From the Publisher
Praise for the Aimée Leduc series
"Forever young, forever stylish, forever in love with Paris—forever Aimée."
—New York Times Book Review
"A tightly spun web worthy of a classic spy thriller . . . Leduc's City of Light is a stylish, dangerous place."
—Washington Post Book World
"No contemporary writer of noir mysteries evokes the spirit of Paris more than Cara Black in her atmospheric series starring P.I. Aimée Leduc . . . The fearless, risk-taking Aimée is constantly running, hiding, fighting and risking her life—all while dressed in vintage Chanel and Dior and Louboutin heels."
"The charm of this series comes from the character and a vividly rendered setting. Aimée rides her pink scooter through the streets of Paris, roller skates through the Louvre after closing time, and tears through dark tunnels under the Palais Royal wearing peep-toe shoes or vintage Valentino boots, her eyes ringed with kohl, trying to figure out who is out to get her . . . Zut alors! It's quite a ride."
—The Boston Globe
"Stylish and sexy."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The initial installment of a projected series of mysteries set in Paris, this standout first novel introduces dauntless private investigator Aim e Leduc. The French-American, whose specialty is computer forensics, is confronted with a seemingly mundane task: to decipher an encrypted photograph from the '40s and deliver it to an old woman in the Marais (the historic Jewish quarter of Paris). When Aim e arrives at the home of Lili Stein to present the photo, however, she finds the woman dead, a swastika carved into her forehead. Thus begins a thrilling, quick-paced chase involving neo-Nazis, corrupt government officials and fierce anti-Semitism. With the help of her partner, Ren , a computer hacking expert, Aim e uncovers tantalizing clues relating to German war veteran Hartmuth Griffe, the Jewish girl he saved from Auschwitz, a French trade minister and other enigmatic figures. But the data Aim e and Ren come up with only takes them so far. In order to understand the true motive behind the killing, Aim e must delve into history, confronting older residents of the quarter--who'd prefer she leave the past alone--and doing some undercover work. The suspense is high as she fraternizes dangerously with the enemy, even becoming briefly involved with an Aryan supremacist. Black knows Paris well, and in her first-rate debut she deftly combines fascinating anecdotes from the city's war years with classic images of the City of Lights. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Although set in Paris in the early 1990s, Black's new series start harks back to World War II crimes. Private investigator Aim e Leduc becomes involved when she discovers the body of an elderly Jewish woman whose forehead has been inscribed with a swastika. With the arrival of a German trade delegation, meanwhile, the existence of a powerful covert group comprising former SS officers becomes clear. Aim e's subsequent investigation exposes the connection between a war-time romance gone wrong and the modern-day murder. Literate prose, intricate plotting, and multifaceted and unusual characters mark this excellent first mystery. Strongly recommended for most collections. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
In November 1993 Paris, elderly Nazi Hunter Soli Hecht invokes his friendship with her dead father in appealing to computer forensic expert Aimee Leduc for her help. Reluctantly, she agrees to decipher the encrypted code that gives the appearance of the Cold War and to deliver the results into the hands of Lili Stein only.After quite a difficult time, Aimee breaks the code revealing an old World War II black and white photograph without any accompanying text. She heads to the Jewish section of Paris, Marais, to deliver her results to Lili. However, placing the photo in Lili's hand makes no sense any longer, as Aimee finds the body of the murdered elderly Jewish woman. Aimee is found at the scene and quickly concludes she might have problems as honor in the name of her father refuses to allow her to reveal her alibi to Inspector Morbier. Outside of her expertise, Aimee begins investigating the homicide on her own to clear her name.This reviewer actually read the superb Murder In Belleville book (second Leduc novel), which led to reading the debut Leduc tale, Murder In The Marais. This novel is excellent, extremely complex, and filled with action and tension. The story line links historical hatred to 1993 prejudices in a frightfully realistic depiction that counterbalances the image of Gay Paree with that of the ethnic bleakness of the World War II era and of the early nineties through a great private sleuth.
If the cobblestones of the old Marais district of Paris could only talk, they might tell a tale as haunting as the one that Cara Black spins in her evocative debut mystery...
The New York Times Book Review
Aimée Leduc's specialty is corporate security, not historical research. But when the Nazi-hunter Soli Hecht invokes her late father's name to persuade her to decode a computer-encrypted photograph for Paris's Temple E`manuel, she reluctantly agrees to report to shopkeeper Lili Stein with the results. In the several hours it takes for Aimée to crack the code, Lili, who survived the Gestapo's roundup of Jews during the Occupation, gets strangled and branded with a swastika•a sign that swiftly leads Aimée to Les Blancs Nationaux, a rabid Aryan group that still celebrates Hitler's birthday as the day the world began. Does the swastika, carved in a style unknown since the war, indicate that Lili was targeted by Les Blancs Nationaux•or by someone convinced that she•d collaborated with the Nazis herself? Digging 50 years back in the picturesque, haunted Jewish neighborhood of the Marais, Aimée uncovers the trail of a child who vanished in the cauldron of war but remains as dangerous as a buried land mine. And she can't predict the ways her simple case of multiple murder will end up entangling the economic future of Europe. An accomplished, absorbing debut whose matter-of-fact heroine will tide readers over the drumbeat of unmaskings that the out-of-the-past plot requires.
Read an Excerpt
Aimée Leduc felt his presence before she saw him. As if ghosts floated in his wake in the once elegant hall. She paused, pulling her black leather jacket closer against the Parisian winter morning slicing through her building, and reached for her keys. The man emerged from the shadows by her frosted paned office door. A baby’s cry wafted up from the floor below, then the concierge’s door slammed.
“Mademoiselle, I need your help,” he said. Leathery, freckled skin stretched over his skull and his ears pointed out at right angles. He wore a crumpled navy blue suit and leaned crookedly on a malacca cane.
“No missing persons, Monsieur,” she said. As winter settled, the days gray and the memories vivid, old survivors revived hopes of lost ones. She slid her tongue across her teeth to check for anything stuck, smoothed her short brown hair and smiled. She stuffed the chocolate croissant back in the bag. “I don’t find lost relatives. My field is corporate security.” Thirty-four years old, Aimée, at five feet eight inches, loomed above him. “Je suis désolée, Monsieur, but computer forensics are my speciality.”
“That’s what I want.” He straightened his posture slowly, his large eyes fearful. “My name is Soli Hecht. I must talk with you.”
Behind his fear she saw sadness tinged by keen perception. She tried to be polite. Walk-in clients were rare. Most came through corporate connections or by word of mouth. “It’s not that I don’t want your business, but we’re carrying a full caseload. I can refer you to someone very good.”
“I knew your father, an honorable man. He told me to come to you if I needed help.”
Startled, she dropped her keys and looked away. “But my father was killed five years ago.”
“As always, he is in my prayers.” Hecht bowed his head. When he looked up, his eyes bored into hers. “Your father and I met when he was in Le Commissariat.”
She knew she had to hear him out. Still she hesitated. The cold seeped from the floorboards but it wasn’t the only thing making her shiver.
“Please come inside.”
She unlocked the door that read Leduc Detective that led to the office she’d taken over after her father’s death, flipped on the lights, and draped her jacket over her armchair. Nineteenth-century sepia prints of Egyptian excavations hung on the walls above digitally enhanced Parisian sewer maps.
Hecht moved his cadaverous frame across the parquet floor. Something about him struck her as familiar. As he lifted his arm onto her desk, she saw faint blue numbers tattooed on his forearm peeking out from his jacket sleeve. Did he want her to find Nazi loot in numbered Swiss bank accounts? She scooped ground coffee into the filter, poured water, and switched on the espresso machine, which grumbled to life.
“Specifically, Monsieur Hecht, what is the job?”
“Computer penetration is your field.” His eyes scanned the equipment lining the walls. He thrust a folder at her. “Decipher this computer code. The Temple Emanuel is hiring you.”
“We need proof that a woman’s relatives avoided deportation to Buchenwald. But I don’t want to raise her hopes.” He looked away, as if there was more he could say, but didn’t.
“I’ve stopped doing that kind of work, Monsieur Hecht. That was more my father’s field. To be honest, if I kept his promise you’d get less than the best.”
“I knew your father, I trusted him.” Hecht gripped the edge of her desk.
“How did you know him?”
“A man of honor, he told me I could rely on you.” Soli Hecht hung his head. “We had many dealings before the explosion. I need your expertise.”
She drummed her chipped red nails on her desk and pushed the painful memories aside. Steaming muddy liquid dripped into the waiting demitasse cup. “Monsieur, un petit café?”
“Non, merci.” He shook his head.
Aimée unwrapped a sugar cube and plopped it in her cup. “I do computer security,” she repeated. “Not missing persons.”
“He said you would help me . . . that I could always come to you.” Short of going back on her father’s word, one path remained.
“D’accord,” she relented with inner misgivings. “I’ll show you my standard contract form.”
“My word must be enough.” He extended his hand. “As far as you are concerned, you don’t know me. Agreed?”
She shook his gnarled hand.
“This will take several days? I was told it could be slow work.”
“Maybe a few hours. I type one hundred and twenty conventional words a minute.”
She smiled and sat down, shoved last night’s faxes to the side of her desk, and leaned towards him.
“You were in school in America when I knew your father.”
Full of hope, she’d searched for her American roots and the mother who’d disappeared when she was eight. She hadn’t found either. “Briefly. I was an exchange student in New York.”
“Your father articulated his casework philosophy to me and I’ve always remembered it.”
“Things weren’t usually what they seemed or he’d be out of business?”
Hecht nodded. “You’re independent, no ties or affiliations to anyone.” His crooked fist drummed the table. “I like that about you.”
He knew a lot about her. She also had the distinct impression he was leaving something out. “Our fees are seven hundred and fifty francs a day.”
Hecht nodded dismissively. Now she remembered. She’d seen his photo years ago when his evidence helped bring Klaus Barbie to trial.
“Look inside the folder,” Hecht said.
Aimée opened his file, noticing the digits and slash marks, a distinctive trademark of Israeli military encryption. Her expertise was in hacking into systems, huge corporate ones. But this code spoke of the Cold War—a slippery tunneling job. She hesitated.
“Two thousand francs are in the folder. Deliver your results to 64 rue des Rosiers to Lili Stein. She’s home after her shop closes. I’ve told her to expect a visitor.”
Aimée felt she had to be honest; breaking an encrypted code had never taken her that long. “You’ve given me too much.”
He shook his head. “Take it. She has a hard time getting around. Remember, give this only to Lili Stein.”
She shrugged. “No problem.”
“You must put this in Lili Stein’s hands.” Hecht’s tone had changed, from fervent to pleading. “Swear to me on your father’s grave. On his honor.” His eyes locked on to hers.
What kind of Holocaust secret was this? Slowly she nodded in agreement.
“We will have no more contact, Mademoiselle.”
Soli Hecht’s joints cracked as he rose. His face wrinkled in pain.
“You could have faxed me this query, Monsieur Hecht. It would have saved you this trip.”
“But we’ve neither talked nor met, Mademoiselle Leduc,” he said.
Aimée bit back her reply and opened the door for him. Warped floorboards, a tarnished mirror, and scuffed plaster adorned the unheated landing. She buzzed for the turn-of-the-century wire elevator grating noisily up the shaft. Slowly and painfully he made his way to the hall.
Back in her office, she stuffed the francs into her pocket. The overdue France Télécom bill and horse meat for Miles Davis—pronounced Meels Daveez, her bichon frise—would wait until she’d done the promised work.
Eurocom, the cable giant, had royally screwed up her finances by breaking Leduc’s security service contract and hiring a rival Seattle firm, the only other firm that did the same work as she and her partner. She hoped there’d be enough money left to spring her suits from the dry cleaner’s.
Her standard software keys enabled her to crack coded encryptions. They opened information stored in a database, in this case, she figured, a military one.
After punching in her standard key, “Access denied” flashed on the screen. She tried another software key, Réseau Militaire, an obscure military network. Still the screen flashed “Access denied.” Intrigued, she tried various other keys but got nowhere.
Morning turned into afternoon, shadows lengthened, and dusk settled.
After several hours she realized she would earn her francs on this one. So far, nothing worked.