Monday, February 20, 2017

Mark Pryor, The Button Man

Mark Pryor, The Button Man
Seventh Street Books © 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-944-9

Hugo Marston, former FBI agent who specialized in serial killers, has become the chief of security at the US embassy in London.  He gets what is probably an unusual assignment.  Two American film stars (husband and wife), Dayton Harper and Ginny Ferro, have been arrested following the hit-and-run death of a prominent farmer’s son.  They are about to be released from custody, on bail and into the keeping of the American embassy.  The ambassador wants Marston to pick them up and keep them safely out of trouble in his quarters in the embassy compound.

Marston was late to his meeting with the ambassador, because he detoured to look at a 100+ year-old murder scene and, while cutting through an old cemetery, had discovered a body, its head covered by a silk sack, hanging from a tree.  But he reluctantly accepts this new assignment, and goes to pick Harper up.  It turns out that through a clerical error , Ferro was released some hours earlier, and no one knows where she is.  Marston gets Harper back to the embassy compound, where they learn (coincidence? Suicide? Murder, and if so, why?) that the body that Ferro found was that of Ferro.  Harper, understandably, freaks out.
And then (having telephoned earlier) a Member of Parliament shows up—Graham Stopford-Pendrith, who has essentially renounced a title to serve in the Commons.  He was with MI5, and his legislative hobbyhorse is to release aging cons as a money-saving gimmick for the Treasury.  They all chat and then, as a gesture aimed at placating Harper, they pile into the embassy’s Escalade for a drive around London.  Harper escapes and disappears.  And Marston has to find him.

So it becomes a chase.  Marston winds up with the assistance of Merlyvn, a young woman who has jobs at both the hotels at which Harper and Ferro had rooms.  They are followed by a 60-ish free-lance journalist, Harry Walton, who wants the story about Harper and his wife.  It remains a chase basically to the end.  Along the way, more people die or almost die, and Marston becomes convinced that the killer is not Harper, but someone else, acting on what is, through most of the book, an obscure motive.

The Button Man is actually the 4th Marston book (of now 6 in the series), but it is set briefly before the events in the first in the series (The Bookseller, 2012), so I decided to start with it.  Pryor does a very good job with the setting (although I think he overemphasizes the extent of the rain in England, if my tourist experience is worth anything).  I had fairly high expectations for the book, based on reviews I have read of the rest of the series, and, which it was good, it was not as good as I had hoped.  Marston felt sort of incomplete as a character (and I’m not quite sure what I mean by that) and the reliance on a serial killer with a distinctive motivation (I’ll give hm credit for that) was a drawback—I’m not a big fan of serial killer books.  Still, I look forward to reading The Bookseller, and, I hope, the rest of the series.

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