Today it’s my pleasure to interview the magnificent (and chic, and fabulous–see above) Cara Black, author of the Aimee Leduc mysteries, set in Paris. Which is the smartest place to set a mystery series EVER, and I wish I’d thought of it instead of setting my first novel in not-quite-so-intriguing Syracuse, New York.
I first met Cara when I was a student at the Book Passage Mystery Conference in Corte Madera, California, and then my mystery writing group invited her out to dinner so we could ask her all about her journey to becoming published, and her marvelous novels, and just her fine self in general. She was a tremendously lovely dinner companion, and has become a friend I cherish.
And without further ado… some Q&A about Cara’s latest novel from Soho Press, Murder in Passy…
1. I love your stories about how you pick each neighborhood that will feature in a novel. What drew you to Passy for Murder in Passy?
Sometimes I feel like writing a murder mystery isn’t unlike being a detective. It’s about finding the bits that fit the puzzle of a story I want to write. Passy – in the exclusive 16th arrondissement – still retains a ‘village’ feel despite its haute-bourgeoise reputation.
Passy’s beginnings were humble, a village on the outskirts of Paris where Balzac fled to hide from his creditors. Empress Eugenie, Napoleon the III’s wife, took the waters at Passy. Hector Guimard, the father of Art Nouveau,
whom we have to thank for the wonderful verdigris metal Metro entrances, lived and designed buildings in the quartier.
My friend who lives in the 16th kept badgering me to write about her quartier but for me it was too staid, too chic and not my detective Aimée’s ‘hood.’ But it was discovering that a Basque Cultural Center had existed near the tiny police station (unchanged since the 30’s) along with a long historical presence of the Basques in the quartier that changed my mind. What a contrast in this very conservative and wealthy quartier!
My family and I had spent time in the Basque country,
we loved the culture, the people and the food,
yet witnessed the rubble of bombed farmhouses from ETA’s–the Basque Separatists–militant actions. That made me wonder…what if the ETA–who were very much in the headlines at the time–used a wealthy environ as a hideout. What if this murder struck close to Aimée?
2. You were joking around recently about Parisian maids in neighborhoods so fancy that the maids themselves wore pearls. I dream of being that chic in my next life. Any tips for this one? I’ve given up on the scarf gene already…
That’s a conundrum Cornelia. I wish I had the scarf gene too. I think, after much observation, scrutiny and obsessing about this, Frenchwoman follow a simple dictum. They buy quality, a few pieces – accessories and staples; the shoes, bag, one good little black dress and jacket, the coat.
It’s all about mixing and matching whatever you have in the closet with a few good pieces – it’s about putting it together, for a formal look the little black dress, a weekend lunch, mixing a stylish tousled thrown-together look with a Vuitton scarf.
That flair, that je ne sais quoi factor…that’s another gene.
3. What are your favorite low-end and high-end places to eat in Paris? I was a big fan of Chartier in my college days for cheap steak tartare and chocolate mousse. These days I like a tiny place called Le Petit Vatel, in the Sixth.
Both pretty cheap.
Oh yes, Chartier for the ambiance and the price.
Low end is my favorite falafel on rue des Rosiers, L’as du Fallafel.
There’s always a line in the street, The NY Times wrote about it, yet still for my 6 Euros the best falafel outside of Tel Aviv. I’ve been going there since forever.
La Marine–old-fashioned bistro on quai Valmy in the 10th with a bobo hipster crowd–borders the Canal Saint Martin, serves locals too and stays reasonable. Consistently delicious.
Near the Marche d’Aligre, 12th arrondissement, the tiny wine bar le Baron Rouge crates in fresh Normandy oysters–that morning–can’t be beat.
Vatel, meanwhile, was the guy famed for committing suicide when the fish was delivered late for a banquet for Louis XIV at which he was maitre d’hotel. He also invented creme Chantilly for the same meal. Ran himself through with a sword, apparently.
They take their food seriously – then and now – these chefs.
4. What are they wearing in Paris, this winter?
Winter white. And black, always. Shearling coats because it’s cold. Knee high boots. The short jacket layered over a tailored blouse, long sweater, tight pants or mini and heels.
5. What are you working on now?
I’m editing my next book titled Murder at the Lantern Rouge – the story is set in a Chinatown in Paris existing in the medieval northern edge of the Marais.
There’s four Chinatowns in Paris but this one’s the oldest and smallest. The story came from a comment from a man working for the RG (Renseignements Generaux, like our FBI), who told me ‘No one dies in Chinatown.’
Now when’s YOUR next trip to Paris, Cornelia?
How about tomorrow?
Thanks so much for having me!
Cara, you make me want to go back to Paris! I loved it there. Didn't have much time but loved every moment. I will read your books, definitely.
Cornelia, wonderful interview! Thank you!
Ah, I see you'll be in Tucson for the book fest. Perhaps we will meet. Have a great book tour.
Great interview, Cornelia, and lovely to see you here, Cara!
Can't wait to see you in the States – only next week. Just finished reading MURDER IN PASSY. Wonderful!
So, did you get to crawl all around the the derelict Renault works on Île Seguin for the book?
Thanks for the wonderful interview! I have Cara's name on my 'to buy books' list.
Cara Mia! So good to see you here, darlin'. Can't wait to read the new one!
JD it's been too long! Zoe yes, see you this Thursday at Lesa's library and I'll tell you the story of Ile Seguin's derelict Renault works.Reine hope you come by at the Tucson Festival of Books and say hello, love to meet you.Cornelia, beautiful job with these photos – you surpassed yourself my dear – and great questions, thanks for having me stop by xox Cara
Ah, Paris, what a great place to set a series. Thank you for the photos, Cornelia, and the reminder of Chartiers. I had the best lunch there that has haunted my dreams ever since. Shredded celery root, and chestnut cream for dessert, both new dishes/tastes to me at the time. To die for.
Those Metro posts are amazing, and kept me trying to spot them everywhere. Are some of them no longer where they once stood? The loveliest one I saw had a stylized red glass tulip-shaped shade at the end of the curvy sign support at the top. Made me catch my breath. And really, almost every place you set your eyes in Paris has something exquisitely beautiful very near by.
Is Passy a neighborhood within the 16th arrondissement? How close is it to the Luxembourg Gardens? Will definitely look for the series!
Great interview, Cara, and many thanks for giving me a reason (not that it takes much 😉 to get to Paris again sooner rather than later. Your restaurant recommendations sound fab.
Karen they've preserved and kept quite a few of the art nouveau Metro entrances. The one you mention sounds beautiful – off top of my head I remember Abbessess, Porte Dauphine in the 16th, one at Place St. Michel. One day at Porte Dauphine I saw a woman restoring the gold gilt on the glass panels, quite an art. Passy and Auteuil were villages outside Paris until 1860 and became the 16th arr. so big it has two zipcodes. Passy is across the Seine and an arrondissement over from the Jardins Luxembourg. Rae, I think you need to try La Marine 🙂 Cara
Thanks , Cara!
I'm hoping to be with Reine in Tucson, so will look forward to meeting you, also. Have safe travels. You, as well, Zoe.
Great to see you here, Cara! Wonderful, fun, upbeat interview. I've never been to Paris…I think I could get lost there. Intentionally, of course.
You two are killing me! Cara may be the smartest writer I know, setting books in Paris.
Damn it, you two! I now have to figure out when I can next get to Paris. Having serious location envy.
I've just started reading my way through your books. Murder in the Marais was wonderful, but very poignant and difficult for me in places. I am the child of survivors-it's sometimes hard. But I love Aimee's spirit and discovering Paris with her-and you. Thanks for the interview, Cornelia, and the wonderful pictures-as usual.
Armchair travel — the fun without the calories! (Or sore feet.)