Much to my delight, I accidentally discovered a new mystery series (or new to me, at least) at a library book sale. Mark Pryor has written nine books featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the United States embassy in Paris. The first in the series, The Bookseller, sets the tone for the novels that will follow. Each will take place in Europe, a familiar environment the Texas-born Marston has enjoyed for years. He speaks fluent French and has been posted abroad ever since his first wife tragically died in an automobile accident. If The Bookseller is any indication (and if I can trust the blurbs written about subsequent Marston mysteries), the action of each book stems not from Marston’s embassy job but rather from some chance encounter that will necessitate Marston’s further investigation.
In the case of The Bookseller, Marston frequents a Paris bookstall where he often buys first editions from the knowledgeable and friendly bouquiniste. One day, as Marston watches, someone kidnaps Max, the bouquiniste, at gunpoint. Unable to intervene, Marston calls the police and sets The Bookseller story in motion. Unable, too, to stay out of police business, Marston begins investigating on his own. The action rolls through the streets of Paris, flaunting a Parisian ambiance that includes landmarks, art, food, and local color. Along the way, Marston meets a host of Parisian denizens, both innocent and criminal. Figuring out who is which is part of the novel’s charm.
Hugo Marston is part of The Bookseller charm, too, a man whose “moral compass, his nonjudgmental nature, his humor, and his all-around decency,” Pryor notes in his Acknowledgments, was inspired by the author’s father. So, Marston doesn’t quite fit any detective stereotype. His hero is Sherlock Holmes, although Marston doesn’t have any of the personal issues that characterize Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. In fact, Marston seems perfectly well-adjusted. Trained as an FBI agent, he has certain combative skills, but most of his detective work involves interviews and computers. This book is not a police procedural, however, nor is it a detective noir. Marston is simply an inquisitive man who can’t ignore trouble when he sees it. Max’s sudden disappearance in The Bookseller leads Marston on a complicated but quite fascinating investigation.
Equally fascinating are his companions. One pal is an FBI sidekick from Marston’s youth who now is a hard-drinking semi-retired CIA agent. Another is a glamorous reporter, a love-interest with a mysterious past. Even the embassy employees are appealing—Marston’s miracle secretary who can find quick answers to any question and his diplomatic ambassador who turns a deaf ear when Marston bends the rules. I assume some, if not all, of these enjoyable characters, will resurface in subsequent books.
Yes, I definitely will be looking for other Mark Pryor/Hugo Marston mysteries. I like the international flavors of his writing, the places themselves, their particular smells, and sounds. And I like his characters, too. It is a pleasure to follow a detective who has no appreciable hang-ups, who seems an ordinary guy caught in extraordinary moments. This combination works well for me. – Ann Ronald
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Also available by Mark Pryor: The Paris Library; The Blood Promise; The Crypt Thief; The Book Artist; The Button Man; The Reluctant Matador; The Sorbonne Affair; Hollow Man; As She Lay Sleeping; Dominic; Faith, Grace and Heresy, The Biography of Rev. Charles M. Jones; Noble Phoenix; Cyberian Affair;
We’ve discovered a new (to us) and most interesting publishing house: Seventh Street Books.