Leduc back in 13th book in series

MURDER BELOW MONTPARNASSE

By Cara Black

Soho Press, $25.95; 319 pp.

Dressed in black leather leggings, ballet flats, a retro-Pucci silk tunic topped by a flounced jacket, sitting on a Recamier sofa, her bichon frise Miles Davis beside her, discussing the latest case with her associates, dwarf-like computer expert René Friant and down-at-the heels aristocrat Saj de Rosnay, she can only be Aimée Leduc, the most famous private detective in Paris.

For the 13th book in this best-selling series, Cara Black has Leduc chasing down a long-lost painting of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, by Amedeo Modigliani from 1910, when both were largely unknown, living poor and out of luck in the French capital. A Russian émigré, Yuri Volodya, finds the canvas rolled up in a cellar and unwisely brags of his good fortune. Quickly, the painting is stolen and the old man killed.

Suspicion points at a French art dealer ambitious for fame and money, at a Russian oligarch eager to leverage a portrait of Communism’s father for his political ambitions, and at a mysterious intermediary, a “fixer,” with links to international terrorism — and to Leduc.

Her late father, who ran Leduc Detective before her and had been a police investigator, married an American woman of dubious origins who abandoned the family when her daughter was only 8 years old. Since then, this Sydney Leduc has been rumored to work as an assassin for the CIA and also for the radical Haader-Rofmein terrorists — and so is high on the world security watch list. She may be the fixer.

For the first half of this adventure, Aimée Leduc is without either Friant, who has been seduced away by the promise of American dollars and stock options to a “Zeelakon Vallaay” start-up called Tradelert, or Rosnay, who has been injured in a car wreck.

Her lover, Melac, from the elite Brigade criminelle, is working undercover and unavailable. More than ever, she has to depend on her godfather, Commissaire Morbier, whose position in the hierarchy of the French Police can sometimes grant her extraordinary access.

Leduc could take her motto from the Paris coat of arms, Fluctuat nec mergitur — tossed on the waves but not sinking.

For the seas are choppy whether at an old-age home interviewing “a ninety-eight-year-old ballerina with dementia” or in a nightclub making eyes at a female bodyguard “wearing a leather biker jacket and low jeans over bony hips” or back at her office, where muggers attack her and attempt their own version of water boarding.

Behind all the intrigue and murders is an extraordinary painting from Modigliani’s most creative period, figurative and avant-garde, the portrait of a Russian revolutionary in exile, “a man caught between his lover, his comrade-wife, his political aspirations, his theories, his doubts before he sacrificed ideals to fanaticism.”

Wait for the many surprises in this book, especially one for Aimée Leduc on the final page.