Monday, June 25, 2018

MURDER ON THE LEFT BANK, Aimée Leduc 18 from Cara Black

Who knows what goes on behind the scenes of a long-running mystery series? A few authors have the knack of making each fresh title seem as good as all the ones before it -- or better. But most go up and down a bit, or some titles appeal more to some readers, and so on.

Whatever the pattern is, Cara Black busted clear from it in her epic 18th Aimée Leduc mystery, MURDER ON THE LEFT BANK. Best yet! Each of Black's mysteries with the stylish Parisian detective, now a single mom with a network of support people, has focused on a particular quartier of Paris. This highly successful one begins with a lawyer in the 13th arrondissement, a friend of Aimée's, whose effort to take a shortcut with a compromising document results in the death of his own nephew. Stricken and guilt-wrenched, Éric Besson persuades Aimée to search for the now-missing document -- which leads directly to the crime and power syndicate that Aimée recognizes from murder and betrayal in her own family. Is her deceased father involved in the document? Does she need to stop yet another attack -- one that could affect her own baby Chloé?

Black's plotting is intense and acutely paced, with twists in each chapter and a smooth and powerful narrative that sweeps through the book. She deftly weaves in her usual details of her detective's passion for (gently used) couture clothing along while also slipstreaming her amazing detective agency partner René:
Aimée joined the applause as René presented the award. She then found a flute of champagne and him in that order.

"Nice speech," she said.

His large green eyes popped. "Nice outfit."

She'd worn her cowboy boots and a denim jacket over a black liquid sequin mini accessorized with a slouchy Céline boho bag. Give the outfits here, it was a good thing she'd left the couture in her armoire.  ... She groaned.

"Smile until it hurts," he said. "At least your sequins will grab their attention."
But Aimée is going to need a lot of replacement items for the adventurous pace of her investigation into Paris's power demons:
The garden had ended at a wall. Footsteps crashed in the dark underbrush. Aimée shined her penlight, revealing red smears streaking the glossy leaves.

Blood. Her knees trembled. Whose blood?

Aimée heard a high-pitched whine of a cat in heat and then René's shout: "Over here!"

Had René found Éric?

She forged ahead, continuing along the wall until she came to a woman's slumped figure.

Aimée stumbled, caught herself. "Karine?"

Karine's glassy-eyes stare reflected in Aimée's penlight beam. The tarnished, paint-spattered handle of a pair of scissors protruded from Karine's neck.

"Mon Dieu," said René.
Although Aimée is a private investigator, her adventures tend to feel closer to those of an amateur sleuth: probing each possible combination of means, motive, and opportunity, until things grow dangerous and her own degree of risk shows she's closing in on the criminal(s) responsible. In MURDER ON THE LEFT BANK, she's not just putting herself at risk -- her baby's under threat. So the pace accelerates, the threats multiply, and even her skillful friends may have trouble keeping her safe.

If you missed a few of the 18 previous books, you'll still handle this one well, since Black brings in just the right amount of detail from the earlier investigations. And it's so well crafted that it may well tug you back to the earliest books in the series (say, Murder in the Marais).

This is a great season to focus on collecting the first editions of Black's mysteries, since she's already hinting this series may come to a natural finale when all the districts of Paris have had their places in her mysteries. Good reading, via Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press. And ideal for the summer reading stack.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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