In The Spotlight: Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The scars of World War II run very deep, especially in places like Paris, which played an important role in that war. And some of those wartime events still have an impact today. Let’s look at an example of how that plays out, and turn the spotlight on Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais, the first of her Aimée Leduc series.

Leduc and her business partner, René Friant, own Leduc Detective, a private investigation firm. One day, she gets a visit from Soli Hecht, who has come on behalf of a local synagogue, Temple Emanuel. Leduc’s specialty is computer security, and that’s a big part of why Hecht wants to hire her. He wants her to decrypt a particular code, and take her results to a congregant named Lili Stein. Leduc agrees and gets to work.

By the time she finishes the task and gets to the Stein residence, it’s too late. Lili Stein has been murdered, and a Nazi swastika carved into her forehead. Since Leduc’s at the scene of the crime, she’s certainly a ‘person of interest,’ even though Inspector Morbier (an old friend of her father’s) doesn’t think she’s guilty. Leduc isn’t arrested, but she’s now interested in the case, and Morbier reluctantly concedes that she might be helpful, so they agree to share information.

One very real possibility is that the victim was killed in a hate crime by Les Blancs Nationaux (LBN), a far-right, white-supremacist group. So, Leduc goes to an LBN meeting disguised as a new recruit. She finds out some useful information, but some of the pieces of the puzzle don’t quite fit together. So, she also follows up on the information she was able to decode, to see if the victim had learned something dangerous. And, she investigates the Stein family and its background, to see if there might be a personal motive.

Before long, Leduc sees that this investigation is much more than she’d imagined. She’s warned off several times, and threatened more than once. And it’s soon clear that someone is trying to kill her, rather than let her get to the answers.

In the meantime, there’s tension in the city because of a proposed EU treaty that will set very strict immigration quotas. Representatives from several governments have gathered in Paris to sign that treaty. Many see this agreement as a racist attempt to keep non-whites out of France. Others say that it’s a responsible way to ensure that unemployment rates don’t go too high and threaten the economy. There are marches, debates, and demonstrations on both sides of the issue.

Against this background, Leduc and Friant slowly begin to find out the truth about Lili Stein’s murder. In the end, and after more murder, they learn that it’s linked to a murder in the past, and to wartime events. It’s also linked to contemporary politics.

The book takes place in Paris, and that’s very clear throughout. As Leduc and Friant investigate, readers follow along to several parts of the city, including its underground catacombs, its art museums, and some very upmarket hotels. There’s also a look at some of the not-so pleasant places. Since the majority of the novel takes place in the Marais, there’s an especially close look at that section of the city. The edition I read even includes a map of that area.

The history of World War II, including the Nazi occupation and the weeks and months after Liberation, plays an important role in the story. As the events unfold, we learn about life in the Marais at that time. During the war, Jews are at constant risk, food is scarce, and anyone might denounce one to the Nazi authorities. Liberation isn’t much easier. Those viewed as collaborators are killed or at least brutally treated and humiliated. This, too, leaves long-lasting scars. It’s a harsh environment, and it’s against that backdrop that the older, linked, murder occurs.

Leduc is a private investigator, and Black shows how PIs get their information. Leduc and Friant are computer experts, so she’s an expert at hacking computer systems to find information. The novel takes place in 1993, before today’s WiFi, social media and smartphones, and in one sense, that makes the case a little more challenging. In another, though, it means that it’s a bit harder to trace Leduc.

And that’s a good thing, because there are some very dangerous people who would like nothing better than to stop her. There are several LBN members, for instance, who fear that she’s a threat to them. And there are some very highly-placed people who have secrets she could discover. That’s not to mention the fact that bringing up the past means that some people will have to face things they or their family members did many years ago. And some people don’t want those things made public.

But Leduc is not without resources. She’s smart and quick-thinking, and she knows the city well. She makes use of disguises and ruses more than once, and is in good physical shape. She’s tough enough, too, to get up again when she’s knocked down, if I can put it that way.

This novel has several elements of the thriller. In some places, there are some very fast-paced moments, nick-of-time rescues, and narrow escapes. Danger comes from unexpected sources, and some people are not who they seem to be. It’s not always easy to tell whether someone’s trustworthy or not. There’s violence, too. And, as is the case in some thrillers, there’s some suspension of disbelief involved. That said, though, there are also sections with plenty of description.

The story doesn’t end with someone being led away in handcuffs. Still, I can say without spoiling anything that readers who like to know what happened and who did what will be satisfied. And Black doesn’t gloss over the devastation that murder leaves in people’s lives.

Murder in the Marais is a uniquely Paris story that links past and present. It takes place in an important part of the city rich in history, and features a protagonist who knows that city very well. But what’s your view? Have you read Murder in the Marais? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 14 August/Tuesday, 15 August – The Cemetery of Swallows – Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol

Monday, 21 August/Tuesday, 22 August – Corridors of Death – Ruth Dudley Edwards

Monday, 28 August/Tuesday, 29 August – The Colaba Conspiracy – Surender Mohan Pathak


Filed under Cara Black, Murder in the Marais

22 responses to “In The Spotlight: Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais

  1. Not every book in the series has been fully satisfactory, as is often the case in such a long-running series, but on the whole this is a series I really enjoy, because of its location and Aimee’s innate stylishness.

    • I like her sense of style, too, Marina Sofia. And you’re right about the series’ location. I think that really adds to it. It may not be consistently excellent (what, as you say, what series is?), but by and large, enjoyable.

  2. Pingback: In The Spotlight: Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais | picardykatt's Blog

  3. The setting appeals, but I tend to steer away from plots that lead back to the Nazis – I guess I’ve felt for a long time that Europe is unhealthily obsessed by that period, and should really make an effort to ‘move on’. Barely a day goes by without some WW2-related documentary or drama or film on television. I don’t mind historical fiction set in that period so much, but contemporary fiction reaching back over seventy years for its motivation seems a stretch. I know that’s just a personal opinion, though, possibly brought on by over-exposure to all things WW2 in my childhood, when it was still very much in the minds of all the adults who had been involved in it.

    • That’s an interesting point, FictionFan. And the fact is, not every topic is for everyone. You bring up a good point, too, about the impact of upbringing, etc., on the way we think about what we read. I can understand what you mean about overexposure. Interesting how many individual differences there are, isn’t it? For some people, WW II has appeal as a topic; others want to go on to other topics. So I can see how that aspect of the novel might not be your sort of thing.

  4. I do like fiction that really involves contemporary issues although politics in books leaves me a little cold although this sounds like a worthwhile read and it’s interesting to remember how different life was in terms of technology as recently as 1993!

    • That was one of the things that occurred to me, too, Cleo! Technology has changed so much, even in 24 years since the book takes place. It’s amazing how different today’s technology is. There certainly is an element of politics in the novel, and it plays a role in what happened; that’s not everyone’s cuppa. There are some other issues that come up, though, and if you decide to give this one a try, I hope you’ll like it.

  5. Col

    An interesting book, but I’ll have to pass – too many already!

  6. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out the book, Murder in the Marais, by Cara Black, in the spotlight on the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog

  7. Phil is a big fan of this book but I haven’t read it.

  8. Keishon

    I’ve hesitated because the series because of reader’s reactions to her the books being so uneven. I think I have the first one, bought during a sale years ago.

    • It’s true, Keishon, that this isn’t a universally-loved series. If you do have the first one, and you do read it, I’ll be interested in what you think of it.

  9. Hmm, interestingly varied reactions here! I’m intrigued by the Paris setting and the idea of a stylish investigator… Can’t decide.

    • This one does tend to generate mixed reactions, Moira. The clothes expert in you would probably very much appreciate Leduc’s sense of style, and there are some great descriptions of clothes. And Paris. But it’s not a book for everyone. If you do read it, I’ll be interested in your view.

  10. I have read two in the series and I really wanted to like them but was never motivated to continue. Yet the setting is great and I like a strong woman character. In your opinion, Margot, can these be read out of order?

    • I think they can be read out of order without missing too much, Tracy. it’s always easier to understand everything if one reads a series in order, but I don’t think you lose too much by reading them out of order. And I agree with you about the setting and Aimée Leduc’s strength of character. I like that about the books, too.

  11. Xanthe

    Thank for bringing this to my attention. I knew the series vaguely but this has made me start reading it. I love the description of the city But, tiny details make all the difference : a French friend told me that French people never order/drink cafe au lait so I was surprised that Aimee did just that and the book went clunk a bit, maybe it was tweaked for the ‘market’. Soz, I am such a pedant! So top Paris tip – order cafe creme not au lait and you will look like less of a naive tourist!

    • Thanks for that word of wisdom, Xanthe. Isn’t it interesting how those small details make all the difference in terms of how we feel about a book? Well, I think you’ll appreciate the rest of the Paris details, at any rate… And I do hope that you enjoy the story, too.

  12. It sounds very intersting. I like stories that bland past and present, because I do belive that the past is always present in the present and colours everything that happens today.

    Thanks so much for sharing this 🙂

    • I think you’re quite right, Jazzfeathers. The past impacts the present in large and small ways. And we certainly see that in this novel. If you do read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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