American mystery writer Cara Black travels to Paris twice a year to do research for her successful Aimée Leduc series, which is set in the city. The books feature a hip young detective who often works outside of the law as she confronts the darker side of the “city of light.”
On a trip to Paris last fall, Black brushed up against real darkness when terrorists attacked a café less than two blocks away from where she had been staying with a friend.
“I arrived home with texts and messages awaiting me, asking ‘Are you okay?’” said Black, who had left for home the day before the bombing.
When the author returned in April to research her next novel, she saw things that surprised her.
“I noticed the solidarity of the Parisians,” she said. “They were not hiding inside. I was so impressed, seeing them going to outdoor cafés. Parisians giving the middle finger to the world.”
City Pulse caught up with Black by phone while the author was in an airport, about to board for a flight to Orlando for last weekend’s American Library Association Annual Conference. Black attended the conference to promote her latest book, “Murder on the Quai,” and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her publisher, SOHO Crime Press, which publishes mysteries set in international locales.
“Murder on the Quai,” a prequel to her 15-book Aimée Leduc series, is set in 1989. The book details how her protagonist became a crime investigator. Leduc’s father, a former police detective turned private investigator, is out of town when a distant relative asks Aimee to investigate a murder. Aimee hopes the investigation will help her learn more about her mother, who abandoned the family when Aimee was 8.
With no formal detective experience, Aimée bumbles and stumbles through a crime investigation that involves ill gotten Nazi gold, a series of murders and a cycle of retribution that began during Hitler’s occupation of France.
Aimée, a 19-year-old med student, rolls through Paris’ 20 arrondissements — neighborhoods — on her bicycle or her grandfather’s motorcycle, trying to act grown up in her thrift shop clothes. (Black provides helpful maps of Paris on her website to help readers unfamiliar with the city.) Along the way, Aimée finds friends such as Rene, a computer expert who plays an important role in later books as technology becomes a crucial part of Aimée’s investigations. She also acquires her dog, Miles Davis.
Black first visited Paris in 1970 at the age of 19. She traveled with a backpack and slept in the open air, often under bridges.
“Paris is so different now,” she said. “Like everywhere, it’s more global, but it’s still made up of small villages. People stay there, live there, eat there.”
Black based her first Aimée Leduc book, “Murder in the Marais,” on a true life incident.
“I was staying with a friend who took me to a house where her mother lived during the last year of World War II,” Black said. “She was Jewish and went off to school with her little yellow star. When she returned home her family was gone.”
The girl’s mother and father had been snatched by Germans. It wasn’t until after the war that the girl learned they had been sent to a concentration camp.
“I wondered what it was like to be a 14-year-old, all alone, and decided to write about it,” she said.
Black published “Murder in the Marais” in 1999, and she has since put out about one new book per year. The books are filled with cultural and social markers that take readers through Paris in the 1990s, complete with mullets, popular music and shoulder pads. In her latest book, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, and Aimée’s father travels to East Berlin to recover some important documents about her mother.
“Murder on the Quai” is an entertaining prequel for fans of the series, but it’s also a great place to start for those who are new to Aimée’s antics. Black said the hardest thing about writing the series has been keeping the stories fresh.
“You read a series because you like the characters,” she said. “You don’t want to be with them if they are boring. You always have to have fresh challenges.”
Author talk and book signing
7 p.m. Wednesday, June 29
Schuler Books & Music (Meridian Mall location)
1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos
(517) 349-8840, schulerbooks.com