Gallic Fever

Toujours francofolle !

Light summer reading can give you a frisson

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Maman, a dedicated, proper French teacher, wondered uneasily how her only child strayed into, of all things, crime writing? French was in my blood, though, and a passion for Paris did surface. When I discovered how many of my crime-writing colleagues were similarly smitten, my life themes at last converged. “Recommend some French-drenched light summer reading,” I emailed the crime scribes.

True crime writer, Sue Russell, an ex-pat Brit, recalled her dad reading Georges Simenon, and watching a “moody, noir-ish” Maigret TV series. On an internet list of maybe 100 Maigret titles in English, I clicked on Murder in Montmartre (the 18th is a longtime fave). Originally Maigret au Picratt’s, the book climaxes with the flics chasing their quarry through the shadowy streets of the quartier – as Maigret coordinates by phone from the bar in Picratt’s.

Consummate thriller writer (and sometime France resident), Lee Child emailed that he “loved Daddy, by Loup Durand – a breathless chase story that’s also incredibly intelligent.” In this World War II chiller, the Nazis handpick a brilliant academic to retrieve invaluable codes memorized by a gifted young boy. At the American Library in Paris, where my ex-pat friend, Louise, volunteers, “Evenings with an Author” are famously popular with the ex-pat crowd. An anthology of Best Paris Stories had just débuted there, Louise reported. The stories were the ‘best,’ winners, I learned, of a blind-reading contest.

Designer Lydia D’Moch salvaged an anonymous drawing for a book cover that begs to be opened.

Designer Lydia D’Moch salvaged an anonymous drawing for a book cover that begs to be opened.

But I was really hooked when I saw the book’s stark, vintage cover photo – depicting, according to designer Lydia D’Moch, “a still-postwar Paris on a wintry morning; mood and period details pull you in, suggesting stories to be told.” Eleven literary stories, such as Julia Mary Lichtblau’s “Désolée, Monsieur” (Sorry, Sir), to savor with your Kusmi tea on a rainy summer day. The American Library welcomed a crime novelist, too, this spring: Judith Rock, author of a mystery series set in 1680s Paris. Judith Rock also spoke at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, thanks to her series hero, Charles du Luc, who attends the prestigious, historic school. Hotfooting it around 17th century Paris in the pages of The Eloquence of Blood with scholar Charles and pals, we look back through their eyes at streets and landmarks we know and love, and finally see them in context. Talk about a frisson!

Ready for “The oldest and smallest of the four Chinatowns in Paris”? Don’t look in your Michelin; find it in Murder at the Lanterne Rouge, the latest délice by Cara Black. From fancy Passy to the city’s seamier side, no matter where in Paris Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc heroine investigates, the Mairie clearly is pleased: in 2012, the author received La Médaille de la Ville de Paris at City Hall.

First published 2012 on FrenchCultureGuide
Watch this space for our latest literary frissons . . .

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