Murder in the City of Light
The sunrise over the Mediterranean as the TGV moved slowly over the tracks along the edge of the water yesterday was a sight for sore eyes. Sure, I hate taking the early train since waking at 5 a.m. is not a normal hour to rise. Especially after a night of revelry with friends in a good Niçois bistrot and the shops that sell packaged lunch fare aren’t yet open for business. But there is something to be said about this exceptional morning view from the train.
The train ride was uneventful then, as they say, “all hell broke loose,” upon a 1 p.m. arrival at the Gare de Lyon. The buses weren’t running “thanks” to the giant “manif” (short for “manifestation” or demonstration) taking place between Place de la République in the direction of Nation passing by Place de la Bastille, Rue de Lyon and avenue Daumesnil to Place de la Nation. That meant circling the station on foot to go to the taxi queue at the front of the station and grabbing a taxi home. There was little time to spare considering that mystery novel author Cara Black would be speaking at Après Midi beginning at 3 p.m. There was much to do in advance of that — settle in at home, organize for the event and find lunch.
The “manif” was sponsored by the civil servants who are unhappy with the new labor reforms by the new Macron government. They are protesting what they believe will have a strong and negative impact on the purchasing power of more than 5.4 million public officials and weaken the public services provided to users. This is contrary to what Macron claims will be the result of the reforms, as he said to the civil servants: “J’augmenterai votre pouvoir d’achat, comme celui des salariés des entreprises: vous paierez moins de cotisations et votre salaire net sera augmenté d’autant,” la hausse de la Csg se traduira au mieux par une simple compensation dans la Fonction publique, c’est à dire sans gain de pouvoir d’achat pour les agentes!
Translation: “I will increase your purchasing power, like that of the employees of companies: you will pay less contributions and your net salary will be increased by as much — the increase in the CSG (contribution sociale généralisée, general social security contribution) will be best achieved by a simple compensation in public service, i.e. without gaining purchasing power for the agents!”
Trade unions called all workers to strike, protest or gather and mobilize, just when I needed to get across town. The taxi couldn’t go far with all the streets closed off and traffic at a virtual standstill. Police and their vehicles were everywhere we turned. Twenty minutes later, not having gone far from the station really, I gave up on the taxi, paid the driver way more than what was on the meter (since he couldn’t make change for the 20 euro bill, and began to hoof it home as fast as I could, towing my baggage, thankfully on wheels. The insanity didn’t stop there, because once home, I discovered computer/printer technical difficulties that took a technician’s advice to fix, in order to be ready for the 3 p.m. event.
At 2:30 p.m. I arrived at the Café de la Mairie in a frenzy, ate a cold lunch plate as quickly as I could because the hordes of Cara Black fans ascended the stairs early to get good seats. By 3 p.m. the room upstairs in the café was filled to the brim. By the time Cara started to talk, we had broken all records with more than 70 people who had come to hear her tales of murder in the City of Light.
Cara Black is the author of 17 murder mysteries set in Paris specifically during the ’90s, with the 18th projected to be published in the coming year and another one she’s working on now. “Murder in the Marais” was her first of the series, that started not as a series, but as a story she was so compassionate about that she simply had to tell it. It took more than three years to write it and realize. Once told, the rest unfolded, centered around a protagonist named Aimée Leduc — a young female detective who, as Cara puts it, “does lots of things she’d never have the courage to do.” Her newest book takes place in Saint-Germain and the one prior is actually a prequel to her first — “Murder on the Quai.”
Cara is a delightful speaker — open, honest, and fully accessible to her audience. She is a gifted story-teller and listening to her own accounts of the time she spends in Paris researching her mystery novels is filled with fun and intrigue. She rubs elbows with “les flics” — the French police — and finds herself in the craziest of places: down a manhole to investigate the sewers, in a tunnel that leads underground to the Palais de Luxembourg or climbing over the fence at the Square du Temple in the night just to prove it can be done without being seen…and where a body could be hidden)! (I was once with her on a mission to find such a spot, when she was writing “Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.”)
Later that evening, Cara and I, along with writer/editor/teacher Janet Hulstrand, high-tailed over to Saint-Germain where Cara did a “repeat performance” to an exclusive group of writers belonging to the Paris Writers Group hosted by Mary Duncan. The writers asked her much of the same questions as the audience at Après Midi, but they had more to do with the craft than the result. We all learned a lot about what it takes to be a great mystery writer: passion for the story, perfecting your skill as a writer and doing the necessary research to authenticate the story.
Cara lives in the Bay Area, but comes to Paris twice a year to dig deeper than the average visitor…so deep, that she likely knows Paris a whole let better than the average resident. She then takes this amazing lore and delicately places it on the page for all of us to enjoy and from which we can learn, too. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading all 17 books, but I do have the pleasure of owning them all. Any one can be picked up independently of the others and read for sheer pleasure as each stands alone. “Murder on the Quai” is the book I’m taking with me to Rome this weekend, as I’d like to learn more about how Aimée became a detective in the first place. (Stay tuned for Monday’s Parler Paris Nouvellettre® with a travelogue from the Italian capital.)
For more information and photos from yesterday’s Après Midi with Cara Black, visit Après Midi.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Cara Black, photo ©Meredith Mullins)
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