Murder in the Latin Quarter is one of a series of mysteries by Cara Black, set in Paris, featuring Aimée Leduc, a private detective specializing in computer security. Aimée is always fashionably dressed in designer clothes, and capable of great physical feats, even in high heels. Black began the series in the 1990s, and she keeps the setting in the 1990s. This particular book takes place in 1997, shortly after Princess Diana’s death, which becomes significant because the police department is so focused on investigating what happened to Diana that they cannot help Aimée solve the crime. Not even her mentor, Commissaire Morbier, can be of much assistance.
At the beginning of the novel, a Haitian woman, Mireille, comes to Aimée’s office and claims to be her half-sister, the daughter of Aimée’s father and a Haitian woman with whom he had an affair before he met Aimée’s mother. The only evidence she has is some old photographs of Aimée’s father, but Aimée wants to believe her, because she has always wanted to have a sister. Aimée’s father was killed in a bombing, and her American mother, a 1970s political activist, abandoned her when she was a child, and so Aimée has no family. But Mireille disappears just when she is about to tell Aimée more about why she thinks she might be her sister, and leaves behind an address in the Latin Quarter, Paris’ medieval university district.
When Aimée goes to the address Mireille gave her, she finds the dead body of a Haitian scientist, a professor at the university, whose murder was made to resemble a voodoo ritual. Mireille has disappeared again, and now she is the prime suspect. The professor had given Mireille refuge in Paris, after she was taken from Haiti by human traffickers who stole her papers. Mireille was seen quarreling with the professor shortly before his death. But Aimée is certain she is innocent. Two witnesses who could have cleared Mireille are murdered one after the other, just when they’re about to talk to Aimée, and their deaths are made to seem like an accident and a suicide. With no witnesses, Aimée has no evidence to clear her supposed sister, and, to make matters worse, the police are beginning to suspect Aimée as an accomplice. She is determined to get to the bottom of the matter as soon as possible. Her investigations uncover a scandal involving an organization, supposedly a charity giving aid to Haiti, but which may be involved in financial shenanigans and in supplying contaminated water to Haiti. The murdered professor, it seems, uncovered evidence of water pollution and placed his findings in an envelope he gave to Mireille, which disappeared along with her. Now Aimée needs to find the envelope and prove that the professor’s discovery led to his death.
Meanwhile, Aimée’s business partner, René Friant, an expert in martial arts in spite of his diminutive size, is suspicious of Mireille’s claim to be Aimée’s half-sister. A sibling would have a claim to part of Aimée’s inheritance from her father, including her apartment and the detective agency, and René thinks Mireille is scheming to get the inheritance. Aimée decides to get her and Mireille’s DNA tested to prove whether or not Mireille is her sister. René struggles with his own attraction to Aimée, of which she is as yet unaware, even after years of being partners in the agency. She is attracted to bad boys, and her romances usually end in tragedy or heartbreak.
Murder in the Latin Quarter is a very exciting, suspenseful mystery, with Aimée seeking to uncover not only a crime, but the secrets of her own past. As always in this series, Cara Black brings Paris vividly to life for the reader. Each book is set in a different neighborhood, and very often the settings are not the areas where tourists usually go. The Latin Quarter comes to life with its twisting side streets, not much changed from its medieval origins, and Black vividly conveys the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the district, with its student hangouts and cafés. Cara Black always makes you want to go to Paris. Not to give away what happens, but this book ends with a cliffhanger that makes the reader wonder what is in store for Aimée in her next adventure.
Murder in the Latin Quarter is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.