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MURDER BELOW MONTPARNASSE
by Cara Black
Soho, March 2013
319 pages
$25.95
ISBN: 1616952156


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Paris, February 1998. Aimée Leduc has had better days. First, her long-time business partner René Friant has left the firm for the golden fields of Silicon Valley, California; a dot-com startup very much wants his skills, and is prepared to pay the diminutive computer expert a six-figure salary, along with a fancy title and stock options that will make him a multi-millionaire in short order - something Aimee simply can't match. René has arranged for a young computer geek to take his place, but Aimée is doubtful that he's up to the task. It is a potentially crippling blow to her PI firm, which specializes in corporate security and computer forensics.

Night is descending, and not far from Aimée's office, in a quartier near Montparnasse, a Serbian burglar waits patiently in the shadows for an elderly Russian named Yuri Volodya to leave his home. When he does, the Serb enters the house, looking for a painting. He doesn't find it – but someone finds him. Their encounter will set in motion a deadly tempest with Aimée very much in the eye of the storm.

But that's only the beginning of Aimée's troubles. Earlier that day Yuri had left a note with a bundle of bank notes at Aimée's office, indicating he wanted to hire her. She is disinclined to take the job until she learns that the old man claimed he had known her mother, a woman on an international terrorist watch list - who had deserted the family when Aimée was a child, and whom her father had always refused to talk about. That tilts the scales. With Saj driving, they head for the address on the Russian's business card. But just as they arrive someone emerges from the darkness, directly in the path of their car. There is no time for them to avoid hitting him, and a passing nurse confirms that he is dead. When the police arrive and investigate, Saj is arrested, and faces charges of involuntary homicide.

When Yuri is later found tortured to death and Aimée is spotted at the crime scene she is considered a material witness, and sought by the police. Used to taking on difficult cases, this time Aimée finds herself in well over her head: she has to try to get Saj's manslaughter charge dropped while clearing herself of Yuri's death; that means investigating the rumour of an unknown painting by Modigliani, while not forgetting the vexing issue of her missing mother's involvement with the old man. Just when she thought things couldn't get worse Aimée learns that another Serb is hot on her trail, holding her responsible for his brother's death.

Cara Black expertly weaves an engrossing tale involving a missing painting, a ruthless Serb seeking revenge, a mysterious Russian with ambitions to play with the apparatchiks, and the mysterious mother whom Aimée hasn't seen for twenty years - and who's on a global terrorist watch list. Things aren't all roses for René either: he's up to his thumb drive in a computer scam that could make others millions - and send him to prison for a very long time.

With an eclectic cast of characters that includes a protagonist who navigates the streets of Paris on a pink Vespa, a dwarf for a partner, and a Bichon Frisé named Miles Davis, and more plot wrinkles than the proverbial cheap suit, MURDER BELOW MONTPARNASSE is easily Cara Black's strongest work to date. The tale is topical, the pace is breathtaking, the suspense sustained, and Black's trademark feel for the atmosphere of Paris's colourful arrondissements is up to her usual high standards. Her latest work could well prove to be the author's lucky thirteenth in a series that already counts fans around the world.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on such websites as Spinetingler, The Rap Sheet, Shots Magazine, Crime Time, Reviewing The Evidence, January magazine, and Type M for Murder, as well as on his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, March 2013

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