Sunday, March 28, 2010

Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black

Paris must be one of the most written about cities in literature (alongside New York and London). Who can think of Paris without thinking about romance and fine art and culture? But the famous city of so much literature is not the Paris of Cara Black's books. And I find her lack of idealism about Paris refreshing. She writes stories that explore the seedy underground of Paris. There is still a nostalgic appeal to her descriptions of the historic city, but they are not idealized and utopian.

Murder in the Sentier is the third in the Aimée Leduc mysteries. I enjoyed it - like I have enjoyed all of Black's books so far. But I enjoyed it less than the first two books in the series. I felt like Black had so much description to set the neighborhood that it took over for the plot.

Black's strength is the ability to interweave historically important moments in French history with modern problems. Leduc, a cyber-detective ends up solving crimes involving events from 50 plus years ago. In her first book Murder in the Marais, Black tackled anti-Semitism, collaboration and the Holocaust - amazing and well-written. In Murder in the Sentier Black tackles 1970s reactionary terrorist groups. Historically interesting? Yeah, I suppose. But it didn't grip me the way her other books have.

I also felt like Black worked too hard to incorporate Leduc's tortured past into the novel. The readers know from other books about Leduc's missing mother and now dead policeman-turned-detective father. Yet in this book dad has a black mark for possibly aiding and abetting his wife (Aimée's mother) who collaborated with reactionary terrorist groups. It didn't jive with the other stories in my mind.

The reason I will continue to read all of Black's books? Her descriptions of Parisian neighborhoods. Black has done painstaking research to describe each quarter of Paris as unique and distinct from any other neighborhood. But she also throws in historical bits which demonstrate a strong knowledge of the city's past as well.

An enjoyable read - much heavier than a cozy --> prostitution, drug use, bits of blood and guts. Worth the time if you love books about the City of Lights.

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