Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review - "Murder in the Rue de Paradis" by Cara Black

Cara Black’s “Murder in the Rue de Paradis” is the eigth in a mystery series featuring Aimée Leduc, a computer security expert with a private investigator’s license working in Paris. Each novel in the series is set in a different arrondisement, or district, of Paris. Thus, each story is informed by the charm and mysteries of a particular neighborhood. If you like Paris, you will like traipsing through the neighborhoods with Aimée Leduc.
Thirtysomething Aimée also wanders through the romances available to a single woman living in contemporary Paris, love stories that are intertwined with the intrigues surrounding the dark crimes disrupting her computer security business.
Rue Paradis is a fast-paced murder mystery involving a Kurdish assassination plot to kill a member of the Turkish parliament. The action and characters are described within the context of themes that give the story several layers of deeper significance. The novel conveys the yearning for distant homelands in the immigrants’ hearts as they struggle with living in the modern, but alienating, metropolis of Paris. The past shapes the topography of the emotional present where the characters act out their lives. The novel illustrates that the current emotional terrain of ethnic conflict is always a product of the past because past grievance constantly drives present circumstance.
East meets West and the international politics of this clash are made vivid and given personality by the colorful characters driving forward the intrigues which provide narrative force to the novel. Moslems are coming from the closed societies of the East to the freedom of free-speaking Paris, one of the capitals of the West. But the freedom of the West also makes it easier for agents from the East to settle scores from the long-simmering blood feuds of the East.
In this novel, Kurds are being ethnically cleansed by the Turks in a tradition of ethnic violence reaching back to the First World War. Kurdish characters have beautifully memories of green valleys and beautiful fruit orchards in their ethnic lands—this region was the home of the Garden of Eden—and these Eden-like images are then obliterated by other memories of destroyed villages and dead women and children. The images of grievance are dramatically painted in the reader’s mind; the bleakness of modern progress etched by the irreversible loss of a beautiful past.
Another layer of conflict comes from a religiously motivated young woman on jihad to assassinate a Muslin woman member of Turkey’s parliament. This conflict results in a vivid showdown between a woman trapped by ancient religious fundamentalism moving by stealth to assassinate a woman representing the hope of a more tolerant future.

But as the story unfolds, religious and ethnic antagonisms provide only a partial explanation to the crimes occurring. An element is missing. The final missing piece is provided by greed, the universal motivator to low crimes. Western businesses are seeking to capture rich contracts with the aid of Eastern facilitators who cash in by selling out local interests. Greed uses religious fundamentalism to facilitate its agenda, while the opportunists profit on the tragic disruption going on in the Middle East. So people die—there and here.

Cara Black has a detailed eye for the physical changes of progress transforming the appearance of Paris, an old city. Just as building façades change, she sees the lives of new immigrants changing the ambience of Parisian neighborhoods while bringing the cultural diversity to Paris that has been its centuries-long hallmark. For a long time, Paris has been a place of outsiders who came from somewhere else. So it is here.
Contemporary France comes to the reader through the Paris police, energetically battling terrorism with SWAT teams while it’s jaded “je ne sais quoi” eye watches the currents of life flowing down the great channel of time in the ancient city.
For Aimée Leduc, one romance left for dead at the beginning of the tale ends with the promise of a second romance, apparently from an earlier novel, landing at the airport an hour after the end of the book. Love and romance circle through the life of a smart young woman trying to figure it all out.
The author lays out the twists and turns and builds the mystery of the plot in the first two-thirds of the book. She then goes uptempo in the last third. I read the novel on my Kindle and as I went past 80 percent I was hitting the page forward keys bang bang bang—a compelling read!

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