It is an unnerving experience to read the last two pages of a novel while its author sits nearby, calmly pretending not to watch you read. But because I am a mere two pages from the end of Murder in the Sentier – which I was desperately attempting to finish when Cara Black, the author, showed up early for our afternoon movie date-I have been politely ordered to finish the book, as Black sits waiting… right in front of me. “Wow,” I ultimately exclaim, snapping the book shut a few minutes later. “Good ending,” I say.
Black smiles. “You read fast,” she remarks, as if to say, “Come on. You couldn’t have really read all of that in just a couple of minutes!”
Hey, what can I say? I am a fast reader; even faster when I’m being watched. Cara Black is the unnervingly mild-mannered author of the quirky Aimee Leduc Investigation books, the increasingly-popular series that began with Murder in the Marais and Murder in Belleville, and now continues with Murder in the Sentier (Soho Press, 2002, $24.00). Each book is named for one of the 20 distinct districts that make up Paris, France, where Black’s hip, impulsive, and emotionally-scarred heroine runs a struggling computer security company, and takes a lot of time off to wear slinky leather cat suits while solving strings of murders (Okay, Okay. Aimee only wears the cat-suit once, while masquerading as a hooker, but she does tend to wear a lot of strange things). Black has met me here today to check out Murder by Numbers, the new Sandra Bulloch flick about a not-so-hip emotionally-scarred homicide detective trying to nail two creepy teenagers who may-or-may-not have murdered a woman.
While the film moves a bit slowly for Black’s taste – “I’m kind of a speed freak when it comes to movies,” she says-she enjoyed the movie, and especially liked Bulloch’s detective, whom she found to be believable and enormously appealing.
“I liked that she was so aggressive,” says Black, “that she, you know, takes the traditionally male role – seducing her new partner, and then kicking him out of bed. That I liked.”
The wind is breezy but the sun is warm, out on the courtyard where we’ve ended up – steaming cups of coffee in hand – to dissect the movie.
“She was kind of charming,” I agree, recalling the beer-swigging, trash-talking, commitment-phobe that Bulloch played to messy perfection. “Her house was a wreck and she ate crappy food,” I add. “She did everything guys do but belch and pass gas.”
“Well… she doesn’t watch football,” Black does point out.
“Yeah, she watches Matlock reruns.”
“Matlock,” laughs Black. “Matlock! Blecchhh. Now that I didn’t believe. I know her type. Sheíd have been watching cartoons, as therapy, to wind down at the end of the day. Aside from that, I think Sandra Bulloch did a good job. I like that she’s playing it more dark these days, less cutesy-pie. I thought she made a pretty believable cop. She was tough.”
“I wouldn’t want her slapping me around,” I agree.
“You can just tell,” Black laughs, “that when she slaps the cuffs on you, it’s going to hurt.”
Speaking of hurting, it turns out that, like Bulloch’s tough-as-nails cop and the not-so-tough Aimee Leduc, Black knows a thing or two about physical pain. “I got this tattoo in Katmandu when I was 18 years old,” she says, showing off the mysterious faded Om symbol etched onto her hand in the spot where the thumb and forefinger meet. “It hurt like hell,” she admits. “I couldn’t believe it. I was sitting on the dirt floor of a hut, and an Indian man was sitting next to me, getting his whole arm done, and his wife was sitting on him, wearing her sari, as he was screaming and crying and trying to get up. It was bizarre. I thought, ‘Oh, compared to that, this will be nothing.’ But it hurt so bad I couldnít stop crying. I don’t know how these people get so many tattoos. Tattoos hurt. Have you ever had a tattoo?”
“It kinda rips your skin.”
“So I’d imagine.”
Throughout Murder by Numbers, Bulloch stubbornly pursues the high-school killers, even though they’ve covered their tracks so well that no one else believes they are guilty. What the killers can’t have accounted for, of course, are Bulloch’s uncanny instincts and trustworthy gut reactions. According to Black, instinct is often the only thing a good detective has to go on.
“I interviewed three women in Paris,” she says, “women who have their own detective agencies. I wanted to see what kind of woman would own her own agency, what kind of woman would be doing this thing that is so out of the mold? I really think that, because these women are living outside the mold, because they are living a different life from other women, they have to depend on their instincts. Any detective who’s any good has a well-developed instinct.”
“We always hear about ‘women’s intuition,'” I interject. “Do you think women do have a stronger sense of instinct than men?”
“I don’t know if it’s stronger,” she says, “but I think women trust it more than men do. I remember hearing a piece on NPR-maybe it was BBC radio-where the police department in Amsterdam was hiring 40-year-old women who’d been, quote-unquote, housewives. They were being hired as sergeants in the Red Light district, because they had management and personal skills that no one had ever given them credit for. They can run a household, they can keep everybody on track, and they can also they defuse situations when they get out of hand. These are skills that were very valuable in the Red Light district,” she says, “where there were all these drunken tourists and troublemakers.
“Apparently, women do have a knack for reading people,” Black says with a grin. “Some of us have an instinct for dealing with these kinds of characters that the men don’t always have.”
Take that, Matlock.
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s FEATURE ARCHIVES and read more insightful stories, expert analysis, gut-busting satire and caustic commentary!