Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black
I usually like to read a series of crime novels from the beginning, to get any back-story in the right order and to see how the recurring characters develop. Sometimes, however, it’s good to jump into a series knowing that if you enjoy a later volume, that you may have the pleasure of reading all the earlier ones to come. This is what I did with Cara Black’s latest crime novel – her fourteenth featuring chic Parisian P.I. Aimée Leduc.
Leduc runs her own detective agency, aided by best friend René and computer hacker Saj. They appear to specialise in cyber-crime, but there’s not much going on at the moment for Aimée is five months pregnant. Her lover, Melac, doesn’t know – he’s in Brittany near his ex-wife, and where his daughter lies in a coma. Aimée, who has obviously had parent issues of her own, is confused by her own impending motherhood – the baby is beginning to really kick.
A quiet life is not going to be for her though. In Pigalle, the night-life heart of Paris, a serial rapist is following young girls home from school and raping them, and one has died. Aimée has been helping Zazie, the young teenaged daughter of her favourite café owner with a school project, and one day she disappears. Zazie’s mother enlists Aimée’s help as the les flics won’t respond until she’s been missing for 24hrs and awash with hormones Leduc flings herself into the case with a passion and zeal that will land her in big trouble. It appears that Zazie has been shadowing a man whom she thought was the rapist…
With a sub-plot involving a robbery gone wrong by one of the girls in danger’s fathers, things get quite complicated quite quickly. Leduc finds that none of the parents of the raped girls are telling the full story – whether from guilt, shame or ignorance, and her blundering in puts her in danger too.
It’s hard not to like Aimée. Think of a pregnant and French V.I.Warshawski and you’re getting there with regard to her character, however she’s not as good a detective as Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Like most Parisian women, she’s typically BCBG (Bon chic, bon genre) – well as a P.I. maybe less of the BG – but still wouldn’t dream of going anywhere under-dressed, (nearly) every item of clothing has its labels.
The Dior shirt stuck to her back. She had to change. In the back armoire she picked one of Saj’s gifts, a loose, Indian white-cotton shirt – the soft fabric breathed, thank God. She pulled her short jean jacket over it, stepped into an agnès b. cotton-flounced skirt with a drawstring waistband and slipped into a low-heeled pair of sandals.
Black clearly does her homework in Paris for these novels. The detail feels authentic, but using the odd French words and phrases scattered throughout feels a bit unnecessary - the police are nearly always les flics, a bloke is un mec, no-one ever says sorry – it’s always désolé and so on. If it were a French novel translated into English a translator wouldn’t do this.
Thirteen year old Zazie, although better behaved in general and certainly less potty mouthed, has echoes of Raymond Queneau’s independent spirit of Zazie in the Metro from 1960 (my review here) – I don’t know if that was deliberate or a happy coincidence.
Of course, I missed some of the back-story in her friendship with the dwarf René, her love Melac and her Godfather Morbier a Commissaire in the police, but even without that, this mystery stood pretty well on its own. I don’t know whether I’ll read the whole of the rest of the series, but I will look out for some of the previous titles as it would be fun to get to know Aimée Leduc a little better. (7/10)
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Murder in Pigalle: (Aimee Leduc Investigations) by Cara Black, pub Mar 2014 by Soho Press. Hardback, 310 pages.