A while ago on this blog I pondered the life of the private detective in Paris. Their world was a secret one I found impossible to penetrate until I discovered Cara Black and her Aimée Leduc alter-ego. Black has previously said that the crime novel is the perfect genre to allow her to explore the dark side of Paris, and she counts several of the city’s private detectives and police chiefs as friends. These contacts have enabled her to build her stories, one for each arrondissement in Paris, with inspiration from real-life cases. The perfect witness then to give me an insight into the mysterious profession of investigative sleuthing!
In your stories, Leduc Detectives are based in the Rue du Louvre. This however is also the address of perhaps the most famous real-life agency in the city, the similarly named Deluc Détective. Can you explain the links between the two and how you came to use this name and address?
Leduc Detective is indeed based on the Duluc Detective agency. It happened one day years ago when I was at the bus stop on Rue du Louvre. Across from me on the street was the wonderful neon thirties sign of Duluc and I’d been interviewing female detectives in Paris and thought why not this agency? I crossed the street, met Madame Duluc who inherited this agency from her father who himself had inherited it from his grandfather who’d started in the Suréte. She was very gracious and told me the history, the cases they work on and much more. I used the agency as a template for Leduc Detective; Aimée had a grandfather who'd started the agency and went from there. But when the publisher suggested we use another name for legal reasons I agreed.
What is the everyday business of Leduc Detectives?
Aimée and her partner, René Friant specialize in computer security, for firms who hire them. A lot of the work is routine, security based and for Aimée hum drum but it pays the bills. She’s a licencsed private detective who’d helped her father with criminal cases before his death in the Place Vendome explosion five years earlier. She’d turned from criminal cases when she inherited the agency, drafted her friend René from the Sorbonne, who’s a hacker extraordinaire and now he’s her partner in the firm.
As an American living in San Francisco, why did you choose to create a fictional heroine based in Paris?
I’ve loved Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and Leo Malet’s Detective Nestor Burma series for a long time. I wanted to see something contemporary set in Paris and wasn’t finding it. Though I’m not French I grew up in a Francophile family in California, my father loved good food and wine, my uncle had studied painting under Georges Braques in the 50’s and life in our house was very much of French appreciation. I went to a Catholic school with French nuns who taught us archaic French and felt a bond, some strange familiarity with all things French as I grew up. That’s partly why Aimée Leduc, my detective is half-American half-French because I knew I couldn’t write as a French woman. I can’t even tie my scarf properly.
What is it about Paris that inspires crime fiction?
The history maybe? For me, that’s a big part and my research gives me the chance and a nice excuse to go to Paris and scratch the surface. Dig deep and deeper to understand the quartier, the people who live there, the origins of the quartier such as Bastille with its old furniture making and artisanal roots. Paris holds so many secrets and stories that I want to keep discovering.
Each Aimée Leduc story concentrates on a different district in Paris. How do you go about researching the locations, and what kinds of things in particular are you looking for?
For me it’s about the place in Paris; capturing the ambiance, the streets, the rhythm and the flavor that makes it unique. Each part of Paris was once a village and that’s what I’m looking for. I talk with cafe owners, police, people at the Archives, research photos at the Carnavalet museum, take people out for wine and get them to talk. Talk about growing up in the district, or their mother who was born there. I’ve joined the Marais historic society and the Historic society of the 10th arrondissement and met people who share so kindly with me about the place, the way the things are and used to be. Often I’ve gotten lost and that’s the best because then I discover a corner of Paris, an alley, a place I’ve never been before and that becomes part of the book.
Very much so and that’s a great question. It’s about solving a crime and everything it entails like a real investigation; the clues, the red herrings, the false trails, the witnesses, the evidence, the police whom I consulting the Archives, libraries, old newspapers, interviews with experts in the field a retired Brigade Criminelle inspector, a locksmith, a banking officer, To plot a crime novel it’s necessary to think like the investigator and be in the mind of the villain who orchestrates the events and masterminds the plot.
The private eye has traditionally been a laconic, anti-social male. Was the young and rather glamourous Aimée Leduc a reaction against this?
Yes in a way. I think I wrote what I wanted to read. I wasn’t finding any contemporary books with characters who lived in Paris. Or who were computer savy, vulnerable and had fashion sense. She’s battling the old boys network in the police, the ministry and those who brush her off as a woman. She’s in a trade which is less common for women, has trouble in relationships and is attracted to bad boys, has lost her family and has no ties except for her godfather who’s support is sporadic. She is in a way, a lone wolf, neither fish nor fowl, being half-French and an outsider.
What future locations do you have planned for Aimée in Paris?
I’ve written about ten arrondissements, I’ve got another ten to go...
Murder in the Palais Royal - an Aimée Leduc Investigation, published by Soho Crime, is available now.