Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, by Cara Black

I like reading books set in familiar places, but can also be entranced by those set in places where I'd like to go. Cara Black's mysteries featuring Aimee Leduc as a detective who mostly works computer security are set in Paris, a place that is high on my bucket list. Leduc is assisted by René Friant, only four feet tall, but dapper and wise.

On the very first page, as Leduc struggles to finish a system upgrade within the deadline, this story is launched by a phone call. A woman's voice begs her to go down to the courtyard, promising that it will only be for a few hours. When Leduc, armed with her Beretta carefully explores the courtyard, she finds a baby hidden behind the garbage containers. And we're off into a whirl of danger made even more frenetic by her attempts to care for the baby.

Black draws even the most minor of characters with a fine brush, such as the homeless man, Jules, with whom she takes refuge, or Jean Caplan who owns a dusty second-hand shop and tries to watch out for and feed Helene, an elderly woman whose life is packed into shopping bags. Black captures both the young and rebellious heir to a long-gone Polish monarchy and his uncle, an elderly Count hanging onto his memories, avoiding stereotypes and bring them both alive with small details and surprising inconsistencies.

Where Black really shines, or at least what delights me most are her descriptions of Paris, the back streets and hidden courtyards, the stones lining the Seine, the tunnels below. Leduc lives on the Ile Saint-Louis, a small island in the middle of the river, originally a “feudal island fortress”, now only eight blocks long and three blocks wide whose inhabitants refer to the rest of Paris as “the Continent”. Black shades the people and places with subtle references to the city's past. The faded aristocrats and the down-and-out both suffer the long reach of tragedy.

This is yet another excellent entry in the series: smart, fast-paced and full of heart. I highly recommend it.

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