Discover Crime Café

I had the great privilege of spending time with Debbi Mack on her podcast Crime Café. Debbie is a New York Times bestselling author—I recommend you check out her books.

The Crime Café podcast is in its 3rd season. The Crime Café it is a fun source for great mystery, suspense, noir, and thriller reading. Listen to podcasts featuring interviews with top crime fiction authors, as well as true crime writers. Guests include, not only book authors, but screenwriters and storytellers in other media – from films to television to the Web – and beyond... including one translator/publisher. :-)

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.

Unexpected Paris: Translator's Thoughts

Jeffrey Zuckerman share some thoughts about Paris he had while translating The City of Blood, which comes out this month.

Paris feels too beautiful for cutting-edge science research, so well preserved are its cobbled streets and yellowing façades. Building restrictions keep nearly every part of Paris less than 121 feet tall (with only a few skyscrapers and the Eiffel Tower), and many blue street signs are lovingly repainted. This scheme is so entrenched in the French mindset that a recent futuristic film, Renaissance, envisioned a Paris that has its streets replaced with thick glass and expanded not by building up but by digging deep underground.

But how does this love for decrepit buildings mesh with science labs that need to be sterile and clean? Or with police investigations that require state-of-the-art technology? These were questions in my head as I translated Frédérique Molay's The City of Blood for Le French Book, and I was delighted to find answers in the book’s pages.

In one scene, where the police have sent items from a crime scene away for forensic analysis, the police captain comes to the research building at Quai d’Horloge. All the analysis there is being done not in the building itself, but in “mobile units set up in the courtyard.” The scene is right out of another sci-fi movie: “The lab was filled with workers in white coats, as well as machines connected to computers, printers, microscopes, and a surprising number of flasks and test tubes.”

But a far more ingenious workaround is achieved with investigations at the police headquarters. Everything happens at a massive eighteenth-century building on the Quai des Orfèvres, including suspect lineups. “The police didn’t have modern rooms conforming to twenty-first-century standards,” Frédérique Molay tells us. “The holding cells on the third floor were used. So the hallway lights had to be dimmed to keep suspects from seeing witnesses. And the witnesses had to talk quietly, because there wasn’t any soundproofing.” But sometimes respecting historical architecture just doesn’t do the trick.

What if the witnesses want to have a discussion? In one of the book’s most climactic scenes, Police Chief Nico Sirsky cannot use a modern room, so he decides to use glass in a completely different way from those futuristic filmmakers. He has several witnesses and criminal suspects squeeze into a room that has a huge one-way mirror in the middle. The suspects face the mirrored side, while the witnesses watch through the non-reflective side. And then the interrogation begins, and because of Nico’s ingenuity, the answer is found every bit as professionally as it would have been in a twenty-first century room.

It’s a perfect solution to a quintessentially Parisian problem—and yet another detail that made The City of Blood all the more fascinating to read, and to translate.

A translator's thoughts about Paris