MURDER IN THE BASTILLE by Cara Black
It took me forever to finish this mystery that seemed to have promises, at least at the beginning. Was I seduced by the Paris evocations that seemed to avoid cliches and went instead to narrower and darker streets? There might be that. There are also the French words and expressions, fairly current, which pop out here like mushrooms. French expressions in American novels are not always used wisely, or when they are, there is always that annoying spelling or grammar mistake. Cara Black appears more careful, at least in the first half of the novel. And the errors that come out later are minor.
But that is all for the seduction part. The plot itself goes all over the place while the pace drags. Detective Aimée Leduc loses her sight, but my own sense of empathy gets paralyzed. I really don’t give a damn. And this, despite the fact that one very influential person in my life was a blind uncle with whom I used to take long walks when I was a child. As for the terrifying Beast of the Bastille, he seems plastered on the decor like some horror movie poster from the 1940's. The investigation is handled by a bunch of scattered investigators, either private detectives or cops (“les flics”), mostly ineffective. Too many flics spoil the soup.
Finally, all these narrow passages and streets that had their charm in the beginning start to resemble each other in the end. I no longer recognize Paris. Where on earth is the City of Light? No abundance of gallic expressions, no simple enumeration of street names will recreate a Parisian atmosphere. There is a special rhythm in Paris, or a variety of rhythms, a mix of sass and poetry. After a high traffic boulevard your steps may land on some pocket of quiet. A little further, you may struggle in a walking crowd until the city airs itself again. The Seine, Paris’ main artery, is the city’s magic mirror. I get little of that here. I get names, listings. Even characters feel like listings. And the few who are fleshed out appear boneless. As for the ones with a skeleton in their closet, they are simply soporific.
This is my first experience with a Cara Black novel, and probably my last. I don’t find her characters appealing, with the exception of little person René, a computer genius who is also Aimée’s colleague and best friend. Besides the few elements mentioned at the beginning of this review, he is about the only redeeming factor in this novel.