Unexpected Paris: La Villette

Translator Jeffrey Zuckerman on a lesser-known part of Paris: La Villette.

For most tourists, Paris is a very compact city—here the Eiffel Tower, there the Arc de Triomphe, a few blocks away the Louvre—and any expeditions to, say, Monet’s garden at Giverny are a good two hours away. But of course Paris is more complex than it would appear at first glance.

The new Paris Homicide mystery.

The new Paris Homicide mystery.

Le French Book asked me to translate a Parisian mystery novel—The City of Blood by Frédérique Molay—and when I read its first page, I realized we were in a part of Paris most people weren’t thinking of. A proper look at its map would show a large park within the city limits, to the north and the east: the Parc de la Villette. Once the site of Paris’s animal slaughterhouses (earning the place its nickname “The City of Blood”), it has in the past few decades been turned into a grassy meadow with beautiful buildings and sculptures.

This is the setting for The City of Blood’s murders, and watching Police Chief Nico Sirsky make his way through the park’s various corners reveals a deeply fascinating place. Many pictures of the Parc de la Villette feature the Géode, a large and mirrored Epcot-like geodesic dome that houses an IMAX theater. There are various themed gardens, including a perfectly maintained French church garden. Red architectural follies provide views over the entire park.

And there are large, grassy meadows. In the book’s opening pages, a trench is being excavated and the archaeologists at work come across a skeleton among the remains. The whole thing has unexpectedly been caught on national television, and so Nico’s forces have to scramble to stay ahead of the cameras and the crowds. It is a whole new terrain for the police forces, who usually find themselves in dark alleyways and narrow, eighteenth-century buildings.

The Parc de la Villette lost its nickname decades ago, but The City of Blood brings its history back, both in the research the police do and in the discoveries they make during their investigations. It may no longer be a slaughterhouse for animals, but Nico and his loyal force are working their hardest to make sure it doesn’t become a slaughterhouse for people. And the result is a riveting book, a perfect addition to the Paris Homicide series.