(Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery)
Paris, a late summer evening when two unsuspecting tourists in search of Jim Morrison’s grave site in the Pere Lachaise cemetery are murdered. So begins Mark Pryor’s second installment of his Hugo Marston series, THE CRYPT THIEF. Marston, a former FBI profiler and chief of security at the American embassy in Paris is called into the ambassador’s office and told that one of the murder victims is Maxwell Holmes, the son of a US senator who was about to begin an internship at the embassy; the other is an Egyptian woman named Hanna Elserdi. Later the action shifts to another cemetery, nine hours from Paris in the small town of Castet where the night watchman, named Duguay is murdered. It seems that all three murders were committed by the same man.
It turns out that the Egyptian girl is Pakistani, from Karachi and her real name is Abida Kiam. She had traveled to Paris with Mohammad Al-Zakiri, the son of a prominent mullah in Pakistan whose views were pro-al-Qaeda and Taliban. His alias was Pierre Labor, an Egyptian-Frenchman. Marston argues that the murders might all be a coincidence and not acts of terrorism, something that Senator Norris Holmes cannot accept.
The author does a nice job reintegrating characters from his first novel, THE BOOKSELLER. We become reacquainted with Tom Green, Marston’ wisecracking and unpredictable former CIA operative who still consults for the American intelligence agency. Capitale Raul Garcia of the Paris Police Department returns to renew his relationship with Marston when they worked on solving the murder of Max, a poor bookseller who sold books from his kiosk along the Siene River. Marston’s former lover/girlfriend, Claudia, a newspaper reporter reenters his life as she covers the cemetery murders. Soon, Marston will learn that in addition to the murders, a crypt has been robbed of the skeletal remains of the famous dancer, Jane Avril who had been buried over seventy years ago.
Early in the novel a number of questions confront Marston. First, what is the relationship between the murdered American and the woman who accompanied him and the crypt robber? Second, what role does international terrorism play in his investigation, if any. Further, when a number of crypts are broken into to steal the bones of dead can-can girls, is it related to the overall investigation or is it something even more bizarre occurring, particularly when the killer is leaving an Egyptian scarab beetle at each murder scene. It becomes a race to the next cemetery to prevent what seems to be a serial killer from taking more lives, and “bones.”
As one reads on one gets the sense of Pryor’s views of terrorist threats and how they germinate. The treatment of Al-Zakiri by CIA operatives, who act first, then investigate thoroughly is important as it provides evidence as to why the United States is seen so negatively in the Islamic world. Marston’s measured approach is one that the author believes the US should take when dealing with a possible terrorist threat. Pryor also raises the issue of a free press during an investigation that could lead to a terrorist attack. What role should journalists play, particularly when their actions could endanger people? It is a tough call, but common sense should prevail, but at times that is not the case.
Pryor provides a well-crafted story, though his character development is weaker than his first Marston novel. But the intrigue created by the grave robber/murderer will keep the reader’s attention. The story is complex and eerie at times and should not be read right before you go to sleep, however despite what seems to be a predictable ending, the book is worth the read.
(Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery)