Written by Cara Black — I discovered Cara Black’s feisty Parisian heroine Aimée Leduc after my first stint of living in France, when I was back home and longing for my morning croissant at my neighbourhood café. So, from personal experience, I can confirm that this series is perfect for relieving any homesickness you might harbour for the chic and hectic urban French lifestyle. It’s a world away from the more nostalgic and gourmet rural series such as Martin Walker’s Chief of Police Bruno or Adrian Magson’s Lucas Rocco, but equally enjoyable.
Cara Black is a frequent visitor to Paris and her love for the French capital and culture shines through in each of the 14 books she has produced in this series since 1998. Each book focuses on a different neighbourhood of Paris and is loosely based upon a true crime story from the 1990s – the period during which the series is set. You can even get a free companion guide to the districts covered by each of the Aimée Leduc novels, outlining the minor characters, locations and favourite haunts. The link is here.
Born of a French policeman father who died in a shooting and an American mother who disappeared when she was just eight years old, Aimée is headstrong, fearless and opinionated. A very modern, stylish heroine, although she is neither a policewoman nor a conventional PI. She runs a company specialising in unveiling cyber crime and internet security, but she often gets involved in real and very murderous investigations. In this latest book, she is forced to take things easier, as she is five months pregnant and Paris is basking in a terrible heat wave plus World Cup fever in 1998.
This time we are close to the Leduc offices, amongst people whom Aimée has known for years. The action takes place in the seedy district of Pigalle, well past its red light heyday, but still a tourist trap for those seeking out the ‘real’ Paris nightlife. A serial rapist appears to be terrorising the neighbourhood, following young latchkey girls home from school or music lessons and attacking them in their homes, before the arrival of their parents. Zazie, the 13-year-old, red-haired daughter of the owner of the local café and Aimée’s faithful disciple, has a theory about who might be the aggressor and she is eager to play the detective. When Zazie herself goes missing, her parents turn to Aimée for help. How can she refuse, even if it endangers her unborn baby? Is Zazie a victim of the rapist, or has she seen something that he is prepared to kill for? Aimée has to confront police bureaucracy, stonewalling parents and dodgy bar customers in an effort to save her young friend.
It is difficult to keep up the standard and interest in such a long-running series, and I have to admit that this latest installment does flag a little. It’s an enjoyable enough entry for someone new to the Aimée Leduc books, but it may disappoint hardcore fans. The French phrases thrown in for local colour and the constant references to fashion labels also starts to grate after a while. Aimée may be one of the most sparky and fun heroines in crime fiction, but sadly this book does not show her at her best.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars