As part of the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book and as the third annual Carol Troxell Reader, acclaimed mystery author Cara Black (Three Hours in Paris) read from and discussed her newest book, a standalone historic thriller set in occupied Paris, in conversation with Ellen Crosby. In Three Hours in Paris, as with her nineteen Aimée LeDuc books set in the Parisian arrondissements, Black masterfully uses the setting to reinforce the story’s many twists and turns.
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“Heart-racing… Three Hours in Paris isn’t just any old formulaic ‘Get out!’ tale. It’s mystery master Cara Black’s first standalone novel, a spy story set during World War II in Occupied Paris. The premise is that an American female sharpshooter is parachuted into France to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Of course, she fails. Using wits alone, she must evade the Gestapo and make it back across the English Channel. Chances of success? Slim to none. Chances that you’ll be able to put Black’s thriller down once you’ve picked it up? Also slim to none.” —Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
“Ms. Black (also the author of a long-running series of detective novels featuring Parisian investigator Aimée Leduc) excels at setting vivid scenes, creating lively characters and maintaining pulse-elevating suspense. Three Hours in Paris, with its timetable structure and its hunt for a covert operative, recalls such comparable works as Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle.” —Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal
Special thanks to our sponsor: the Carol Troxell Fund and its donors.
Thanks to New Dominion Bookshop.
JANE KULOW: Welcome to the “Carol Troxell Reader: Cara Black and Three Hours in Paris,” a program in the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book. I’m Jane Kulow, director of the Virginia Center for the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities. Thanks for joining us.
A couple notes before I hand the program over to our speakers: Please share your questions using the Q&A tab on Zoom. This event has optional closed captioning, which you can turn on and customize using the Closed Captions tab at the bottom of your window. If you haven’t already read today’s book, we hope you will. For details about how to buy it from our bookseller for this event, New Dominion Bookshop, visit VaBook.org, where you can also explore our full schedule and watch past events. While you’re there, please consider making a donation to support the Festival’s ongoing work at VaBook.org/give.
Special thanks to our sponsor, the Carol Troxell Fund and its many donors, with additional thanks to our partner New Dominion Bookshop. This event is one in an annual series, honoring Carol Troxell, the thirty-year owner of New Dominion and her literary leadership in our community.
Now, I’m pleased to introduce our speakers: Cara Black, author of Three Hours in Paris, is also the author of nineteen books in the New York Times–bestselling Aimée Leduc series. She has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, and her books have been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew. Cara lives in San Francisco.
Our moderator Ellen Crosby is the author of the Virginia Wine Country mystery series; her newest book and 11th in the series, The French Paradox, is just published in here and in the UK. Ellen’s books have been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Library of Virginia Fiction and People’s Choice Awards. Ellen lives in northern Virginia.
Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you, Ellen and Cara. And it’s all yours.
ELLEN CROSBY: Thank you. Good morning, Cara. How are you?
CARA BLACK: Bonjour, Ellen.
ELLEN CROSBY: Bonjour. Bienvenue au Festival due Livre de Virginie. So welcome to the Virginia Book Festival. It’s been a while since we saw each other, I think. It was the last time I was in California, on your coast.
CARA BLACK: That’s right. You were looking up vineyards or something.
ELLEN CROSBY: I might’ve been. I might’ve been doing a book event or something. But, yes, I’m still writing about them. So it’s great to see you. And I love that book. I just loved it. I think one of the things we talked about when we were emailing back and forth is that my husband is French, and his uncle was a member of the Resistance, and my mother-in-law was later a translator at the Nuremberg trials. Because André was born in Paris, and his family grew up there. So reading this was fascinating. And for anybody—and we have quite a crowd listening today—or participating with us today. It’s a great book. So if you haven’t read it, get it.
So I’ve got so many questions. I want to get started. My first one is I read somewhere that you said you spent twenty years researching the book. You were just picking up threads of information as you went along. So my question for you is did you know you wanted to write a book about World War II or this book? And where was the trigger? When did you find the little nugget of information that led you to Kate? And maybe you should tell a little bit about the plot. I’m assuming everybody’s read it, but discuss the plot a little, and then tell us about the research.
CARA BLACK: Sure. Well, there’s an American woman who is a trained markswoman. She grew up in rural Oregon, learning to shoot when she was little, living on a ranch during the Depression. And she has gone to Paris on a scholarship with the Alliance Francaise and studied French at the Sorbonne in the summer of 1937, when everyone thought peace was possible. And what happens next is she falls in love with a Welshman, goes to the UK. The war starts. They have a baby. He’s an engineer up in the Orkney Islands. And I don’t want to say too much, but tragedy happens based on real events, and she is recruited by the British Secret Service, which had different names at the time. It was before the SOE, which maybe a lot of readers are familiar with if they read World War II fiction. It’s Section D, which existed.
And she goes over two weeks into the German occupation of Paris—two weeks—to assassinate the Fuhrer. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t assassinate him. And the rest of the book is how does she get out of there and what happens.
ELLEN CROSBY: Right. It was breathtaking. You can’t put it down. I mean, you know what happens, but you still can’t put it down. So talk about the research.
CARA BLACK: Sure. Well, over the twenty years I’ve been going to Paris and staying on my friend’s couch, I’ve collected many, many, many of these little notebooks.
ELLEN CROSBY: I love those.
CARA BLACK: Yeah, the ones with the grid. I have so many.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, the French, always the grid. Yeah, I have those too.
CARA BLACK: I have many, many, many. So when I go Paris and I’m doing research for Aimée Leduc—you know, maybe I color code them. This one is the blue one. Then I may be on a bus, and I hear some words—some phrase. Like language in one book, some odd historical tidbit. So they all go in. And so many of these little notebooks would be having the details of the arrondissement. But many of them were things that I heard that did not belong in an Aimée Leduc book. Amazing, wonderful jewels.
And so there were all these notebooks filling up. And I think because my father was such a big reader and he read books all the time, when I grew up, in our home library there were all these dog-eared books of a John le Carré or a Ken Follett or a Len Deighton. And I think I was like twelve years old, and I was reading all these books. And rereading them, there’s so much I didn’t understand. But I loved that. It was like wartime or Cold War or there was this espionage. I mean, we’re doing these incredible things.
Of course, people in my family served in World War II, so there were stories. You had different stories. So there was this backdrop. And I always wondered why wasn’t a woman doing some of these things. You know, that would be why not, you know? What did the women do during the war? They didn’t just take care of the babies and cook cassoulet. They did a lot more things. So that’s sort of where it came from.
So the nuggets—again, I’m very interested in World War II. And when I started going to France, my friends would talk about their great-grandfathers serving in the trenches in World War I, because that was their background. And I started hearing but in World War II, you know, my uncle, my father’s brother, he was doing this, and he was doing that. Just these incredible things. And I realized that when—that Hitler came to Paris once for three hours.
ELLEN CROSBY: That is so interesting.
CARA BLACK: Why? Why did this man come for three hours? And he came—I have show and tell because I was a preschool teacher. So here is Hitler on the trip with Albert Speer, who’s over here. The architect armaments guy. Arno Breker, the sculptor. He’s an artist, okay. And Breker had lived in France and thought he was going to be showing the Fuhrer Paris. But, no, Hitler knew what he was doing. Here they are. And he went where he wanted to. That was it; there was no more.
And Paris, at the time of their visit—I bought this at a flea market. With the Champs-Élysées, with the policeman. And on the back it says 1940. So this is what it looked like right into the occupation.
Now I wondered why didn’t Hitler have a big parade down the Champs-Élysées, you know? It’s his city. It’s his. And then I was reading a lot about these men. Albert Speer was imprisoned and later wrote about his time in the Reich, and he said that this visit with these two men happened June 28th, 1940. Arno Breker wrote in his story after the war it happened June 23rd, 1940, because that would’ve made a lot more sense because the armistice had just been signed in northern France.
So why did these two men who were with them write these two different events? And I just became obsessed with that. Something happened. There’s something going on. And history is written by the victors. And what if there was a history-altering event that was hushed up? And I became obsessed, and I started talking with my editor.
ELLEN CROSBY: At Soho Press.
CARA BLACK: At Soho Press. Juliet Grames. And I had said always I had these things, and sometimes she would say to me, “This is great. It doesn’t belong in an Aimée book. Keep it for something later.” And so then when I told her about this, she said, “Why don’t you just write it? Just write it. Get going.”
ELLEN CROSBY: I wanted to ask you about that too because the book is very structured. Every chapter is the timeline because the Fuhrer has given he wants answers in twenty-four hours, right? So there’s a ticking clock. So it’s a very logical way for you to structure your chapters. But, so, in mystery land there are two kinds of writers. There are people who write by the seat of their pants, called pantsers, and there are people who write with outlines—planner. I’m a planner. I read to my great surprise one time that you said you’re a pantser. You write by the seat of your pants. How did you write this book if you’re a pantser? I read somewhere that you had a map of Germany on the wall. But I would’ve had note cards and a timeline. What did you do?
CARA BLACK: Well, I am a pantser, or by the seat of my hem or whatever. But look at this. I found this. This is a Pariser Plan, a German—for occupied troops. This is what Paris looks like. Because they would go to Paris for R&R. And I found one of these somewhere, and I went, “Oh my god, this is what it was like.”
So when I started out with the idea, I wrote a lot of the book, and then I realized I needed a new beginning—a different beginning—and I wrote that.
ELLEN CROSBY: The part about Wales, or?
CARA BLACK: Yes. In Scotland, yeah. Up in the Orkney Islands, yeah. It had originally been set in Wales because Rafe was Welsh. But it didn’t work because there was no bombing. And my editor and I talked about it. We needed real-time events because these things in the book happened. Based on real events which I fictionalized. So there was this bombing in the Orkney Islands at Scapa Flow. It’s true. A submarine got through. So I did that.
But I sort of wrote the story, and then I printed it out, and I put it on the floor, and I made a long column. You know, point of view. Gunter, Kate, whatever. And then I realized Gunter wouldn’t do this because he wasn’t there. He was here. And then I would shuffle it. So when I got the idea for the timeline—because one of my favorite ever books is The Day of the Jackal, which I re-read every year. But by Day of the Jackal, we know de Gaulle lives. But it’s the suspense and how is that built up. And there was a timeline, right? Because the jackal—the hired assassin—we realize has planned at this moment in front of Montparnasse Station is when he will shoot de Gaulle, which would have worked.
So if you’re working against a timeline, that really helped. And I realized I needed to work within the framework of blackouts, a curfew. Because curfew changed a lot. And I had to do a lot of really nerdy research to try and find out what time the curfew was in June 1940 because it was different in September.
ELLEN CROSBY: It shows in your book that you’ve done that kind of nerdy research. You also said that you have a friend who was a Resistance fighter who when you go to Paris—now he’s ninety—takes you around. And I’m especially interested in that because Andre’s uncle never spoke about what he did. He just didn’t. So has he told you stories? How is it when you go around Paris with him? What is he like? Does he drive like a madman like all Parisians do when you drive around Paris?
CARA BLACK: Oh, it’s crazy. He’s a really bad driver.
ELLEN CROSBY: They’re all bad drivers. You always hang on to the Jesus straps. Yeah, yeah. So tell us about him.
CARA BLACK: Yeah. Well also and his eyesight’s getting bad.
ELLEN CROSBY: He’s ninety, yeah. Yeah.
CARA BLACK: Well, he was very young. He was of Polish origin. His parents were political exiles, very radical. His father hid during the war and then was taken to the Natzweiler-Struthof
Camp and beheaded. Just horrible, horrible things. His mother survived and ran a camp. And Eli Wiesel, if I’m saying it right, stayed there as a young man or a young boy—a teenager who came from the camps. You know, for young Jewish orphans, to help them get on their feet and then emigrate. So they were very proactive political people. But Tali was—he was like eleven when—he grew up in the Marais when the Marais was a shtetl, it was a ghetto. It was rundown and was where poor people lived. He’d drive me around and say this is where the ladies of the night worked, which is now very chi-chi, and they would give us candies, and, you know.
He remembered standing in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine in the Marais when the Germans marched into Paris from—coming from the Bastille. And he remembered the German soldiers would buy fruit and veg from the carts that were on the street. And a German soldier—and they paid, you know, at first—bought a banana and gave him a banana. He’d never eaten a banana. His father was killed by the Germans, but he taught—just incredible things. Which I know you have stories as well.
So his mother sent him to the countryside. He came back in 1944. So he was fourteen or fifteen and started handing out subversive papers and hiding. So his—
ELLEN CROSBY: Did he stay in Paris? Was he in Paris the whole time?
CARA BLACK: No, his mother sent him to the countryside.
ELLEN CROSBY: But when he was in the Resistance, was he in Paris, or?
CARA BLACK: Yes, when he came back when he was about fourteen in 1944, just at the end there, he joined the Resistance. He had a person who ran him. They used the young kids for different kinds of things. But he ran—he took objects. He took tracts. He did things like that. But that was towards the end of the war. But he was very much a Resistance. He ran away from his shelter in the countryside to try and find his mother in Paris and work with the Resistance.
ELLEN CROSBY: Right. Because I think André’s uncle wasn’t in the city. He left, and he never talked about what he did. But whenever he came back to Paris, he always brought a sack of potatoes. And my mother-in-law said to this day—she passed away many years ago—but she said she couldn’t even look at a potato after the war. She just couldn’t. But that was a real luxury, and that was a treat that he brought them. So, wow.
CARA BLACK: My friend’s mother—I’ve gone to the market with her and found one of those topinamburs, which are like a rutabaga. And I was like, oh, I saw this thing. This is a new vegetable. We can make an emulsion with it. And she goes, “No, I ate those all during the war. I will never eat another one.”
ELLEN CROSBY: Yep, yep, yep. Another thing I wanted to ask you. Your French must be absolutely flawless. You must be like native-speaking to be able to conduct the interviews you do. You learned French in school.
CARA BLACK: I learned French in a Catholic school from nuns. So it’s old-fashioned French.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, yeah. Well the other thing I wanted to ask—so you’ve been going there for twenty years. We lived on the French-Swiss border in the 1980s. France was a country that I would say would be—it’s chauvinistic, honestly. It’s like machismo. And so a woman wasn’t always taken as seriously as a man and I think had trouble making inroads into certain careers or professions or whatever. So here you are, starting say twenty years ago, an American woman going over and trying to ask questions of the police, interviewing all kinds of people. How did that work? Did you have trouble? How did it evolve over the years? And now you say you take them all out for drinks and catch up and chat and everything. How did that evolve? And talk a little bit about that process.
CARA BLACK: Very slowly. So I first—I mean, I had lived in Europe previously, but when I went in the eighties to visit my friend Sarah, whose mother was actually a hidden Jewish child during the war in the Marais. When I went back to stay with Sarah and see her and she told me the story. Sarah was kind of like—then I met her mother, and then I started to think about writing the story.
So over the years, I would say, “Well, what was that like?” And so she would have—she’d introduce me to her dentist’s brother-in-law whose father had an experience. So you know how it is with French people. It’s people you know. It’s intro, intro, intro. And you’re an American. I was not published at the time. So it was very different.
ELLEN CROSBY: I know. And who are you with? You say, “I’m with me.”
CARA BLACK: I was not a journalist, so it was very informal. And I would just be incredible—you know, the wide-eyed, kind of naïve American. People tell you stories. That’s been my biggest cachet. I just open my mouth and go, “Really?” And they love to talk about this. So I mean, I am. I am naïve. And so people would tell me things. Then of course, there would be like—when you try and get specifics, they might go, “Why?” Then when I got published, it was easier.
There’s actually a wonderful writer, Paula Woods, in LA who frequently reviews for the LA Times, and she was saying, “Cara, I want to set an art mystery in Paris. Who are your contacts with the fliques?” And I was so embarrassed because I didn’t have any. And she goes, “Well, do you call the press office? Do you whatever?” And I go, “Yeah, yeah.” So I did what Paula suggested. And I made an appointment. They got to see me. And then actually by that time I had written a book, and they were like, “Oh, okay.” They took me out to lunch. They told me all the charts of the organization. And then it went on and on, and I met someone.
And then later, when I was writing another, I wanted to know about, I don’t know, art theft or something. So he goes, “Well, here, you call this guy. I knew him in the Academoire. I know that his team works on this.” It’s always been like that. I get one person in the police, and he’ll go, “I don’t even do that anymore.” And now he doesn’t. He’s in a very secret, hush-hush thing that I can’t write about. But he says, “No, you talk to this guy.” And it’s always been like that.
And they’re also kind of like, “Who’s this woman?” They’ve taken me to shooting ranges. And I was wearing flip-flops. Not a good thing to do in a shooting range.
ELLEN CROSBY: No, it isn’t. It isn’t. Well, listen. Before we get too much further, would you read a little bit for us? And then we can maybe talk about what you’re going to read. And then if there’s any questions, we can take those too. I think so far I don’t see any, and I think it’s because you’re so riveting. Everybody is just engrossed in what you have to say. So let’s do that. I have mine on my Kindle. It’s the same place that you told me.
CARA BLACK: So, Ellen asked me what I would like to read, and so this is just a very short section—a few paragraphs—that my editor loves and I love too. And I don’t think I need to set it up too much except that Kate has been recruited by the British, and her handler is called Stepney. So she is taken to this old country house. She doesn’t know where she is.
Stepney cleared his throat to get her attention. “We have limited time, Mrs. Rees [that’s Kate’s name: Kate Rees]. Please, listen closely and try to remember everything I say. If nothing else, remember these letters: RADA.” He gave her a half-smile. “No, it’s not the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but that will help you remember. Burn the letters in your brain, make them second nature. RADA: Read, Assess, Decide, Act. This stands for: read the situation; assess possible outcomes; decide on options; act on your decision. Can you repeat that?”
“You’ll have practice examples later. Think those letters, RADA, to yourself constantly, every moment of every hour; wherever you are, walking on the street, in the shop, boarding the Métro. Any moment a German soldier might stop and demand your papers. It’s impossible to avoid them so you need to be prepared. Always have a story ready, but be flexible according to the situation. Use your intuition. Your instinct.”
Kate shifted in the hardback chair. “So you’re sending me behind enemy lines.”
“That depends on how well you do in training,” he said. “But I believe you’re more than capable based on what I’ve seen. You’ve got what you Americans call moxie, Mrs. Rees.”
“In Oregon, we call it hellfire.”
ELLEN CROSBY: That was great. One of the things that struck me in that book is that’s what keeps her alive. So where did that come from? Did somebody teach you about that, talk to you about that? It was very interesting the training that he gave her and how it’s carried through the books. So talk a little bit about that.
CARA BLACK: The training?
ELLEN CROSBY: And how you did it. I mean, there are these impossible situations, but she just falls back on that, and she’s just—you know, she does this with her wits, and she goes through these nearly impossible situations by improvising. And then you had that makeup artist who helped her. So talk a little bit about that.
CARA BLACK: Sure. Well the character of Kate Rees came from—I wanted to write about an American woman and why would she be involved in this so early in the war. What would make a woman take on this almost suicide mission? And for reasons we won’t say. But there’s reasons she does that. And who would she be? And originally I thought, well, let’s see. She grew up during the Depression, age-wise. Then I thought, oh, she’d be from Montana. Well I did book tours, as you do, and I was in Oregon, where I go often. And I was talking to my friend. “Oh, she’s going to be from Montana.”
And she goes, “Why? Have you been to Montana?”
And I go, “No.”
And she goes, “Well, you’re in Oregon right now, and you know we have those kind of women here. We have descendants in Oregon who came over the mountains in covered wagons. Those people are still there—descendants, of course.” And she worked for the historical society and had taped women—you know, a long time ago as well—who during the Depression talked about running a ranch or farming or herding cattle. And it was—it’s not easy now. And can you imagine during the Depression.
And I heard these stories of these women, and their ancestors were people who’d come over on covered wagons. These are tough people who came. Maybe they had nothing to lose. So there were these stories about women who had been young girls growing up on a ranch, and the cattle got out of the gate or the field, and it was snowing, and you had to capture the cattle. Otherwise, you were up the creek. And you also had to get them back in. In a snowstorm, you had to mend the fence so they couldn’t get out again. And there was no time to, “Oh, I don’t have coat,” or something. You just did it, and you had to think on your feet.
And Kate had five brothers. So if you have five brothers, you can—they went through a lot—and grew up. And her father was a migrant ranch foreman, which a friend of mine—her great-grandfather was a migrant ranch foreman during the Depression. And that was tough. It’s tough anyway, but he had to move according to season and according to animal migration. So that’s super tough, but it was a hard life. Even in those days, until I believe the fifties, wolves were—you could bounty hunt wolves. Northern California, southern Oregon. Because they were a menace to the herds.
ELLEN CROSBY: That’s where she learned—
CARA BLACK: Yeah. And that’s a lot of money at that time. Twenty-five dollars. Yeah, so she learned to shoot growing up on the ranch. Because it was for game food and to protect the herd.
ELLEN CROSBY: Did you know how to shoot like that?
CARA BLACK: My shooting is terrible. I’ve gone to the gun range with the French cops, and I’m a menace.
ELLEN CROSBY: I’m left-handed, which always makes everybody—it’s like the safety is on the wrong side. We have a question. This is someone who’s reading the book now, and she said, “Did you find the French willing to talk about the Milice and French collaboration with the Nazis during the war? Separately, when did the French begin to post the [speaking French] around Paris in the Marais, for example, where people had been killed?” Did they talk about the collaborationists?
CARA BLACK: For this story? This story is very different. It’s different from my Aimée Leduc books because she’s French. I really had a freedom here to write as an American woman. And what I’m also going to say about Kate is that Kate is a big-boned woman. She’s not petite French. And she’s going to be viewing things from an outsider viewpoint but having been in Paris. So that gave me more freedom.
Again, this part is very little documented in the first weeks, which is really great. Section D—I know a lot about that from the papers—15 percent of the papers that survived. It depends what side of the fence you were on. If you were a collaborator or not, or if you were a collaborator and then became a twenty-third hour Resistance. People tell you what they want to. I’ve spoken to other Resistance. I’ve spoken to many people. So I can’t judge. I don’t know who and what they were at the time. And like you, some people in the family will never talk about it. And some people will. Naphtali talks a lot. He was a younger man too. So it really depends.
Sometimes people—I’ve read quite a few people who tell me—and they’ve been in the Jewish resistance or they’ve been communist resistance, and they have suffered so much problem after the war. Being communist, we’re still, you know, like this. And they lost their power.
So a lot of time I met people, and they go, “You know, I’m really—I’ll talk about this for a while, and then the rest you have to go to the Shoah, and I gave them my history there.” So it just depends.
ELLEN CROSBY: One of the things that I found—I lived in London and I lived in Moscow in the eighties and the nineties. And then France, we just lived in a little village next to Geneva. But the celebrations marking the end of the war were a very, very big deal. My husband is a journalist. In London, he heard Vera Lynn sing. They brought her back. It was wonderful. You know, “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll Meet Again” and everything. And the Russians—the Soviets—when I was there, it was the Soviet Union. They really never forgot. So do you find that over the course of the years that you’ve been there, it’s now another generation? Like my kids are adults now, and we’ve got grandchildren.
The last time I lived there was in ’98. We moved back in ’98. And that’s already over twenty years. Has it diminished somewhat with the passing of time, do you think? That fierce like “this is never going to happen again” memory of the war? For the Allied side.
CARA BLACK: It’s definitely changed in twenty years—what people will talk about and what people won’t. Again, when I started twenty years ago in the mid-nineties, people would rarely talk about it. Of course, my friend Sarah’s mother talked to me about it because it had happened to her.
I was doing a talk at the bookstore right down from Place de la Bourse. I don’t think it’s there anymore. Dalton’s. And it was July, and she told me that she had to leave because this was the hour that her parents were rounded up for the Vel’ d’Hiv. Yeah, it was so moving. And that was before people—people are now talking about it. But, Ellen, I put it all down to that whatever happened during the war, de Gaulle took the country, and we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to build up, and we’ve got to get people planting. There was rationing ten years after the war. So people didn’t have things or food or butter or anything. So it was like move on, put it aside. The people coming back from the camps, let’s just soldier on. The myth of the Resistance and da, da, da.
In 1995, Jacques Chirac made a speech, and he talked about how France was Vichy. And that was huge. I don’t know. That was in Le Figaro. It was like the crack in the wall of silence. For whatever reason. And from ’95, everyone has been talking about it. Now Macron talks about it. They do this. They do that. But someone needed to do that. And the generation, of course, is leaving us. So maybe they didn’t want to talk about it, but now if they don’t or write it, then it’s gone. So younger people, I think, are taking up the mantle because maybe their great-great-grandparents are finally talking. So there has been a change, and it’s time, and it’s generational.
ELLEN CROSBY: I think I told you this. When we lived in France—or in Geneva, the French-Swiss border—in the eighties, Andre covered the trial of Klaus Barbie, who was the Butcher of Lyons. And he had this unbelievable defense lawyer. And André said that he was sitting next to a journalist from a Jewish newspaper. And in talking about the collaborations, he said Vergès ended up putting France on trial and the collaborations on trial and spoke for six hours. And when he was done, André said that this Jewish journalist turned to him and said, “One could almost believe that Barbie was innocent after listening to him.”
CARA BLACK: Yes, yes. That guy was amazing. Yes. He was such an oddball.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah. So we have another question. Did you write extensive backstories of Kate? It sounds like you did, but tell us about that. I mean, you know so much about her.
CARA BLACK: Well, of course, little by little. At first I thought she was from Montana, and it wasn’t coming. Because I haven’t been to Montana. But when I was in Oregon and I started to go and listen to some of these historical recountings and go to some of these places, I was like, yes, what would it have been like? So I didn’t do a big biography of Kate, but I knew. I knew Kate. I knew Kate had a tough life. And only a woman who’s faced something like this could even attempt to face something, you know. And of course having nothing to live for and not being able to go back to the United States because of the boats and everything and losing her family, what is she going to do? Her brothers have joined up—no, they joined up later. But what is she going to do? She’s going to do the best she can. So it had to be that kind of woman, a woman who, you know. And she sort of came to me as I wrote her.
And you know, Ellen, writing as we do you’ve got to throw rocks at them and make it harder and harder. Briefly, you talked about the makeup artist.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, I want to get back to that.
CARA BLACK: Well, Kate, here she is, a large-boned woman. And she’s not petite French. How are you going to put this sort of ungainly ranch gal on the streets of Paris in occupied France? I mean, come on. Is she set up to fail or what?
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CARA BLACK: Of course, you need to read the book. So what could you do? Now I’ve read about Shakespearean actors, and then I read about how did the British Secret Service get people to train agents. They went to the jails, and they opened up, and they found pickpockets, people who could crack—you know, lock picks. People who scaled, you know. And they just took out these people and said, “You help us, we’ll help you.” So they got the real deal. You’d have someone who would be like this is what you do when you want to break in, and this is how you do it. And then actually it was so incredible because in Paris there are the rooftops, and they’ve got all those skylights. So how do you get in from a skylight? And, you know, cat burglars. Incredible resources. You’re training people to go there.
So I read that British actors—Shakespearean actors—of course, the theater is incredible in Britain. But many of them do ensemble pieces. They go around the provinces or in the countryside. They have so many actors maybe doing a Shakespearean play. Well, they all take different roles, and they’re back and forth on stage a lot, and they have to do quick costume changes, whatever. You know, play an old man, a young man. And so there’s tricks of the trade, you know, an ensemble—a well-trained actor would know. They’d know how to hunch themselves, how to put a pebble in the shoe—
ELLEN CROSBY: It was so clever the way you did that, though. And the other thing you always kept saying is think—and he also told her—Stepney told her—he said, “Think and believe.” And that really—she really did—you know, she just said, “It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen.” And it did, and she just made herself into somebody else. And she was, you know, drop the purse, pick up the sweater, do this, do that, dump something here. And it was so well done. I really, really liked that.
We have another question. Would you consider using Kate for another World War II story? I mean, she’s a great character.
CARA BLACK: Oh, she already is. I’ve started another book.
ELLEN CROSBY: Really? Okay, well you’ve got to tell us. What’s going on?
CARA BLACK: Oh, I can’t because my editor has it. I don’t have any edits or comments yet. But it happens later in the war. I don’t even have a title, but I’ve written it.
ELLEN CROSBY: Oh, all right. Which brings me to you’re on your twentieth Aimée book. Wow. So what’s going on with you? What are you doing? What’s next? Are you going to do more after the twenty? And then you’ve got the Kate book. So where are you? Talk about that.
CARA BLACK: I just want to say that for the twentieth anniversary of Aimée Leduc, my friend in Paris, who’s a cocktailologist, or whatever that’s called—
ELLEN CROSBY: A mixologist, yeah.
CARA BLACK: A mixologist. She made a champagne stiletto for Aimée Leduc. Anyway, I love this. But, yeah, so the next Aimée Leduc is coming out March 2022. It’s called Murder at the Porte de Versailles, set in the 15th arrondissement. And, yeah, so Aimée’s back. I don’t know. And I have to say that it will be the twentieth Aimée Leduc. But I made a mistake because I set two books in the 4th arrondissement. I forgot. So I have to write twenty-one books if I want to have a murder in every arrondissement.
ELLEN CROSBY: You have this great map on your website that somebody did for you that has the book in every place. That’s very cool. You also have on your website—and I strongly urge everybody who’s going to Paris—when we can go back—to take a look. But you’ve got the greatest insider tour of places to go that don’t even make the Lonely Planet guide, I’m sure. I mean, I think they’re great. Which brings me also to how hard has it been not to travel for you?
CARA BLACK: Oh, hard.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah. I was talking to Deb Crombie. She’s going nuts, you know? She can’t go to England. You get so much from traveling. You get the sensory. You get the details. You also get the kind of excitement because you’re there at a certain season or whatever. Do you have any idea when you might go back, or?
CARA BLACK: As soon as I can get on a plane. I have both my shots, so.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, yeah.
CARA BLACK: I have to say that it’s being there, also. My husband is really good. He doesn’t want to go with me. He goes, “I don’t want to walk around the block twenty times and see where the gutter goes here. Forget it.”
ELLEN CROSBY: I was going to ask you that. Yeah, so how long do you go, and do you ever take your family with you? You’ve told me for years you’ve slept on people’s couches. Do you still sleep on people’s couches?
CARA BLACK: I do, wherever I can. That makes it possible for me to go. But what’s really—you know, yesterday, Bertrand Tavernier, the famous French film director, died. He made incredible films all throughout the years. And I realized that I met him in Paris in the Marais when my son was like four years old. And I went to give Bertrand Tavernier my book Murder in the Marais because he lived in the Marais. And I thought, well, if he ever had an idea—and I knew—a friend introduced me. So we met for a coffee, and there’s my son antsy and hungry and running through the playground. And Bertrand Tavernier was so sweet. He goes, “I’m going to buy him some treats.”
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. French fries, yeah.
CARA BLACK: And he did. He was such a lovely—a giant of the cinema. Anyway, but mostly I do it without my family. I mean, when my son was young, I would take him. And my friend had a daughter about his age. So things work out, you know? But they don’t want to go. I’m working.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah. It’s a long way. First of all, you’ve got to cross the United States, then the Atlantic. It’s already one thing from the East Coast, but it’s a big trip. So how long do you stay?
CARA BLACK: Well, I don’t have a dog. When I had a dog, it was shorter. So it’d be three weeks, a month—twice a year. Something like that.
ELLEN CROSBY: Oh my, yeah. So you’d go twice. But like to me, do you—you know, you would go, and then you’d come home, and you’d go, “Oh, why didn’t I ask?” So did you go back and answer those questions? Is that how you do it?
CARA BLACK: Yeah, a lot of times. I mean, when I’m there I don’t write, but I meet people. And a lot of times, like especially for the next one, which I wrote two years ago. I know it’s odd to think of that way. Yeah, a year and a half ago. I worked on that sort of when I was finishing up Three Hours in Paris. So it’s set in the 15th arrondissement. And I had an introduction to a woman who ran the biological police lab overlooking Place de Breteuil. Now she was on vacation when I was there. So I had the intro; I got to meet her six months later when I went back. So I had some ideas so when I went back six months later and I’d started writing the story, I said here’s my idea, and she’s, “You don’t want to—no, we do this, and we do that. But this could happen. And you could have a bomb explosion.”
ELLEN CROSBY: I love those people. And you know what, I can’t believe this. I have more questions, but we are out of time almost.
CARA BLACK: Oh my god.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, I know. It’s 12:44. So tell me what’s next for you, then. Because now I’m confused. You’ve got a book coming out next year. You finished another Kate book. So what are you doing now?
CARA BLACK: I am writing another standalone that’s different from everything else.
ELLEN CROSBY: Is it set in Paris? Is it set in France?
CARA BLACK: It’s always set in France. Yes, of course. It’s always set in Paris.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yes, why not? Why not? That’s great.
CARA BLACK: The next Aimée Leduc comes out March 2022, Murder at the Porte de Versailles.
ELLEN CROSBY: Right. And then the other Kate book—do you know when that’s coming out or where that’s at?
CARA BLACK: It might come out in 2022 at the end. It depends on my editor. She’s a busy gal. She has a lot of other authors in her stable. But yeah.
ELLEN CROSBY: Yeah, she does. Okay. Well, I think this is the part where I have to read what Jane told me to read, which is it’s time for us to wrap things up. And thank you to Cara and to everyone who tuned in. Please consider buying Three Hours in Paris from your local bookseller or through the links on VaBook.org. You can also check out other Virginia Festival of the Book events at VaBook.org. And Cara, merci mille fois. It was great to see you and talk to you. I had a wonderful time, and so I hope everybody else did as well.
CARA BLACK: I did too. Thank you, Ellen. It was really fun. And I’m so glad to come since I couldn’t come last year.
ELLEN CROSBY: I know, I know. Well, at least we got to do it this year. You take care. Au revoir.
CARA BLACK: Au revoir.