16 January 2013

Murder Below Montparnasse; Cara Black

Murder Below MontparnasseMurder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A mystery series set in Paris? Yes, please.

Our Heroine, Aimee Leduc, is semi-involved with the police - her grandfather, father and godfather all were members of the force (although Dad seems to have been drummed out ignominiously) but she is supposedly a computer security person. And yet she gets involved with solving crimes, with a closet filled with disguises and a wallet with many different IDs (names, phones, occupations, etc.). In terms of darkness, this is more like Penny's Gamache series than a Rebus or Dalgliesh, and no where near the amateur sleuth cozies of Rita Mae Brown, Dorothy Cannell, etc.. That's all good.

The setting, Paris, is really brought to life for readers; even though I've spent time there and knew some of the areas, there were streets and histories that eluded me and made me want to get out my maps and travel guides to learn more. Again, that's good.

The main mystery is who is killing for the "new" Modigliani, a portrait of Lenin that has been forgotten in a storage unit for 70 years. There are Russians, Serbs, political activists and art thieves running through this story, not all of whom are working together. Aimee's role is to find the painting, but before she does there are at least two murders and several assaults. There's a side story about Rene, her partner, and his misadventures in Silicon Valley, but that doesn't seem to really have an effect here and could easily have been left out.

While this was so close to being a five star, what cost it were two things: clunky exposition and too much product placement. By "clunky exposition" I mean the many, many times when Aimee was supposed to be some place and the writing is something like "'Meet me at Les Invalides' - the former military hospital and where Napoleon is buried". It felt a little like the author was trying to cram in as much Parisian background as possible, when less would have done fine. The product placement comes from Aimee's closet. It doesn't really make a difference to the plot if she's wearing vintage YSL or Chanel or Sonia Rykiel, but we're told time and again who the designer is.

Still, this is an author and series I didn't know before... and as soon as possible, I'll be reading the previous books! Luckily, it doesn't seem imperative that you read them in order.

ARC provided by publisher.

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