Mar 10, 2009

Book Review: Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

The best thing about reading the mystery novel, Murder in the Latin Quarterwas Paris itself, the old Paris that author Cara Black is so fond of describing. This time she takes us into the catacombs and tunnels underneath Paris, and also to the Latin Quarter with its history of philosophers, its students, and its new immigrants.

The Haitian community of Paris in 1997 are a mixed group. Some of them are still tied to the Haitian dictatorship under Papa Doc Duvalier. Some work for international organizations such as the World Bank.

Background: a renowned Haitian scientist is killed in Paris after discovering high levels of lead in the liver of Haitian pigs, possibly caused by the water supply on Haitian farms. Coincidentally, a water supply company in Haiti is in Paris petitioning the World Bank for funds.

The plot develops when Aimee Leduc is drawn into the mystery after a Haitian woman comes to her office, Leduc Detective, begging for help, fleeing from an unknown danger, and claiming to be Aimee's half-sister. The woman, Mireille, takes fright, leaves the office suddenly, and disappears into the illegal immigrant underground.

Aimee is desperate to find out more about her half-sister. She finds out that Mireille used to work in the Paris lab of the murdered Haitian scientist and is a suspect in the case. Aimee wants to prove her sister innocent and scours the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter, and underground Paris to find her.

The book gives us a strong sense of the city as well as the old underground Paris, now used by students in the Latin Quarter. Medical students from the Sorbonne hold regular parties in the catacombs; others show films there.

They call themselves cataphiles. Cataphiles hang out in the underground, light their way with catalamps, and avoid the cataflics, Parisian police in blue uniforms who patrol the catacombs.

Comments: Detailed description of location, names of streets, and directions, which I think only a Parisian can follow or would want to follow. The plot is a bit far-fetched, as are some of the characters. Focused as it is on one set of people, I was left wondering how the Haitian community actually fits (or doesn't fit) into the larger Parisian community.

But Paris is the main character. And she is always fascinating!

Besides Murder in the Marais, one of my favorites in the series, which I reviewed, is Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis (An Aimee Leduc Investigation)

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