Black, Cara - 'Murder in the Latin Quarter'
MURDER IN THE LATIN QUARTER is the ninth book in a series, all entitled 'Murder in….', all of which are set in Paris, and feature a private detective named Aimee and her partner René. In the first few pages of the book, an illegal immigrant, Mireille, from Haiti, claims to be Aimee's half sister but then almost immediately disappears. When Aimee looks for her, she stumbles upon a recent murder, that of Professor Benoit, who has had his ear cut off, the skin peeled off his forehead, and is surrounded by a circle of salt. Did Mireille have something to do with it? Why was the Professor murdered? Where is she, and is she really Aimee's half sister?
Aimee spends the rest of the book trying to answer these questions. She feels that Mireille is in some sort of danger, and that she has to work as fast as she can to find her and find the Professor's killer. The result is that she dashes around Paris, telling a series of white lies to gain admittance to the Professor's research laboratory to try to find out why he might have been murdered, while trying to find Mireille who may, or may not have, been recaptured by the gang who helped her to enter the country illegally. There is also a gradual telling of a fairly complex back story involving politics and double dealing in Haiti, with a cast of various Haitian officials, and a couple more murders on the way, and a climax in which Aimee finds herself in great danger.
This is a fast paced and 'busy' book, that never really lets up. Aimee almost seems to do without sleep entirely, and conveniently manages to find changes of clothes when and wherever she needs them. The author mostly uses action and dialogue to move the story on, and there is very little space or time given to Aimee for her own internal dialogue or reflection, in which she thinks about what she has heard and seen and puts it all together in her head. While this is a good strategy to use to push the pace of the book, it doesn't give the reader time to reflect either, and consequently, I found myself losing the plot and interest in the book from time to time.
The author, Cara Black, is an American who lives in San Francisco. It's tricky for an American to write a book based in Europe, and she does a pretty good job, but doesn't quite pull it off. I'm not sure what the advantage is of setting these books in Paris. A whirlwind trip around parts of Paris (in this case, the Latin Quarter) doesn't really convey its character, and Aimee's character is unlike that of any Parisian I've encountered, where style, poise, dress, culture and food are close if not top of the list. I also found it irritating that, to emphasise that this is a French detective, various French words are thrown in from time to time, but always in italics, just to make it clear. The plot itself is complex, convoluted, and reasonably entertaining, and Aimee herself is an engaging character. Why not make Aimee an American detective, either based in Paris, or in San Francisco? While there are a lot of good elements in the book, and it was on balance an interesting read, I think if I want to read about a French detective in Paris, I'd rather read Fred Vargas.
Michelle Peckham, England