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 Review: Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison and Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck

Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall
A Honeychurch Hall Mystery #4
Hannah Dennison
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-06549-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the only copy of Ravished, Iris Stanford’s new manuscript, never arrives at her London publisher’s office, her daughter Kat investigates the tiny local village post office, where it appears the package never left the building. Iris is on tenterhooks―not only is her novel gone with the wind, but she’s deathly afraid that Muriel Jarvis, the postmistress and notorious busybody, will expose her secret identity as the bestselling romance writer Krystalle Storm. Meanwhile, Muriel has her own problems with the sudden death of her husband Fred, which has left her heavily in debt. In the spine-tingling climax, both past and present collide as Kat fights for her life and those she holds most dear, dancing once again with the dark forces lurking behind the grandeur of Honeychurch Hall.

I think I’ve found my new one-of-my-favorites British cozy/traditional series (although I’m apparently the last in my local book club circle of cozy readers to get around to trying it). I’m not bothered by reading out of order and, while I expect my purist friends would disagree with me, I really think this is a good starter. The author does a nice job of dropping in those little tidbits you need to understand prior activities and her characterizations of the people are as full as I could ask them to be. These people are just downright funny and a little bit crazy.

However, murder has been done and somebody has to pay attention. Since Kat is one of the very few levelheaded folks around, the task naturally falls to her. There’s a local copper (named Cropper), of course, but he’s overrun by Lord Rupert as well as Kat and her mum, Iris, when it comes to looking into the death of the centuries-old skeleton found in a sewer line trench. It’s all curiously coincidental considering the upcoming English Civil War re-enactment and, before long, Kat finds herself in the midst of a plethora of mysteries including Iris’ missing manuscript, a suspiciously behaving man in possession (momentarily) of a vastly expensive doll, a prison escapee, and, oh, another body.

There’s a good deal of silliness here—how can there not be with such wacky villagers—but I truly loved this book. Kat’s a great sleuth, although there are no easy denouements, and she has mastered the art of dealing with all these people. I can just imagine driving through the countryside and coming across this lovely little place. What fun!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Bad Boy Boogie
A Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller
Thomas Pluck
Down & Out Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-59-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.

But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?

Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

This is one of those times when you can’t help sympathizing with the bad guy; after all, he’s served his time so why is he now facing these unexpected troubles? And since law enforcement isn’t interested in helping him find answers, how is he going to? Clearly, he’ll have to form what current slang would call a posse and what a group of misfits these are!

To understand Jay, we’re taken back to his unhappy childhood that, even so, had times of normalcy—young love and friendships as well as conflicts with bullies—and we learn what caused the teenaged Jay to commit the ultimate act of violence. Perhaps the “friends” that didn’t support him then are the ones that want him out of town now, except for the mayor who has his own reasons. A bright point, maybe, is the connection he makes with high school sweetheart Ramona but Jay is driven by a need to settle things in New Jersey before he heads to Louisiana, the place he really wants to be.

Jay is a complex man and the author truly brings him to life, this ex-con with a hard outer shell that’s slightly penetrated by the life he finds on the outside after 25 years on the inside. There’s a considerable amount of graphic violence, including sexual, here but it’s understandable although this man’s sense of justice is often very different from yours and mine. This is a book that could have resided in the old black & white, hardboiled days just as well as today and I suspect I’ll remember Jay and his story for a long, long time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.