Murder in the Marais is one of the best new mysteries I have read in a long time. Cara Black has done an impeccable job creating a believable, accurate, and engaging Parisian setting. Because her book is contemporary, rather than the much more common historical mysteries with a French venue, she has managed to write a novel that is unique - at least in my experience - in its venue and topic.
Black, a resident of Paris, knows the city well. She chose the Marais as the logical setting for this book. The case resides in the death of an older Jewish woman who is found dead in her apartment with a swastika engraved into her forehead. The story revolves around the complex intermingling of modern day European Union France and historical memory World War II Paris. The marais has long been the Jewish quarter of Paris and therefore it makes the most logical sense for this type of story. Black uses the reality of the Parisian street, naming names, describing buildings, to place the reader in the very accurate modern day Parisian 4th arrondisement.
Private investigator Aimee Leduc gets mixed up in the murder through an investigation into a partial historical photograph. Leduc's specialty is computer hacking and throughout the story she finds her way into any number of archives and databases not accessible to the public. But, each of these databases are based on real sources.
The reason this story captured my imagination - aside from my general francophile tendencies - is because she told a believable story that wove together a fascinating and dark past with an equally tense present day. The role of immigration today in France is a major political hot button. The continuing fascination with World War II - collaboration, deportation, prosecution, study and research - remains a tangible reality for many Frenchman, albeit hidden under a thick layer of forgetting and commemoration.
If you have any interest in contemporary Paris, in World War II civilian Paris, in the plight of the Jews in France, read this book. Since finishing it, I have gone out and bought the next six books in the series (five of them signed by the author. Sigh, if only I had realized she came to town for a book signing two weeks earlier...). I am looking forward to delving into the other neighborhood mysteries of Cara Black.