Cara Black, the New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc mystery series, has a new one out — Murder in Pigalle — which Booklist calls “as tasty as a chunk of French chocolate.” And lucky for us, Cara is sharing an interview she did with Juliet Grames, the associate publisher of Soho Press. It’s a terrific behind-the-scenes look at how Murder in Pigalle came about. Enjoy! And do check out Cara’s events page. If she’s coming to a bookstore near you (and she’s going to be at lots of bookstores in the next few weeks) you can ask her questions yourself. – Meg
Juliet: You told me when we first started working on Murder in Pigalle that the inspiration had come from a real-life case. Can you tell us a little bit more about the real case?
Cara: Yes, it came from a case that had stymied the flics (slang for French police) for a time. They were quite open about it. By chance, having lunch with a retired Brigade Criminelle officer, his friend joined us. His friend headed what we’d term Crime Investigations against Juveniles division. Quite a striking guy, very nice and he looked like he’d walked out of a medieval tapestry. I can only describe it as a 14th century face and tonsure-like hairstyle. Anyway he, Thierry, gave me his card. Not one to pass up any opportunity I called and Thierry invited me to visit him and tour his branch. I had no intention of writing about crimes against children but it’s a good rule to visit a policeman who invites you to their office to get the feel and see how they really work. Unknown to me at the time, Thierry’s unit had cooperated with a film maker who’d just made a hit movie about their Juvenile division. So Thierry was quite open. His office, on the Seine, and the whole floor of the unit’s suite was lighter and airier than most police branches I’ve seen. His second in command, a youngish female Commandant, toured me and showed where their psychologically trained investigators talk to child victims in colorful rooms with toys. Another woman explained about her work with investigating and suppressing the trafficking of young children. I confess it struck me how hard this job would be to do and not get emotionally involved. How could one leave it at home at the end of the day especially if you had young children the age of the victim’s in your case? The units professionalism, compassion and down-to-earthness really struck me. Out of curiosity I asked the young Commandant if there were any specific crimes they’d dealt with in June 1998 when I was setting my next book – it could be background material or an issue my character would be aware of. Yes, exactly, she said. In June 1998 there was a notorious case and she showed me the file – that of a serial rapist preying on young girls home alone after school. All the girls lived in the same arrondissement and attended schools near each other. The flics hadn’t put the attacks together and the frustrated parents of the quartier went vigilante. Unfortunately it was the wrong guy. The flics did find the serial rapist, he was tried, convicted and sent to prison. He didn’t last long, since the young Commandant told me prisoners don’t like pedophiles.
Juliet: One of your characters, Monsieur Lavigne, a connoisseur of the Pigalle area’s history and culture, has an impressive collection of art done by great quartier artists. Who are some of those great visual artists? What about musical composers? What brought them together in this area of Paris?
Cara: Pigalle, long a nightlife area – Moulin Rouge, le Chat Noir, and nearby Follies Bergere all still going strong are in the 9th arrondissement. Theater thrived here and still does in the thirteen theaters with performances every night. Maybe it’s an artistic sensibility fostered by those who lived here: artists like Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, writers such as Emile Zola, George Sand. Composers and musicians including Liszt, Chopin, Berlioz who visited each other often, found inspiration in congregating in salons and ateliers fermenting a literary, artistic and musical scene. Where Monsieur Lavigne lives, is in what’s still called la Nouvelle Athenes, an upscale area where the wealthy followed Greek designs in architecture and promoted ‘new thinking’ based on Hellenism and Greek ideals and thought. I’m not sure if that’s still around.
Juliet: In this book, detective Aimée Leduc is pregnant. It’s a big change for her character! What inspired you to lead Aimee down that street?
Cara: It’s never easy for Aimée, she’s always attracted to bad boys but I felt it was time for her to grow up. Well, a little. My Parisian friend Anne-Françoise – who I’ve known for years – first as a singleton and we’d go out dancing – now who has two daughters, aged three and seven. Anne’s a career woman, too but I’ve watched (and sometimes helped on visits) since their births how she raises her girls and works full time. Paris, btw, has an amazing affordable childcare system for working parents and subsidies for childcare. Of course, it’s not easy and Anne relies a lot on her partner these days and a wonderful shared nanny. But when I visit I can do the fun stuff and take the girls to the circus or read a story. I don’t have diaper duty any more, but volunteer for after school pickup and boulangerie stops on the way home. I’ve learned a lot from watching her.
Juliet: Aimée is wrestling with lots of questions about motherhood: for example, will she be a good mother, even though she doesn’t have a good relationship with her own mother? How can she balance her baby with her career? Cara, you are a mother yourself—did you channel any of your own experience or thought processes into Aimee for this book?
Cara: Integral to Aimée’s character (we’ve seen this in the series) is a yearning for family, one she’s never really had. She has abandonment issues over her mother who left her, whether to truly protect Aimée as a young child, remains to be seen. Her American mother, is on the World Watch list. Aimée’s starting to see that ‘family’ can be those around you ie. René, her partner at Leduc Detective, Morbier her godfather and Martine her best girlfriend. Without her own mother, Aimée feels the loss of a role model and wants an instruction booklet on having a child. But she there isn’t one. I became closer to my own mother when I had my son, our relationship became different, which I think it does for many women. I could ask my mother things, I was lucky she only lived 30 miles away. It’s hard to explain but watching the relationship grow between my son and mother, how she became part of his life, made me feel more bonded to the world. I’ve seen Anne’s relationship with her own mother deepen after having children. Family, important in French society, and everywhere in the world, takes on a new meaning when you have a child. It’s not just about you anymore, and it never will be again. Aimée suffers doubts, fears about her capability to raise a child and balance a career. She wonders if she’ll turn into her mother, maybe we all do.