I currently have two friends who are pregnant with their first children. While I knew that one of them wanted to be a mom for a long time, the other had told me several years ago she wouldn’t have kids. I have known enough folks over the years to reply, “You never know how you’re going to feel about things in the future” and after a few life choices that indicated to me that she had changed her mind on the issue, I learned that she and her husband were expecting.
You’re probably thinking that I’m leading into an article about parenting memoirs, aren’t you? Recently The New York Times Book Review had a cover story on such books, including a review of All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior, and Sandra Tsing Loh’s double take on The Hybrid Tiger and The Triple Package. I spent some time paging through sociologist Dalton Conley’s Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know about the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted to Ask, where he decides to test various parenting hypotheses on his own children. It's just out and would make the subject of an excellent post.
But I’m actually not talking about any of those books today. No, the book that got me thinking about parenting is Cara Black’s new novel, Murder in Pigalle, the fourteenth installment of the Aimée Leduc series, which comes out on March 4.
This time Leduc is distracted by the disappearance of young Zazie, the daughter of the local cheesemongers. It appears that Zazie’s been playing detective, trying to figure out who is targeting local schoolgirls, including one of her fellow students.
Leduc feels somewhat responsible, as Zazie clearly idolizes her. Moreso than usual, perhaps? Perhaps the hormones are kicking in, because it turns out Leduc herself is pregnant. So though she’s not officially on the case, Leduc decides that Zazie’s disappearance is somehow connected this sexual predator. Perhaps all this poking around led her to the wrong place at the wrong time. It doesn’t seem like Zazie was targeted, as the girls in trouble all to be young violinists.
So while this is going on, we learn about a heist taking place. A fellow named Zacharie is rounding up a gang, under the orders of a higher up. What Zacharie would like to do is attain custody of his daughter (his ex-wife is also having problems) and escape to Belgium. He’d like to take himself completely out of this deal, but he’s being blackmailed. Not good. And of course this somehow has to play in to the main story.
So we’ve sort of got several stories going on here and they all have to do with parental duty. Even as Leduc investigates, she finds herself in parent-child dilemmas. One mother angrily cares for her daughter, effectively destroying evidence. Another worries more about her job than her daughter, sending her child off to a sterile clinic instead of staying with her in time of need. And then there are the dilemmas of Leduc's situation—her business partner wants to help raise the kid while the ne’er-do-well father reappears after some time with other plans.
Aimée Leduc is a likeable enough detective, though she’s got a very complicated life that will probably never be completely sorted out. And boy, sometimes I wanted to scream "No Aimée, that's a bad decision!" or however you'd say that in French. The story takes place about twenty years ago, so there’s less technology than a contemporary story, although there are cell phones. The Paris details are fun, and while I know very little about Pigalle, I learned that it is a bit of a racy place, being the home of Moulin Rouge, and took on the nickname of Pig Alley by the Allied soldiers, per Wikipedia.
But what I really liked about Murder in Pigalle were this variations on a theme, the way the whole story came together to explore the ties of parenthood. How do we protect our children? What do we sacrifice? Is the parental bond limited to blood tie? And what makes a person break that bond? It was a meditation that I didn’t expect to get in a mystery, and gave the story a deeper resonance.
We’re hosting Cara Black on Wednesday, March 12, 7 pm, with Mystery One having a signing beforehand at 5 pm. I certainly didn’t expect to get a return visit quite so soon after our last, but being that a good time was had by all (both author and audience), and Black is good friends with Jon and Ruth of Crimespree magazine, we’re attempting to repeat the magic. All I can say is “Va Va Voom!”, which turns out not to be even remotely French.
Here are the Cara Black books in chronological order.Murder in the Marais is available at an introductory price of $9.99. Murder Below Montparnasse is also newly available in paperback.