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March 4, 2009

Book Notes - Cara Black ("Murder in the Latin Quarter")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Cara Black's Aimee Leduc series of mystery novels is set in Paris, with each book centered in a specific neighborhood. Murder in the Latin Quarter is the first book I have read in the series, and it captures the City of Light's Latin Quarter with a keen eye while the novel's involved plot draws in the reader.

In her own words, here is Cara Black's Book Notes essay for her novel, Murder in the Latin Quarter:

I write in San Francisco where I live, yet every day I feel the need to get back to Paris, to transport myself to a dark, wet cobbled street, to catch the last Metro at night squealing into the station with the burning rubber smell of brakes, to walk the tree lined banks of the Seine. I satisfy my need by looking at images and listening to music. On my wall there's a huge map of Paris, as well as black and white photos found at the flea market and architectural plans of the sewer system and tunnels under Paris. A soundtrack plays in my head: old and new songs that come to me when I imagine Aimée running down the winding streets at night, or recall the accordionists in the Metro playing for money. When I'm researching in Paris, I tape everyday sounds on my digital recorder: the whoosh of the milk steamer and conversations in a crowded café, the clip of heels on the pavement, water gushing over the cobblestones, a siren hee-hawing in the distance, the strain of a cello drifting from an open window—so distinctive and so French, the street music of Paris. 

Apart from street sounds, I've listened to all sorts of music as I've written the Aimée Leduc Investigations: Wes Montgomery, accordion music, Paris dance halls of the 1930s on scratchy recordings, Joan Jett's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (when I want to rev up), "You Can Leave Your Hat On" by Joe Cocker, and "Sex Bomb" by Tom Jones, which is played ad nauseum in Paris discos.

Here's my playlist. It's nine books long and comprised of many tracks. I've tried to narrow it down to a song or two per book. For each of my books, there is a theme song and supporting tracks which I listened to as I wrote. Even to this day, hearing a snippet of one of these songs from a passing car or from an open apartment window takes me right back into a scene from one of those books. 

"Ça gaze" by Baguette Quartette and "Falling in Love Again" by Marlene Dietrich

Murder in the Marais—This is Aimée Leduc's first investigation—she's led to the Marais, the old Jewish quartier where a murder committed fifty years before during the Occupation involves present day French politics. "Ça gaze" is a chanson, an accordion piece. I played it every morning for almost two years. This song sent me to Paris, the old Paris, and now whenever I hear this music, I see Hartmuth landing in Paris after a fifty year absence, afraid to face his past. For talking of lost lovers, nothing beats Marlene Dietrich's musky, throaty evocation, recorded live at the Café de Paris in 1954. 

"Je ne regrette rien" by Edith Piaf, DJ Mix

Murder in Belleville—Doing a favor for her best friend Martine's sister leads Aimée to Belleville, now a North African district, and Algerian Muslim Fundamentalists. 
This book was inspired mostly by Piaf songs. Piaf grew up in Belleville, a "sparrow" from the cobbled hilly streets. I did so much research on what it was like when she'd lived there and listened to a DJ mix to accompany the vibrant diverse street scene on Boulevard de Belleville: rastas on roller blades, Senegalese men selling mint from baskets, chic Parisiennes in designer black.

The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin

Murder in the Sentier—Aimée investigates the past of her American mother who abandoned her when she was a child, which leads her to the Sentier, the wholesale garment district, and the supposed suicide of Prix Goncourt winning novelist. I listened to "Whole Lotta Love," the song I heard when I first hitchhiked into Paris; music blaring, the blond wheat fields on either side of the road bending in the wind, and our cute Parisian driver who kept hitting on us. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon was the overlay for the Red Army terrorista who listened to that music. It was their anthem.

"Bogota" by Jo Privat, 1936

Murder in the Bastille—Aimée is attacked in a passage in the Bastille quartier and blinded. The police think it's the serial killer "Guy George" but Aimée knows better. Accordion, accordion, accordion music by Jo Privat, the master of the Bastille dance halls. The Bastille quartier was a working class, run-down district, home to Apaches and the street gangs who frequented the dance halls on rue de Lappe.

Soundtrack to the film Elevator to the Gallows by Miles Davis and "Mangokoto" by Papa Wemba

Murder in Clichy— Imperial jade, stolen during the battle of Dien Bien Phu from French Colonial Indochina, takes Aimée to the chic and not so chic quartiers near Place de Clichy.
The French love Miles Davis so I named Aimée's dog after him. They pronounce his name "Meels Daveez," of course. "Elevator to the Gallows," directed by Louis Mallé, shows Paris at night in black-and-white with Miles on the soundtrack. It's a perfect fit. Jeanne Moreau is gorgeous in those heels and heavy eyeliner, running in the narrow streets to the strains of the haunting theme music. In the book, Aimée's hiding from killers and ducks into the cinema in Place de Clichy and watches the film. All the shops on one street carried Papa Wemba's music, so that became part of my inspiration. 

Sacred Songs of Corsica, Tempus Tugit Nebbiu

Murder in Montmartre—When Aimée's eye surgeon boyfriend walks out on her, she seeks out Laure, her old friend—a female cop—to drown her sorrows with in Montmartre. Instead Aimée finds Laure and the body of Laure's partner, a seasoned police officer, on a snowy Montmartre roof. I listened constantly to Corsican music, the traditional polyphony sung by Corsicans in the mountains. One of the characters is a Corsican musician, who mixes traditional Corsican polyphonics and hip-hop. I met Corsican singers and musicians who played the cetera, an unusual instrument native to the island. 

"Voulez-voux couchez avec moi" by Labelle and Marmalade and Bach's Suite 1 for Cello

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis—On a cold March night, Aimée discovers a newborn infant abandoned in her building courtyard. When the mother begs for Aimée's help, then disappears leaving her the infant, Aimée faces corporate oil company greed and two am bottle feedings. The Ile Saint-Louis is the island in the Seine—next to Notre Dame—where Aimée lives and is an exclusive slice of real estate, but it wasn't always that way. Even ten years ago, hovels and houses of "ill repute" existed behind the 17th century mansion courtyards, so a little tackiness was needed to contrast with a scene set at an elegant party in the historic townhouse now housing the Polish museum. I heard cellos, and a scene occurred with an old 60's pop icon who was now a Green activist. She was patterned on the older sister of Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, whose budding film career was cut short by her tragic death in a 1960s car crash.

Living on the Edge by Stéphane Pompougnac  and Kurdish Songs and Music by Temo

Murder in the Rue de Paradis—Yves, AFP journalist and Aimée's fiancé, is discovered with his throat slit in a doorway on rue de Paradis. The police suspect a sexual assignation gone wrong, but Aimée insists the murder must be tied to Yves's investigations in Turkey. Kurdish folk songs, the strains of an instrument like a mandolin; goat skin drums and the swaying rhythm accompanying whirling dervishes and lots of world music: this is what I heard. A bit of techno because of course, it's France and still irritatingly hip there. Plus the seductive trance tape Stéphane does sooo well.

"The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II a Book" by Wyclef Jean and "Les Bonbons" by Jacques Brel

Murder in the Latin Quarter—A woman walks into Aimée Leduc's detective office in Paris and claims she's her sister. But this woman, Mireille, who is half Haitian, disappears and at her address Aimée discovers the body of Haitian research professor surrounded by a circle of salt, his ear cut off, black voudou style. Is Mireille her sister? Where is she and what's the connection to the victim, a researcher at the nearby anatomical laboratories? The answers to the questions send Aimée on a journey through the Latin Quarter. I listened to Jacques Brels' plaintive song about lost love, a stolen look, the old clochards—winos—who used to inhabit the Latin Quarter. Wyclef Jean, who combines kompa—the Haitian afro cuban calypso mix—with hip hop, also fits right in.

Cara Black and Murder in the Latin Quarter links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's book tour
the publisher's page for the book

Library Journal review
Mystery Fanfare review
The Mystery Gazette review
Publishers Weekly review

Bookmarks interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Sacramento Bee profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2009 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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