One of the joys of reading is an unexpected connection. Recently I read Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. Deciding to read more than one book at the same time a few days later I started reading All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny. It was a pleasant surprise to find both books are set in the Marais of central Paris. Though they take place about 25 years apart with Black’s book in 1993 and Penny’s book at the present time it was fascinating to read of their descriptions and connections with the Marais.
In Murder in the Marais, Aimée Leduc has a modest apartment which she inherited from her grandfather on Ile St. Louis:
“Drafty, damp, and unheated, her seventeenth century hôtel particulier had been the mansion of the Duc De Guise …. The ancient pearwood trees in the courtyard and the view from her window overlooking the Seine kept her there. Every winter, the bone-chilling cold and archaic plumbing almost drove her out.”
The Gamaches, in All the Devils Are Here, have a comfortable apartment that Armand inherited from Zora, the Jewish woman from Poland he knew as his grandmother, who had purchased the apartment with “restitution” money she received after the war.
The Gamaches’ small apartment, with its wooden beams, fresh white walls, and large windows, was already welcoming, but the scent of garlic and basil made it even more so.
Black sets a meeting place, just off the rue Payenne for Sarah, her young Jewish heroine, and her German soldier during the war. It is a bench in the Square George-Cain with its Roman pillars and some ancient marble busts. Sarah is hiding out in the Roman catacombs below the Square after her family was rounded up and sent to the concentration camps. They meet again at the bench 50 years later.
|Gates of Hell|
Penny vividly describes the area:
It was one the many peculiarities of Paris. Hidden behind many of the simple wooden doors were these courtyards and secret gardens.
It was a city of façades. Of beauty, both obvious and obscure. Of heroism, both obvious and obscure. Of dreadful deeds, both obvious and obscure.
The real life Hotel Lutetia has respectively a dark and light role in the books.
In Murder in the Marais, after the war ends Lili Stein, who was the only member of her family to escape deportation, stands outside the hotel where she “waited every day after school to find my family”. The Lutetia “rundown, boarded-up” at that time was “the terminus for trucks bringing camp survivors. Maman said she held up signs and photos, running from stretcher to stretcher, asking if someone had seen her family. Person to person, by word of mouth, maybe a chance encounter or remembrance ….” None of her family returned.
Restored the Lutetia became and remains a fine hotel.
Following a tradition established when he was a boy, Armand and his family go to the Lutetia for its wonderful ice cream. Peppermint with hot fudge for Armand’s godfather, Stephen Horowitz.
There is a further reference in All the Devils Are Here to the hotel being the headquarters of the Abwehr (German Intelligence) in Paris during the war where members of the Resistance were tortured.
Lastly the question of collaborators decades after the end of the war occupy each book with complex questions on the issue of collaboration.
As the intrigue in each book stretched back to WW II I had to concentrate on not confusing the two plots.