One of our recommended books is Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

THREE HOURS IN PARIS


In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.

Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter,

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In June of 1940, when Paris fell to the Nazis, Hitler spent a total of three hours in the City of Light—abruptly leaving, never to return. To this day, no one knows why.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Aimée Leduc investigations reimagines history in her masterful, pulse-pounding spy thriller, Three Hours in Paris.

Kate Rees, a young American markswoman, has been recruited by British intelligence to drop into Paris with a dangerous assignment: assassinate the Führer. Wrecked by grief after a Luftwaffe bombing killed her husband and infant daughter, she is armed with a rifle, a vendetta, and a fierce resolve. But other than rushed and rudimentary instruction, she has no formal spy training. Thrust into the red-hot center of the war, a country girl from rural Oregon finds herself holding the fate of the world in her hands. When Kate misses her mark and the plan unravels, Kate is on the run for her life—all the time wrestling with the suspicion that the whole operation was a set-up.

Cara Black, doyenne of the Parisian crime novel, is at her best as she brings Occupation-era France to vivid life in this gripping story about one young woman with the temerity—and drive—to take on Hitler himself.

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  • Soho Crime
  • Paperback
  • March 2021
  • 360 Pages
  • 9781641292580

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$16.95

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About Cara Black

Cara Black is the author of Three Hours in ParisCara Black is 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. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son and visits Paris frequently.

Praise

A Wall Street Journal Best Mystery of 2020
Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020
Seattle Times Best Crime Novel of 2020
An ABA Indie Next Pick for April 2020

“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

“Beyond Black’s encyclopedic knowledge of Paris, her deft interweaving of WWII history and spycraft with a relatable female protagonist puts Three Hours in Paris on par with other top thrillers about botched missions followed by harrowing escapes—such masterworks as Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal, Jack Higgins’  The Eagle Has Landed and Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games.” —Paula Woods, The Los Angeles Times

“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

“Heart-stopping.” —Adam Woog, The Seattle Times

Interviews

An Interview with Author Cara Black

What made you decide to write a story about a female assassin?

CB: Years ago, I read my father’s copy of The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, and then I saw the 1973 film. This is the tale of a brilliant for-hire assassin tasked by the OAS with killing de Gaulle. Pitted against him are the government, who flounder in the dark to prevent the assassination attempt until they draft one of their own Parisian police. It’s a riveting cat-and-mouse story—we know before reading that de Gaulle survived, but it’s still so suspenseful, so tense, so delicately balanced. My throat catches every time I rewatch the film, which I do every year. Every time I pass the Montparnasse train station I look up at the Jackal’s window where he was aiming at de Gaulle and calculate the rifle angle. I think that inspired my window for Kate in Montmartre. I wanted to try my hand at writing an assassin story—but with my own spin, one that could include pieces of the WWII resistance history I have hoarded over twenty years of researching the Aimée Leduc novels in Paris.

But there was also a historical template for female assassins in WWII. The Russian army had a regiment of highly successful female snipers. The star female assassin, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, was credited with 309 kills, the highest of a woman and in the top five of all snipers. In 1943 she was invited to the White House, met Eleanor Roosevelt and toured the USA. Of course, the United States didn’t enter the war until after Pearl Harbor in 1941 but I was still intrigued by that what if: What if an American woman had been a sniper in WWII? Why not?

I read a newspaper article in 2010 about the death of a quiet and reclusive elderly lady in a British coastal town. The woman had no known relatives and no friends, but when local authorities entered her home they found she was far from the typical pensioner. They discovered among her possessions a medal from Britain as well as France’s highest wartime honor, the Croix de Guerre. She was Eileen Nearne—aka Agent Rose, one of the female spies dispatched by Britain into occupied France in World War II by the SOE. Eileen Nearne became a clandestine radio operator, was caught and put in Ravensbrück but survived. There are stories like this that beg to be told; women who worked as spies, who signed the Official Secrets Act during the war and never broke their silence.

Kate to me is an everywoman—a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife—who, due to tragedy and loss in war, seeks revenge and rises to the challenge of using her skill set. In war time, “doing one’s part” is a larger-than-life task, and so rising to the challenge includes becoming a larger-than-life character.

During the Second World War, secret services around the world knew women made perfect agents: in many ways, they were invisible as a man wouldn’t be. As innocent as they might appear while walking with a basket of eggs or mopping a floor, they could escape detection and perform sabotage, set up resistance networks, operate radios, and infiltrate occupied buildings as cleaners, mail couriers, housewives. The possibilities were endless.

Kate is recruited by a British intelligence officer to work for Section D, a deniable branch that specializes in foreign interference and sabotage. How much of your description of Section D is real?

CB: Section D was real, and some of its records have even survived the war and been declassified, although of course many more were destroyed, so it is impossible to know its full scope and nature. I envision a clandestine department that specialized in missions like Kate’s—ungentlemanly war, fought by recruits of Irregulars who performed sabotage and assassinations in Occupied Europe.

What about the technology you mention? Was it real?

CB: All of the technology I mention has a basis in real wartime inventions, although I have taken fictional liberties. At the beginning of the war, in the British race for building airplanes and fighting equipment, many tools were also being developed for clandestine warfare. I became intrigued when I discovered information about the S-phone, very cutting-edge, which the British developed, buried in a Stanford University library archive. I was also fascinated by the way Lee Enfield rifles were adapted to sniper capabilities as prototypes before field and general operational use. There was even a lipstick gun which I was dying for Kate to use, but alas, it didn’t quite fit in the story.

Kate has very little formal training in spycraft but endless creativity for inventing ways to get herself out of jams—for surviving. Where did you get these ideas?

CB: I was inspired by the idea of what skills Kate would have had to develop as a girl growing up on a series of Oregon ranches. Ranch work is a tough job, and would have been even harder in the 1930s. Life was subject to incessant rain, blizzards, falling trees, insect infestation or crop failure. Cattle would get stuck in barb wire, tractor tires puncture, equipment breaks—all these problems need to be solved on the fly, with few resources. One would learn to think on one’s feet, make do and get creative with what’s available. So Kate, who grew up in a rough and tumble environment with five brothers, learns to hold her own and becomes resilient.

This is your 20th book. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers about the
writing life?

CB: Just write what you’re passionate about. If there’s a what if that won’t leave you, listen
to yourself.

 

Essay

Three Hours in Paris: The Novel That Pursued Me

By Cara Black

Aimée Leduc recently celebrated her twentieth anniversary (nineteen books in twenty years is hard even for me to believe) and I’m thrilled to confirm—she will be returning. I’m writing this in Paris where I’m researching her next adventure. So far, as a private detective, Aimée has investigated murders in eighteen of the twenty Parisian arrondissements. Soon, she’ll be entangled in a yet-to-be-named arrondissement. There are only two arrondissements left for Aimée to adventure in. Any guesses?

It’s not that I wanted to stray from my Aimée Leduc series, but rather that there was a story I had to tell. This story, Three Hours in Paris, germinated and grew from information and anecdotes I encountered during my many research trips to Paris. Before long, I found myself thinking about it as often as the Aimée book I was already writing at the time. But I waited. A few more books passed while Three Hours in Paris sat on the back burner.

I’ve always been interested, maybe a little obsessed, with the Second World War era. Tales of the war and military service were handed down in my American family. In France, I began to visit the battle-scarred sites I’d previously only read about. To this day, I am still deeply impressed by the Parisian buildings with bullet holes left from street fighting during the Libération in 1944. The war is very much still visible in Paris and so my WWII story was always lurking in the periphery.

Somewhere along the way I began keeping a separate journal to jot down ideas and note stories from older Parisians I spoke with. I began saving period photographs and old maps I’d find at the flea market. I consulted with private collectors of WWII memorabilia and interviewed former Résistants whose memories of the German occupation still contained a freshness and pain that was startling. It wasn’t until I found myself poring over archival newspapers and documents that I realized that Three Hours in Paris was the only book I could possibly write next.

As I said before, this story had long been on a slow boil, simmering, while I wrote the Aimée Leduc investigations. Now that the story was out in the open, I was excited to actively work on it. My heroine even had a name: Kate Rees. Kate, I was soon to learn, lived a hardscrabble life during the Depression. She was motherless, the only girl in a family with five brothers, and learned to survive while moving around Oregon with her father, a migrant ranch foreman. Her father taught her to shoot game and defend the ranch, a necessary skill in backwoods Oregon. Her family’s itinerant life made her resilient. Kate, I decided, descended from the frontier women. She was forged in the Wild West. A cowgirl.

A modern young woman in her time, Kate came from all the strong, even headstrong, women I’ve ever known. She is very different from Aimée in many ways: more stolid in character, more solidly built in appearance, and decidedly less fashionable. But fans of my Parisian detective will find these two women definitely share moxie, spirit, and relentlessness.

While Kate Rees was surprising as she developed, I already knew the fulcrum on which her story turned. The seed from which she and this novel grew was a single historical fact, a footnote really, that was irresistibly full of potential. In June of 1940, after Paris was seized by the Nazis, Adolf Hitler came to Paris to victoriously survey the city. He spent only three hours in the City of Light before abruptly leaving and never returned.

Why did Hitler leave so quickly? What could cause him to flee from a city held in the Reich’s iron grip? From this little imaginative exercise in “What happened?” came the opportunity to finally tell the story of occupied Paris and weave together all the lore I’d been hoarding.

In 1940, Germany invaded France. Paris was declared an open city to prevent its destruction, though it reeled during the first two weeks of the occupation in June, 1940. Many Parisians fled in an exodus to the countryside and what passed for the hastily re-assembled government operated from Bordeaux. Rationing was on the horizon and a curfew was put in place by the occupying German command. Historians sometimes refer to this period it as the honeymoon phase. The German soldiers, Luftwaffe, High Command and staff were under strict orders to behave. And enjoy. This was Hitler’s gift to his troops after they had blitzkrieged across Europe. Hitler was also resting them. Operation Sea Lion, the name for Germany’s plan to invade Britain, had already been drawn up and stamped for approval.

Enter newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who’d rallied his country to save their troops at the ignominious retreat at Dunkirk. He saw the writing on the wall: his island country was next. Churchill desperately needed a win. It would have to be incredibly bold to give his country confidence in what he, not to mention Britain itself, could accomplish. For that, he relied on the little-known Section D. This branch, the precursor and forerunner of SOE (Special Operations Executive), was mandated to run sabotage operations and assassinations in Occupied Europe. All Section D operations were clandestine, often using non-British agents, not officially sanctioned and therefore deniable. No love was lost between Section D and the British Secret Intelligence service who thought of them as a seat-of-the-pants, put-together-with-spit outfit of misfits. Just what Churchill needed.

Several of Section D’s files became unclassified a few years ago and fell into my purview. These amazing documents reveal a rough-and-tumble outfit of men—and some women—with skills as diverse as their backgrounds. Class, family and elite old school ties didn’t count here. This group was recruited for their abilities to think on their feet and outside of the box.

Back to our Kate. This tough girl from the American West went to Europe. She married a Welshman and together, they had a child. She found herself living life as a European woman. Until a German bombing took all of this away, leaving Kate bereaved and then, enraged. Gifted with a skill for languages, a knowledge of how to live off the land, and not least of all a way with guns, the grieving Kate would be recruited by Section D.  A woman like Kate Rees, a markswoman who’d lost her husband and child to the enemy, desirous of revenge and without anything to lose, was exactly the sort of outsider Section D looked for.

Kate was just the woman this novelist needed to send the Führer packing and spring the story I’d been longing to tell.

All of this is to say: I had to do this. To my dear Aimée Leduc fans, I want to reassure you that as I write this note, our gal in Paris is already on her way back to bookshelves. In the meantime, I am hopeful you will enjoy the story of Kate Rees and occupied Paris half as much as I did writing it.