Cover image for Coq au vin
Coq au vin
Carter, Charlotte (Charlotte C.)
Publication Information:
New York : Mysterious Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
200 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Nanette Hayes mystery"--Jacket.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Nanette's Aunt Vivian vanished into the jet set years ago, leaving her favorite niece with only fond memories of disco jumpsuits and serial husbands. So when Nanette's mom receives a desperate telegram from Viv in Paris, Nanette jumps at the chance to go and help her beloved aunt. After all, she got her wild streak from Viv, and besides, it's France. When she arrives, Aunt Viv is nowhere to be found, but her abandoned suitcase holds clues that date back to an old scam in the jazz clubs of Paris, and, apparently, an old murder. Now it's up to Nanette, and her new amour, Andre, to wade through a pool of dangerously eccentric characters to find her wily old aunt -- and Nanette would really prefer to find her alive...

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

In Booklist's last Mystery Showcase [BKL Apr 15 98], we commented on how Paris as a setting for crime fiction seemed lost in a time warp. The reason for this phenomenon, we hypothesized, was Georges Simenon's Old World detective Maigret. While the rest of the continent was being invaded by a new breed of hard-boiled heroes for the post^-cold war world, the Maigret novels' deep identification with Paris acted as a protective shield around the city, keeping out the new kids. No more--not with the arrival in Paris of Nanette Hayes, street saxophonist and amateur sleuth, Grace Jones look-alike, and about as un-Maigret as it's possible to be. When a desperate telegram arrives from Nanette's idol, her long-missing aunt Viv, Nan heads off to Paris, Viv's last known address. It's a labor of love for Francophile Nan, who follows Viv's trail deep into the Paris underworld, where her high-living aunt once hung out in the glory days of le jazz hot. Playing her sax at Metro stations to make ends meet, Nanette encounters another expatriate horn player, Andre from Detroit, and the two of them improvise their own duets, musical and otherwise. Carter, who introduced Nanette in Rhode Island Red (1997), has an incredibly hot property here: Nanette Hayes may be the most charismatic crime fiction heroine to appear in the last decade; when she plays "Lover Man" at the Odeon Metro stop, it's as if Maigret never existed. Throw in Carter's jazz history^-drenched plot and her terrific feel for incorporating setting into the action, and you have a superbly entertaining novel. There's only one problem: as the book ends, Nanette is going home to New York. Get this girl back to Paris quick. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

African-American saxophonist Nanette Hayes lives a life that's like good jazz: it's full of soul, and she makes it up as she goes along while somehow keeping it all together. She believes she owes something to her Aunt Viv, who taught her how to enjoy life and bounce back from trouble. So when, at the start of this brilliant second outing (after Rhode Island Red), Nan is asked to hunt down the wayward Viv and hand over a substantial inheritance from Nan's father, she leaps at the opportunity. Besides, it gives her an excuse to go back to Paris, her only constant love. Once there, Nan sobs each time she passes a landmark. Nan's tale is spun craftily, taking readers on a very personal tour of the city that is inextricably linked to her soul. The search for Viv is a continuous riff, but it soon becomes secondary to the story of Andre, an expatriate and fellow street musician working on his accent, his music and Nan's affections. Before long, Nan's feelings for Andre surpass even her passion for Paris and the two play a mean duet with their instruments and their bodies. Nan's charm and daring allow her and Andre to navigate the world of expatriate jazz artists, who, they discover, are tied into swindles, robbery, betrayal and murder. Things end on a sad note, as Nan must head back to the States, having discovered that neither Viv nor her own relationship with Andre are quite what she'd hoped for. This is a top-notch mystery, engaging throughout and quite moving at the end. Foreign rights sold in France and Germany. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Travelin' Light Damn, I was tired. My saxophone seemed to weigh more than I did. I had awakened early that morning and immediately commenced to fill the day with activity--some of it necessary but most of it far from pressing. I played for a time midtown, a little north of the theater district; made some nice money. That wasn't my usual stomping ground. I had picked the corner almost at random. I don't know why I did so well. Maybe the people had spring fever, hormones working, calling out for love songs. In fact the first song I played was "Spring Fever." When you play on the street, you never know why you're a hit or a bust. Is it the mood of the crowd? Is it you? Is it the time of day or the time of year? Anyway, you do the gig and put your money in your belt and move on. Next, I power-walked up to Riverside Park and played there for a while; did my two hours volunteer work at the soup kitchen on Amsterdam; bought coffee beans at Zabar's; took the IRT downtown; bought a new reed for the sax on Bleecker Street; picked up some paint samples at the hardware store; then played again on lower Park Avenue, closer to my own neighborhood. Makes me sound like a real flamer, doesn't it? A go-getter, a busy bee. Not true. I'm lazy as hell. What I was doing was trying to outrun my thoughts. That's what all that busy work was about. Over dinner the previous night, the b.f. (the shithead's name is Griffin) had announced, number one, he wouldn't be spending the night at my place because he had other plans, and number two, he had other plans . . . period. I should have known something was up when he said to meet him at the little Belgian café I like in the Village--the other side of town from my place. He hated the food there, but it was convenient for his subway ride home. This kind of thing has happened to me before. The relationship is at some critical point--or maybe not; maybe it's simply that a certain amount of time has passed and I'm re-evaluating it. I meet his family. Mom wants to know if this is "the real thing." I'm asking myself constantly, Is the sex really that good? Should I stay in or should I get out? And then, a couple of weeks later, before I come to a final decision, he splits. What's with that? I always seem to end up asking myself that question. What is with that? I didn't spend the night crying or anything. I merely came in and stripped out of my clothes and snapped on the radio and finished whatever brown liquor I had in the cabinet. Temper tantrum aside, breaking the porcelain planter in the living-room window had been more of an accident than anything else. Sleep was a long time coming. Yes, I had decided about two a.m., the sex had been that good. And when I awoke in the morning, I just started moving like this--manic. Now I was exhausted. I packed up my sax and started the short walk to my apartment near Gramercy Park. Our homeless guy was back. It had been so long since anybody had seen him on the block, we all figured he was dead. But here he was again, in a neck brace, evil as ever, begging for dollars and cussing at anybody with the nerve to give him coins. "Why don't you comb your hair?" he called after me when I stuffed a single into his cup. I made a quick run to the supermarket and then into the benighted little corner liquor store where a white wine from Chile is the high-end stuff. I had poured myself a glass, turned on the radio, and read through the mail before I remembered to check the answering machine. "Nanette, it's me. About tonight. You're still coming over to eat, aren't you? Because I've got something to tell you. It's . . . I'm . . . Well, I'll tell you when you get here. I'm going out now to pick us up some food at Penzler's. You still eat pork, don't you, baby?" Mom! Oh shit. I had forgotten. Two weeks ago I had said maybe we'd have dinner--I walked over to the kitchen calendar--tonight. I was in no mood to see anybody tonight, let alone Mom, for whom I'd have to put on an act--make out that things were fine between me and Griffin, and that my fabulous--and utterly fictitious--part-time job teaching French at NYU was going great. I'd have to be careful never to mention the sax or my street friends or anything remotely connected to my career as an itinerant musician on the streets of Manhattan. She might have been able to handle it if she ever found out that the teaching job was a lie (I was getting steady translation work, at least). But she would have gone absolutely crazy if she knew I blew sax on the street corners with an old fedora turned up to catch the cash. And I'd have to haul my ass on the F train out to Queens. Well, I just wasn't going to make it. Not with all these papers to grade. Not with this pneumonia, cough cough. Not tonight. Tomorrow maybe, but not tonight. I've got something to tell you. I turned that gossipy, girlish phrase over in my mind. What was there about that locution that troubled me so? It didn't sound like Mrs. Hayes, that's what. It just did not sound right. And, come to think of it, there was a bit of a quaver in her voice, too. Oh, God. She's sick. Heart. Cancer. I rushed to the wall phone and dialed her number. No answer. I threw my jacket on and locked up. Halfway to the subway, I realized I was probably being crazy. There were only about three million other reasons my mother might have had to sound worried. Maybe it really was something about her health, but that didn't have to mean that death was knocking on the door. So why hadn't she answered the phone? She was probably still at Penzler's--Elmhurst's answer to Dean and Deluca--inspecting the barbecued chickens and braised pork chops and waiting on line for a pound of potato salad. Or out in the backyard. Or over at the Bedlows' house, picking up one of Harriet's cobblers for our dessert. By then I was at Sixth Avenue. I turned downtown instead of north to the Twenty-third Street station. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I had suddenly decided I needed a drink before heading out there, and I needed a little reassuring from the one person whose level head and unfailing equilibrium I could always depend on: my one and only homegirl, Aubrey Davis. Who works as a topless dancer. We knew early on, at about age nine, that I was the whiz at sight-reading music, inventing lies more believable than the truth, and forging my mother's signature. "Very bright, but a bit unfocused," one of my teachers had told Daddy on parents' night. Aubrey, however, was the one to call when you wanted to see some dancing. She struggled mightily to teach me one or two moves. But it was no good. I could work the shoulders, and I could usually work the hips too--just not at the same time. To this day, when I hit the dance floor I look like a holdup man who realizes too late that his victim is carrying a taser. By the time we were fourteen we'd both thrown in the towel on my dancing career. It was about that time, on a summer day, that Aubrey's mother abandoned her. She went off to play cards with some people and just never came back. In school, I was the brightest star in the heavens, but Aubrey, when she deigned to join us, was the butt of the kids' pitiless taunting--about her clothes, about her poverty, about her mother, and in time, about her morals. The oddsmakers wouldn't have laid ten cents on Aubrey's chances of getting through life in one piece. They'd have lost. She is a genius at taking care of herself. And my girl never wastes a second looking backward. Anyway, Aubrey is now one of the bigger draws at Caesar's Go Go Emporium, which is exactly the kind of place it sounds like, tied however circuitously to the mob and located in that one dirty corner of Tribeca where Robert De Niro has not yet bankrolled any emigre restaurateurs. She performs topless, like I said, and what she wears over the nasty bits is barely worthy of the term "panties." Between weekly pay and tips she makes a pretty impressive salary, only a fraction of which gets declared to the tax folks. I don't know all the details, but I believe Aubrey has an enviable little portfolio going, thanks to one of her Wall Street admirers. I can always hit her up for money, but I made a vow long ago never to do so unless I was starving. See, if you ask her for a couple of hundred, the next thing you know, she's putting down a deposit on a new co-op for you. She is that generous. She is also a great beauty, and I love her madly. So does my mother, who took turns with the other grown-ups in the neighborhood in trying to raise her. I heard the pounding bass line from halfway up the block. Caesar's. I hate that fucking place. I hate the white men in their middle-management ties who come in for their fix of watery scotch and flaccid titties. I hate the rainbow coalition of construction worker types in their Knicks T-shirts drinking Coors and spending their paychecks on blow jobs. And I've got zero patience with all of them. Not Aubrey, though. She understands men--all kinds of men. And boy, do they love her and her Kraft caramel thighs and her cascades of straightened hair and her voice like warm apple butter. It is little wonder that Aubrey became a superstar, if you will, at Caesar's. A lot of the other dancers are distracted college girls who'd rather shake their ass in a dive than work behind a cosmetics counter somewhere, or they're skanks strung out on crack and pills. But Aubrey, who isn't even much of a drinker, is focused, engaged, thoroughly there when she's dancing. She has a fierce kind of dedication to her work, and the guys seem to pick up on that immediately. It is the damnedest thing, but they appear to respect her. There was no one on stage when I walked into the darkened room. The girls were taking a break. I walked double time through the crowd of horny men, and had almost made it back to the dressing rooms when I heard a male voice call my name. My whole body stiffened for a few seconds. I kept walking, but the voice rang out again: "Hey, Nan!" I stopped and turned then. I couldn't believe that any man who actually knew me would not only be hanging in a place like this but would actually want me to see him in here. To my relief, it was only Justin, the club manager. He was standing at the end of the bar, his signature drink, dark rum and tonic, in one hand and one of those preposterously long thin cigarettes in the other. Justin, self-described as "white trash out of Elko, Indiana," is Aubrey's most ardent fan. Of course, his admiration for her has no sexual dimension; he is as funny as the day is long. Justin has a benign contempt for me that actually manifests itself as a kind of affection. I'm just not a femme--his word for a certain kind of lady that he idolizes. (Femmes, you see, are a subgenre of women in general, all of whom he refers to as "smash-ups.") In any case, he is absolutely right--I am no femme: I don't sleep all day, as Aubrey does, and then emerge after sundown like a vampire; I never paint my nails; I don't own a garter belt or wear spike heels before nine p.m.; my hair is Joan of Arc short; I don't consider the cadging of drinks one of the lively arts; I don't share his and Aubrey's worship of Luther Vandross; and, probably my worst sin, I cannot shake my boody. The truth is, he thinks I'm overeducated and a secret dyke. Justin does not understand going to college and does not approve of lesbians. But he likes me in spite of himself and, giving the devil his due, he says my breasts are "amazing." We've been out drinking together a couple of times, once just the two of us and once with an old lover of mine, an Irishman who is still turning heads at age forty-two. Yeah, Tom Farrell garnered me quite a few Brownie points with Justin. On the why shouldn't it be? Mom never cooked. Everything was take-out or pre-mixed or delivered in stay-warm aluminum foil. "Mom, I'm here! Where are you?" My mother's cotton dress was as surreal as the kitchen counters in its neatness. Decorous pageboy wig bobby-pinned in place. Makeup specially blended by one of the black salesladies at the Macy's in the mall. It must be eight, nine years now since Daddy left her. But if I no longer remembered the exact date that had happened, Mom sure did. I bet she could tell you what she'd eaten for breakfast that day, what shoes Daddy was wearing when he broke the news to her. On those rare occasions when Mom talks about him, she never uses his name, referring to my father only as "him." My father soon remarried: a young white teacher on his staff at the private school where he was now the principal. Outside of the occasional birthday lunch, Christmastime, and so on, I saw very little of him. He was happy enough, I suppose, in his new life. And he never missed an alimony payment. "Nanette, what have you got on your feet?" "They're called boots, Mother." "Those things are something you wear down in the basement when you're looking to kill a rat. Don't tell me you dress like that for--" "Holy mackerel, Mother, what is it you have to tell me!" "It's about Vivian," she said grimly. I fell into a chair, suddenly exhausted. No melanoma. Thank God. No wedding. Vivian, my father's sister, had been my idol when I was a kid. Breezing into town and swooping me up, Aunt Vivian meant trips into Manhattan and eating exotic food and hanging with her hip friends and my first sip of beer and every other cool thing you can imagine when you're ten years old and your father's baby sister is a sophisticated sometime-fashion-model who drinks at piano bars and parties with people who actually make the rock 'n' roll records you hear on the radio. My father felt about his little sister Vivian the way Justin feels about dykes. He disapproved of her friends and her nomadic ways and her prodigious consumption of vodka and her way-out hairdos and everything else about her lifestyle, which he didn't understand at all. My mother didn't understand it any better than he did, but she loved Vivian just the same. Maybe that was due to the same kind of sympathy with strays that had moved her to take Aubrey to her heart. Mom looked on with pity while Auntie Viv blew all her money and drank too much and got her heart broken by trifling pretty men and then recovered to start the cycle all over again. In time Vivian married and divorced--two or three times, if I remember right--and moved out of New York and then back again, half a dozen times--to L.A. and Mexico and France and Portugal--wherever the job or the party or the boyfriend might take her. Daddy and she finally had one final royal blowup during the cocaine-laced eighties and stopped speaking to each other altogether. We didn't even know where she had been living for the past eight or ten years. And now, apparently, some disaster had befallen her. "Is she dead?" I asked. "How did it happen?" "No, no. She isn't dead." "She isn't? Then what happened to her? What about Vivian?" "She's in trouble. Wait here a minute." Mom vanished into the dining room. I sat looking around the kitchen in puzzlement, at last fixing on the covered Styrofoam plates that held our dinner, waiting to be popped into the microwave. And I thought the day had been long and weird before I crossed the bridge into Queens. What the hell was going on here? Well, at least my mother hadn't tried to reach me at NYU. That sure would have resulted in an interesting phone message. But I had always discouraged her from calling me at work, telling her that as a part-timer I didn't really have an office of my own. "Look at these." She handed me two pieces, one a standard tourist postcard with a corny photo of the Eiffel Tower, the other a telegram. I turned the postcard over and read: "Long time No see. Hate to ask you but I'm strapped. Can you spare anything? Just send what you can--if you can. Love, Viv." The postmark on the card was about three weeks old. There was an address beneath her signature. A place on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine--my Lord, Viv was in Paris. I looked up at Mom and began to ask a question, but she ordered me to read the telegram first, which was dated a week or so after the postcard. JEAN DID YOU GET MY CARD? WORSE. I CAN'T GET OUT. VIV. "What's this about?" I asked, the fear rising in my voice. "I don't know, honey. I don't know." Her spine stiffened then and her eyes took on a glassy look. "I finally called . . . him . I mean, he is her brother." "You're kidding! You called Daddy?" She nodded. I tried to imagine White Mrs. Daddy picking up the phone in their apartment near Lincoln Center. Handing the receiver over. Jesus, the look on his face when she told him who it was. "What did he say?" I asked. "Did Viv write to him too?" "Yes. But he doesn't want to know anything about Vivian. Says he tore the card up without reading it. It's a sin. I told him I hoped one day he would be hurting in the same way and when he reached out for help--well, never mind. I told him I think it's a sin, that's all." I shook my head. "Wow. This is so weird. What are you going to do? You don't have any money to send her, and if Pop won't do it--" "He wouldn't give it to her, but I managed to shame him into giving me something for you." " Me? What do you mean?" She pulled out a chair for herself then and sat down in it before answering. "Listen, Nan." "What?" " I don't have any money to spare. But--well, I do have it, but it's not mine. As a matter of fact it's Vivian's money." "What are you talking about, Mother?" "I mean I actually do have some money for Vivian--especially for her. When your grandfather died he left most of what he had to your daddy, naturally. And you got enough to take that beautiful trip. But you know how he was. He feuded with Viv just like your father did, but at the end he wanted to come to some kind of peace with her. Nobody even knew where Vivian was at the time. So he left her some money, and gave it to me to keep for her. It's in a special account. Waiting. There must be close to ten thousand in it by now." "Ten thousand dollars! That sure sounds like enough to bail her out of trouble. And you mean you've had this money all along?" "Yes. I knew sooner or later we'd hear from her again." "But not like this," I said. "No. Not like this. And so . . ." She glanced away from me then. "What is it?" "I know it's a lot to ask, Nan. You haven't seen Viv since you were a kid. I just know she's over there drinking, broke, stranded somewhere. Maybe even sick. I wouldn't know where to begin to help her. I don't know how I'd even get out of the airport over there. But I thought--since you've been there so many times--I thought maybe you could go over there and help her--take this money to her and help her get home. Like I said, I managed to shame your father into giving me enough for your expenses." Expenses? "What are you saying, Mother? You want me to go to Paris!" "Yes. Would you do it? If--I mean, only if you could take the time from work. You're going to be on spring vacation soon, aren't you?" "It started yesterday, Mom. No problem." A lot to ask! Holy -- I felt a kick right then. Right on the shin. I knew who that was: my conscience, Ernestine. I just kicked the bitch right back. Yes, I'm a liar, I told her; a deceiver, a coldhearted Air France slut. I was thinking not of my Aunt Viv in a French drunk tank but of the braised rabbit in that bistro on the rue Monsieur le Prince. A lot to ask? Coq au vin, here I come! Copyright © 1999 Charlotte Carter. All rights reserved.