Noe Valley Voice March 2010

Tracy Wynne (left), owner of Cover to Cover, showcases Cara Black’s latest book, as well as Cara Black herself, at a special reading at the bookstore on Monday, March 22.
Photo by Pamela Gerard

Cara Black Pens Number 10

By Heather World

After exploring the bowels of the celebrated Palais Royal--and interviewing employees of the French Ministry of Culture on the floors above--Noe Valley author Cara Black has produced the 10th novel in her popular Aimée Leduc detective series.

"I'm really happy with this book," says Black of Murder in the Palais Royal, released this month by Soho Press. "I love that area [of Paris], and I have wanted to write about it for a long time."

Black's novels follow the intrepid investigations of Aimée Leduc, a half-American, half-French private detective and computer security specialist with an office near the Louvre.

The mystery series traverses Paris from neighborhood to neighborhood, focusing on a different arrondissement (or neighborhood) in each book. Black builds her stories based on real-life events and interviews with city workers, café owners, and shopkeepers. Leduc herself is based on interviews with several female Parisian detectives, Black says.

The first nine books i n the series have won fans and acclaim, both here and abroad. Last year's novel, Murder in the Latin Quarter, debuted at the top of the San Francisco Chronicle's bestseller list. In August, the author was interviewed in Paris by National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

Often the plots are fast-paced, and Palais Royal is no exception. As the story opens, Aimée Leduc learns that her business partner, René Friant, has been shot near fatally, and eyewitnesses put Leduc at the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, huge sums of money have been deposited in her firm's bank account. Someone seems to be impersonating Leduc, and it may relate to a youth she sent to jail in Murder in the Marais, the first book in the series.

The action takes place in October of 1997, shortly after Princess Diana's fatal car crash in a Parisian road tunnel. France is riveted by the tragedy, but also preoccupied with another event: the war crimes trial of Maurice Papon, a police offici al in Bordeaux who deported more than 1,600 Jews during World War II.

"At the time, France was looking at this painful past," says Black, who writes from her home on Alvarado Street. "Aimée finds people in the Ministry of Culture who are hiding pasts as well."

While researching the novel, Black made a tour of the underground tunnels located beneath the large sculpture garden adjoining the Palais-Royal, the 17th-century palace first designed as a residence for Cardinal Richelieu.

"You could actually go around the whole garden underground," she says.

She also interviewed Ministry of Culture officials and Parisian bank personnel, to verify the authenticity of her descriptions.

Though Paris feeds Black's imagination, Noe Valley's independent bookstores have fed her career. Cover to Cover Booksellers hosts book-signings and has featured her work prominently over the years. Black says she knew owners Tracy Wynne and Mark Ezarik long before she began writing her first novel back in 1998.

" That was [and is] my local bookstore, with a wonderful children's section," she says. She recalls waiting in line with her son to buy books signed by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.

"They're what I think of when I think of booksellers. They live and breathe it."

Black also makes use of the late hours of Phoenix Books, she says. And she counts Diane Kudisch, owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, among her close friends.

"She's been in my corner since the beginning," says the author.

This year, Black is a finalist for a best novel award from the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

"When I started writing, I never thought I would finish the book, much less get it published or write a series," Black says.

"I was just a mom living in Noe Valley, going up to the playground on Douglass like everyone else."

Success has rewarded but not spoiled Black--she still sleeps on a friend's couch when she visits Paris for work.

"I'm just really lucky to do what I do," Black s ays.

Black will read at Cover to Cover, 1307 Castro Street, on Monday, March 22, at 7 p.m. She also will participate in Noe Valley Celebrates the Book, a literary festival co-sponsored by Friends of Noe Valley and four local bookstores, on Friday, April 16, 7 p.m., at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, 4175 24th Street.