Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Pryor’

The Blood Promise by Mark Pryor

December 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor

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.

For reviews of the two previous books in the series, see The Bookseller
The Crypt Thief.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor

The Crypt Thief

There’s considerable controversy, if you want to be dramatic about this debate, as to whether it’s harder to write a good first novel than to follow up a good first novel with a second good one. Personally, I think it a challenge to write anything good enough to publish, and the need to keep doing it is a millstone around every author’s neck. If you happen to hit the jackpot with the first publication, everyone is comparing the successive books with the first. If they find them all wanting, you become yet another one-hit-wonder of the fiction world. If you slowly improve from book to book, your loyal fans become fatalistic, praying you will never fail — sometimes whichever god people pray to hears these prayers and we have a writing career everyone can be proud of. But these authors are relatively few and far between.

So here comes The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor (Seventh Street, 2013) the second book featuring Hugo Marston, the Head of Security at the United States Embassy in Paris. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood but, for whatever reason, I didn’t find this anywhere near as good as the first. The Bookseller is what we might call a character-driven mystery that slowly develops into a thriller where our hero resumes his friendship with Tom Green, an ex-CIA operative, and earns the respect of local French Inspector Raul Garcia. This time, we begin with a psychopath disturbed in mid-flow by a couple coming to view Jim Morrison’s grave in the famous Père Lachaise cemetery. He just can’t take the chance they might see him and disturb his carefully constructed timetable so, having had the foresight to arm himself against eventualities, he takes out his gun and shoots them. Depending on your point of view, he’s unlucky to have killed the son of a US senator who was in Paris to spend some time working in the US Embassy. Of equal interest, the girl who died beside him was in France on a fake passport. There may be a terrorist connection.

Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor

Needless to say, Daddy Senator migrates rapidly over to Paris and is red hot for unleashing every spook in Europe to nail the terrorists who have just assassinated his son. Except, as Hugo tries to point out, that scenario makes absolutely no sense. If the girl was actually a terrorist luring him to his doom, why was she shot? When the Police later realise an adjacent crypt has been disturbed and bones stolen, the terrorist connection looks even less probable. Even the most deranged terrorists do not steal the bones of a dead can-can dancer. As as for the glass scarab left in the crypt, an Egyptian connection seems more likely than Al-Qaeda. Then there’s the shooting itself. A .22 pistol was used, not exactly the weapon of choice used by terrorist hitmen and the killer had to shoot several times to kill his victims. Not even the most inept terrorist hitman, lurking in a cemetery for his prey, places shots randomly round the bodies. Unfortunately, such rationality does not appeal to the Senator who calls for the best to take charge. Improbably, this proves to be Tom Green whose alcoholism is escalating to destructive levels with cocaine also beginning to favour in his diet of substances to abuse.

So we’re off like a rocket with his sidekick suddenly unreliable and Raul Garcia attracting bullets like he’s become magnetic. There’s little or no time for real character development and the mystery element is paper thin. Two-dimensional Senator Daddy is throwing his weight around, Tom Green is barely functional, Claudia the girlfriend seems to have cooled, and Hugo gets to run around cemeteries. It’s all rather underwhelming and it’s only as we come into the final section of the book that the thriller element comes together in a more coherent form. I’m not denying the set-pieces forming the tracking down and end of the serial killer are well done. Indeed, they are very professionally put together. But these scenes come like the Fifth Cavalry charging over the hill with trumpets blazing and sabres at the ready long after the battle has been lost and the enemy long gone. I had no interest in any of the people involved and the serial killer’s motivation is, to some extent, fairly obvious from the first quarter of the book. Indeed, The Crypt Thief is about as interesting as an episode of Criminal Minds transplanted from Las Vegas showgirls to Paris can-can dancers with a little local colour thrown in to make it look better. I regret to say Mark Pryor has stumbled after a good first novel. Let’s hope he gets the act back together for the third, otherwise one-hit-wonder status beckons.

For a review of the two other books in the series, see
The Blood Promise
The Bookseller.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

December 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

The Bookseller by Mark Pryor is billed as The First Hugo Marston Novel (Seventh Street Books, 2012) and it’s a very good book which sits comfortably between the mystery and thriller genres. I actually hate this game of trying to place a book into one of the broad categories invented by publishers and retailers to help sell us books, but there’s no sense in trying to ignore the world around us. We’re stuck with this labelling game so I’d better offer a couple of definitions. I take a mystery to be a book in which a fairly brainy protagonist follows clues to a reasoned conclusion. This may be solving a crime after it’s been committed or it may represent a preventive measure of some kind. Such books are whodunits or howdunits, and the narrative pace need not be high. Indeed, the lead character may be a little old lady or someone appearing relatively harmless. A thriller focuses on the emotions of the primary protagonist who, more often than not, uses violence rather than intellectual power in pursuit of a resolution to a problem. This may be to right a wrong or to prevent a great harm from befalling others. In a thriller, there will usually be a key character who’s particularly at risk. This can be the protagonist or the protagonist is cast in a protective role for this potential victim and, unlike a mystery, we may know who the antagonist is for most of the book. The pace of such books is always high. They are intended to be page-turners.

The format for this book sees us with Hugo Marston. He’s head of security at the US Embassy in Paris. This means he straddles the genres for protagonists. As a retired profiler, he has highly developed reasoning skills which can both detect patterns in behaviour and analyse complex sets of facts. He also carries a gun and, in a tight situation, can defend himself. As a man interested in books, he’s befriended one of the old bouquinistes or used-booksellers you see along the banks of the Seine. Rain or shine, they stand and offer their wares. Some carry very valuable books in monetary terms. Other books have great historical interest. It therefore comes as something of a shock when he sees his old friend literally kidnapped in front of him. As a member of the Embassy staff, he has no crime-fighting jurisdiction in France so he calls the police. They are interested and a more senior officer arrives to take command of the situation. Except there seem to be no other witnesses and so nothing serious is done to track down the boat that took his friend away. When he tries to follow up, he’s warned off. Even the Ambassador is concerned French feathers may be ruffled if his man too actively pursues matters.

Mark Pryor, DA and now author of fiction

Mark Pryor, DA and now author of fiction

Of course, protagonists are never deterred. Indeed, the more challenging the difficulties, they more stubborn they become. In this case, he calls Tom Green, an ex-CIA friend from America. They begin to look into the history of the missing bouquiniste and discover an interesting past as, first, a Holocaust survivors and Nazi hunter, and then as a man who devoted himself to outing collaborators. As a conquered country, many thought they were protecting themselves and their families by co-operating with the victorious Germans. Some more enthusiastically than others assisted the occupying force. Such history still matters in France. The motive for the old man’s disappearance may therefore be connected either with an equally old Nazi or the family of a French collaborator wishing to avoid exposure. Naturally things heat up when the body of the old man is found floating in the Seine. We therefore have the makings of a pure mystery but, on his travels around the city, he encounters Claudia Roux who first appears as a journalist and proves to be something more. When our hero saves her from death in a drive-by shooting. . . well she’s wounded but was she the target? Such are the uncertainties of life as the prospect of romance beckons. Except, of course, her father does not approve.

So what follows is a genuinely pleasing puzzle to solve. Mark Pryor is playing a version of the bait and switch game where the first presented versions of his fictional Paris prove not to be sustainable and we’re persuaded to switch to alternative views. Indeed, sometimes the only way to sort out which view of the facts is the real deal requires you to sit down quietly and review what you’ve seen and heard. In less assured hands, these more cerebral parts of the book force a drop in the pace but, somehow, Mark Pryor manages to keep the pages turning even when our hero is deep into his analysis. I more or less worked out which was the right theme but I completely missed the key facts leading to the identity of the “mastermind”. So kudos to the author. Everything is there in plain sight but it’s difficult to appreciate significance until later. For those who want there to be fighting both with fisticuffs and guns, there’s enough for The Bookseller to qualify as a classy thriller with a good mystery element thrown in. Whatever the genre, this is an above average example of it.

For the review of the next two books in the series, see
The Blood Promise
The Crypt Thief.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

%d bloggers like this: