Back to Paris, this time with Aimée Leduc, Cara Black‘s heroine from Murder on the Quai. Go check out the map to see if Aimée has any chance of running into the Texan from the previous Pin a Book post 🙂

How often do you come to Paris, and long do you stay when you do? What do you love most about the City of Lights?

Cara BlackUsually I get to Paris twice a year – I’m so lucky to be able to stay with friends, often it’s sleeping on a couch or in a bunk bed courtesy of my friend’s five year old daughter. When I’m researching, it depends on who I can meet, the archives and what appointments I can set up to interview people. So I stay a few weeks, or a month at a time. I have a puppy so I can’t be away too long. I love having time to wander, feel the rhythm of the streets, the ambiance of the quartier and turning a corner and discovering a hidden part of Paris. Every arrondissement of Paris that I write about, and so far it’s 16 of them, becomes a special place to me. When I can dig deep and scratch the surface every arrondissement reveals their village character and so it’s hard to pick just one. I’m a member of the 10th arrondissement historical society and made friends there years ago and the 10th arrondissement remains special, especially along the Canal Saint Martin before it became bobo. Favorite thing to do is to meet my friend for an apero, walk along the quai and go to an open evening at the Petit Palais for an exhibition.

How would you describe Aimée, your heroine, to someone who has never “met” her, in a sentence or two?

Aimée Leduc is half-American, half-French, born in Paris who is taller and thinner than I and likes bad boys and vintage couture. She runs Leduc Detective which she inherited from her father and lives on the Ile Saint-Louis because that’s where I’d like to live.

In the Aimée Leduc series, each book is set in a different arrondissement. As you imagine your stories and choose your settings, which comes first? Location, or story?

The setting is primary, that part of Paris, that said it goes hand in hand with a story that’s organic to that ‘place’. To that time in history and how Aimée gets involved investigating the characters who inhabit this place in Paris. Murder on the Quai came from stories I heard from a flic/policeman who walked the beat in the 8th arrondissement and another who worked vice off the Champs Elysée primarily in the clubs where le jet set – at the time – hung out. My friend, who worked in a private bank, on Boulevard Haussman had stories too. Without saying too much, Nazi gold was transported via train across Europe to Portugal to pay for materials. I’d been to Berlin when the Wall was up and wanted to explore the heady, exciting time when it came down and the face of Europe changed when Communism eroded.

Your books requires a great amount of research. In this book, for example, you describe the process of melting gold, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a great many facts about Occupied France during World War II. It’s also important to get the geography straight in Paris. What’s your plan d’attaque?

I love researching. That’s the best part of my ‘job’ because it means I need to go to Paris :). Seriously, I could spend all my time researching, talking to people, consulting the archives and never get any writing done. There comes a point where I stop, consult my notes and put my mind in another mode and remember I’m writing fiction, based on real places and events. So I start writing the story. I walk about and think about things – think about the situation in the book, think about the arc in the story, think about what the key turning points are going to be in the story. It’s quite vague, it’s hard to describe it. There’s a kind of alchemy that goes on when suddenly you’re messing about with bits of the story and something clicks into place and it’s the next step. You just know when you’ve got the next narrative strategy taking place in your head. Later, I go back and place/fact check, especially lucky for me is that my neighbor is a jeweler and he offered a valuable critique on melting gold in rustic conditions, but again, my stories are fictionalized accounts of what could have happened based on real events. I’m writing a mystery novel and putting Aimée in dangerous places where she uses her wits and persistence investigating yet she has a personal life, there’s a narrative arc. My stories, I hope, are about characters who face challenges, who we root for, that touch on social issues and to me also, bring alive a part of Paris with it’s own ambiance as a character.

In Murder on the Quai, an allusion to Agatha Christie is made. Who are your favorite mystery writers, and which ones have been important to you as literary mentors?

Léo Malet who wrote the Nestor Burma detective series set in 50’s,60’s Paris was and still is a great influence. His detective is off the cuff, sardonic and a great believer in bistros. Malet had his detective investigating in different arrondissements, so I shamelessly stole his idea and made Aimée contemporary. She’s a PI whose investigates take place in the 90’s – in this story 1989 – which gives me a chance to explore that time. My father was a great reader of the Georges Simenon Maigret series and I read those too. Again, both atmospheric and evocative but of another era. I like to read biographies, the latest was of Madame Maintenon, and Madame Sevigné’s letters to her daughter in Provence which provide incredible windows into life lived at the time.

How did you come up with the idea for the plot? Were there actual historical events that inspired you to create the story you did?

The other part of the story for Murder on the Quai, comes from the village, a real place in the Sologne, and a true story of my friend’s father, Jacques, who grew up there during the war. As a young boy, Jacques had gone to fish with some men from the village on the river (the demarcation line until November 1942) dividing the country occupied by the Germans and Vichy ‘free’ France. They discovered a body, a man from the village, who’d been shot on the river bank. Jacques had never forgotten, he took me there and described how it affected him. He said, being young, it was all a big secret and no one in the village talked about it. I wondered if the Germans had shot this man, or the Resistance because he’d been a collaborator. Jacques said he didn’t know but he would hear his parents whispering late at night. Later, at the weekly village market, where everyone, as you know, goes and shops and hangs in the cafe i.e. with their dogs and children, we were loading up our fruit and vegetables in the car and Jacques nudged me. ‘The man was there. The man who shot the man on the riverbank.’ Surprised I asked Jacques to tell me more and he just said later. Over the years, he evidently had heard the real story and this ‘assassin’ still lived in the village and was a wealthy man. Jacques promised to fill me in later in Paris. Sadly it didn’t happen and Jacques passed away. But as a writer, that fascinated me and my mind filled with ‘what if’s’ and what was the weight of secrets in a village on those who lived there and kept them even fifty years after the war.

What’s next for Aimée? And which arrondissement will your readers have the pleasure to come to know (or remember) as they read about her next set of hair-raising adventures?

Thanks for asking! Yes, she’ll get into trouble on the  Left Bank this time. René Friant her partner gets involved too and it’s called Murder in Saint Germain which comes out in June 2017.

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