Tag Archives: mark pryor

Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

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The Paris Librarian

The Paris Librarian

Title:  The Paris Librarian (Hugo Marston 6)
Author:  Mark Pryor
Publisher:  Seventh Street Books
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-63388-177-8

Book Summary:
Hugo Marston receives a call from friend Paul Rogers at the American Library in Paris about an upcoming book sale.  Although the library’s twice monthly sales often include books well out of an embassy security agent’s salary, Paul informs Hugo that a first edition, autographed In Cold Blood is available and Hugo promises to stop by to check it out.  Paul directs him to a small storage room, he calls the atelier, in the basement, where he hides out every morning to write his book.  However, when Hugo arrives, the door is locked and Paul doesn’t answer.  After searching the library for his friend, Hugo’s concern is great enough to ask Michael Harmuth, the assistant director of the library, to help him into the room.  The men are shocked to find Paul dead, and given his history of a heart condition, the cause is understood to be natural.

Something does not sit right with Hugo though and he calls his friend Lieutenant Camille Lerens from the Brigade Criminelle for her assistance.  As she has a new recruit, she grudgingly agrees to check out the scene and provide an opportunity for her recruit to test out his sleuthing skills.  Although nothing out of the ordinary is found, when a janitor collapses and almost dies the next day in the library, more questions are raised.  When another related death occurs, it is apparent that there is much more to the story.

At the same time, old friend Merlyn arrives back on the scene with friend Miki Harrison.  Miki is a freelance journalist researching a book about movie star Isabelle Severin.  Recently, Severin was admitted to an elderly care facility.  At that time, most of her personal papers and past correspondence were donated to the American Library.  Severin’s history as an actress is well-known, but rumors have circulated that Severin was also a spy for the Allies during the war and was able to use her star power to pass secrets from the Vichy government to the Americans, the British, and the Resistance.  There is even a story that when two Gestapo officers caught her delivering secrets, she killed one of them with his own dagger.  Miki is determined to search through the papers and artifacts, and hopefully find the evidence of her involvement and perhaps even the dagger itself.

Hugo becomes embroiled in both the mystery of his friend Paul’s death and the rumors of the Severin collection.  When the possibility of a link between the two mysteries leads Hugo down a different path, it becomes clear that the history behind this case is one that the guilty party does not want solved and is actively eliminating threats to its discovery.

Book Commentary:                       
This is the sixth book in the Hugo Marston series and it does not disappoint.  Hugo is a very likeable character with a true sense of honor and loyalty.  He ingratiates himself into the investigations without being pushy or obnoxious, and although other characters may find him a bit annoying, it is never out of malice or arrogance.  His naturally perceptive nature enables him to not just observe the evidence and anomalies, but also to piece them together.

This story had Hugo working more closely with Camille Lerens than in some previous books and I really enjoyed the contrast between her hard-fought acceptance as an investigator and Parisian perspective and Hugo’s American inquisitiveness and Southern charm.  They really make a formidable pair.  Camille has her own secret, but you are going to have to read to find that out.

It was fun to see Merlyn again; she is a free-thinking, yet secretive young woman we were first introduced to in The Button Man.  Her youth and rather bohemian lifestyle provide a humorous contrast to Hugo’s more staid demeanor.  Hugo’s friend Tom and on/off girlfriend Claudia also make appearances; however, on a much smaller scale.

Pryor is a great storyteller and he pulls the reader in with just enough clues to keep us hooked.

Who might like this book:
I am pleased to have gotten my husband hooked on the Hugo Marston books; he definitely appeals to both male and female readers.  I did warn him though that there was one big plus in this story, and one big negative.  The plus was a hint at the end about a future story involving Tom and Hugo that digs up something from their past.  I love their rather unusual friendship and shared history and can’t wait to read about a past adventure.  The negative was that after reading about the American Library in Paris, I now need to go.

You must start at the beginning of the series and read the books in order.  Seriously.  I won’t talk to you if you don’t.

The Hugo Marston books in order:
The Bookseller
The Crypt Thief
The Blood Promise
The Button Man
The Reluctant Matador

Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

BookPeople

I’ve spent every afternoon this past week wandering, reading, and writing in the wonderful BookPeople Independent Bookstore in Austin, Texas.  I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of bookstores and I know what I like, and don’t like, in a bookstore.  Here are four things that I love about independent bookstores.

Four THINGS I LOVE ABOUT INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES on Friday

Lots of books but specific specialties
A bookstore needs to have books, obviously, but too often the larger chain books stores have a huge variety of different genres but little depth within the genre.  BookPeople has an amazing children’s section; Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, highlights new fiction; and Murder by the Book in Houston . . . well, that is self-explanatory.  What I love is that these bookstores realize that they can’t be everything to everyone so they embrace one or a few genres and really provide great depth and understanding to that genre.

I have also found the even if a certain genre isn’t their genre, independent bookstores can provide books that a bit off the beaten path.  I find the mystery section at BookPeople to focus less on cozy and mainstream mysteries, but instead I have found more international authors or less known series.  It was at BookPeople that I discovered Mark Pryor, Brad Parks, and M. L. Longworth.

Employees are true book lovers
I think there is a box on the application for independent bookstores that states employees MUST love books.  I find that employees that I have spoken with are well-read and happy to share advice or suggestions, but they also understand that sometimes customers just want to peruse.  Some employees of the larger chain bookstores are knowledgeable, but I often find that they aren’t as passionate about what they selling as I am about what I am reading.

I love to talk to a bookseller and state a few of my favorite authors.  A good bookseller can understand the interests of a reader based on favorites and provide ideas for new authors.

Not extraneous “junk”
Independent bookstores sell books . . . not covers for Nooks, not Harry Potter Legos, not action figures or educational games . . . books.  Precious floorspace is filled with books.  Now, you will find the occasional writing journal, books themed t-shirts, and quirky tchotchkes that compliment a book purchase or book gift, but the real reason anyone enters the door is to look at books!

Welcoming places to read, enjoy, and get lost in the books
Chairs and couches stuck in odd corners, quiet nooks to settle in, stools to ascend tall shelves or sit on as you investigate the lower shelves.  The environment has soothing classic music playing and the atmosphere is one of relaxation and enjoyment.  Not as quiet as a library, but still soothing and inviting.

Independent bookstores also seem to have the best cafes!  Tasty treats and delectable drinks to enjoy while reading.  Books, chocolate, and tea . . .  ah, perfection!

How about you?  What are your favorite independent bookstores?

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

maps

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

France
Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?

The Reluctant Matador (Hugo Marston 5)

Title: The Reluctant Matador (Hugo Marston 5)
Author: Mark Pryor
Publisher: Seventh Street Books
Publication Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-63388-002-3

Book Summary:
Hugo Marston plans to meet Amy, daughter of his good friend Bart Denum, at a café in Paris. When the 19-year-old aspiring model doesn’t show, Hugo begins to make some inquires. As a security chief at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Hugo knows a few things about stories and Amy’s doesn’t seem to add up. He comes to discover that instead of modeling, she is working as an exotic dancer, and she has left Paris for Barcelona with a shady character. Amy is more than just Bart’s daughter, she was the only survivor in a car crash that killed both Hugo and Bart’s wives many years earlier.

Enlisting the aid of his brilliant, yet unpredictable, friend former CIA agent Tom Green, the two travel to Barcelona in search of their only clue: the man who Amy left with. They gain the attention of the Barcelona Police Force when they are caught breaking into the company who employs the man. Their troubles increase when they discover the body of a man and standing over him is Bart Denum. Bart proclaims his innocence but the Barcelona authorities arrest him for murder.

In a race against time, Hugo, Tom, journalist friend Claudia, and the Barcelona Police must work together to find the real killer, prove Bart’s innocence, and discover Amy’s whereabouts before there is any more violence. What they discover is treachery and violence on a much grander scale and the stakes are even greater.

Book Commentary:
I discovered the Hugo Marston series at Book People in Austin; Mark Pryor is a Texas author. With stories set in Paris, I was intrigued by his first book because it dealt with old books and booksellers along the Seine. I immediately was intrigued by Hugo’s complex, yet inviting personality. The perspective on an American in Paris combined with a “non-stuffy” police crime story provides a unique twist. Hugo’s friend Tom is both a brilliant and broken; his character adds a tragic comic feel. There is a great combination of adventure and character development that keeps the reader engaged. It is fascinating to see how politics and police procedurals vary in different countries but the stories do not bog the reader down in procedurals.

The relationship between Hugo and Claudia has also developed over the course of the books and her role as both a female and a journalist presents yet another interesting angle.

Who might like this book:
The plot in The Reluctant Matador is complex but not convoluted. There is a lot of adventure and Hugo is truly a likeable character. I have never been to Paris but upon reading these books, I really get the feel of what life is like there.

I am always amazed and impressed by authors who write so confidently about different countries and really make the reader feel like they are immersed in that locale. Mark Pryor is a Brit, living in Texas, and writing about Barcelona and Paris. Readers who enjoy a good adventure crime story with great characters and a fascinating setting may enjoy these books.

I highly recommend starting at the beginning of the series and reading the books in order.
The Bookseller
The Crypt Thief
The Blood Promise
The Button Man