion.
"Investigative journalists have their ways, Aimée." He stepped closer, a softness in his eyes. His fingers traced her bare shoulders. "Nice outfit. I just flew in. Wanted to see you first."
His musky scent drew her again. Still her bad-boy type. But she remembered that the last time they'd said goodbye, on a street corner on the Left Bank, she'd told herself never again.
"So you appear and expect--"
"To have a drink, Aimée," he said, the back of his hand brushing her cheek. "You didn't answer my e-mails."
This would go nowhere. Just another pit stop for him. Whenever their paths crossed, the next morning he'd say goodbye on the street corner, step into a taxi and out of her life.
"Give me some warning next time," she said, backing away. "We'll try for that drink."
The Turkish concierge's twig broom raked the stones. A glimmer of yellow light from the party behind them swept Yves' face. She saw an expression she couldn't identify.
"I'm catching a taxi," she said.
"But I've already got one waiting out front," he said with his lopsided smile. That wonderful smile. "Let me drop you."
So sure of himself.
"Forget it, Yves. You're not coming to my place."
"Did I say I was? I'm stationed in Paris now. Let's have a drink to celebrate, that's all."
Outside of the dark passage, the taxi idled forlornly on the deserted street. The Metro was closed and she'd have a long walk in her three-inch Louboutin heels to her empty apartment where not even her dog Miles Davis waited.
Relenting, she said, "One drink."
She repressed a quiver of unease and got into the back seat.
The taxi took off. It passed a "for sale" sign in the broken windows of a dilapidated eighteenth-century hôtel particulier. Then it turned onto rue de Paradis, a street of shuttered crystal and porcelain shops, the only sign of life a stray cat on the cracked pavement. On the building walls hung peeling posters announcing an iKK--Kurdish Workers Party--protest.
She watched Yves, wondering what lay behind his sudden appearance in Paris. The taxi edged along rue du Château d'Eau, filled with African hair-supply shops and crowded hair-dressing salons, open late. Multicolored wigs, dreadlocks, and extensions hung in the windows like confetti. Here the street teemed with life. Another world. Young African men gathered, laughing and talking, on the packed corner.
"Stop a moment," Yves said to the taxi driver.
He disappeared inside Afro Coiffeur, a small shop filled with women having their hair braided. The warm air from the open window brushed her knees, and the bubbling syllables of Tongolaise dialect teased her ears.
Yves emerged a moment later, a bag in his hand.
"What about that drink, Yves?"
A few blocks later at the Canal Saint-Martin, a dark stain of water running to the Seine, Yves paid the taxi driver. The canal's surface was pockmarked with the reflections of streetlights like so many diamonds, framed by the leafy plane trees that lined the banks. An arched metal footbridge spanned the narrow canal. No barges were cruising at this time of night.
Yves patted the slatted wooden seat of a bench near a squat bollard meant to block parking. He pulled a bottle of Veuve Cliquot from the bag, worked his thumbs on the cork, and popped it. Not a drop spilled.
"Still your favorite, Aimée?" he asked, handing her the bottle.
"Since when do you get champagne from a beauty parlor?"
"Pays to have connections when the shops are closed." He grinned. "Salut." She heard the rumble of a truck along the narrow street on the opposite bank. A dog barked in the distance.
"I almost forgot how big your eyes are," Yves said, his voice the same, the reasoned tone and familiar warmth as well as the bad-boy glint in his eye.
She ran her fingers through her spiky hair, then took a swig from the bottle. The chilled champagne slid smoothly down her throat. "That may have worked last time, Yves."
Last time and every time.
"You're a force of nature, Aimée. My nature," Yves said. "Stay with me."
She blinked. Just like that?
"You just appear..."
"Without warning." He gave that little lopsided smile, that same wonderful lopsided smile. "Selfish, I know," he said. "But now I'm based here, and I've put in an offer to buy my friend's loft. Right there." He gestured to the renovated warehouse behind them. It had been a printing works. There was a light in one of the rectangular window slits. "I can't forget you," he said. "That's the problem."
"Correction: your problem."
And then his mouth was on hers, searching, moving on to nibble her neck. In the evening warmth, a frisson flared up her spine.
"Let's try again, Aimée," he begged.
She averted her eyes from his dark searching ones. She'd thought of him, more times than she'd like to admit.
"We've tried this before, remember? It doesn't work," she said, one hand clutching the bench.
No matter how much she'd wanted it to. A lone pigeon pecked at the cobblestones by her feet. The still water of the canal was like a ribbon of dark-green silk.
"This time it's different," he said. "No more quick visits, no more good-byes on street corners."
"And pigs may fly, Yves."
He grinned. "You never used to mix passion with practicality."
She wished she didn't want him to kiss her again.
"So I'll prove it to you," he said, standing up and reaching for her hand.
Common sense dictated that she hail a taxi and leave trouble behind. She stood. But when had she listened to common sense?
* * *
Excerpted with permission from Murder in the Rue de Paradis by Cara Black, copyright 2008, Soho Press, Inc., New York.
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