Category Archives: Cara Black

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid*

An interesting quote, attributed to Dennis Lehane, goes this way:

‘Maybe there are some things we were put on this earth not to know.’

And it’s got me thinking about whether there really are some things that people are better off not knowing. On the one hand, if someone finds out the truth later, this can wreak all sorts of havoc, to say nothing of the breach of trust. On the other hand, there may very well be some things that are best left alone. And it’s not always an easy call to make. Just a quick look at crime fiction is enough to show that.

In Agatha Christie’s The Hollow, for instance, Hercule Poirot gets involved in a murder investigation when he is invited for lunch at the country home of Sir Henry and Lady Lucy Angkatell. He arrives just in time to see that Dr. John Christow, another guest, has been shot. The apparent shooter is standing near the body, holding the weapon. But soon enough, Poirot is left unsure of whether he has really seen what he thinks he saw. He and Inspector Grange investigate, and find that there are several possible suspects. At one point, Christow’s widow, Gerda, says this about their son, Terry:

‘‘Terry always has to know.’’

She’d rather keep Terry and his sister, Zena, as far away from the investigation as possible, but Terry isn’t that sort of child. And even Poirot hints, later in the story, that Terry will want to know the truth. And there’s a real question about whether children should be told the truth about a parent’s death.

Similar sorts of questions are addressed in Babs Horton’s A Jarful of Angels. In one plot thread of that novel, we are introduced to four children: Lawrence ‘Fatty’ Bevan, Elizabeth ‘Iffy’ Meredith, Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Tranter, and William ‘Billy’ Edwards.  They’re growing up in a small, isolated Welsh village in 1962. As their part of the story goes on, we slowly learn about some secrets that people in the village are keeping. Little by little, the children learn what some of them are. What’s more, they find that they’re woven into the web of some of those secrets in ways they didn’t know. And that causes its own trouble. In fact, it’s an interesting question whether it would have been better for them not to know. To say more would spoil the story, but Horton address the question in some interesting ways.

Pascal Garnier’s The Front Seat Passenger introduces us to Fabien Delorme. As the story begins, the police inform Delorme that his wife, Sylvie, has been killed in a car crash. What’s more, they tell him that Sylvie was not alone in the car. It seems that she had a lover, and the news takes Delorme by surprise. He can’t resist trying to find out the other man’s name, and he soon does: Martial Arnoult. Delorme also learns that Arnoult left a widow, Martine. Now he feels the need to know more about her; and before long, he’s stalking her. He even follows her and a friend as they take a holiday trip to Majorca, where he begins an affair with her. That relationship spins quickly out of control, and it’s not long before tragedy results. And you could argue that it all might have been prevented if Delorme hadn’t known the truth about his wife’s affair.

In Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais, we are introduced to Paris PI Aimée Leduc. Soli Hecht hires her on behalf of Temple Emmanuel to do some decoding, and deliver the results to one of the temple members, Lili Stein. By the time Leduc gets there, though, it’s too late: Lili Stein has been murdered, and a swastika marked on her forehead. Leduc is a ‘person of interest,’ since she was on the scene, but it’s soon clear that she’s not the murderer. She gets interested in the case, though, and investigates. The answers lie in the past, during and just after the Nazi occupation of France; and those events have repercussions in modern Paris. Leduc finds out what really happened, and we learn the truth. The question is, though, how much she will tell the victim’s son, Abraham:

‘‘Aimée,’ Réne[Leduc’s business partner] asked slowly, ‘Will you tell Abraham?’
‘If he asks. Otherwise, I’ll let the ghosts alone. All of them.’’  

In the end, it’s an interesting question whether Abraham Stein has the right to know everything about his mother’s death.

And then there’s Kalpana Swaminathan’s Greenlight, the sixth in her series featuring retired Mumbai police inspector Lalli. In this novel, parents living in the small slum of Kandewadi become terrified when some children begin to disappear from the slum and are later found dead. At first, the media and police don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on. But after several children have been killed, Inspector Savio is assigned to the case, and he consults with Lalli. Finding out the truth is a slow, painful process, some of that truth is truly brutal and ugly. So Lalli doesn’t tell everyone everything. There are some things she keeps private, even from her niece, Sita, who is part of the team that helps her. In this case, Lalli believes that more harm than good would come from saying too many things to people who don’t need to know them. I can’t say more without spoiling the story, but it’s interesting to see how that question of how much people need to know is addressed.

And it is a good question. Is Lehane right? Are there things we’re better off knowing?


*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Daryl Hall and John Oates.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Babs Horton, Cara Black, Kalpana Swaminathan, Pascal Garnier

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