The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor
The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor (Seventh Street Books, 2014) is the third outing for Hugo Marston, the Regional Security Officer for the American Embassy in Paris. This time, he’s to babysit a rising star in the US political firmament who’s filling in at a session designed not to resolve anything about the future of Guadeloupe which, for those of you not so well versed in geography, is a group of islands currently under the protection of France. These citizens, in their more disloyal moments, toy with the idea of embracing the benefits of democracy as peddled by the US. Given the semi-traditional tension between the US and France, it therefore suits the US to posture its willingness to accept administrative responsibility (just as soon as they work out where it/they is/are). Hence, this meeting is arranged out of the public’s view so that, even though the fact of its existence can be admitted if pushed, privacy can be maintained and both sides can then say whatever they want about why nothing was resolved. Reluctantly, Hugo accepts this mission only to find it triggers an investigation which has “ramifications”.
The trigger is that the isolationist Senator gets unexpectedly drunk at the evening meal designed to be an icebreaker and, when he surfaces the following morning, he’s insistent someone was in his room during the night. To keep the peace, Hugo agrees to call in his friend in the Paris police force. Of course no-one expects anything of interest to surface. What do drunk Senators see if they briefly wake during the night? But, among the many fingerprints found in his bedroom is one that matches a print taken at the scene of a murder/robbery south of Paris. Naturally, the police are not allowed to barge in and take the fingerprints of anyone attending this international conference. Even the staff of the château refuse co-operation, alleging that they, along with the high-powered whom they serve, are above reproach. Given the identity of those involved, no French judge is prepared to authorise what is thought a fishing expedition without anything to link the two locations or the people involved. It’s just a surprising coincidence, i.e. just the kind of knotty puzzle Hugo likes to get his teeth into.
The pleasing feature of this series is that all the characters are evolving. Although this could be read as a standalone, half the interest lies in the metanarrative as we watch the relationships shift through time and circumstance. What adds additional drama to the dynamics of the plot is the death of one character who had been important during the first two novels. This is brave of the author. The majority of writers put together a cast of stock characters and then run permutations on them as the series develops. It also helps build loyalty among readers if they believe the same team will be rolled out to solve each book’s crime(s). George R R Martin has rather broken the mould by killing some of the most interesting characters as his series progresses, but introducing new talent for us to get to know and then worry about. While Mark Pryor hasn’t killed off one of the lead protagonists, the victim is important and the loss hits everyone hard. This additional layer of realism enhances the emotional depth of the book and helps bring people together.
As to the mystery, we’re given very good value this time round. I had absolutely no idea what was going on until arriving quite close to the end. Looking back, the motive is clear so long as you draw the right inferences from the historical interpolations. I’m not absolutely sure everyone acts with complete credibility but, in a sense, I don’t think it matters. There’s enough done here to make it feel right. Even when we’re all at sea at the end, the discussion and its consequence have a resonance which just about perfects the emotional forces at work. Fear at the loss of status, the humiliation and, perhaps, derision that might have followed exposure of those particular facts. . . We can only guess.
So I’m back on track with Mark Pryor. His first book was promising and The Blood Promise confirms him as definitely someone to watch. Hopefully, he can maintain consistency as we look forward to the next in the series.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.