Night Flight to Paris
“Black's work is leaping ahead in power and energy, and Night Flight to Paris is one of the notable thrillers of the season.”
Cara Black, well known for her long Parisian series featuring PI Aimée Leduc, has come into her own. Her new series features a woman sniper who, in last year’s first book of the series, Three Hours in Paris, faced nightmares of capture and death as she works undercover for the British, on multiple assassination targets.
In the second book in this dramatic and fast-paced new approach, Night Flight to Paris, American Kate Rees thinks her failed mission (as she sees it) from 1940 will keep her in Britain as a sharpshooting instructor for the rest of the war. But in 1942 her former handler, Colonel Stepney, has pressing reasons to send her back to the occupied City of Light on a triple mission: a delivery, an assassination, and the exfiltration of one of her close friends, Margo, who's specifically demanded Kate's assistance.
But nothing's very clear in the rushed briefing to the mission, as Colonel Stepney seems to be more than a bit obscure, telling Kate: "‘A good undercover legend is like a diamond. Crafted to meet the four Cs—the carat, cut, clarity, and color. They sparkle so brightly you can't look past them.’ Diamonds were hard. Was Stepney saying something else here? ‘Much of your mission depends on what happens on the ground after you land, and how Margo plays it. We can't know anything for sure.’ Plan. Pivot. And re-plan. Hadn't Wilkes drilled that into the trainees? Or as her pa would say, ya gotta be ready to turn on a dime, Katie.”
When Stepney issues Kate a cyanide suicide pill, that confirms how risky this mission will be. And it's complicated by the mess Kate left behind two years earlier since there is a warrant out for her arrest in Paris, and she'll have to be in heavy disguise as a result.
Black ramps up the tension in every plot twist and offers an unforgettable experience of both wartime Paris and the sheer guts and creativity needed for undercover work.
“She'd walked into a setup. Her own damn fault. . . . Under her Red Cross Cape, she slid her 9mm Welrod's 12-inch cylinder, containing its bolt, barrel and baffle, down her sleeve. It took seconds, during which she never broke eye contact with the Nazi.”
In contrast to Black’s Leduc books, this new series avoids swaddling the action in romantic questions, which in turn leaves Kate Rees clearer about her own capacity, able to plan swiftly, and incisive in questioning what’s coming at her and responding from strength, despite some obvious flaws in her preparation:
“In the garage, Kate opened her bag in the creaking cabinet, ready to change into the Wehrmachthelferinnen uniform. Sickening Nazi symbols decorated the sleeves. Would it fit her big-boned frame? With this uniform and the stolen ID, she’d have credentials and blend in unnoticed. But the few phrases of German she’d picked up left a lot to be desired. Face it: the moment she opened her mouth she’d be dead.”
Overall, Black shows that her transition from the Leduc detective series to this thriller format is an excellent choice. Although there are a few inconsistencies at chapter jumps—maybe from all the adrenaline in crafting this high-suspense, high-threat adventure—Black's work is leaping ahead in power and energy, and Night Flight to Paris is one of the notable thrillers of the season.