Mark Pryor has released his second novel in the Hugo Marston mystery series, The Crypt Thief: A Hugo Marston Novel. Pryor, currently an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, also has a true-crime blog D.A. Confidential, as well as authoring these set-in-Paris modern policiers.
American Hugo Marston is the head of security at the United States Embassy in Paris. During the course of his investigations into a mysterious double-murder at the famed tourist destination, the Père Lachaise cemetery, Hugo becomes convinced that it may be just one in a sequence of escalating murders — and there is no time to lose as the killer is counting down to a dangerous finale. He is sometimes helped, sometimes hindered, by his friend Tom Green, who is associated with the CIA, Paris policeman Capitaine Raul Garcia, and inquiring reporter and old flame Claudia de Roussillon.
The characters of Hugo and his local policeman friend Raul Garcia have a genuine rapport and are likable. They also share one of the best and suspenseful sequences in the book, when they are trapped together in a burning building.
What doesn’t work:
Hugo’s friend Tom is beyond annoying, and his ersatz love interest Claudia keeps turning up on cue and is irritating in the extreme. If Hugo and Claudia had any chemistry in the first book, The Bookseller, it has long since been diluted.
I wasn’t completely convinced by Hugo’s Paris. The author and his hero seemed most comfortable when they were in the Père Lachaise cemetery, or out of town chasing clues. Familiar landmarks like Place Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge were visited or alluded to, but remained foggy background. This is not the sort of book that will make a Francophile exclaim, “Yes, that’s my Paris.”
The Crypt Thief would have been a more engaging read if Pryor had included more Paris history. Jane Avril, La Goulue, and the Moulin Rouge are alluded to as being central to the mystery, but then dropped as the focus turns to the outlandish and unbelievable villain and his increasingly stomach-turning crimes. Pryor chooses to follow his creepy killer and Hugo through a mythical subterranean Paris, while throwing in a flimsy terrorist subplot to make things even murkier.
The book’s pace moves quickly enough, and the central criminal, a sort-of serial killer who seems as interested in digging up dead bones as killing live bodies, is certainly repellant, in the tradition of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter and villains in Douglas Preston’s and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast series (Relic, The Cabinet of Curiosities, The Book of the Dead, etc.), but he is hardly a criminal mastermind, or ultimately compelling. Maybe better luck next time. Hugo Marston is due to come back in an all new mystery — there is already a third book in the works, The Blood Promise, due to be released in January 2014. Hopefully Pryor will have Hugo ditch his boring friends Tom and Claudia and team up solely with Chief Garcia to solve the case.