“The Bookseller,” by Mark Pryor: Several Books in One

Imagine a Venn diagram, with the following circles: private eye story, spy novel, cerebral mystery and police procedural.

The area where all those circles intersect is where you would find “The Bookseller,” by Mark Pryor. Set in Paris, the novel offers intrigue with a smattering of action, and veers through all those Venn circles mentioned above.

 Pryor’s protagonist, Hugo Marston, is not a private eye, nor is he a wisecracking anti-authoritarian as so many fictional PI’s are. He’s head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris, and tries to do things by the book. But when his friend, a seller of books with a stall by the river, in kidnapped, Marston finds himself using his vacation time to investigate a crime the local authorities do not seem much interested in. In that respect, to start off, Marston is a bit of a lone wolf, poking his nose into business and irritating authorities, and the book reads like a detective novel.
But those other Venn circles come into play soon enough. Before he became an embassy security cop, Marston was a profiler for the FBI. The author, an assistant district attorney, describes past interviews with murder suspects, drug task forces and the clues hiding within an autopsy report with the authority of someone who has dealt with such matters — hence, the police procedural vibe.

And while Hugo Marston, the by-the-book Texan, concerns himself with the ramifications of illegal searches and pissing off political powers, his CIA agent buddy Tom Green does not have those compunctions. Tom is the foul-mouthed smartass that Hugo is just too classy to be, and does a bit of not-so-by-the-book snooping on Hugo’s behalf. This, along with a plot that involves secrets and codes and Nazi hunters, provides the spy novel flavor.

The cerebral mystery aspect comes from Hugo himself. While he is not the sort of showoff that Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot can be, he is pretty good at stringing together observations into deductions. 

Put it all together, and you have a book that succeeds on several levels. I enjoyed it very much, and am happy to know the series includes several books.

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