Today I'm delighted to welcome my frequent signing partner Cara Black, creator of the justifiably acclaimed Aimee LeDuc mysteries, set in Paris.
So welcome Cara. What inspired you to write about Paris?
CARA: I grew up in Francophile family in California and attended a French Catholic school. My uncle went to France and studied with artist George Braques, so talk at our dinner table was a lot about France. In 1984, after living in Basel, I returned to Europe and visited my French friend Sarah. One beautiful day, she showed me the Marais, a district of narrow streets and 17th-century mansions. When we encountered a square, the Place de Vosges, I felt like I was home. On Rue de Rosiers, she stopped, pointed to a window, and told me that her mother had lived there during the German occupation of Paris. Sarah’s mother, then 14, had come home from school one day in 1943 to find an empty apartment. All of the family’s bags—one packed for each member—were gone. She lived by herself for a year, with the help of the concierge, a Christian woman. After Liberation in 1944, she met a woman who had seen her sister get off the train at Auschwitz. She knew then that her family had saved her by taking her backpack when they were picked up, so police would think they’d left no one behind. So here I was, at this apartment with so much history, and it touched my heart deeply. I never forgot Sarah’s story.
Ten years later, in 1993, my husband and I did a house exchange in Provence. We had one night in Paris before our flight home. We stayed in the Marais, near the Place de Vosges, and it was moonlight, and that shiver hit me again. I thought about Sarah’s mother. If only the cobblestones could talk…When I began writing I never thought I’d finish a book much less set it in Paris or write a series. Now I’m on my tenth book Murder in the Palais Royal but it’s taken awhile to get there. I was a mom, a preschool teacher and had old friends in Paris. The total sum of my qualifications apart from reading and loving mysteries. Yet friends have friends, and their introductions in Paris opened doors. In my case doors to private detectives, retired police, and local cafe owners.
RHYS: And what about Aimee LeDuc--is she an alter ego?
CARA:Well she’s taller, thinner and much better with computers than I am.
(from Rhys--and she wears higher heels and knows how to tie her scarf!!)
RHYS: tell us about this latest book.
CARA: In Murder in the Palais Royal, just as Aimee is about to leave for New York City to follow up on a lead about a possible younger brother, her partner in Leduc Detective, Rene Friant, is wounded by a near fatal gun shot. Eyewitnesses identify Aimee as the culprit. At the same time, a large mysterious sum of money appears on their firm's bank account and the tax authorities descend on Aimee. The police suspect her but it appears someone is impersonating her. Someone who wants revenge. But for what?
Murder in the Palais Royal takes place in October 1997 two months after Princess Diana’s death in Paris. The event’s still in the headlines and Papon, a wartime Vichy collaborator is on trial for war crimes in Bordeaux. That’s the backdrop. This story is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time, touching on family, loss and secrets from the past. Aimée’s journey in this book takes her back to her first investigation, Murder in the Marais, and parallels aspects of her life. And what better location than in the Palais Royal with it’s decayed aristocratic arcades?
RHYS: You go to Paris regularly to do research( and we feel for you, suffering for your art at those outdoor cafes and boutiques)--tell us how you decide where to set the next book and what interesting things have happened to you.
CARA: Ok so many writers kill people on the page, often for a living, but in my case it supports my habit of going to Paris for research. In Paris walking on the cobblestoned street, or in the Metro I get a spark of a story, a detail, overhear a conversation I’d never hear otherwise. Research takes me to the darker side of the city of light into the world of my detective Aimée Leduc. I interview tired police after a stakeout, chain smoking PI’s in dank clubs, Ministry officials with aching bunions. Climbing into the rat infested sewers, old quarries under Montmartre, the holding cells in police stations, even shooting a Sig Sauer at the police firing range. But my research took a more pleasant turn when I met Didier Ludot, a boutique owner who specializes in vintage little black dresses. I needed an education to clothe Aimée as a fashionista with a fondness for couture found in flea markets. Didier tutored me in his boutique under the Palais Royal arcades one autumn afternoon. His bulldog, Winston, hunched at his feet in the nineteenth century shop lit by chandeliers.In his boutique with red velvet upholstered chairs, the white walls showcased the vintage couture of Givenchy, Dior, Schiaparelli and Chanel. I felt content to drink in the atmosphere. I needed a dress Aimee would wear to a cocktail party. And then I saw it, the perfect little black dress by Chanel on the rack. Albeit one Aimée would wear with a leather jacket and boots.
But then there’s other kinds of research that sparks a story. Over the years I’ve built up connections, nourished relationships over dinner and run possible scenarios by these experts, some of whom have become friends. ‘I want you to get it right,’ a female private detective once told me. True. Writing a book set in Paris, a real city I need to get the details correct.
But it depends on asking the right questions. Even after all this time, I still miss things. Little did I realize, three years ago, that my big scoop sat next to me at a cafe. Retired Police Commissaire Mulés who I met every time I go to Paris over a bottle of wine. This happened in 2007 one afternoon at an outdoor cafe. He looked at me with tired eyes. “I’m so tired of speaking English,” he said, ‘five hours today in London. Today we only speak French.” I groaned. “You were in London?” He nodded. “Just got off the Eurostar.” “But why?” “Eh ten years and it’s over...the investigation finally.” “But what investigation?” I asked wishing he’d get to the point. “Those funny British judges with their wigs,” he sighed again, “they ask so many questions.’ “What do you mean?” “After ten years and now I gave my final testimony in Princess Diana’s case.” My ears perked up. “But why you?” “Me? but, I was in charge of the investigation. Ten long years.’ (This was in 2007 ten years after Princess Diana’s death in the car crash in the Paris tunnel). I spilled my wine. “You never told me.” He grinned. “You never asked.’ A story gold mine, a Commissaire in charge of Princess Diana’s investigation and I didn’t know? But now I knew I had to write a story against the backdrop of that time. Could furnish the details from Commissaire Mulés a primary source.. So that became the background for Murder in the Latin Quarter.
RHYS: Cara, as always fascinating stuff. You seem to run into incredible stories around every corner in Paris. And bonne chance for the new book, in stores this week, I believe. I look forward to signing with you next week. Check out our websites for details.