Books: The Bookseller

I was attracted to this novel largely because of the word “book” in the title. I thought I vaguely remembered having read good reviews of The Bookseller, but I really knew nothing about it except what I could see on the cover. Books are involved somehow, and this is the first book about Hugo Marston, which implies there will be more. Good enough reasons to check it out from the library.

There really is less about books than I might have liked. The books that are discussed are prized more for their value as collectibles (or for other, mysterious reasons that may or may not be connected to a man’s death), rather than for the ideas expressed in them.

But it’s a well-written mystery. I was surprised to learn, after finishing the book, that it was Mark Pryor’s first novel. Hugo Marston is a likeable enough character, though it’s hard to know what to make of his friend Tom.

Some reader reviews claim the storyline is not very believable. I have little idea what kind of behavior to expect from wealthy aristocrats, French police, or leaders of organized crime. So I found it believable enough to just enjoy the story and wait to see what in the world it all had to do with Parisian booksellers.

For some readers, the fact that the book is set in Paris is a draw. I thought it might be, but frankly I recognized little of the Paris described by Pryor from my own week-long visit in December 1983.

(I tried not to spend too much of my time just on tourist-y stuff – I did visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, but I also had very little money for shopping or dining out. Mostly I walked a lot and took pictures, and decided how many books by RenĂ© Goscinny I could afford to buy and carry around in my backpack.)

I suppose for people more familiar with Paris it would be enjoyable to recognize the streets and cafes and read the detailed descriptions. For me it was more detail than I needed, and it did little to bring the story to life for me.

I had hoped there might be more about differences between American and French cultures, but there is not much. The French police captain explains that Americans shouldn’t expect crime investigations to be like what Americans are used to seeing in movies and on TV – but then, I don’t think American crime investigations are much like that either.

Whatever its shortcomings, however, I found it an interesting and enjoyable mystery. There is more emphasis on the intellectual aspects of solving a mystery, less on the acts of violence themselves (as some mysteries I have read seem to glory in).

So if at some point I see a second Hugo Marston novel in the library, I will probably check it out also.

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