Hugo Marston, head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Paris, puts his life in danger when he investigates the murder of a celebrated artist, all the while fending off an assassin looking to settle an old score against him. Hugo Marston accompanies his boss, US Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, to the first night of an art exhibition in Montmartre, Paris. Hugo is less than happy about going until he finds out that the sculptures on display are made from his favorite medium: books. Soon after the champagne starts to flow and the canapes are served, the night takes a deadly turn when one of the guests is found murdered. Hugo lingers at the scene and offers his profiling expertise to help solve the crime, but the detective in charge quickly jumps to his own conclusions. He makes an arrest, but it's someone that Hugo is certain is innocent. Meanwhile, his best friend, Tom Green, has disappeared to Amsterdam, hunting an enemy from their past, an enemy who gets the upper hand on Tom, and who then sets his sights on Hugo. With an innocent person behind bars, a murder to solve, and his own life in danger, Hugo knows he has no time to waste as one killer tries to slip away, and another gets closer and closer.
About the Author
Mark Pryor is the author of the Hugo Marston novels, The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief, The Blood Promise, The Button Man, The Reluctant Matador, The Paris Librarian, and The Sorbonne Affair, as well as Hollow Man and Dominic. He has also published the true-crime book As She Lay Sleeping. A native of Hertfordshire, England, Pryor is an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
Hugo Marston held the door open for the young woman as she came into the foyer of the apartment building, bundled up as she was against the rain and cold. A shopping bag dangled from one of her wrists, and she held a small, white dog in the crook of her other arm.
“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Errico,” he said, standing aside so she could get out of the cold and all the way into the lobby of their apart-ment building.
“Oh, Monsieur Marston,” she blushed. “And good evening to you, too.”
Hugo gave her a smile and ducked out onto Rue Jacob. He was normally the friendly sort, especially with people in his building, but Miss Errico was new there and had delayed Hugo with her chatter on too many occasions for him to misread the signals. As pretty as she was, chatty, dog-carrying twenty-five-year-olds were not on his radar.
He pulled his coat around him as the chill seeped in, and his fedora kept the light rain out of his eyes as he made his way toward the River Seine. His path was illuminated by the glow from the store fronts, and occasional streetlamps overhead.
Perfect weather for reading by the fire, he thought, as he turned onto Rue des Saints-Pères.
No chance. Tonight was the US Embassy’s Christmas party, and senior staff were required to be on hand no matter what. Hugo had asked if the flu might exempt him from attending, and he’d been told by a frowning Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, “Death might exempt you. Absolutely nothing short of that.”
Truthfully, it was one of those events that Hugo loved to hate. For a people-watcher like him, a former FBI profiler no less, it was like a biologist watching a herd’s annual migration or, in quite a few instances, a yearly and elaborate mating ritual.
At such events, Hugo played a game with himself, guessing who was who by how they behaved. Some were employees of the embassy; those he didn’t know personally, he identified by the way they sipped carefully at their drinks so as not to imbibe too much, by how attentive they were to their spouses, and how jovial they were with their colleagues. But mostly he recognized them by the way they kept one eye on outside guests. Hugo saw it in their expressions and knew that the diplomatic DNA in their blood mandated it.
At least Claudia would be there. Journalist, French nobility, beautiful, funny, and sexy. Also harder to pin down than a black belt in judo, at least when it came to dating. It was as if she were from another generation, one so much younger, where relationships were flexible and uncategorized. He was hoping to talk to her tonight in a quiet corner, to try and gauge a little bit better where they stood. He’d told her so over the phone that morning, and she’d laughed her gentle, sexy laugh, that was made all the more husky by the cold she was fighting.
“Oh, Hugo, I love the old-fashioned man that lives inside you.”
“It’s not old-fashioned,” he’d protested. “I just want to know where I stand.”
“Six foot two and dashingly handsome,” she purred back. “And I can’t wait to see the most gorgeous man in my life tonight.”
That was something at least, quite a compliment from a woman who’d been designated as one of Paris’s most eligible women for several years running.
Hugo turned onto Quai Voltaire, where the wind was oddly calmer but the cold more biting, and he pictured his loyal colleagues looking out at the guests who enjoyed the party the most—the expat business community, which was always well-represented and never afraid to cut a little loose. That was one of the reasons Hugo was there. He was head of security and carried a gun everywhere he went, but sometimes his role was more hands-on, literally, like steering the grabby CEO away from the young diplomat’s wife, or leading the inebriated heiress to a comfy couch.
He started across Pont du Carrousel but stopped halfway to look down at the waters of the Seine. She was his reason to pause in the middle of any walk, and no matter how many times he gazed at her, she came with a sense of uncertainty because the River Seine always changed. She ran through the heart of Paris, a looping, swirling artery that pulsed into and out of the city day and night, moody and unpredictable.
Tonight she seemed angry, or maybe just impatient. Her waters were brown and churned between the concrete banks, small but furious swells chasing each other down, smothering those in front, hunting farther, dragging down braches and other debris and sweeping them under the bridge, out of view beneath his feet.
Hugo straightened as his phone rang.
“Hello? Tom? Where are you?” he asked.
Tom Green. Former CIA spook, ex-FBI, current womanizer, sometime-drunk, foul-mouthed, but always, always disrespectful of authority. Also, Hugo’s best friend for the past couple of decades.
“Amsterdam. This place is fucking nuts; you should come out here.”
Quite apart from socializing being one of his main roles as US ambassador to France, that sort of thing came naturally to J. Bradford Taylor. The man was as ordinary-looking as anyone you could meet, but he was a true extrovert, and with a steel trap for a memory. Hugo had seen him dredge up the name of someone he’d met just once, two years previously. This was possibly a function of Taylor’s previous life with the CIA’s clandestine operations, but also a natural gift.
Hugo chuckled. “Never fear; I’ll be there. I’m just running a few minutes late. Oh, and then Tom phoned me to slow me down.” ...
The ambassador cleared his throat. “Would you like to explain what Tom is doing in Amsterdam?”
Drugs and hookers would be my guess.”
“We have those here.”
“Yeah, but that place is famous for them. And you know Tom—he likes variety.”
“Hugo, he tore up some guy’s hotel room.”
“Oh, he did?” Hugo said, surprised.
“He did,” the ambassador said.
“I just got off the phone with him, and he mentioned . . . finding someone and checking out his room. He didn’t describe it the way you did, though.”
“Well, he wouldn’t, would he?” Taylor said, sounding frustrated.
“How did you hear about this?” Hugo asked.
“Let’s just say that when a former CIA operative goes off the reservation, other former CIA operatives are usually the first to find out.”
“Then there’s probably little I can tell you that you don’t already know.”
“I know what’s in the file. And we both know those things contain what their authors want them to contain.”
Hugo paused for a moment. “You know, boss, there’s a reason we have this don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. It’s good for both of us.”
“It is until I start getting dragged into your mess,” Taylor said. Then his voice softened. “Look, I’m not just your boss; I’m also your friend. Just tell me what I need to know to help you, to help Tom. I don’t want something exploding in my backyard and have no idea what it is or what I’m supposed to do. No judgment, I promise, I just want to be able to help if that time comes.”
Hugo spotted a break in the traffic, and he trotted across the street. A breath of chilly wind wrapped itself around his throat, then slipped off and away like an icy scarf.
“OK,” he said. “We could probably use a little help with this one. Let me find a taxi and I’ll get back to you.”
Excerpted from "The Book Artist"
Copyright © 2019 Mark Pryor.
Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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