Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor

First Sentence:  The note sat beside his coffeemaker, the elegant handwriting unmistakable.
Hugo Marston's friend asks him for a favour.  Her friend, a journalist, wants to write a book about a famous actress who was allegedly a spy during WWI.  Her collection of papers has been donated to the American Library in Paris.  When Hugo goes to meet his friend in charge of the collection, he finds the friend’s dead body inside a locked room in the basement.  Although ruled natural causes, Hugo is suspicious, and all the more so when another person dies.  Who is really behind these deaths and what is the motive?
Coming late into a series, one appreciates an author who quickly, and naturally, provides details about the protagonist, their job, and their relationships.  Pryor does that very well and in an economical fashion.  However, the best thing we discover about Marston is his passion for rare first editions.  Pryor captures perfectly the feeling book lovers have—“Hugo had often thought libraries were akin to places of worship, his version of church, where reverence and peace enveloped him like a blanket.”
The diversity of the characters is refreshing, as is the matter-of-fact way in which they are handled.  Hugo’s observations and deductions are fun and remind us how much is evident if we take the time to observe—“Hugo winked. “Elementary, my dear Tom.  Those pictures of him online, he’s wearing nice clothes, expensive ones.  And three different watches, all more than I can afford.  But for a journalist his work is sparse and not very high-profile, so he has disposable income but isn’t married and isn’t a big shot.”  “Hence, family.” 
There is an excellent insight about war—“In a real war, in that real war, the truth was more complicated.  People did what they had to do to survive.  People did things they were later ashamed of, but at the time maybe they had no choice.”  We are given several small truths such as—“A colleague of his at the FBI had once told Hugo that if all you had were questions and no answers, you were looking in the wrong direction, seeding the wrong thing.”--and—“Anytime an accident turns out to be murder, well, you wonder if you’ve discovered a moment of evil.”--which provide insight both to the character and to the author himself.  For those who have not read previous books in the series, there is a nice summary of Hugo’s history with the FBI that explains some of his skills.
There is also humor, delightfully wry humour and very good dialogue—“…when Hugo slipped into the front seat he was surprised to hear the man introduce himself in English. “Paul Jameson.  Nice to meet you, sir.”  Hugo shook his hand. “You’re English?” “God no,” Jameson said with a wink. “Scotsman.” “Hugo laughed. “Sorry for the offense.” “Just don’t let it happen again,” Jameson said.” 
Pryor incorporates French phrases with their English translations throughout the story.  Doing so, along with the mention of famous streets and landmarks, establishes the sense of place and adds veracity to the book.  The phrases also provide a bit of a French language lesson, n'est-ce pas?  Being in Paris, there is also food, tantalizing food such as puff pastry filled with fois gras.  There is a delightful inside joke which some may catch.  Authors published by Seventh Street often include references to fellow Seventh Street authors. In this case, it's Terry Shames and James Ziskin.  

Hugo is a very interesting and appealing character.  However, it's his girlfriend, Camille, one may wish had been more present.  She is a wonderful character.
 “The Paris Librarian” is a very well-done mystery with skillful red herrings and one of the best rescue scenes ever.

      Pryor, Mark – 6th in series
      Seventh Street Books – Aug 2016


  1. Checked out on Goodreads, where summaries refer to spying during WWII rather than WWI.