J’adore Paris. Et vous?
San Francisco-based author Cara Black sets her Aimée Leduc Investigation series in Paris, which the author frequently visits. Each novel features one of Paris’ twenty arrondissements, and in this tweflth entry, it’s time for the 3rd Arrondisement—wherein lies Paris’ oldest Chinatown—to shine.
Aimée Leduc accompanies her long-time business partner, René, to dinner in a Parisian Chinatown restaurant with René’s girlfriend, Meizi, and her parents, Monsieur and Madame Wu. Not long after the soup arrives, Meizi receives a phone call and leaves the table. She never returns. Then an old woman enters bringing news of a murder. Soon after, Aimée and René discover a dead man, wrapped in plastic, and dumped behind a luggage shop belonging to the Wus. Not more than 100 yards from the restaurant! Meizi has disappeared, but the dead man had a photo of her in his wallet.
Aimée’s return to the luggage shop the next day, looking for the Wus, turns into a bizarre Twilight Zone, where no one seems to know who she’s talking about, and the Monsieur and Madame Wu she meets are not the same ones she encountered the night before!
At one point, Aimée vents, thinking, “Fake. Like everything else here, in this conspiracy of silence.”
What starts off as a murder mystery quickly turns into a race-against-time to find Meizi before it veers again into The Da Vinci Code territority. The story moves at a fast, clipped pace—almost two fast. The time is denoted with each chapter, and often an hour has passed, which almost seems impossible. It’s all almost too complex, but author Black manages to pull it off.
While trying not to give too much away… though Meizi was known to the dead man, Pascal Samour, the key to this mystery is in Samour’s study of 14th century glassmaking and a formula that could revolutionize fiber optics. “Samour was obsessed with the fourteenth century,” says one character. “According to him, no one’s ever invented anything new since then.” And apparently Samour was going to prove it!
With illegal Chinese immigrants, sweatshops, and a seemingly international hunt for a priceless formula, the murder investigation almost seems to take a backseat to the thrilling hunt for the missing Meizi and clues to Samour’s research. Yet it is a homeless man, known as Clodo, who may hold the vital clue to Samour’s death!
Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, as part of series, does make mention of recent events in previous cases, most notably about Aimee’s godfather Morbier who was suspected of killing his girlfriend in the preceding Murder in Passy. There is also a larger story arc involving Aimée’s mother, a wanted fugitive, and the conspiracy revolving around her family’s heritage. This last is more likely to confuse new readers, but it intrigues nonetheless.
Spend an evening in Paris and give this book a try. Best if enjoyed with a glass of your favorite red wine and some cheese, or perhaps chocolate?