“There could be worse places to spend the night than the Victor Hugo Museum,” muses private eye Aimée Leduc in Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. The page-turner is the first book in a series of mysteries, each of which is set in a different quarter of Paris.
The series is terrific and great fun for mystery buffs and armchair travelers. It has compelling characters, intriguing plots, and lots of historical trivia about writers, artists, and musicians. In each book Black weaves in details like an inside look at the Edith Piaf Museum, a shrine to the French singer, in Murder in Belleville and a mention of Emile Zola’s final resting place and George Sand and Frederic Chopin’s trysting place in Murder in Montmartre. (Check out Aimée’s Paris Guide on Black’s website.)
In Murder in the Marais, intrepid Aimée joins a tour group at the Maison de Victor Hugo to elude some men chasing her and then hides out in the writer’s domain after hours. “The museum, laid out as it had been in his time, showed the daily life of Victor Hugo. Hugo’s bedroom, taken up with a canopied bed, overlooked Places des Vosges through leaded bubbled glass. Worn dark wood paneling covered the walls. A showcase held various colored locks of his hair tied with ribbon, labeled and dated. In the study was his escritoire and a sheet of half-written yellowed foolscap with a quill pen in a crystal inkwell beside it.”
The financial success that came with the publication of Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame allowed him and his family to move into the grand residence in 1832. It’s located on Places des Vosges (above right), the oldest square in Paris, distinctive for its elegant red brick and white stone 17th-century buildings. The museum features re-creations of Hugo’s bedroom at his last Parisian residence at 130 Avenue d’Eylau and a Chinese-themed room (left) he designed for the home of his mistress, Juliette Drouet.
The Maison de Victor Hugo was on the Paris itinerary of bookseller Deb of Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., who fittingly described it as “beautiful and mysterious.” We’re glad to know that Novel Destinations provided Deb with some inspiration on her literary travels abroad—and that she selected the book as one of her staff picks. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt