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The Secret History Behind Paris’ Neighborhoods, as Told by a Bestseller Mystery Writer

Bestselling author Cara Black’s murderous Parisian inspirations.

Cara Black is the New York Times bestselling author of 20 mysteries set in Paris, France, featuring the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc. I first met Cara Black in Paris when she was guiding a tour of readers through the city, taking them to spots they would recognize from the novels, enjoying an insight into the research, inspiration, and love for a city–all of which goes into her books.

Black, from a Francophile family, says she fell in love with Paris on her first visit, and the city, coupled with her desire to write about a friend’s Jewish mother’s experience during World War II lead her to her first book–and Aimée Leduc.

Black says, “Aimée Leduc is my alter ego. She’s taller, thinner, more fashion-conscious, and smarter with computers than I am. She also has a great 17th-century apartment in a townhouse on Ile Saint Louis.”

Twenty books later, Aimée’s life has changed over the years, but her fans still love her and the journey through Paris she takes them on.

Related: The Best Things to Do in Paris

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'Murder in the Marais'

The Marais is one of Paris’ most loved areas, the ancient Jewish quarter full of charm, shopping, and great falafel places. The book Murder in the Marais, the first in the American/French investigator Aimée Leduc series, focuses on the murder of an old Jewish woman before unraveling the darker history of the Marais. Black remembers: “In Place des Vosges I sat under the 17th-century arches at Ma Bourgogne bistro famous for its tart tartin [waiting] to meet [someone whose] mother was a hidden Jewish child during WWII. She was the only one in her family to survive, and she inspired me to write the story.”

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'Murder in the Sentier'

Between Rue Reamur and Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, the Sentier was historically the garment and textile producing quarter of Paris. Today it is a warren of lanes filled with small trendy cafes and bars.

Black says: ”One afternoon, I missed the bus and ended up lost in the Sentier area of the 2nd arrondissement. At the time, it was the wholesale garment district with Sephardic Jews. I loved walking into a courtyard following a barrow with clothes to a basement sweatshop with Turkish men and the sound of a violin in the former mansion of Madame de Pompadour.”

Murder in the Sentier sees Aimée Leduc chase down some 1970s radicals through this quartier.

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'Murder in Montmartre'

The area of Paris most popular with visitors and locals alike, the village of Montmartre, high above the whole of Paris, has inspired artists and writers for centuries. It is the location of a vineyard in the heart of the city, the Dali Museum, shimmering, white Sacre Coeur, and plenty of alleys perfect for a good murder hunt. It is worth descending the 460 steps of the beautiful station Abbesses to catch the Metro, as the entire spiral stairwell is decorated with art.

Black says: “On page 242 of Murder in Montmartre, Aimée Leduc goes to the bookstore that stayed open late for poetry readings in Place des Abbesses for a Corsican newspaper across from the metro.” She adds: ”The Abbesses metro is one of the two deepest stations in Paris and was an air raid shelter during the war.”

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'Murder on the Ile Ste Louis'

One of the islands in the Seine, connected to the Ile de la Cité by a bridge just behind Notre Dame, houses not only the best ice cream shop in the city, Berthillon, but also some of Paris’s most expensive real estate. And some of the city’s most desirable apartments.

Cara Black says: ”[Aimée Leduc] lives on the Ile Ste Louis in the 17th-century Hôtel Lauzun because I would like to live there. This is a real mansion where Baudelaire lived and ran a hashish club.”

Related: This Paris Neighborhood Isn’t a Secret, But You Probably Haven’t Visited It

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'Murder in the Latin Quarter'

Between the 5th and 6th arrondissements, this quarter is home to the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, and the Arene de Lutece, a Roman amphitheater. Black set a murder mystery in the multinational Latin Quarter, with Aimée getting involved in Haitian politics.

Black says: ”Across from the Jardin des Plantes, Aimée Leduc finds the dead body of her supposed half-sister and must escape an ambush through the gardens. Personally, I love the Natural History Museum with its 19th-century galleries and specimens. It feels like Jules Verne will drop in any minute.”

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'Murder in the Palais Royal'

The Palais Royal is one of Paris’ loveliest spots. Full of flowers, surrounded by grand architecture, and the Buren Columns, all make for perfect selfies. A lovely spot for a quiet lunch al fresco with a book in hand, this is a writer’s and reader’s oasis.

Black says: ”Colette the writer lived here in an apartment overlooking the Palais Royal calling it her ‘garden in Paris.’ When the roses bloom, the spouting fountain sprays a mist, you can sit and dream under the double row of linden trees.”

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'Murder in Passy'

This upper-class residential area is rarely visited by tourists but offers great museums–such as the Musée Marmottan Monet, specializing in the Impressionists, and Musée Balzac, the writer’s former home–while also having a lovely market street and great cafes with views of the Eiffel Tower. But Passy also has a hidden dark history.

Black says: ”Rue Lauriston is famous for bordering an above-ground reservoir in the 16th Arrondissement near Passy. It’s like a swimming pool in the sky and provides water for fountains and municipal gardens. But also famous for the below-ground cellars where a guide showed me where the French Gestapo tortured people. The machine sound masked the screams. “

Related: The 12 Best Places to See the Eiffel Tower Without the Crowds

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'Murder in Pigalle'

The red-light district of Paris is a perfect place to set a murder and send Aimée Leduc to investigate.

Black recalls: ”Near the Moulin Rouge are clubs I visited with an undercover flic, a policeman in the vice squad. In the clubs, the women and men who hostess and run the place are often informers. In this type of club, the hostesses and hosts require you to purchase champagne to sit with them. Under the table are drains where they pour out the champagne, so the patron has to order more.”

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'Murder in Belleville'

The alternative quartier of Belleville, literally meaning beautiful city, is becoming increasingly popular with visitors who appreciate the free spirit of the area. Full of street art, cafes, and a variety of cuisines and shops, this is a perfect place to experience a less touristy side of Paris.

Cara Black says: ”On market day on Boulevard Belleville, I sat at the corner cafe and wrote down what I saw while drinking mint Moroccan tea. Those paragraphs went right into the manuscript and were never changed.”

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'Murder in Saint-Germain'

This bohemian quarter on the Rive Gauche, the Left Bank, is a fabulous quarter to wander café by café, shop by shop, with plenty of art galleries and culture thrown into the mix. While as a visitor, you should take it easy in this part of Paris, Private Eye Aimée has plenty on her plate in this novel, from hunting war criminals to a murdered art critic.

Black took it a little easier during her research and says: “In Saint Germain, I would go to the Cafe Mairie across from Saint Sulpice and buy a newspaper on Sundays from the man who hawked them and gave running commentaries on the news. He was entertaining and even wrote a book.”

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'Murder on the Champ de Mars'

While Aimée investigates the murder of her own father in the novel that’s set in this quartier, there are plenty of places to discover here. There are the obvious ones: The Eiffel Tower, the Ecole Militaire, and Invalides, but also the scenic streets of Rue Cler and Rue Saint Dominique.

Black went deep into research here and says: ”My personal research memories of Champ de Mars were accidentally visiting the archery practice center under the Assemblée Nationale. Somehow, I followed the crowd under a tunnel-like area and found myself in the wood-paneled gym-like archery center for the politicians. I used it in the story. I watched fascinated until I was kicked out.”