Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cara Black: Murder in Saint-Germain

Cara Black is the author of 17 novels in her series of detective novels featuring Aimée Leduc, the fashionably attired, unfailingly intrepid Parisian private investigator. 

Jenn: I was lucky enough to meet Cara at ALA last year in Orlando and I am happy to report that she is as fabulous in person as she is in print. Being a lover of all things Paris, I am just thrilled that her latest Aimée Leduc novel is available this week!

In the latest book  Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée finds herself involved on the Left Bank.  Black's stories treat those who love Paris to vividly rendered scenes in favorite Parisian locations. This time some of them include the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Jardin de Luxembourg, back offices of the Sénat, the church of St Germain des Pres, and the Closerie des Lilas, famous as one of Hemingway's favorite cafés. Complicating matters for Aimée is the fact that she is now the single mother of an 8-month old baby. 

What's the most interesting or surprising thing you learned about the 6th arrondissement--or maybe about Paris--in writing Murder in Saint Germain?
-Good question, Jenn, and hi Reds, thanks for having me back! 
I was lucky enough to be invited, after a lot of begging, to tour the Saint Germain area with Patrick, a commander in the Brigade Criminelle (elite Paris homicide squad). The Saint-Germain quarter was Patrick’s first ‘beat’ as a new flic after graduating from the police academy. It was fascinating to walk with Patrick on his old haunts in the quarter. He told me about his first cases, the investigations and we actually visited where they happened. It opened my eyes. ‘Here’ he said, ‘we found an old woman who’d been murdered and solved it by uncovering a robbery that had gone wrong’. He pointed to the rooftops and explained how a lot of burglaries happened via the skylights. He talked about policing at that time, in the 90’s, and how, as an effective flic, you needed to know your community and nourish your contacts. He used to see Marcel Carné, the famous film director of les Enfants du Paradis, who lived next door to the Commissariat. Monsieur Carné would always say bonjour to him!     

You've been in some very interesting situations in the course of researching your stories, and I must say I think you are almost as intrepid in pursuing your stories as Aimée is in pursuing villains. What's the funniest, or most unusual, situation you found yourself in the course of researching this book? 
-Stooping and crab walking in the old tunnels under the 
Jardin du Luxembourg! Seriously these tunnels traverse juste à cote to Boulevard Saint Michel and are deep underground. The underground tunnels are full of history and stories from rumored royal escapes to WW2 exploits. They also house air raid shelters used by the German Luftwaffe who were stationed in the Lycée Montaigne during the Occupation. There are still signs in German and rusted memorabilia. Oddly, the temperature is moderate and maybe it’s because the walls are limestone. It’s another world down there, quiet and full of the past.

Plot is of course of utmost importance in a crime novel. Do you plot your stories through to the end before you start writing, or does the plot develop organically along the way, as you are writing the story?
 -More organically. I knew Aimée was a single mom with an eight month old, she had unresolved guilt issues about her god father Morbier and she’d be doing computer security at Ecole des Beaux Arts. In crime fiction, policier, it’s about putting your protagonist out on a limb, chopping it down and they have to climb higher and higher and the branches get thinner and thinner. Putting your protagonist in conflict reveals their character. I’ve lived with Aimée for a long time and try to deepen her character and the problems she faces which I hope reflect what a contemporary Parisian faces. I met a female police officer, also part of an elite squad for lunch, I was dying to hear about her job, what it was like to work in a male dominated place. But she kept bringing the conversation back to her secondment to the Hague working on the Balkans with an international team for the International Court for crimes in the Former Yugoslavia. Her tales were harrowing and she suffered what we’d call PTSD. Only then did I realize that was part of the story I wanted to tell. Had to tell.

One of the things about your writing is a kind of cinematic quality to your descriptions of Paris as Aimée moves around it. You render not only the complicated action at the center of your plot, but also the background details. How do you do this? Do you take notes of actual scenes you observe while you're in Paris, or are you able to create these little vignettes out of your memory, or your imagination?
-In Paris, I take photos, record street sounds and in the cafes. I take a lot of notes and eavesdrop conversations on the # 96 Paris bus which goes from Belleville through the city to Montparnasse. It’s my favorite bus line because you traverse the city, right to left bank, and the passengers reflect it. Being a mapaholic and walking the streets at different times of the day inform a scene - it’s always important to visit a place at different times of the day to see how the light falls, the sounds, the morning bustle at the cafe, people returning from work stopping for an aperitif and paint the quarter as it lives and breathes.


Thanks so much for visiting us, Cara! Congrats on the release of Murder in Saint-Germain. So, Reds, are you like Cara and let your plot develop organically or do you plot your story all the way through to the end? 

44 comments:

  1. Cara, I’m excited to hear that there’s a new book, a new adventure for Aimée . . . I’m looking forward to reading it.

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  2. Bonjour dear Cara. Wishing you all the best for the new book! Like new I let my plot develop as I go . I'd rather follow my characters than make them do what I plan for them

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    1. Totally dear Rhys--we're panthers :)

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    2. I like panthers better though--sounds so elegant:). Congrats Cara! You always make me pine for Paris...

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    3. I like panthers better, too! LOL!

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    4. I like "panthers" better, too. Suits you both perfectly.

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  3. Welcome, Cara to JRW, and thanks for continuing to write new books with Aimee. I love to virtually travel with her through different Paris neighbourhoods in each book and to see how motherhood is affecting her personal and professional lives.

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    1. Grace, so appreciate what you say...single motherhood is a challenge...

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    2. No one writes Paris so well!

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    3. Jenn, thank you so much and for having me today with the Reds!
      You group of ladies are amazing, erudite, witty and I bet can drink anyone else under the table.

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  4. I know that my sister will be incredibly happy that there is a new Cara Black book out. She got to meet Cara at a signing a couple years back and is a devoted reader of the books.

    In doing reviews the last few months, I've had a number of the books I was sent that were set in other countries. With the exception of one, I was able to follow along with nary a dip in enjoyment as I figured out the different terminology used in writing the stories set in these other countries.

    Cara, with readers that are new to your work, do you ever hear feedback on if they have trouble following along as they adjust to all the French terminology etc.?

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    1. Thanks, Jay, it varies on the readers. Many learn French in high school or have travelled to Paris and picked up some French - using French words, for me, is giving the flavor, seasoning the story if you will, to anchor us in the country while the book is in English.

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  5. Hurray Cara! You have the most glamorous life in the world--andI do envy your familiarity with Paris, and just getting to ride the bus and eavesdrop and knowing it's research. Have you always spoken French? People must think you're French. In fact, are your readers surprised you're not? (Hey--we were both born in Chicago! We might have seen each other in the park... OH. That sounds like a good story...)

    As for your question, Jenn: I just sent my new book to the editor, and I'm in the "I don't know how I wrote that, I don't know how to write books and I'll never do it again" mode. :-)

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    1. Hank, you so TOTALLY fit on those Paris cobbles in heels...can see you there. I learned French in the dark ages from nuns at my Catholic school and when I went to Paris people said...we haven't used those words since the turn of the century!

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  6. How great to see Cara here on JRW today. I posted my review of Murder in Saint-Germain on BOLO Books yesterday, so no doubt I am a fan. Cara, if your reading, have you ever gone undercover in disguise (like Aimee often does) in your research efforts?

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    1. thanks for the great review K! really love it! Undercover? A few times and I've pretended to be a journalist (shhh) for one of our big papers and got into more backdoors then I could imagine.

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  7. Cara,
    Welcome to Jungle Reds! It was great to see you last Sunday at the Bat Area Book Festival! Your new book was already available to fans on Sunday. Happy Book Birthday!

    One Question: Is his name really Patrick or is it spelled in the French version, Patric?

    I asked because I learned from someone, who was born in France, that the name had to be French.

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    1. Yes you're right but I modeled it after the real 'Patrick' who spells his name that way...Anglicizing it, I guess is what he prefers - thanks for the good wishes! So good seeing you!

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  8. Cara let me know that she is traveling today, so she'll be popping in as the day allows.

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    1. thanks Jenn...I'm off to the airport soon and will be checking in

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  9. Welcome Cara and congrats on the new book. Those tunnels must have been fascinating and I am green with envy on your tour with Patrick.

    Dear Hank - your next book will be brilliant because they always are. =)

    I've tried plotting, but my characters all insist that they know better than I do, and they are usually right. So I settle for throwing out some ideas, setting a starting point, and seeing what develops as I go.

    Mary/Liz

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  10. HI, Cara - I've got your book right here on my TBR pile. And boy do I remember you writing about the tunnels. Still gives me the shivers.

    Our ships will pass in the night in California -- I'm at Mysterious Galaxy Monday 6/12 and you're there the Friday before. So close and yet...

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    1. Congrats on your new book, Hallie! Sorry to miss you but we'll see each other in September, right? Tunnels - so convenient and creepy!

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  11. First, does anyone else have a hard time at the beginning of books in which the main character has the same name as you do? I'm sure it happens more often for other people with "normal" names that you come across a book like that. :)

    Hank, how funny that riding the bus is glamorous as long as it's in Paris, right?

    I have to know how the book starts and ends before I start writing. I know where were are in the characters lives and where I'm going so the plot unrolls in front of me. The characters determine how we all get from point A to point B.

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    1. Aimee, it happens rarely to me, but when it does, it throws me! The new Glen Erik Hamilton features a dastardly woman named Ingrid, and it took a little getting used to, but I did and loved the book.

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    2. Wow hadn't thought of that...do you spell your name with Aimée an accent?

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  12. Just ordered MURDER ON THE CHAMPS DE MARS, because the 7eme is my favorite place to be in the entire world. I look forward to reading it.

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  13. Hi, dear Cara!!! So excited to read the new book! I tried to buy it at B&N last night, but, alors, no copies... So today it is ordered and I should have it for the weekend. You know I adore the series--it is one of my very favorites. And we had such fun talking plot over coffee when I was in San Francisco last winter. One of these days I hope we can do that in Paris. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with reading about Aimee in St. Germain.

    Unless your tour brings you to Dallas, by any chance???

    Huge congrats on the new book!

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    1. Thanks, Debs!! Aw so sweet of you! Thanks for persisting! I wish Dallas was in the cards but not this year.
      Plotting over coffee and writing all over the white paper tablecloth...doesn't get better than that with you who are a master plotter. I went home, my head spinning with plot lines. Thank you, and you were on book tour at that! I'd inhaled Garden of Lamentations and it was so fun to get to talk about the story.
      We need to do that in Paris :)

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  14. Welcome, Cara, and congrats on the new book! I had the pleasure of doing a signing with you in March at the Tucson Festival of Books!

    In terms of plotting, do you have any sense of where you want the series to go in the future or do you approach that the same way you do each individual book?

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    1. Hi Ingrid, that was so fun signing together! Plotting wise, I've always felt Aimée should be growing, developing, becoming more responsible now that she's got a baby+ yet retain that free spirit, bit of recklessness and single mindedness because that's who she is, it's her life fabric. I've only got three more arrondissements left...zut! I'm not sure where things will go

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  15. Thanks for sharing today. Your research has to be so enjoyable. That is impressive that you "haunt" the same area at different times of the day or night to get the feel.

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    1. That's what I realized Pat after going to a spot several times. The place had different energy depending on the inhabitants and their life, the way the light hits a building at certain times, the trees and flora depending on the time of year...it's lovely to write about a city with four seasons!

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  16. You know how people have bucket lists of things they want to do in life? Well, I have an author bucket list of authors I most want to meet that I haven't yet. Cara, you are definitely on that list. I hate to admit that I will just begin reading your series this summer, but I am so looking forward to reading some before Bouchercon next fall. Thanks for sharing such interesting items with us today.

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    1. Honored to be on your author bucket list, Kathy! Looking forward to meeting you.

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  17. Cara!! So fun to find you here! Sending you a note about getting together while we're both (AND Lesa Holstine) in Paris in September so we can try to get together.

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    1. How great would that be, Kaye? A meet up in Paris! Let's do it. Please send me the deets

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  18. Congrats on the new Aimee Leduc story Cara! Can't wait to read it! Love this series and enjoy reading your descriptions about the different areas of Paris in each book. Because of that I'm now following several Paris blogs and craving French food. Also like the maps in each book showing the area where the book is set. Thank you.

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  19. Merci, jgal I'm a mapaholic and used a map of the 6th arrondissement to plot, in a way, thinking of the routes Aimée would take, her shortcuts across Jardin du Luxembourg, the nearest metro and using the locations for scenes!

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