Black, Cara 1951-
Black, Cara 1951-
Born November 14, 1951, in Chicago, IL; married Jun Ishimuro (a book seller); children: Tate Shusei. Education: San Francisco State University, B.A., M.A., 1982; attended Cañada College and Sophia University. Hobbies and other interests: Photography.
Writer. Has worked as a preschool teacher and preschool director.
International Association of Crime Writers, Mystery Writers of America (Northern California chapter president), Sisters in Crime, Friends of the San Francisco Library, Marais Preservation Society, Paris Société Historique.
"AIMÉE LEDUC" SERIES; MYSTERY NOVELS
Murder in the Marais, Soho Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Murder in Belleville, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Murder in the Sentier, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Murder in the Bastille, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Murder in Clichy, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Murder in Montmartre, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2007.
Murder in the Rue de Paradis, Soho Press (New York, NY), 2008.
Also author of story scenario for television series Unsolved Mysteries, produced by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC); author of the Cara Black Blog.
Cara Black's first mystery novel, Murder in the Marais, introduces the reader to the French-American private investigator Aimée Leduc. She is a corporate security expert whose business has stalled on the eve of the European Union trade agreement. She makes ends meet by moonlighting for a Nazi hunter. Her assignment is to decrypt a coded photograph from the 1940s and deliver it to an old woman living in Paris's historic Jewish quarter, the Marais. The second part of the assignment proves difficult—Aimée discovers the old woman dead, a swastika carved in her forehead. Thus begins a chain of events that brings Aimée into contact with German war veterans, trade ministers, Aryan skinheads, and a killer who has left a fifty-year-long trail of victims. Her tour of the City of Lights includes scenes from both occupied and modern Paris and even a detour through the infamous Parisian sewer system. Rex E. Klett, writing in the Library Journal, commented on the novel's "literate prose, intricate plotting, and multifaceted and unusual characters." Ilene Cooper noted in Booklist that the novel is "awash in vivid details," while a critic for Publishers Weekly called the book "a first-rate debut" and added that "Black knows Paris well."
Leduc's adventures are further chronicled in Black's second novel, Murder in Belleville. In this book, which is set in an area of Paris heavily populated by Arab immigrants, Aimée agrees to help a friend whose diplomat husband is romantically involved with another woman. Aimée soon discovers that the mistress is leading a double life, which connects her and her philandering paramour to the French political community and to a group of Afghani terrorists illegally trafficking weapons within the Belleville community. In his review of Black's sophomore effort, Bill Ott wrote in Booklist that Black "effectively captures the tension and energy of the [Belleville] area," and found that she "generates genuine excitement" with the professional activities of her tech-savvy heroine. A critic for Publishers Weekly also acknowledged Black's ability to capture Belleville's "heady atmosphere" and commented that the novel's "thrilling finale … nicely exhibits the author's creative skills."
Black explores Aimée's history in Murder in the Sentier. In this installment, readers learn that the detective is the daughter of a French police officer, Jean-Claude Leduc, and an American woman, Sydney, who disappeared when Aimée was a child. The investigator's interest is piqued when a stranger named Jutta Hald, a radical who was recently released from prison, gives her clues about Sydney's whereabouts. As Aimée investigates, she learns more about her mother's past, which apparently includes involvement in a radical/terrorist movement and a murder in the 1960s. When Jutta is killed, Aimée probes the homicide and finds out more about her father's death as well. A Publishers Weekly critic called Murder in the Sentier "a thoroughly engrossing story that's never less than compelling."
Black's fourth "Aimée Leduc" novel is Murder in the Bastille. In an attack Aimée originally believes is caused by a case of mistaken identity, the detective has been blinded. With the help of her dwarf computer-expert partner, René Friant, and while becoming close to her doctor, she manages to investigate what happened to her. The investigation takes place in the Bastille area of Paris, which is undergoing immense change and gentrification, a source of tension explored in the novel. "Black's fourth is her best yet," a critic for Kirkus Reviews claimed, "with complex, appealing characters, a crisp, well-paced mystery, and a setting like no other."
In the fifth novel in the series, Murder in Clichy, Aimée's sight has returned, and she now has a job in corporate computer security. Despite the safety of her new position, Aimée is drawn into a mystery related to French involvement in Indochina, Vietnamese immigrants, and current problems in Vietnam. As a favor to a Vietnamese nun named Linh from a temple in the Paris neighborhood of Clichy, Aimée delivers a packet to someone named Thadee Baret, who is killed in gunfire as Aimée tries to complete the transaction. Prior to his death, Thadee gives her a bag of valuable jade. Aimée becomes more deeply involved when the jade is stolen from her boyfriend's medical office, René is abducted, and the government seems to be after her.
Murder in Montmartre finds Aimée in the city of Montmartre, where her childhood friend, police officer Laure Rousseau, has been accused of shooting her partner. Aimée does not believe the charges and seeks to clear her friend's name. In doing so she uncovers suspicious connections with a local Corsican group of separatists. Ott, again writing in Booklist, appreciated Black's knowledge of various locales, noting that she "uses landscape for far more than window dressing." A contributor to Publishers Weekly praised the way the author evokes not only the sense of place, but also its environment, adding that "Black succeeds in making the reader feel the damp, the snow, the fear."
Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis brings a murderous plot literally to Aimée's front door, where a murder has taken place and a baby is left at the doorstep. Aimée investigates both the whereabouts of the baby's mother and the murder, tracing the latter to a conflict between environmentalists and an oil company. A contributor to Publishers Weekly described the plot as "wonderfully complex." Booklist contributor Ott remarked that the "series remains must reading," even though he felt that in this installment, "the plot lacks a bit of the sizzle that sparked previous episodes." A Kirkus Reviews critic wrote: "Bittersweet musings on romantic and maternal love enliven an otherwise routine investigation."
Murder in the Rue de Paradis, Black's next "Aimée Leduc" novel, starts off with a dark twist. It is the summer of 1995, just after the St. Michel Metro bombings in Paris. Aimée's old lover, investigative journalist Yves Robert, surprises her with a sudden visit and a proposal of marriage. Aimée accepts but only hours later is called to the Paris morgue to identify her fiancé's body. The police provide her with an unsatisfactory explanation of his death, so Aimée sets out with her partner René to discover what happened. She suspects that Yves was working undercover and that whatever he was investigating ultimately led to his murder. Once Aimée begins digging, she discovers a web of deception, informants, and assassination plots, all of which link Yves to the relationship between a group of Turkish militants and the Kurdish Labor Party. In an interview with Barbara Hoffert in the Library Journal, Black explained that she included the political situation because "these political and historical issues inform a story, make it ‘real’ and current, and reveal sociological depths in French society." Ott, this time reviewing Murder in the Rue de Paradis for Booklist, felt that the "Aimée Leduc" books were becoming a bit formulaic but pointed out that "the chief attraction of this popular series has always been the way Black uses her Paris setting." A contributor for Publishers Weekly had a similar opinion regarding the book's strengths, remarking that Black offers "an action-packed ride fueled by the hidden secrets of her beloved Paris."
Black once told CA: "When people ask me what inspired Murder in the Marais, my first mystery set in Paris, I survey their eyes. Depending on what I see, I choose one of two answers: either the long or the short version. Both are true. It all centers on why I chose to write about Paris and continue my series there, in the City of Light. Often I feel I had no choice. Still don't. It has to do with being caught in the lights reflecting on the Seine, the ancient architecture, and the history seeping from almost every building.
"But here's the long answer. In the 1970s I lived in Switzerland, three kilometers from the French border. We'd ride bikes into France to an abridge for a five-franc dinner: salad, frites, and pepper steak. Or grab some onions from a farmer's field and make true French onion soup. I remember Paris visits, grimy stone buildings, hotels with narrow, steep staircases near the Gare du Nord and eating baguettes and cheese on the quais.
"In 1984 I revisited Paris after a long absence. I stayed with my friend, a Parisian, who took me to ‘her’ Paris. We walked all afternoon and then suddenly, tired and footsore, we were surrounded by different buildings. I looked around. We were in another era. Paris had changed. We were in the Marais amid sixteenth-century hôtels particuliers in semi-ruin and surrounded by luxurious decay. The trickle of once-royal fountains in the Place des Vosges reached our ears. We rested and my friend explained that the Marais, meaning ‘marsh,’ had been filled in long ago. Due to its proximity to the Louvre and the court, the nobility had built their mansions to be near the King.
"She also told me of her mother, a Parisian Jew who'd lived here with her family during World War II. Her family had been one of the many Jewish families who'd shared twenty-foot-ceilinged rooms, carved in these mansions in the then ghetto-like Marais. They lived there until the French police, under Gestapo orders, had rounded up her family and deported them to Auschwitz. Her mother, fourteen years old, had come home from school to find an empty apartment. This story haunted me for years and I never forgot it.
"Ten years later, again in Paris, this time with my young son. We stayed in the Marais. I noticed changes. Malraux, the former culture minister, had saved the Marais from demolition but at a price. Rents had skyrocketed, gentrification was the order of the day, but still, here and there, the old Marais could be found. I fell under its spell again. The history of Paris was revealed on every corner. Below a sixteenth-century arch built by François the First would be a plaque commemorating a young French Resistance member shot by the Germans in the occupation. Around the corner stood a park filled with Roman-era statuary remnants across from a computer shop. The old and the new. Yet the contrast showed a certain continuity and comfort with the past. Thus my detective, Aimée Leduc, half-French, half-American, a computer security specialist, was born. A thoroughly modern Parisian who must untangle the past to discover a modern-day killer.
"For background information, I researched the police archives in Paris, at the Jewish library in the Marais, and in San Francisco. There I met a survivor from the occupation with a similar experience. She generously permitted me to interview her and shared her family's story despite the pain it brought up for her. I feel that learning about the small details of her daily existence during that time made my story so much richer.
"The immigrant issues of present-day France are reflected in the past. I explore them in Murder in the Marais, and continue this exploration in my next book, Murder in Belleville. Belleville, a lively ethnic Parisian neighborhood that was once the home of [legendary French singer] Édith Piaf and a strong working class, provides the backdrop of Aimée's next adventure. The neighborhood is the legacy of French colonials from Algeria, the pied-noirs, who returned to France but were not always welcome. Not to mention the Algerian-born nationals who come to France thinking la belle France is their second home and find otherwise.
"I've read and enjoyed Georges Simenon's ‘Inspector Maigret’ detective series and the lesser-known Leo Malet's detective, Nestor Burma, whose cases take him to the forgotten pockets and quartiers of Paris. I've liked them so much I hope to do the same with Aimée, so she and the reader can discover an off-the-tourist-track Paris, real and sometimes gritty."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Murder in the Marais, p. 1466; October 15, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Murder in Belleville, p. 421; December 15, 2005, Bill Ott, review of Murder in Montmartre, p. 26; December 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, p. 24; October 15, 2007, Bill Ott, review of Murder in the Rue de Paradis, p. 36.
Bookmarks, February 29, 2008, Jessica Teisch, "Paris Intrigue: An Interview with Cara Black."
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Murder in the Bastille, p. 185; October 1, 2006, review of Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, p. 988.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Murder in the Marais, p. 140; November 1, 2007, Barbara Hoffert, "Q&A: Cara Black," p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, June 7, 1999, review of Murder in the Marais, p. 77; April 24, 2000, "Clues to the Future of Mysteries," p. 50; September 4, 2000, review of Murder in Belleville, p. 89; March 11, 2002, review of Murder in the Sentier, p. 54; December 5, 2005, review of Murder in Montmartre, p. 34; January 8, 2007, review of Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, p. 35; November 26, 2007, review of Murder in the Rue de Paradis, p. 31.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 5, 2007, Edward Guthmann, "San Francisco's Femme Fatale," p. E1.
All Readers,http://www.allreaders.com/ (December 16, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Murder in the Bastille.
Bonjour Paris,http://www.bonjourparis.com/ (November 19, 2005), Marion Nowak, author interview.
Cara Black Home Page,http://www.carablack.com (November 19, 2005), author biography.
Mystery Reader,http://www.themysteryreader.com/ (November 19, 2005), Cathy Sova, author interview.
Paris through Expatriate Eyes,http://www.paris-expat.com/ (November 19, 2005), "A Conversation with Cara Black."