Cara Black is back! A few months ago, she chatted with me about her best-selling and award-nominated Aimée Leduc Investigation series, set in Paris. Today, we discuss her latest novel, Murder in Passy, which was released earlier this month. To learn more about Cara and her books, visit her website at http://carablack.com/. On Tuesdays, she can be found blogging about France at http://murderiseverywhere.blogspot.com/. And check out her earlier interview with me here at Novel Adventurers.
Cara, in Aimée’s latest adventure, things get very personal for her. Can you briefly tells us what the book is about?
Aimée's concerned when Morbier, her godfather and police commissaire, asks a favor—a personal one concerning his haut bourgoise girlfriend, Xavierre, who lives in village-like Passy in the chic 16th arrondissement. After Xavierre's murder, Morbier is a suspect. Determined to vindicate him, Aimée's investigation leads to Basque ETA nationalists, police corruption, and a kidnapped Spanish princess.
In all your novels, the arrondissements where the stories are set become a character in the book. Passy is no different. Can you tell us something about this neighborhood, it’s history, and what sets it apart from other parts of Paris?
Passy is like a village enclave nestled in this residential and very exclusive district. The type of district where the maids wear pearls, Heidi :). But before Passy was incorporated into Paris in 1860, it was in the suburbs, outside Paris. A village where Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III's wife, took the Passy curative waters and where Balzac hid, escaping his creditors and writing some of his more than one hundred novels.
Unlike much of Paris, Passy closes up early at night and contains some of the highest priced real estate in the world. But there's an old world feeling, a little stuffy and conservative. Yet if you scratch underneath, you find a feeling of community: this village where everyone knows one another.
There is a Basque theme in this story. What is the Basque connection to Passy?
I discovered a Basque Cultural Center had existed in Passy, near the police station—a 30’s style commissariat—and Basques had a history of living in Passy. A thread existed (now the Center's moved away), but the stories I heard about their festivals and cultural activities interested me and pointed to a more diverse Passy than just the upper crust.
The bad guys in Murder in Passy belong to the Basque separatist group, ETA, of Spain. Who are they and what do they hope to accomplish?
ETA is the militant extremist wing that splintered off from the Basque Nationalist Party. In the 60's, 70's, people were sympathetic to Basque nationalism, since Franco, then dictator of Spain, outlawed it and persecuted Basques who wanted autonomy. But soon the Basque Nationalists disavowed the bombings and threats of terror, saying that the Basqueland should be legitimized without violence. The Basque language is revered, and the “home” Basqueland straddling Spain and France is distinct and has been for centuries. In Murder in Passy, the ETA use violence as a rationale for political activism—but is it really that or an excuse? I've got many Basque friends who call themselves nationalists and want a separate homeland but refuse to sanction violence and feel ETA hurts their cause.
You do a lot of hands-on research for your books. How did you approach your investigations into Basque culture and ETA? Did you visit the Basqueland or interview members of the organization?
Yes, Heidi, and that opened my eyes to the conflict Basques in France and Spain feel over ETA. I visited Bilbao, St. Jean de Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz and love the warmth, generosity, and humanity of those I met. Some of them had been imprisoned for seven years by Franco in the 70's, one woman even on death row, who was pardoned when Franco died. This marked them for life, but even after their harrowing experiences, they work in the system now to legitimately change the government and to uphold Basque autonomy.
I know you like to get down and dirty when you explore the settings in your books (crawling through Paris sewers and such). In Murder in Passy, you have some very exciting scenes set in the tunnels beneath the Passy reservoir. What was it like exploring these passageways, and did you already have the scenes in your head while you went through the tunnels?
Heidi, when I explored those tunnels and heard the stories of the French Gestapo torturing people underground I just knew I had to use it in the book. The underground tunnels are an even temperature, a bit damp and just massive windings and twistings and turnings under arches of old stone. I felt strange things emanating from what I later learned had been a torture area....
A mysterious law-enforcement outfit called the EPIGN makes an appearance in this book. Who are they and what is their mission?
The EPIGN are military, elite-trained anti-terrorist, recovery and extraction units. Liken them to our Delta Force or Navy Seals. The crème de la crème.
Aimée does not have a lot of luck in love, does she? Any chance that she will meet Monsieur Right?
Oh, Heidi, it's never easy for Aimée. The girl has a penchant for bad boys, what can I say?
What is next for Aimée ?
I'm in edits now for next March—Murder at the Lantern Rouge!
I’m looking forward to that one. Thanks for chatting with me again, Cara!
Thanks for having me back, Heidi.