November 1989: Aimée Leduc is in her first year of college at Paris’s preeminent medical school. She lives in a 17th-century apartment that overlooks the Seine with her father, who runs the family detective agency.
But the week the Berlin Wall crumbles, so does Aimée’s life as she knows it. First, someone has sabotaged her lab work, putting her at risk of failing out of the program. Then, she finds out her aristo boyfriend is getting engaged to another woman. And finally, Aimée’s father takes off to Berlin on a mysterious errand. He asks Aimée to help out at the detective agency while he’s gone—as if she doesn’t already have enough to do. But the case Aimée finds herself investigating—a murder linked to a transport truck of Nazi gold that disappeared in the French countryside during the height of World War II—has gotten under her skin. Her heart may not lie in medicine after all—maybe it’s time to think harder about the family business.
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Paris · November 9, 1989 · Thursday Night
Standing outside the Michelin-starred restaurant, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Élysées, the old man patted his stomach. The dark glass dome of the Grand Palais loomed ahead over the bare-branched trees. To his right, the circular nineteenth-century Théâtre Marigny.
“Non, non, if I don’t walk home I’ll regret it tomorrow.” He waved off his two drunken friends, men he’d known since his childhood in the village, as they laughingly fell into a taxi. Course had followed course; remembering the caviar-dotted lobster in a rich velouté sauce topped off by Courvoisier brandy, he rubbed his stomach again as he waved goodnight to the departing taxi. His belly was taut with discomfort; he needed to stretch it out before bed. Besides, he always enjoyed the walk home to his place on Place François Premier. Even now, after all these years, pride swelled in his chest that he had secured himself an address in le triangle d’or, the golden triangle, the most exclusive quartier in Paris. The thrill of living among the mansions and hôtels de luxe between avenues Montaigne, George V, and the Champs-Élysées never got old to him.
He looped his silk scarf tight, took a deep breath of the piercing chill November night. Belched. The born farmer in him sensed tonight would bring frost—a crinkled frost that would melt on the grey cobbles like tears. In the village, it would have been a hoarfrost blanketing the earth like lace.
He looked over his shoulder—force of habit—with vigilance that hadn’t diminished in forty years. They were always so careful, so scrupulous about the details, took precautions—yet Bruno’s murder had scared them all. Made them wonder at the implications. Could it be . . . ? But a month passed and nothing. Were they safe?
Not totally safe, not until the final trust document was rubber-stamped tomorrow. But that was only a formality. Nothing would go wrong this late in the game. He knew that—they all did.
Yet why had he woken up shouting in his sleep last night? Why did Philbert’s dentures grind so at dinner, and why did Alain drink a whole bottle of wine himself?
Brown leaves gusted against his ankles. On his right a blurred Arc de Triomphe glowed like a painting on a postage stamp farther down the Champs-Élysées. He kept a brisk pace, got his blood flowing, warmed up. He was fit as a fiddle, his doctor said, his heart like that of a man twenty years younger. A couple passed, huddling together in the cold.
Walking under the barren trees by the Grand Palais, he became aware of footsteps behind him. The footsteps stopped when he did. But as he turned at the intersection in front of the zebra crossing, he saw no one.
Nerves. The light turned green. He crossed. Midway down the next block he heard the footsteps again. Turned.
Only a dark hedgerow, shadows cast from trees. Unease prickled the hairs on his neck. He walked faster now, looking for a taxi. Silly, he lived two blocks away, but he never ignored a feeling like this. Each taxi passed with a red light crowning the roof: occupied.
Stupid—why hadn’t he taken the taxi with the others? Kept to their protocol of precautions? His meal, rich in cream, sat in his stomach like a dead weight.
Every time he heard the footsteps, he turned and saw no one.
Paranoid, or was he losing his mind? Or was the brandy heightening sensations and dulling his reflexes?
Then a taxi with a green light slowed. He waved it down. Thank God.
“Merci,” he said, shutting the taxi’s door, breathing heavily.
“I’m only supposed to stop at the taxi stand, monsieur.”
“Then I’ll make it worth your while in appreciation.”
He gave the address.
“But that’s only two blocks from here.”
“Consider your fare doubled, monsieur.”
The taxi pulled away from the curb. He asked the driver to close his window.
But the driver ignored him. And turned toward the river. Not the way home at all.
Ahead, streetlamps rimmed the quai, their globes of light reflecting yellow shimmers on the moving Seine. His heavy insides curdled.
“You’re going the wrong way.”
The taxi accelerated, throwing him against the back of the seat.
“Stop.” He tried the handle. Locked.
Afraid now, he pounded the plastic partition and tried reaching for the driver’s shoulder. The wheels rumbled down a cobblestoned ramp.
“Let me out.”
He didn’t even realize where they were until the taxi stopped. The taxi had lurched to a halt below the Pont des Invalides, nestled in the shadow of its arch support. Mist floated over the Seine, the gurgling water swollen by early November rain.
And then the door opened and before he could defend himself, his arms were pulled behind him. “Take my money, just take what you want.”
“You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?” said a voice.
He gasped. “Please, let me go.”
“Don’t you remember the river?”
Panic flooded him. “Non, non. You must understand—it wasn’t supposed to happen . . . We can make it right.”
“Liar. Payback time.”
A rag was stuffed into his screaming mouth. His bile rose and all the rich food lodged in his gullet, choking him.
“You remember, don’t you? It’s your turn now.”
He was shoved to the edge of the quai and down into a squat. Through his blinding terror he saw one of his shoes fall into the water below. The lapping waves from a receding barge and the faint rhythm of faraway car horns masked his cry of pain. Even the lit globes of the sodium lamps faded into the mist on the cloud-blanketed night.
“How does it feel?” a voice hissed.
But he couldn’t answer as the sour-tasting gag tightened across his mouth. His tied hands gripped and flailed. He couldn’t breathe.
It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
The shot to the back of his head was muffled by the plastic Vichy bottle used as a silencer and the rumble of the traffic overhead.
Paris · November 10, 1989 · Friday Afternoon
Aimée Leduc gazed in horror at the mess in her test tube in the école de médecine lab. Her experiment ruined. Again.
She held the tube to her nose and sniffed. Bleach. Someone had sabotaged her work. Probably one of her twelve fellow premed lab mates—all of them under twenty, like Aimée; all of them male.
The professor was heading her way.
“This is the second time this month, Serge,” she said, panicked.
“Didn’t I warn you?” said Serge, an upper-class lab assistant, lowering his voice. “Around here you have to guard your tubes and petri dishes with your life. It happens.”
Yes, but that didn’t make it fair. She wanted to shout, to accuse someone. It was well known that only 15 percent of students would be allowed back for the second year. The cutthroat competition led some students to sabotage others just to stay in the running.
“Don’t forget this assignment goes toward your semester grade,” Dr. Fabre, their instructor, was saying as the lab emptied.
What could she do?
She liked Dr. Fabre, an older man with tortoiseshell glasses and a slight stoop. His lectures had a strange but appealing energy. Now he asked, “A problem, Mademoiselle Leduc?”
“Someone poured bleach in my test tube . . .” Merde. She didn’t want him to think she was the type to whine.
Dr. Fabre shook his head. “No other students had this issue. Do you expect special treatment? Instead of blaming your errors on others, check your notes.”
“But Dr. Fabre, you can smell it . . .”
“So you say, Mademoiselle Leduc. But if it means so much, you should have watched your work more carefully. Perhaps slept here. I did in my premed days.”
No sympathy here. They wanted to be doctors and help people—why not start with themselves?
She could cope with grueling exams, reports, and all-night studying. But this? She bit her lip, determined not to cry. “Professor, would you please let me redo the experiment? I’ll have the results by tomorrow morning.”
“I’ve got four classes to grade and my schedule’s full. It’s not fair to the others, mademoiselle.”
Or to her, but it seemed that didn’t matter.
“Let me warn you,” he said. “We expect the best. Despite the promise you’ve shown, you’re a candidate for the suspension list. Consider this a formal warning.”
Her heart dropped. “There must be a mistake.” She riffled through her bag and pulled out her notebook, where she kept duplicates of her assignments and grades. The same notebook with the surveillance case notes she’d been transcribing for her father. “Sir, I scored in the top ten percentile, and I turned in all my assignments.”
Dr. Fabre shook his head. “As so have many others. I can’t make exceptions.”
She managed a nod before she humiliated herself further, and to refrain from kicking the door as he exited.
She rolled up her lab coat sleeves and cleaned the lab in the coffee-colored light of the dank November afternoon. It was her turn to be the first-year grunt. At the faucet she scrubbed her hands with carbolic soap, trying to figure out what to do. The formaldehyde smell permeated everything. Her shoes, her clothes. She couldn’t even shampoo the smell out of her hair at night. Another thing she’d chalked up to life in med school.
Serge came in, handed her a paper towel, then leaned against the counter where the surgical instruments dried.
“First year’s the toughest. You’ll get over it. Everyone does, Aimée.” Serge had the beginnings of a beard, thick black hair and myopic eyes behind black-frame glasses. “I was a carabin, too.” A stupid archaic term still used for med students, because their lab uniforms resembled those of les carabines, riflemen in Napoléon’s army.
“I expected a grind, but backstabbing?” She wanted to spit. “You heard Dr. Fabre. I’m going to fail.”
“Pah, you’ll make it. It’s all about the exam, no matter what he says. You work hard,” Serge said. “Be patient.”
Patient, her? It was all she could do to focus. From day one, the competitiveness, that feeling of never measuring up, had dogged her. Every morning she told herself she could do it—couldn’t she? After all, she’d made it into med school.
Her gaze out the narrow lab window took in the gunmetal sky over the medieval wet courtyard of l’école de médecine. Students bent into the November wind. Nine more years of this if she passed. Maybe ten.
“You’ll see it’s worth it when you find your calling. I hated my first autopsy, threw up,” said Serge. “Almost left medicine. But the next involved a homicide victim. The policeman asked the attending examiner questions. How he looked at the body for clues to solve the murder fascinated me.” Serge shrugged. “That’s when I learned that the dead talk. I’m learning how to listen.”
“But it’s the living I’d rather figure out,” she said.
Serge took off his glasses, wiped them with the hem of his lab coat. “I’ve been accepted into Pathology after my rotation.”
She smiled, happy for him. “Congrats, Serge.”
Serge shrugged. “Take a walk. It will clear your head.”
She hung up her lab coat with LEDUC stitched on the lapel. The old-style thirties script reminded her of the Leduc Detective sign hanging over her father’s office on rue du Louvre. She kicked off her scuffed clogs and stepped into her worn Texan cowboy boots, put on her leather jacket, and shouldered her bag.
“Aimée, what about your late lunch? We’re heating up the croque-madame.”
“All yours. Knock yourself out.” She waved at Serge. She’d lost her appetite.
Near the study lounge where everyone hung out between lectures, she looked for tall, blond Florent. They’d met at the study group, almost two months now. She wanted to lean on his shoulder. No, face it—she wanted to do a lot more than that. Crawl under the duvet with him, like the other night. The morning after, brioches in bed, skipping study group to lick off the buttery crumbs. Murmurs of a weekend in Brittany at his aristocratic family’s country home.
She didn’t see Florent among the loitering undergraduates. Time for a pee.
After checking the whole row of bathroom stalls, at last she found one with toilet paper and latched the door. The hall door opened—voices, footsteps. The squeal of the faucet.
“Why didn’t you tell me before? I love clubbing at Queen,” said the nasal voice she recognized as Mimi’s. Florent’s sister was a third year. Tall and big toothed, Mimi reminded her of a horse. Water gushed from the faucet and she heard snickers.
Aimée flushed, pulled up her agent provocateur tights and headed toward the sinks.
“I want to go with you, but Florent’s engagement party is this weekend,” said Mimi.
Aimée blinked. Florent’s engagement party? She and Florent were supposed to be going to Brittany.
“I thought I recognized those cowboy boots,” said Mimi, turning toward her. Her voice lowered as if in confidence. “I just felt it was right to tell you that I don’t think your weekend plans with my brother are going to happen.”
At the soap-splashed mirror Aimée finger-combed her spiky hair and dotted Chanel red on her trembling lips. Her mouth was dry. Mimi’s friend, the Queen clubber, eyed Aimée with a predatory gaze.
“Why’s that, Mimi?” Aimée said finally.
“He’s getting engaged this weekend.”
Breathe, she had to keep breathing. “Florent didn’t tell me . . .”
“I’m telling you, compris? No idea what he was thinking leading you on, but this engagement has been in the works for eons.” Mimi laughed. “Florent’s inheriting a title. You think my family would let him get serious about . . . ?”
A knife twisted in her gut. Could it be true? He’d never mentioned an engagement.
“Don’t take it hard. You’ll get over it. Just don’t kid yourself.”
“And you’re his messenger service?”
Mimi sighed as she drew in brows with an eyebrow pencil. “Désolée. He didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
Was it that Mimi and her crowd hated her and were just being nasty? Or was Florent a gutless wonder who couldn’t tell her face-to-face? Maybe both.
“Non, I need to see him.” She turned and stared at Mimi. “He needs to tell me himself.”
“Don’t say you weren’t warned.” Mimi snapped her makeup case shut. Noises echoed in the corridor as she opened the bathroom door and left, followed by her friend. “Seriously, let’s go clubbing,” she was saying as the door closed behind her.
Out in the corridor Aimée had to pass by Mimi and her group of laughing sycophants, who were blocking her way and shooting her looks. Her face reddened. She wanted the creaking wood floor to open up and swallow her. A loser. She’d die if her friends heard, and they would—Florent was supposed to come to her best friend Martine’s birthday party.
Waves of humiliation washed over her. She should have known that Florent, an aristo from the posh Neuilly suburb with de in his family name, had been slumming with her. She’d been naïve to trust him, the spoiled bastard. For God’s sake, she’d slept with him. His feelings for her had probably been bogus like everything else about him. Except for his prospective title.
Furious and blinking back tears, she ran down the stairs and through the twisting medieval maze of the seventeenth-century building. The hallways were glacially cold, with dust in the corners. A dead quiet clung to the tall glass anatomy displays of skeletons and bones. She hated the whole damn place.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fantastic prequel to the suspenseful series set in various Parisians neighborhood. Lots of historical elements enrich the smart plot, like the Berlin Wall and the German Occupation of France. Great way of presenting all the main characters of the series. I have already listened to several mysteries by Cara Black. They are very enjoyable, each one taking place in a different neighborhood of Paris. So it was thrilling to receive a free copy of Murder on the Quai at BEA, her latest volume in the series. It is a very special book, as it is actually the prequel to the whole series. Through it, you get to know more about Aimée Leduc’s family background, her parents, her grand-father (who started the Leduc Detective’s company), and her godfather Morbier, the cop. You also see her meeting for the first time with her assistant-to-be René. In other words, you meet all important characters in the whole series. Aimée is actually a student in medicine when the book opens. Her dad left suddenly for a secret mission in Germany (on the other side of the Iron Wall, just torn down. When Elise asks for help, she decides to play detective — much more fun than studying for boring med exams! Though through this, Aimée mostly hopes to get information on her own mother, as this woman seems indeed to have met with Sydney, Aimée’s mother, who left the family ten years earlier. While investigating the murder of Elise’s father, young Aimée stumbles upon another murder under the Pont des Invalides (hence the title) with the same MO. She soon realizes she got herself into something much bigger than her. But she is not the type to give up, whatever the danger may be for herself. Chapters switch between events in Paris and Germany in 1989, and in a little village in Sologne area, in Vichy France in 1942, and their consequences. Something happening between villagers and a truck of last German soldiers. I’m not giving more details, it’s better to discover the links by yourself. Each novel in the series focuses on a specific theme. Here, we have the context of the reopening of Eastern Germany to the West, the topic of Nazi hunters, of Resistance, and the connection between international terrorism networks. I found this book the best so far in the series, with the theme of revenge and how the German episode in the French history can still have consequences in modern France. The plots are very well connected, the characters real, raw sometimes. Aimée is smart, courageous, resourceful, and one can easily see why she would eventually switch from medical studies to investigation. This is a great and smart background to situate each important character in the series.
After 15 Aimee Leduc mysteries, Cara Black turned her attention backward in time to the start of Aimee’s career, providing a back story to her beginnings as a detective, and introducing some of the basics which inhabit subsequent novels, namely how she met Rene Friant, her partner in Leduc Detective, and acquired Miles Davis, her bichon frise. At the time, Aimee was a first-year medical student, hating every moment. Then one day while Aimee was in her father’s office, as he was about to leave for Berlin to obtain the Stasi file on his renegade wife, who had disappeared years before, a distant relation asks him to find a young woman who perhaps was the last person to see her father before he was murdered. Instead, Aimee takes the case on herself as her father had refused to do so before he left. From that point on, all the attributes of an Aimee Leduc mystery flow: Aimee getting into all kinds of danger; all the flavor and smells of Paris streets and neighborhoods; the give-and-take between Aimee and her godfather and high police official Morbier; Aimee’s passion for discounted fashion clothes; among other common features of the series. Since it was her first case, the progress is not as smooth as future investigations, as she stumbles and learns, but unquestionably the book is recommended as an introduction to her subsequent adventures.
Review If you haven't read any of Cara Black's novels featuring Aimee Leduc, Murder on the Quai is a great place to start. Although this is her 15th novel, Murder on the Quai tells the tale of how Aimee Leduc began her career as an investigator. Evil deeds are rarely forgotten, particularly those committed in times of war. It is 1989 and the Berlin Wall has fallen. Records are being destroyed before they can fall into Allied hands. Aimee's father is drawn into doing one last favor, one last bit of espionage to help Aimee's mother, the woman he still loves. With her father gone, Aimee takes the case of a distant cousin, whose father was murdered. What initially looks like a simple case of questioning a missing witness becomes complex and dangerous. The more she investigates, the more she leaves her studies of medicine behind. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Europe, Murder on the Quai is a thrilling novel of murder, greed, and revenge. It is an excellent chance for readers to come to know Aimee Leduc, a private investigator determined to succeed regardless of the danger. If you like detective novels served with a slice of history and a dash of espionage Cara Black's Murder on the Quai is a great choice. 5/5 Murder on the Quai is available for preorder and will be released June 14, 2016. I received a copy of Murder on the Quai from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. --Crittermom
Fans (and there are countless) of Cara Black’s mega selling Aimee Leduc novels will relish the opportunity to learn how Aimee first became a detective. After 15 mysteries in which she is the heroine it is the perfect time to step back and discover how Aimee became an outstanding private investigator in Paris. Murder On The Quai answers that question in spades! It was November of 1942 when a truck loaded with Nazi gold disappears in a French country village. It is guarded by five soldiers, four of whom are killed by French farmers in order to take the treasure for themselves. Evidently the fifth soldier escapes. How does this affect Aimee some 60 years later? An elderly man is killed while on his way home from dinner with friends in Paris and his body is left under the Pont des Invalides. His daughter, Elise Peltier, appeals to detective Jean-Claude Leduc, begging him to find her father’s killer. However, Jean-Claude has something else on his mind - his fugitive wife American wife, Sidonie, is in trouble and he is about to leave for Berlin to try to help her. So, in his absence daughter Aimee decides to investigate. She is totally unaware of the ramifications of that decision - dangerous ramifications. However, she is in her first year of college at an outstanding medical school and fears she may fail, her boyfriend, Florent, is soon to announce his engagement to another woman - what does she have to lose? All she has to go on is a woman’s name and phone number found on a matchbook from Le Gogo in the dead man’s pocket. As she pursues this slim lead she meets her future partner in the detective agency, adopts a stray puppy whom she names Miles Davis, and another elderly man is murdered. Murder On The Quai is a terrific stand alone mystery and would be an ideal way for first time Leduc readers to be introduced To Aimee and Jean-Claude.