Book Review: The Sorbonne Affair by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair
A Hugo Marston Novel #7
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8261-4
Trade Paperback

The seventh book featuring Hugo Marston, former FBI agent and now head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Helen Hancock, an internationally famous romance author, is staying in Paris working on her latest opus and teaching a seminar on writing with a small group of students. She reports a hidden camera in her room of the exclusive hotel where she is staying. Shortly thereafter a hotel employee with a gambling problem is found stabbed in a hotel stairwell. When images from the camera in Helen’s room are found on his laptop, the police assume that he intended to blackmail Helen to pay his gambling debts. Helen has a rock-solid alibi for the time of his murder, leaving the police to wonder who else he’d tried to extort. Then a video showing Helen in an embarrassing situation, clearly from the camera hidden in her room, finds its way onto the internet, causing much consternation to her fans and upsetting her publisher. Two more murders follow in short order, complicating the investigation being conducted by Hugo and a Paris police lieutenant.

In the meantime the convicted bank robber from the last case Hugo worked as an FBI agent has managed to obtain parole and disappears from the United States. Tom Green, Hugo’s former FBI partner and current tenant, is convinced that the man is heading for Paris to obtain revenge upon them both. Tom is something of a hothead and Hugo serves as a brake on his impulsive actions, leading to a lot of dialog along the lines of “I’m going to….” “No, no, that would be (dangerous/illegal/not good/(fill in the blank)”.

Pryor loves Paris, every inch of it. The people, the food, the streets and parks, the architecture, all are glowingly described. The book is well worth reading just for the travelogue.

In an interesting twist, the crisis with the bank robber that would lead to both Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI is described in a series of flashbacks presented in reverse chronological sequence. That is, the scene foreshadowing a showdown with their boss over what he considered their mishandling of the situation comes early in the book and the initial scene where Hugo and Tom realize they are witnessing a bank robbery is at the very end of the book, while the contemporary crime is treated in straightforward as it occurs order.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, July 2018.

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Book Reviews: The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor and Already Dead by Stephen Booth

The Crypt ThiefThe Crypt Thief
A Hugo Marston Novel, #2
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-785-3
Trade Paperback

Two tourists were discovered dead in Paris’ famous Pere Lachaise cemetery near American rock star Jim Morrison’s grave. Is there any connection between the victims and the dead cult hero? When the murdered young man is identified as Maxwell Holmes, the son of American senator Harris Holmes, and his companion as a Pakistani woman traveling under an assumed name, officials investigating the deaths suspect a link to a terrorist.

But Hugo Marston, head of security at the American embassy in Paris, wants to investigate other possibilities, but the French police and the senator are focused on terrorism. The senator is sure that the woman was a terrorist trying to gain access to the embassy through a relationship with the senator’s son. The American ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, agrees with Hugo but even though he is pressured by the senator, he buys some time for Hugo to investigate. With the discovery of the theft of body parts from a grave at the cemetery—the leg bones of famous Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril—Hugo is convinced that the murder was not the work of a terrorist. Complicating matters is Hugo’s friend Tom Green, supposedly retired from the CIA, who is drinking to excess and spinning out of control. He is tapped to head the terrorism investigation, and his reckless behavior alarms Hugo.

It’s a fast faced mystery, one that draws you in, with lots of conflict between characters. There is that great Paris backdrop and a creepy murderer. This book is the second in the series, after The Bookseller. If you like Michael Connelly and Ian Hamilton, this might be right up your alley.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, April 2014.

 

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Already DeadAlready Dead
Stephen Booth
Sphere, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5171-6
Hardcover

[This book is presently available in hardcover/paperback in/through the UK; hc in Canada now, and in August, 2014 in pb; and in the US as an e-book from Witness Impulse in August, 2014.]

The newest novel in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series opens on an ominous note, with the death of an adult male, found lying naked in a shallow stream in “the rural wastelands of the Peak District,” where the roads have been flooded and travel difficult if not impossible, for pedestrians and vehicles alike, in this monsoon-like summer.

The Derbyshire E Division CID, to whom the investigation initially falls, quite literally has no clues, as it appears that the torrential rains have washed away any potential forensic evidence, and no apparent witnesses. DS Dianne Fry is here on short-term assignment, after DS Ben Cooper has been placed on extended leave since the tragic death in an arson fire of his fiancée, scene of crime officer Liz Petty, which ended the last book in the series. Ben is still suffering from panic attacks, nightmares, and the occasional flashbacks to that horrible event, just weeks before their meticulously planned wedding. He is still, not unnaturally, obsessed with the one person still walking free who was a participant in the events of that night.

A secondary plot line deals with another area death which falls to the local police to investigate. Ben’s relationship with Diane is a famously ambivalent one. She finds herself thinking that “his absence was more powerful than his presence.” But despite his official just-another-member-of-the-public position, he manages to provide pivotal clues and insight. Finally, “when it came down to it, there was the question of loyalty.”

The events that fill the book take place over a one-week period. The writing is less action-filled than it is wonderfully descriptive, both of local atmosphere and geography, and including as it does occasional bits of fascinating historical lore. All the better to savor the terrific writing and character development of which the author is a past master. The wholly unexpected shocker of an ending is a perfect cap for this thoroughly enjoyable novel, which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2013.

Book Review: The Bookseller by Mark Pryor—and a Giveaway

The BooksellerThe Bookseller
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-61614-708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?

Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.

 

Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?

 

On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.

 

Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.

 

With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy’s lair.

Just as the killer intended.

When I was first offered the chance to read and review this book, I naturally had to say yes. I mean, after all, it’s booksellers and I used to be one so how could I possibly resist? It didn’t hurt that the description was so enticing. Paris, kidnapping, murder, booksellers, spy-ish stuff—what more could I want? And now I’m happy to report that debut author Mark Pryor and  The Bookseller have lived up to my hopes quite nicely.

Hugo Marston has joined my list of heroes I love to read about, joining the likes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Patrick Lee’s Travis Chase. These are the guys who have all the brawn they need but they use their minds to win the day and that is so very appealing to me. Hugo also has a pretty nifty buddy in Tom Green. The two look into the puzzle of the missing and murdered booksellers with open minds and great aplomb and the pace is almost faster than you can keep up with. Possible perpetrators and motives are in abundance and, at the same time, the author gives us a feel for Paris that is so rich and full of history that, at times, I forgot the story takes place in contemporary times or, at least, within the last 75 years. Or so. You’ll just have to find out for yourself 😉

Wonderful characters abound besides Hugo and Tom—in the very first pages, I came to like Max immeasurably—and the plot keeps on a-comin’.  Throw in an intriguing journalist, the Parisian police, Nazi hunters, drug dealers  and the hindrances that come with being attached to a US embassy and there’s hardly anything more you need (and Hugo’s Texas background adds a flavor that mixes nicely with Paris). Oh, and I mustn’t forget the feeling that the author gives that the reader is sitting right there in Paris soaking up all its beauty and history while all this is going on around you. What a lovely way to read a book!

To me, three things are most evident when an author is really good. First is strong characters, second is a plot that grabs me and won’t let go, and third is a mastery of the English language. Mark Pryor has it all in his first novel and I can’t wait for his next Hugo Marston mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.

Have you discovered a real winner lately, something that’s

new to you if not to the book world? Tell us about it and

you’ll be entered in the drawing for a trade paperback copy

of The Bookseller by Mark Pryor. Open to all readers in

search of good mysteries, no residence restrictions. The winning

name will be drawn Wednesday evening, November 14th.