The Bookseller (Hugo Marston #1) by Mark Pryor

The Bookseller (Hugo Marston #1) by Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books/Oct. 9th, 2012
Kind thanks to Seventh Street Books/Prometheus for providing a review copy

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.

The Bouquinistes of Paris ply their second hand book trade along the banks of the Seine from the Pont Marie to the Quai de Louvre, continuing a tradition that started in the 16th century. In the late 1800s, the bouquinistes were allowed by the government to establish themselves at fixed points, from sunrise to sunset, to 10 metres of railing at a fixed annual fee and licensing charge. Now there are over 200 stalls set up along the river, and they are considered an important part of Paris’s cultural and commercial heritage.

When Max Koche, an elderly bookseller and friend, is kidnapped right before Hugo Marston’s eyes, Hugo feels helpless and outraged. What could someone want with the elderly bookseller that would lead them to kidnapping? Hugo is sure that the police will follow up on this. After all, he’s got some clout, as a former FBI agent and now head of security for the US Embassy, so his word should offer at least some urgency to the investigation. He finds out, however, that on the word of a few other stall owners, that claim that Max went willingly with his captors, the investigation is put to rest. Hugo knows Max didn’t go willingly, though, and is determined to find out what happened to his friend. His investigation could put him at odds with his job, but being on vacation offers him a measure of freedom, and the help of a beautiful journalist and his friend Tom Green, an (ex?) CIA agent, will certainly come in handy. Turns out Max has a history as a Nazi hunter, but he’s not sure if that’s the reason for his kidnapping. He hopes that Max is still alive, but the disappearance of other booksellers makes that increasingly unlikely and sets Hugo on a trail that will lead him through a maze of drug czars, rare books, and of course, murder.

The Bookseller is the first of a series that will feature Texas native (who proudly wears his cowboy boots) Hugo Marston and offers up a protagonist that is sharp, understated, tenacious, and decent to the core. Twice divorced (one fairly recent), Hugo isn’t necessarily looking for a serious relationship, but Claudia Roux proves to be not only an intriguing love interest for Hugo, but is also a valuable asset in solving an increasingly labyrinthine case. Hugo never takes Claudia’s smarts (and connections) for granted, even though his instinct to protect her is put to the test more than once. I also appreciate that the author made Claudia a fully fleshed out part of the story, with secrets of her own, and she’s never presented one dimensionally. Hugo’s boss, Ambassador Taylor is a boss that anyone would love to have and offers Hugo his unwavering trust and also his help whenever possible (within reason of course, being the US Ambassador is a delicate job.) Probably one of my favorite characters, however, is Hugo’s foul mouthed, razor sharp, (semi) retired CIA agent friend, Tom Green. Tom is a bit on the soft side, physically, but his skills are immediately evident and without it being said, you always get the distinct feeling that Hugo, without question, trusts Tom with his life, and vice versa. Mark Pryor successfully combines a fascinating mystery, a setting (Paris) that’s a character in and of itself, and wonderful characterizations with a bit of old fashioned style to create a first novel that will appeal to mystery and thriller readers alike. The Bookseller has made an instant fan out of this reader, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next Hugo Marsten mystery.

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