Murder on the Champ de Mars is part of Cara Black's long-running mystery series set in Paris, featuring Aimée Leduc, a private detective in an agency she inherited from her father, and which she shares with her business partner, René, a dwarf, who suffers from unrequited love for Aimée and who is a much better man than any of Aimée's boyfriends, including Melac, the father of her baby. As the book begins, Aimée is returning to work after maternity leave and trying her best to balance her work with being a good mother to her baby, Chloé, and fighting off sleep deprivation in the process. A young Romany (Gypsy) man, Nicu, approaches her and tells her that his mother Drina, who lies dying in the hospital, has information for Aimée about the death of Aimée's father in an explosion. As readers of the Aimée Leduc books know, Aimée's attempt to solve the murder of her father is a thread that runs throughout the series. Usually it is secondary to the main mystery in each book, but here it takes center stage.
When Aimée arrives at the hospital, Drina has disappeared. Since Drina is too sick to walk on her own, Aimée realizes she must have been kidnapped. She cannot survive long without her treatment, so Aimée must find her before it's too late. Then, when Nicu is about to give Aimée a notebook containing information on what Drina knew about her father, he is killed in front of her eyes, and the notebook stolen, but it happens so quickly that Aimée never gets a look at the killer. All Nicu can tell her before he dies is that Drina is not really his mother. Instead, he is the son of Drina's sister, who was murdered twenty years before, and Drina raised him as her own son. As Aimée soon finds out, Nicu's father was a rising politician who died on the same day as Nicu's birth mother. His death was ruled a suicide, but Aimée is certain he was murdered, even if she cannot prove it. Her father, who was in the police at the time, investigated the case and then was suddenly taken off it because the police wanted to cover it up. He pursued it on his own after being thrown out of the police on false charges of corruption, and Drina became his informer. Aimée is certain her father's death was connected to his investigation of this case.
Aimée speaks to Nicu's uncle Radu, who runs a circus, but he is not very helpful. Nicu and his mother were shunned by the family because his father was not Romany. Instead, Aimée has to rely on her father's old colleagues from the police. As she delves more deeply into the case, Aimée begins to wonder if these men she'd always trusted might have betrayed her father. As it turns out, the coverup extends into the high ranks of French politics, and some very powerful people are involved--people who want to silence Aimée. Will she find the answer before she becomes the next victim?
On top of everything, Melac, the father of Aimée's baby Chloé, is newly married, and he and his wife are demanding joint custody of Chloé, even though he had never wanted anything to do with the baby before, and had not spoken to Aimée for six months. Aimée is furious, of course, and fights to keep her baby, but at the same time she wonders how good a mother she can be, with her life always in danger, and she thinks of her own mother, a political activist, who abandoned her when she was a child.
As always with Black's series, this book is very suspenseful and the plot takes many twists and turns before Aimée arrives at the truth. Black does an excellent job depicting the Romany community in France and the ethnic biases they face. Even Aimée's partner, René, who is basically a good man and who has experienced much prejudice in his life because he is a dwarf, has his own biases. At first he thinks the Romany are all thieves and scam artists, but soon he comes to realize his own biases. Black tells of the tragedy experienced by the Romany people during the Holocaust, when an enormous number of them were killed by the Nazis. Black often includes a subplot that has to do with the Holocaust, and she has also written an excellent World War II thriller, Three Hours in Paris.
The Aimée Leduc series takes place in the 1990s, this one in 1999, at a time when much of the technology we know today, such as cell phones and GPS, was new. René, in particular, is always enthusiastic about new technology. Aimée is a great character, fashionable in designer clothes, and capable of performing physical feats that remind the reader of a superhero. But she is always believable, and there are plenty of poignant moments when she is struggling with balancing work and motherhood, and when she is remembering her own childhood with her father.
Of course, much of the appeal of the series lies in Black's descriptions of Paris. She brings the city to life, and you can almost taste the food and smell the coffee. Each book takes place in a different part of Paris, this one in the seventh arrondissement, a wealthy neighborhood where many embassies and government buildings are located. The Romany people live in an encampment nearby, and politically active students lead protests on their behalf. Black's descriptions make you want to visit Paris. I highly recommend this book. It can be read on its own, but it helps to have read at least some of the others, to be familiar with the ongoing story of Aimée's attempt to solve her father's murder.
Murder on the Champs de Mars is available from the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.