When a major Parisian modern art event gets unexpected attention on live TV, Chief of Police Nico Sirsky and his team of elite crime fighters rush to La Villette Park and Museum complex. There, renowned artist Samuel Cassian is inaugurating the first archeological dig of modern art, three decades after burying the leftovers of a banquet. In front of reporters from around the world, excavators uncover a skeleton. Could it be the artist’s own son? And does that death have anything to do with the current string of nightclub murders by the “Paris Butcher”? On the site of the French capital's former slaughterhouses, the investigation takes Nico and France's top criminal investigation division from artists' studios to autopsy theaters and nightclubs in hopes of tracking down the murderer who has turned this Paris park into a city of blood.
About the Author
Called "the French Michael Connelly," Frédérique Molay graduated from France's prestigious Science Po and began her career in politics and the French administration. She worked as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and then was elected to the local government in Saône-et-Loire. Meanwhile, she spent her nights pursing a passion for writing she had nourished since she wrote her first novel at the age of eleven. The first in the Paris Homicide series, The 7th Woman, won France's most prestigious crime fiction award and went on to become an international bestseller, allowing Molay to dedicate her life to writing and raising her three children.
Jeffrey Zuckerman was born in the Midwest and lives in New York. He has worked as an editorial assistant, a lifeguard, and a psychology researcher. Now an editor for Music and Literature Magazine, he also freelances for several companies, ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to old-fashioned book publishing. He holds a degree in English with honors from Yale University, where he studied English literature, creative writing, and translation. He has translated several Francophone authors, from Jean-Philippe Toussaint and Antoine Volodine to Régis Jauffret and Marie Darrieussecq, and his writing and translations have appeared in the Yale Daily News Magazine, Best European Fiction, and The White Review. In his free time, he does not listen to music.
Read an Excerpt
The City of Blood
A Paris Homicide Mystery
By Frédérique Molay, Jeffrey Zuckerman
Le French BookCopyright © 2012 Librairie Arthème Fayard
All rights reserved.
Footsteps, the stench of a cigar. Chief Nico Sirsky looked up from his files and glanced at his watch: 1:11 p.m. Deputy Police Commissioner Michel Cohen, his boss, walked into the office without knocking.
"If I were you, I'd turn on the news," Cohen advised.
No hello. It was an order. Nico grabbed the remote control and pointed it at the television. The news anchor appeared. Black eyeliner and smoky shadow accentuated her eyes. Not a hair was out of place. In a panel at the bottom of the screen, a reporter was clutching his microphone.
"Just watch," Cohen said.
Directly behind the reporter was the Géode, the gigantic steel globe at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie. The huge Cité complex in northeast Paris encompassed a science, technology, and cultural center, a museum, and much more. It attracted visitors from around the world. Nico raised the volume.
"I can only imagine the consternation there," the newscaster lamented, a touch theatrically.
"Absolutely, Élise. This story has gripped people in France and beyond."
"Arnaud, please bring those viewers who have just tuned in up to speed on this horrible discovery. I must warn those watching that this may not be appropriate for young children."
The camera panned to an open pit next to the Canal de l'Ourcq in the Parc de la Villette.
"Here, at this exact spot, archaeologists, artists, and others started an extraordinary excavation three days ago," the reporter said. "Now that dig has taken a strange and ghastly twist."
The camera zoomed in slowly on the pit. It was possible to make out dirt-covered tables, dishes, and bottles. The shot then turned into a full close-up of an inconceivable sight.
"You see what all the commotion's about?" Cohen asked.
Several men in orange vests were pushing back spectators on the Prairie du Cercle meadow and forming a security perimeter.
The news anchor was talking. "Arnaud, we can hear the sirens. Is that the police?"
"Yes, Élise, officers are arriving now."
Those were the local precinct officers, who would guard the crime scene and take down witness accounts. Normally, they would then call in the public prosecutor and his underlings-"the devil and his minions," as Cohen liked to put it. That was in theory. But this was not a normal situation. The television news had already tipped everyone off, and Nico was betting that Christine Lormes, the public prosecutor, was putting on her coat at that very minute.
"Looks like we're going to be on the news," Cohen said with a note of sarcasm.
"We're set to meet the prosecutor in the courtyard. Which squad are you putting on this?"
Nico could forget about his sandwich. The week was off to a bad start.CHAPTER 2
Sirsky and Cohen hurried down Stairwell A, its black linoleum worn down to the cement, and made their way to the interior quad of the courthouse complex, where Lormes was waiting for them. From there, they walked quickly to their car, a black sedan with tinted windows. Nico got behind the wheel, while Michel Cohen offered the passenger seat to the prosecutor. The deputy commissioner slipped into the back. Commander David Kriven and his men would follow in other cars. Nico turned the key. The guitar licks of the Young brothers and Bon Scott's raw tenor flooded the car. "Touch Too Much" by AC/DC—a song about a guy going crazy over his girlfriend, or in other words, the story of his love affair with Caroline.
Startled by the music, the prosecutor almost hit her head on the ceiling. Nico switched off the CD player.
"Are you trying to kill me, Chief?" she asked.
"There are worse ways to die," Nico said, grinning.
"Things sure have changed," Cohen muttered. "The head of France's legendary criminal investigation division doesn't wear a dark suit, and he listens to hard rock."
Lormes stared at Nico, taking in his build, his blond hair, and his eyes as blue as the waters of Norway's fjords. He smiled at her innocently. The car made its way out of the 36 Quai des Orfèvres parking lot and headed along the Seine, its blue lights flashing.
"The minister of culture was at the archaeological dig's opening three days ago," she said. "He shoveled the first pile of dirt, just like his predecessor thirty years ago, when they were burying Samuel Cassian's tableau-piège."
"Cassian was what they called a new realist in the sixties and seventies, right?" Nico said.
"Yeah, he glued the remains of meals—plates, silverware, glasses, cooking utensils, bottles, and the like—to panels, and art collectors who liked that sort of thing hung them on their walls," Cohen said.
"I remember reading something about his work," Nico said, swerving around several cars. "He was considered an anticonsumerist. He used food and ordinary kitchen items to make a statement about wealth and hunger."
"Cassian was no starving artist, though," the prosecutor said. "He made a surgeon's fortune from his pieces. Then he opened pop-up restaurants and organized interactive banquets."
"In the eighties he got tired of doing the same thing over and over and decided to have a final banquet," Cohen said. "He wanted his guests to bury the remains, and he planned to have the whole thing dug up years later."
The excavation had started a few days earlier, when reporters, scientists, and artists came together to disinter the fragments. They planned to study the remnants and determine the work's sustainability. It was nothing less than the first excavation of modern art.
"This is quite a scandal," the prosecutor said. "Samuel Cassian is a prominent figure. The organizations sponsoring the event are going to go ballistic."
"We'll have to get to the bottom of this quickly," Cohen said.
Nico turned onto the Quai de Jemmapes to go up the Canal Saint-Martin, which was lined with chestnut and plane trees and romantic footbridges. The other drivers slowed down to avoid the speeding sedan. This neighborhood, where the famed Hôtel du Nord still stood and the ghost of actress Arletty lurked, had the feel of prewar Paris, with bargemen ready to jump the lock gates to the reservoir linking the Villette basin to the Seine.
At the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad, Nico took the Avenue Jean-Jaurès toward the Porte de Pantin. Then he got stuck in a tangle of cars, heavy trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians wholly unaware of the specific lanes marked for their use. Nico watched the bikes pass him by and leaned on the horn before skillfully weaving through the traffic like a king of the jungle, careful to keep his distance and avoid bumpers and doors. The prosecutor gripped the handhold without emitting the least objection or interrupting their shared train of thought. What were human remains doing in the middle of tables, tablecloths, dishes, silverware, the leftovers, and trinkets?
They arrived at the Place de la Fontaine-aux-Lions, across from the Grande Halle, where uniformed men were holding back the crowd and the reporters. Nico parked in front of the Pavillon Janvier, named for the head architect of Villette's former cattle markets and slaughterhouses. The large stone building housed the park's administration. They got out of the car under the eyes of the television cameras. A man in his sixties with a military crew cut walked up to them, his stare unyielding.
"Louis Roche, chief of security for the Parc de la Villette. We'll drive to the scene. A few of my men will lead the way. The local precinct chief and Laurence Clavel, the park director, are waiting for you," the man said, climbing into the back seat.
"Don't you have camera surveillance?" Nico asked, scanning the area.
"We favor human surveillance, and that's been more than sufficient. Our stats would put the neighboring precincts to shame."
His tone was surprisingly relaxed. An old man from yesteryear, a relic, Nico thought. Maybe a former cop or a retired firefighter. Private security services had recruited from their ranks for ages. Now, however, specialized university graduates prevailed in these careers.
"The park has three to four million visitors every year," the head of security was saying. "All told, we've only had about twenty gang incidents, thirty acts of vandalism, and as many thefts. Fifty percent of the time, the criminals were caught by park agents and brought to the Pavillon Janvier, where police took them into custody."
"How many people work for you?" Michel Cohen asked as the car made its way out of the parking lot.
"Nineteen, all patrolling on foot or by car. I recruit dog handlers for the night shift and hire temporary reinforcements for bigger events like open-air movie screenings and the Bastille Day fireworks. Our role is to prevent and intervene, and we can handle first aid, fire hazards, and emergencies. For everything else, we call the police."
"You're from the force, aren't you?" Nico said.
"I stepped down as captain," Roche confirmed with a quick smile.
"So you're employed by the park and the Grand Halle de la Villette?" asked the prosecutor.
"Yes, the concessions and other businesses in the park have their own security."
They skirted around the Zénith concert arena, crossed the Canal de l'Ourcq—the "Little Venice of Paris"—and passed the Cabaret Sauvage. They also drove by several of the park's famous architectural follies, thirty-five large red sculptures in various geometric shapes.
"Some have been made into playrooms and information, ticketing, and first-aid centers. One is a restaurant, and another is a coffee shop," Roche explained. "But most are merely decorative. The director calls them hollow teeth."
Nico was reminded of Bruno Guedj, a pharmacist from a case a few months earlier. He had been clever enough to hide an incriminating note in one of his teeth.
They stopped at the edge of the Prairie du Cercle.
"The canal runs down the middle of the meadow," Roche said as he opened the car door. On both sides, the Observatoire and Belvédère follies offered a bird's-eye view of the site.
Roche brightened up. He was in his element.
They had barely stepped out of the car when the local precinct chief swooped down on them. In the distance, Nico saw a man who was hunched over. Someone was offering him water. It was the artist himself, Samuel Cassian. The prosecutor and Michel Cohen were already heading toward him, amid shouts from reporters hoping for answers to their questions.
Nico shook the precinct chief's hand.
"Glad you're here," the precinct official said without ceremony. "Let me introduce you to the general director of the park, Laurence Clavel."
The director extended her hand. "The park's president is away on a business trip," she said. "He'll get here as soon as he can."
Nico recalled that the park president had been an actor in a police show on television.
"There's no rush," Nico replied amiably. It was always best to put people at ease.
"The body's been there for quite a while," said the precinct chief. "There's nothing but bones left."
"It's revolting," Clavel said, looking away with a frown.
Nico was thinking about Samuel Cassian and his 120 dinner guests three decades earlier. The news had to be upsetting for those who were still alive.
"Has the site been cordoned off?" Nico asked. "Nobody should get near the pit."
"Of course. But we can't take too long. I don't have enough staff for that," the precinct chief said.
"We'll remedy that situation as soon as we can," Nico assured him.
They would soon know the victim's age, gender, height, and ethnicity. They would also know the cause of death and whether he or she had suffered any injuries. Forensic anthropology was a specialty of the chief medical examiner.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to speak with my team," Nico said.
Accompanied by two members of Kriven's team, Captain Franck Plassard was taking the first witness accounts, for what they were worth. Memory was fickle, and using it required the greatest vigilance. No matter how many people were in a room with a suspect, half would swear that he was wearing a black pullover, and the other half would insist that the sweater was white. Every description came from someone's subjective perception. Of course his teams all used techniques developed by psychologists, but there was still a margin of error.
Nico walked over to Pierre Vidal, who was responsible for examining the crime scene. He was putting on a sterile suit so as not to contaminate the pit. His toolbox had everything he needed to gather and preserve the evidence he'd find.
His assistant, Lieutenant Paco d'Almeida, was snapping shot after shot with his digital camera and jotting down observations in his notebook.
"You'll need some help," Nico said.
"Professor Queneau's not going to be pleased," Vidal replied. "He's about to retire, and he won't like being hit with something this big at this point."
Nico disagreed but didn't say anything. Charles Queneau had buried himself in his work—managing the police forensics lab on the Quai de l'Horlage—to ease his grief over his wife's death. He would take on this new assignment with the same drive that he had brought to every other assignment. That said, Nico thought it would do him good to spend more time with his grandchildren. They would give his life new meaning and purpose.
"I'll suggest to the prosecutor that we call in the lab experts," Nico said. The Code of Criminal Procedure outlined the rules of a preliminary investigation: the prosecutor had to authorize bringing in any new person.
In France, forensics experts rarely traveled to a crime scene. Police officers, especially those working in the criminal investigation division, were trained to collect evidence. The scientists stayed in the lab, where they used their sophisticated equipment to analyze what the cops brought in.
"Be careful!" Kriven yelled to Vidal.
Nearly unrecognizable under his hood and his protective goggles, Pierre Vidal was slipping into the pit. Witnesses were staring wide-eyed: the scene looked like something out of a horror film.
"No point in taking a pulse. He's dead," Kriven said.
The skull that had rolled across the table, its empty eye sockets peering at Nico, wasn't about to disagree.CHAPTER 3
The arrangement of the body, which was really nothing more than scattered bones and a few bits of mummified flesh, suggested that its owner may have been sitting at the table. A suicidal guest? The victim of an accident? Neither scenario seemed likely; it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that someone had played a nasty trick. The skeleton completed an eccentric vision of an eternal banquet. A macabre mise-en-scène.
"Not everything is where it was originally," Professor Charles Queneau said. He had joined the teams at the crime site. "The soil has shifted over the years. Visitors have been walking on the lawn. The gardeners have been doing their jobs too, and then there are moles, rabbits, rats, and such."
The forensics officers were kneeling side by side, examining the grass, collecting soil and plant samples, and looking for any seeds or pollen to compare with any trace evidence they might find on a suspect's shoes or clothes.
They isolated pieces of evidence, bagged them, labeled them, and recorded them for analysis later.
In the pit, a second team had come together around Captain Vidal. The fingerprint experts were working with brushes, powders, and lasers in search of fibers, hairs, and other small biological traces—all potentially useful for DNA identification.
"They shouldn't delude themselves. The weather and the years have most likely destroyed any evidence," Queneau said.
There was little chance of obtaining interpretable results. Given the media coverage, however, having forensics officers at the scene would placate everyone.
"There's hardly anything left of the body. It has putrefied and been devoured by animals," Professor Queneau said. "Maggots, flies, and beetles have all been at work."
"What about his clothes?" Lormes asked. The prosecutor couldn't stop looking at the pit.
Excerpted from The City of Blood by Frédérique Molay, Jeffrey Zuckerman. Copyright © 2012 Librairie Arthème Fayard. Excerpted by permission of Le French Book.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
“In this book, I wanted to grab the readers right from the start and not let go. The idea for the plot came to me after reading an article about artist Daniel Spoerri digging up the remains of one of his ‘tableaux pièges’—a hundred or so guests were invited to an outdoor banquet that was then buried to be exhumed many years later. I immediately imagined the banquet and a body being found. Then as usual, I got started questioning specialists, including my favorite coroner. With every book, I really want readers to discover something they don’t know.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Does not rival The 7th woman, but still an effective murder mystery
Review by Brenda Repland In the latest of Frédèrique Molay’s Paris Crim (Criminal Investigations) series, police chief Nico Sirsky will find himself in the middle of a rapidly mushrooming murder investigation. His Paris Crim department is called in when dental students examining a corpse’s molar in dental school find a strange surprise. Hidden in the tooth is a message implanted stating that the man’s death is due to murder. Who would want to kill this meek pharmacist? His family is devastated and can find no explanation or motivation for such a murder. But as Nico and his subordinates explore further, the case expands to encompass other seemingly totally unrelated murders. Typical of Ms. Molay’s thrillers, this will keep you on the edge of your seat and you absolutely will not be able to find out “who done it!” (You will wonder if the medical practices in France are unique to that country or if there’s a lot we’d rather just not know about how the whole system works!
The City of Blood (Paris Homicide #3) by Frédérique Molay, Jeffrey Zuckerman (Translation) A French artist wants to lay to rest years of hard work and experience. He decides to create a final act of art and a monument for the future. His ambitious plans come to fruition, but the mystery of his lost son is not solved until they commit the final act of his monumental work, undug the trench that covers his last dinner party. In the trench they find the answer to many things including the mystery of his sons disappearance. This is a great book; it looks at the nature of love, mystery and the French political and judicial system. One fact that stood out is that there is a jurisdiction and a time limit in France on murder. Which the American public is told is the one criminal act that does not have a time limit. It was amazing that it was the prosecutorial system that had to define if a death can be investigated after ten years. The crime is not the only thing on the investigory mind of Nico, as he struggles with the personal acceptance and fear of losing his Russian immigrant mother.
Art and blood page-turner thriller. Choosing a famous park in Paris as her setting, famous French writer Frédérique Molay assigns another intriguing crime investigation to chief of police Nico Sirsky. Mix blood, art, and even religion, and you have an irresistible page-turner. After reading Crossing The Line last year, it was real fun meeting again chief of police Nico Sirsky and his team in The City of Blood. Famous French author Frédérique Molay has a real knack for making her thrillers irresistible page-turners, plus you learn a lot about Paris, here about Parc de la Villette, and a rather unique form of art. “Daniel Spoerri is a Swiss artist and writer born 1930 in Romania. He is best known for his “snare-pictures,” a type of assemblage or object art, in which he captures a group of objects, such as the remains of meals eaten by individuals, including the plates, silverware and glasses, all of which are fixed to the table or board, which is then displayed on a wall.” (source: wikipedia). His work inspired this thriller: 30 years ago, artist Samuel Cassian invited 120 guests (artists, journalists, politicians) to put an end to his “snare-pictures”. He decided to have all the remains of their meal buried in a park, to be dug up later, as a time capsule. Now time has come for the excavation, but among the remains and the silverware, a body is found. Samuel’s son disappeared just a week after that special reception, so could it be his body? But why? And what could possibly be the connection with the series of murders of young homosexuals happening now in the same park, if there’s any? I really loved the suspense, as suspects multiply with each new murder and each new clue. But on top of the plot, what I really enjoy in Molay’s books is the details and the ambiance. Here, she did an amazing job with the setting of Parc de la Villette. From 1867 (until Napoleon III) until 1974, the area was a center of slaughterhouses, a so-called City of Blood. Then it became a wasteland until it was converted into a park for leisure, culture, and recreation, currently very alive. But to go back to the book, there’s a very interesting double plot going on with Anya, Nico’s mother. She suffered a heart attack. Through this ordeal, he experiences the fear and pain that Samuel may be going through, if it happens that the dead man was his son. Nico makes a deal with God to do all he can to identify the victim’s killer and in return to have his mother recover. That was an unexpected dimension that I really enjoyed, and it really gave lots of depth to the character of Nico. As an Orthodox believer myself, it was doubly neat to hear about Nico’s Orthodox upbringing and go with him revisit the Saint Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris (founded in 1925). Seriously, I would never have imagined hearing about this awesome place in a thriller/crime fiction! But if you need a counter-balance, keep in mind that Nico had also to visit gay nightclubs to get clues on the killer! Quite an interesting mix, isn’t it? And of course you have all the details about the French police system, and the work of each participant, be it the criminal psychologist, the public prosecutor, or the guys in charge of forensics anthropology. Fascinating how much you can learn about a person just by observing his/her bones! The scene of the autopsy was also fascinating, but quite gruesome…
This is the third book in this series I have read, and I continue to be amazed at the new and fresh material in each book. Chief Sirsky, his family and staff are like old friends, but each new case provides intrigue, adventure and new beauties of Paris to draw the reader in and hold each one spellbound as the clues develop and crimes are solved. In this case, the discovery of a 35 year old murder triggers crimes in the present, and Sirsky finds the link before anyone else. Each new book in this series covers such different ground that one has to wonder at the ability to create such astonishing detail in dramatically different environments. I recommend this book for all, including those that haven't read to first two. It (out)stands on its own.
Frédérique Molay strikes again with another exciting installment in this thrilling series. With vivid descriptions of Paris, plenty of historical facts along with intricate police details and procedures all creating a fast paced riveting narrative. Molay’s narrative ‘involves’ the peruser with ample knowledge and affecting characters, you feel as if you’re investigating along with Nico Sirsky and his team. I am a huge Nico Sirsky fan, I appreciate the way Molay brings both professional and personal facets of Sirsky to light. He’s a consummate officer of the law, a loving father, and an emotional and loving partner to Caroline as well as a devoted son and brother to his family. He’s dimensional, flawed and flawless, you will find yourself invested in him without question. Molay’s style is casual with potency keeping your attention at a whip fast pace. Once again excellent translation on Jeffrey Zuckerman’s part, you feel nothing is lost, the fluidity of prose solid. Another fine meshing of author and translator with Molay and Zuckerman. Looking forward to more from Molay and her compelling cast of characters. Don’t let the fact this is a series deter you, each book can read as a standalone without missing a beat. I do suggest having all the books available, you’ll want to continue with Sirsky and all the happenings.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley as a part of a book tour for a fair and honest review. I rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Secrets; we all have them. Some are harmless, some might hurt others and some can get you killed. The City of Blood, the third instalment in the Paris Homicide series, begins with the alarming discovery of a body buried within a famous artist’s time capsule. A discovery that places Chief of Police, Nico Sirsky, and his Le Crim investigative team in front of the media once again. Further developing the characters in her series, author Frederique Molay gives us another thrilling adventure as Nico tracks down a killer who has already killed once and begins killing again. At the height of his career, performance artist Samuel Cassian hosted a dinner party at La Villette, a park in Paris. His plan was to bury the remains of the party as a sort of time capsule to see how consumerism, and his art, would be viewed in the future. Thirty years later as he and other important members of the French art world dig up the “artistic event”, a body is discovered among the remains. As Nico and his team begin uncovering clues, a new set of murders begin occurring at the park and it becomes apparent the crimes are somehow connected. Will Nico and his team be able to discover the identity of the “Paris Butcher”, as he or she has come to be called, before the body count gets out of control? Ms. Molay does a fantastic job continuing to develop her characters; Nico is quite simply divine! He’s smart, sexy as all get out (just read the scene in the night club), a great dad and an incredible cop. He’s also human and does have some flaws; he can become over emotional, he has a somewhat complicated personal life and he’s used to being in charge. I really love this character and if he was real, I’d be headed to France so I could handcuff him to my side. Ms. Molay also does a good job developing his team and I enjoyed getting to know what they experienced as they worked on this new case. Ms. Molay always adds an additional element to her stories, which I personally enjoy, by giving Nico a personal issue on the side. In this instalment we get to watch Nico, his sister Tanya, and Caroline, the woman in Nico’s life, as they deal with Anya’s, Nico’s mom, health. We also get to spend a little bit of time with Dimitri, Nico’s teenaged son and learn a little bit about what it’s like in Paris hospital. Will Nico and his team be able to solve a “cold” case that’s thirty years old? Are the new murders really tied to the past or is the killer just advantage of a unique situation? You’ll have to read The City of Blood to find out. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read what Ms. Molay writes for us next.