Seventh Street Books; © 2012
This is the first of Pryor’s books featuring Hugo Marston. Marston, formerly a “profiler” for the FBI, has been working for some years as chief of security, first at the U.S. Embassy in London (recounted in The Button Man, a “prequel” to The Bookseller) and, in this episode, in Paris. Marston, who has an interest in antiquarian books, buys two books for his ex-wife (a first edition of Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds and what turns out to be an inscribed—to Paul Verlaine—first edition of Arthur Rinbaud’a Une Saison En Enfer) from his friend Max, a bouquiniste, a bookseller with a stall alongside the Seine. While there, he sees another bookseller being harassed, and, when he returns (having found an ATM) with the cash to pay for the books, a stranger named Nica arrives—and he is clearly no friend of Max. After Nica and Max walk down to the Seine, Marston becomes concerned, goes after then, and Nica draws an icepick and holds it threateningly over Max’s eyes. Following a brief struggle. Marston is on the ground and Nica has shoved Max into the Seine, where they are picked up by a cruising riverboat.
Marston calls the police, who, when they arrive, are not too impressed with his account.
From this beginning, Marston is pulled into his own investigation of what’s going on, including discoveries about the SPB, the organization that actually owns and leases out the stalls; Claudia, a young, beautiful crime reporter; his old FBI (now semi-retired from the CIS) buddy Tom, Claudia’s husband, a French count, and a copy of Clausewitz’s On War.
The suspense is well-maintained throughout; even after we know essentially what is happening to the bouquiniste, and why, and who is behind it. For a first novel, this is more than impressive, it’s a tour de force. Marston is a well-developed character (and I am hoping Tom and Claudia will be continuing characters), and the setting and situation are better than well done. I read The Button Man first and enjoyed it. This is a considerably better story, and it bodes well for the series as a while.