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MURDER AT THE LANTERNE ROUGE


By Cara Black

Soho Press, 2012, c2011 ($25.00)

ISBN-13: 978-1-61695-061-3
Kindle eBook: $9.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Private Investigator Aimee Leduc's partner, Rene, is in love, and Aimee is concerned that he has fallen too fast, too hard, and perhaps for the wrong woman. Rene, a dwarf, is not the kind of man Aimee believes Meizi, a young, beautiful Chinese woman, would chose to be involved with, and she thinks the woman may have ulterior motives for her relationship with him.

When a small package from a jeweler arrives at their office, Aimee is puzzled, until Rene calls her and says it is a gift for Meizi. He asks Aimee to bring it to the restaurant where he is dining with the girl and her parents. Aimee enters a part of Paris she has seldom visited, the Paris Chinatown. Meizi's parents, the Wus, are dour and seemingly disapproving of their daughter's choice of boyfriend, and since they do not speak French, the dinner is awkward. Meizi gets a call on her cellphone and says she has to leave for a few minutes, but she does not return. A Chinese woman rushes into the restaurant and frantically delivers a message. The diners, including the Wus, scatter. Aimee and Rene go outside and approach a group of people gathered around something on the ground. The something is the body of a young Caucasian man, his head wrapped in industrial plastic sheeting. The crowd disappears when the police — the flics — arrive, but Aimee takes a quick look in the man's wallet. She finds his name on an ID form. More disturbingly, she finds a photo of Meizi. She wonders again if Meizi is not who she seems, but Rene hotly informs her that Meizi loves him and could not be two-timing him. Aimee's delay gets her questioned by the police, but she's not able to help much. She does not share Meizi's photo with them, however.

She decides to find out what she can about the dead man, a scientist named Pascal Samour, and finds his great aunt at the address on the ID card. She is Armenian, and tells Aimee about fleeing from the Turks, then being rousted again during World War II. She and other Armenians took part in the French Resistance. Aimee's heart goes out to the elderly woman, who has suffered so much loss, and now lost her only relative. She tells the woman she will find Pascal's killer.

Her investigation leads her into dangerous territory, with leaders of Chinese gangs, government agencies, and members of a secret fraternal order trying to keep her from sticking her nose where it doesn't belong. The plot is intricate, the various cases overlapping and intertwining as she digs deeper and comes closer to danger.

As she travels the gritty, ancient streets and alleys of Paris, it feels like she is taking the reader on a guided tour of the parts of the city most people never see. Intriguing bits of Parisian history are seamlessly woven into the story.

This is the twelfth in the Aimee Leduc investigation series, and my favorite so far. One interesting note: the book is set in 1998, and Rene is considering taking a job offer from a friend in Silicon Valley. The company was a startup, but you will recognize the name. Fans of the series will be glad he decided not to take the offer, although Rene might now wish he had.

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