Written by Cara Black — It has been almost 20 years since we were introduced to the Paris-based private detective Aimee Leduc. She has come through many cases since her first in Murder in the Marias. Leduc has traversed quite a few of Paris’ famed arrondissements. From the Bastille to Montmartre to the Latin Quarter, much of Paris has been covered by this charming heel-wearing detective.
Cara Black’s 16th book, Murder in Saint-Germain, throws us right into one of the most famous areas of the city. Also known as the Left Bank, the Saint-Germain is where Sartre and Beauvoir, Joyce and Hemingway, wrote, where Picasso hung out, the land of cafes and jazz. With its rich history, and the way it almost defines what it is to be Parisian, it’s a wonder it’s taken the author so long.
The book opens in 1999, and Aimee is having a steamy rendezvous with Benoit, a charming neighbour. Their romance is interrupted by a baby’s cry. Aimee pauses, wondering if it’s her eight-month-old or Benoit’s niece. She is now a mother, but carries the responsibility quite lightly, like most things. Her life is quite calm at the moment and is working on a case that is mostly security analysis at the École des Beaux-Arts. You can smell the warm spring air and the feel the serene sophistication of Parisian life in the opening pages.
In comes a friend, Suzanne Lesage, a Brugade Criminelle agent from the counter terrorism squad, and she complicates matters. Suzanne has just returned from the former Yugoslavia where she was working on cleaning up the mess of the Bosnian War and the atrocities associated with it, much of which could not be reconciled. Suzanne claims to have seen ‘a ghost’, a war criminal called Mirko Vladic who was said to have been blown up in Serbia. He was seen at a nearby cafe and Suzanne wants Aimee’s help tracking him down.
Aimee is reluctant to take the work. Suzanne seems to be suffering from PTSD, and the claim seems unhinged. But Aimee is pulled into the case when Suzanne shares the horrific details inflicted by Vladic and his men on young girls and children during the war. Aimee’s new role as a parent locks her into the case, and she agrees to take it.
Her work and idyllic Parisian life are further complicated when her daughter Chloe’s biological father, Malec, arrives on the scene seeking to spend time with the baby. Aimee doesn’t trust his motives. Also, her godfather, Morbier, has suffered a serious gunshot wound and Aimee is processing the emotion of that which just further complicates matters. And on top of it all, when things couldn’t seem more tangled, members of Suzanne’s counter-terrorism squad start turning up dead.
Cara Black’s skill in Murder in Saint-Germain, as well as the other books in the series, is how she carries complicated mysteries with a lightness and panache that is wonderfully Parisian. Aimee Leduc is a fabulous protagonist and trés chic in all she does. It’s delightful watching her traverse her multiple cases in heels, and now as a single mother.
Black manages the multiple plot lines well. The emotional and personal aspects of her life as a new mother are a welcomed addition to series. But the book’s major disappointment is how Saint-Germain figures into the narrative in a cursory way. Black’s use of the area touches solely on the famous and cliched aspects of the Left Bank, capturing little of the nuance. For an arrondissement with such a rich and complicated history, Black mines little of it and, outside of name dropping, captures none of the flair of the Left Bank. It feels touristy and out of touch with the location.
Murder in Saint-Germain drives towards a frenzied finish, like other books in the series. Black hits all her marks. While this book will satisfy fans of the series, it may not win over those new to it.
If you are interested in other books in the series, check out our review of Murder in Pigalle, the 14th book in the series.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars