Emilia Bernhard's third Death in Paris novel, featuring two American sleuths in the City of Lights, is perfect for fans of M. L. Longworth and Juliet Blackwell.
In Paris, some are dying for the latest fashion...others will kill for it.
Having successfully solved two murders in the City of Lights, self-proclaimed private detectives Rachel Levis and Magda Stevens are ready to take on the world. Or at least the 3rd arrondissement. Which is good news when renowned fashion designer Roland Guipure is found lifeless outside his own birthday party in that upscale neighbourhood, dead from an apparent overdose.
Rachel thinks its murder, and when it turns out the police agree, the two Americans roll up their sleeves for another murder investigation. And there are plenty of suspects: the angry assistant designer promoted to the top spot as a result of Guipure’s death; the lovelorn PA who was crushed by the designer's lack of interest in her; the former boyfriend who lost his meal ticket as a result of Guipure’s successful stay in rehab. Not to mention that the designer's murder occurred a few days before that of an American tourist who seems to be connected to him in some mysterious way. Paris is beginning to feel crowded with corpses. Coincidence or just bad luck?
As the clues and suspects pile up, Rachel and Magda rush to find the murderer before another death is cut from the same cloth.
Release date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Print pages: 320
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Designs on the Dead
On a gray Saturday morning in Paris, a woman sat alone and mourned the death of a man who made clothes.
Roland Guipure Dies
read the headline on the front page of Le Figaro. The obituary continued,
Designer of Artful Power Found Dead
16 avril 2016
Roland Guipure, the fashion designer who consistently broke ground and raised the stakes as head of Sauveterre, the fashion label he founded, died on Thursday night. He was 40.
Guipure was found dead yesterday morning near the LaLa Lounge in the third arrondissement, where he had been celebrating his birthday. He had recently completed treatment for heroin addiction at a rehab facility in Greece. His death has been confirmed by the House of Sauveterre.
Roland Guipure began his design career at age 24, when he showed his “Nereid” collection during Paris Fashion Week in 2000. Critics called the collection “revolutionary” and “a challenge to anyone who thinks they know what fashion means.” Over the years that followed, Guipure’s rise was meteoric. He funded Sauveterre with an inheritance from his grandfather Maximilien Sauveterre, the much-admired art dealer, but the label soon became self-supporting under the financial management of his twin sister Antoinette. Sauveterre’s trademark double S,surrounded by guillemets—»§«—became a familiar sight on pieces worn by chic women. As the house became more established, Guipure’s designs became more serious, known for clean lines that were almost sculptural and often startling.
Although Guipure never had formal fashion training or worked under another designer, he apprenticed to a tailor after his graduation from secondary school, and this may account for his lack of interest in standard fashion expectations. His prêt-à-porter was as likely to feature square-cut suitings with peplums of burlap and leather as his haute couture was to feature a bridal gown created from gold-pinstriped red flannel (both feature in the house’s autumn/winter 2007 collections). His Ne Touche Pas dress, with its elaborate lapels of pleated organza and wired-back collar reminiscent of antlers or tentacles, is currently on display in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Over the last two years, however, Guipure became increasingly dependent on heroin. His health suffered, Sauveterre’s sales began to drop, and his 2015 collections were poorly received. Last year he entered a rehabilitation facility in Greece. Sauveterre showed no collections for spring/summer 2015 and no haute couture collection this January, but for spring/summer 2016 prêt-à-porter they presented looks Guipure designed while in recovery. Reactions were positive, with WWD calling it “a fresh revisioning that promises a strong future.”
Guipure’s recent autumn/winter 2016 prêt-à-porter collection, his first completed after emerging from désintoxification last November, was greeted rapturously. Based on this success, the house had decided to recommence showing haute couture next season.
The fashion world is reeling from this unexpected tragic afterword to what had seemed to be a happy ending. “Roland was a bright beacon,” said Marianne Faubois of French Vogue. “His death leaves a gaping hole in the future of couture.”
Roland Guipure was born on 12 April 1976 to Genevieve (née Sauveterre) and Paul Guipure, and died on 15 April 2016. He is survived by a sister, Antoinette Guipure.
It was silly, Rachel Levis knew. She had never met Roland Guipure. She couldn’t afford any of his haute couture fantasies, and at five foot two and a hundred and thirty pounds she wouldn’t have fit into them anyway. Yet she knew and loved his designs. Every woman in Paris with any kind of interest in fashion knew them: the early miniskirts and shirts that looked like Chanel jackets ripped apart and stuck back together at random; the combinations of angles and flow that made up his more recent collections. And a month ago his prêt-à-porter collection, the first he’d staged since finishing rehab, had made critics reach for new superlatives. She hated clichés, even when she only used them to herself, but Guipure genuinely hadbeen full of promise, a talent that made fashion both surprising and significant.
Normally, she would have pointed out the obituary to her husband, Alan, but he was on his annual visit to his parents in Florida and wouldn’t be back for another month. As a poor substitute, she bit into her croissant and remembered the previous spring when, during a visit to London, she and her best friend Magda had seen the Ne Touche Pas dress in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The tight column of heavy marigold-colored silk had been lit from above, making its red organza ruffles and huge wired collar almost iridescent. They looked like the wings of a bold Elizabethan insect or the petals of an enormous glass poppy balanced on a golden stem. Although she had loved clothing for as long as she could remember, her encounter with the dress was the first time that she understood how fashion could blend nature and artifice to enhance life in the ordinary world.
The ring of her portable cut across this memory. The screen told her Magda was calling. She swiped at the green icon and took the call.
“I know,” Rachel said, cutting her off. “I’m just reading the obituary now.”
Magda sighed. “Remember when we went to the V and A?”
For a few minutes they rehashed the day Rachel had been remembering, reminding each other about the dresses in the exhibition and the glossy hardback catalogue neither of them had felt rich enough to buy. Then Magda said with finality, “Well, it’s the curse of rehab, isn’t it? People seem great when they get out, but wait a couple of weeks and they fall right off the wagon.”
“You can’t be sure it happened that way,” Rachel protested, although she’d been thinking much the same. Still, she hated to think of anyone she admired, no matter how far removed, dead in an alley from an overdose. “The obituary just said he’d died, not how he died.”
“Oh, please! Dead outside a nightclub after his birthday party? If you say that, you don’t need to say overdose.”
What can I say? Rachel thought. She couldn’t disagree; she was as familiar with the clichés as Magda was. So instead of responding she moved the conversation onto another topic. After all, like all people who speak to each other daily, they had plenty to talk about.
The rest of the week passed as the first weeks of spring do, with an overwhelming sense that change is coming and a corresponding sense that it isn’t coming quickly enough. Rachel noticed that the trees had begun to put out the little yellow leaves that would turn dark green in summer. Spring was her favorite season in any country, but here it almost made the late Paris winter, with its drizzle and its slushes, worthwhile. In the mornings she watched the new leaves from the window of her séjour as she drank her tea, marveling, as she did every year, over their combination of tenderness and precision, the way their bright edges seemed perfectly etched against the blue of the newly sunny sky.
She had the same thought on Thursday afternoon as she walked home after meeting a friend for lunch near the Place des Vosges. The crisp square of the Place, neatly bisected on each side by paths that met in the middle, always soothed her, and walking under the trees now she saw that their leaves had already shaded into a firmer green. The air on her cheeks was fractionally warmer than it had been two hours before, and as she breathed in, she smelled the faint scent of earth from the thawing ground. Spring was staking its claim. She would walk home in it.
As she crossed the Rue de Turenne heading toward the Rue St. Paul, she saw that the corner news kiosk fluttered with the latest issues of the weekly gossip magazines. All the cover headlines were about Roland Guipure: “Twenty-First-Century Dior: We Will Not See His Like Again,” the cover of Paris Match mourned; “Sad Day for Fashion!” bellowed Closer. She thought about the rituals of death in the celebrity age. These same headlines would be used with slight changes when the next famous or semi-famous person died, and in a year—or less—Roland Guipure would be just a name.
My God, she said to herself. Such mournfulness on such a day! The sun was out; the air was soft; she would Skype her beloved husband that evening … Cheer up, she told herself.
She became aware of a male voice shouting behind her.
Any woman in Paris quickly learns to ignore the sound of a man yelling on the street. Keeping her head down, Rachel sped up into a brisk speed-walk that usually outran any street harassment. But the voice only seemed to come closer. Now it was saying, “Father’s friend! Hey, father’s friend!”
A hand landed on her shoulder.
She spun around, tensed for action. At first she didn’t recognize the man in front of her, tall and thin, skin stretched tight over his cheekbones. Then she remembered an elevator door opening onto a landing, a snaggle-toothed smile, and this same skull-like face asking her if she’d ever seen Scarface. Matthieu Mediouri, drug dealer and briefly a suspect in the murders of Rachel’s former boyfriend Edgar Bowen and his son David two years earlier—murders that she and Magda had solved. When she and Mediouri had first met, on the landing outside that open elevator door, she’d identified herself only as “a friend of David’s father.” Mediouri had decided this would make an excellent nickname, and now he stood there smiling, as if the irritating phrase were a delightful shared joke. She felt her stomach tighten.
“You don’t remember me,” he began. “I am—”
“Monsieur Mediouri. I remember you.”
His smile widened. She saw that he’d had his teeth straightened. “Well, well! Good to know I am not forgettable. Just like you were not forgettable to me. I recognized you right away. What are you doing here, father’s friend?”
“I might say the same to you. Or do you have a lot of customers in this area?” Let him see that she remembered what he was.
He laughed, a sharp bark. “Absolument! But not in the way you’re thinking. I’m a legitimate businessman now.” He pointed behind him. “I own that pressing.”
Rachel could just make out a storefront halfway down the street with Pressing Saint Paul written on it. Mediouri had left drug dealing to become a dry cleaner?
He must have sensed her disbelief, because he said, “Come see my premises. I invite you for a coffee.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
He shrugged. “Tea then. Moroccan mint tea. I make it in a special way.” In the heavily accented English she vividly remembered he said, “It is delicious!”
It didn’t seem wise to leave a public location with a known criminal, even one who claimed to be reformed. On the other hand, it didn’t seem wise to refuse a known criminal’s invitation either. And she was curious. Squinting down the street, she saw that the pressing had a large plate glass window, easy to see and be seen through. She would simply refuse to go into any back rooms.
The tea was good: hot but not too hot, and sweetened with sugar that Mediouri added in careful increments with a tiny brass spoon. Its mint taste was bracing; the silent ritual of mixing, oddly soothing. She took a few silent sips and rested her elbows on the pressing’s front counter.
“You are surprised, eh?” Mediouri’s words blew steam off his miniature gold cup. “You thought I would be in jail, or dead.”
Embarrassed at being so easily read, she blushed.
He laughed again. “The movies and the TV, they make you think we all die in a shoot-out or with a needle in the arm. And that does happen. But more often one just … moves on.”
Rachel couldn’t help herself. “But dry cleaning?”
He shrugged. “It’s the family business. My grandfather was a tailor in Morocco, and my father owned a laundry out in Clichy sous Bois when he first emigrated. Besides”—a quick flash of gleaming teeth—“this business isn’t completely unconnected to my old work. I let some of my old friends use it as a kind of laundry too.”
Rachel smiled back at him before she could stop herself. Warm, witty, frank: he was completely different from the sinister lounge lizard she’d encountered outside Edgar’s appartement all those months ago.
“And your friend? Uh …” She could see his stubby sidekick in her mind’s eye, wearing his baseball cap and puffa vest, but she couldn’t remember his name.
“Laurent. L-Brah. He died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“That was a cinema death. He was shot. And that made me realize it was time. If you stay too long in the business the police come to recognize you. It gets harder to do your work. And kids coming up want to use you to prove something. And all the hustling for customers, running around making the deliveries—it’s a young man’s job.” He shrugged again. She concentrated on her tea, stirring its green depths with her tiny spoon.
“And you?” he said after the pause had lengthened into a silence. “What are you doing here on the Rue St. Paul?”
She might be warming to him, but she still wasn’t going to tell him the specifics of her life. “Just walking home from a visit to a friend.”
“In between catching murderers?” Again he clearly enjoyed her shock. “Yes, I heard you caught the killer of the father. And then another one last year.” He must have seen that she was trying to figure out his source, because he gave a little smirk. “I have some flic friends too. So now you are a detective privé?”
She forced herself not to imagine him sharing tea with Capitaine Boussicault, her police connection. “Yes.” She made her voice firm. “I am a private detective.”
It was almost true. Eight months earlier, she and Magda had solved what Magda liked to call “our second murders,” two employees of the Bibliothéque Nationale killed to cover up thefts of priceless engravings. Feeling that unmasking two murderers in a row must mean they had some kind of talent for detection, they’d decided to set up as private investigators, Rachel handling what Magda defined as “the more material aspects of investigation,” while Magda, who ran a successful online business, appointed herself “the digital division.” Still filled with American optimism, no matter how long they lived in France, they’d assumed the process would be relatively simple given their experience. But they had forgotten to factor in the French love of bureaucracy and documentation. There were courses they had to enroll in and exams they had to take, and only after could they submit the long and complex form that, along with a description of their experiences and attached affidavits from reliable witnesses, might result in certification. Still, Rachel thought, If you can’t try out a new identity with a drug dealer turned questionable dry cleaner, who can you try it out with?
Indeed, Mediouri didn’t seem surprised by her confirmation. He just gave a second shrug and nodded. “Makes sense. You solved two already; why not make a job out of it?”
Having been so easily accepted, she now felt she needed to be completely honest. “Well, I’m not quite there yet. At the moment I’m—”
The bell over the door rang, and a harried-looking woman came in, her arms full of silky fabric. She paid no attention to the teacups or to Rachel, just dropped the pile onto the countertop. “Can I have these by Monday morning?”
Instantly Mediouri became a smooth service professional. “Of course, Madame. Any spots we should know about? Special care instructions?”
As he groped under the counter for his receipt book, a magazine flopped out. It was a copy of Oops!, its cover decorated with a picture of Roland Guipure frowning as he altered the pleats on a gown. The huge headline read, “Sad Last Days of Fashion’s Comeback Kid.” Rachel picked it up.
“You can have that. I’m done with it.” The door closed behind the customer as Mediouri spoke. The woman’s entrance had broken their spell of intimacy, and now he picked up the pile of clothes. “I better start on these. But”—his tone softened; he groped in his pocket—“private detectives, they need connections, yes? And you and I, we have a connection.” He leered, a touch of the old Mediouri. “So please …” He held out a business card. “In case I can ever help.”
Rachel looked at the card. The only connections her previous investigations had given her were a society matron and a book restorer, and while both had proved surprisingly useful, they weren’t exactly links to the city’s seedy underbelly. She slipped the card into her bag.
Outside, the air had changed again, and it was too chilly to continue walking. She headed down into the Pont Marie métro. Once on a train, she opened the magazine.
Designer to the stars Roland Guipure seemed to have pulled his life back from the brink. He had completed désintox last autumn, and his most recent collection for the Sauveterre label was hailed as a perfect return to form. On top of that, he had just signed a licensing deal that would earn him up to €100 million a year.
But behind closed doors all was not well with Guipure.
“Roland was tense about the licensing deal,” says a source speaking exclusively toOops! And it seems that, despite the good reviews, Guipure was also concerned about his future: “He was worried that without heroin he would have no creative stimulus. He wondered if this most recent show was just a fluke.”
Then there was his upcoming milestone birthday. “Getting older is difficult for anyone in fashion,” said a friend close to the designer. “And forty is a big number. You could see he was bothered by it.”
So maybe it’s not so surprising that three days ago, this once-confident fashion genius was found dead of heroin overdose—
So it had been an overdose.
—a heroin overdose outside the exclusive nightclub LaLa Lounge,
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