(Bookstalls along the Seine River in Paris)
I have always been attracted to any mystery that has “books” in their title, or involved a plot centered on some aspect of dealing with books. When I learned of Mark Pryor’s novel, THE BOOKSELLER I was extremely curious. With a former FBI profiler named Hugo Marston working as the head of security at the American embassy in Paris, Pryor has created a strong character and a wonderful story line in his first novel. From the outset, when a Parisian bookseller, named Max Koche is abducted from his kiosk on the Seine River after selling two rare books to Marston, I was hooked. The plot is very suspenseful and mystery addicts will be extremely satisfied with Pryor’s effort as a French detective is summoned to investigate the bookseller’s disappearance and seems quite uninterested in pursuing the case.
What drives Marston to distraction was the police’s refusal to investigate Max’s kidnapping which occurred right in front of him, claiming that Max went with his captors willingly. Marston researches the French criminal data base and learns that Jean Chabot, who claims that Max’s kiosk belonged to him, had a long criminal record. Marston will turn to a former FBI colleague and now a part time CIA operative, Tom Green for assistance. The banter between the two is humorous and entertaining as the two try to figure out what really happened. They learn that Max was really Maximillian Ivan Koche who spent part of World War II in a French internment camp in the southern part of the country controlled by the Vichy government. His family had been sent to Dachau in July, 1944 and were liberated in 1945. After the war Max would work with Nazi hunter, Serge Klarsfeld and assisted in the seizure of former Gestapo Chief Kurt Lischka in 1971. Further, he was involved in the capture of Klaus Barbie, the “butcher of Lyon,” and Jean Leguay, a high Vichy government official. For the remainder of his career Max focused on “outing” former Vichy collaborators. Once Marston learns Max’s background his approach to his investigation changes and the novel gathers momentum.
Pryor introduces a number of interesting characters. Claudia Roux, a French journalist and police reporter for Le Monde. Count Gerard de Roussillon, Claudia’s father, a member of the French aristocracy with many secrets. Bruno Gravois, who was in charge of the kiosks along the Seine River for the Chambre and Office of Tourisme, a shady character who secretly tries to gain control of all the Kiosks along the Seine. The police provide a number of important characters, particularly Capitaine Garcia, who finally agrees that something untoward has happened as a number of kiosk sellers turn up dead floating in the Seine. Pryor builds his plot around the idea that during World War II, the French Resistance passed messages by code hidden in certain books. For Max locating those books, which contained the names of French collaborators was an obsession as he focused on making those names public to bring shame and justice for their treason during the war. Pryor then introduces the possibility that events center on a Romanian organized drug ring, but how is that related to booksellers?
curiosity builds as Marston and Green grow more frustrated. If you are looking for a quick and engrossing mystery with a tour of Paris and a surprising ending then THE BOOKSELLER is for you. Pryor has written five other novels, the most recent of which is THE PARIS LIBRARIAN, all of which have sparked my interest.