Aimee Leduc once again survives a perilous investigation (though not without physical and emotional battering) in the eighth of Black’s series set in Paris. This was my introduction to the tough and intrepid Leduc, but Black infuses enough catch-up tutorials for newbies like me to get a picture: that Leduc’s gamine persona
- big kohl-rimmed eyes, spiky hair, and garbed in thrift shop finds - suggests she’s a Goth-prone Gallic gumshoe. She is also, to her peril and possibly to the point of exhausting some readers more used to plots with a less breakneck pace, the Energizer Bunny (er,
Lapin) of private eyes.
Though a more than credible businesswoman, she clearly shuns dress-for-success tailored suits in favor of retro-flash. Example: “a ‘60s minidress composed of tiny black, mirror-like sequin rectangles. Vintage Carnaby Street.” She wears the latter, by the way, not for sleuthing along dark streets and among the underclasses but to seal a lucrative deal with a corporate client needing her firm’s security services.
That end of the business, we learn, is the specialty of her partner, Rene Friant - a highly skilled and creative computer geek who happens to be a dwarf but nevertheless stands tall and totes a trusty Beretta, acting as Leduc’s backup when a case turns dicey and dangerous. He drives a beloved vintage Citroen which seems to survive above-average case-related battering, as do they.
Springboard for the complicated plot is 1995’s world climate riven by terror attacks, ethnic violence, poisonous political/religious divisions, and fanatacism-fueled plotting and counter-plotting. We are plunged into that morass immediately after enjoying the tenderly written romantic episode in which Leduc is reunited with her lover, Yves Robert, an investigative journalist just returned from a risk-laden undercover assignment in Turkey. The very morning after their tryst, Yves is found dead. Certain clues convince her that his brutal dispatching was linked to his work, though a more sordid explanation appears to satisfy the city’s Brigade Criminelle. From that point on, Leduc, having been briefly but poignantly revealed as an emotionally vulnerable woman in love, is driven to sublimate this side of herself in order to identify who killed the man she had, only a few hours before his death, pledged to marry.
However, with so many rancor prone sub-communities to search - expatriate Turks, Kurds, ex-French Legionnaires, et al. - how can she succeed? With a sharp mind, shoe leather, and honed detecting skills. Puzzlements: could the concierge with the Turkish accent seen sweeping a courtyard near the time of Yves’s death have glimpsed his murderer? Did the security guard in the porcelain and crystal showroom note anything amiss that morning? Was Yves’s doom tied to a note written in Turkish and found in his wallet?
If so, did it correctly suggest the planned assassination in Paris of a Kurdish woman newly elected to power?
Is it too preposterous to imagine a seemingly kind and conscientious nanny morphing into a dedicated assassin toting bomb components in place of her little charge’s Lego blocks?
In its complexity, Black’s plot can confuse and/or intimidate the reader in the way that Americans have been discomfited by those jumbo-sized French restaurant menus with section after section of possibilities printed in a language not our own. If she were a chef, Black might be advised by a boggled patron to do a soupcon of menu-trimming.
As to Leduc herself, she emerges intrepid even after suffering genuine emotional trauma and taking physical battering while picking through the slew of possibilities tied to Yves’s death. She is, at novel’s end, back at her desk: “She had a business to run.” That healing may be in the near future, however, is suggested by the more than casual interest she takes in a telephone message from Guy, the surgeon who’d saved her eyesight but walked away because “she couldn’t settle down.”
Obviously moved, “She stared at the rosy sunset spreading over the Louvre’s Cour Carree, bathing the gray-tiled rooftops in a last burst of light. The gray of Guy’s eyes..."