Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Hugo Marston Investigation #5: THE RELUCTANT MATADOR, Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor's French mystery series, featuring U.S. Embassy security pro Hugo Marston, tackles the worst nightmare of any parent of a teen or young adult who heads for Europe: When your child stops answering the cell phone, how soon should you panic, who should you call, and how will you convince the police in another country (and language) that you know your grown child has not taken a vacation from being in touch with you -- something dangerous and frightening has happened to him ... or, in THE RELUCTANT MATADOR, to her. This time it's young Amy Dreiss who should be meeting Hugo for an American-style breakfast in Paris, Hugo's rare chance to catch up on real pancakes. But the young woman doesn't turn up, doesn't even call. Hugo's not inclined to panic -- his job in Embassy security in Paris has shown him the many ways a young tourist can forget to stay in touch with her parents' friends, even for a meal.

Besides, Hugo has his hands full, acting "in loco parentis" to his good friend Tom, an American "spook" who stays with Hugo in Paris when possible. Looks like Tom's been on another bender, and this time he's hit a policewoman. How far should Hugo go, to bail him out? Will any of his scolding actually get Tom to stay sober long enough to partner in security and investigations?

There's no time to test this, because a panicked call from young Amy's dad sends Hugo racing for to track down Amy. And the only way to keep an eye on Tom and keep him off the bottle is to take him along: first to Amy's empty apartment, then to search for the Spanish man who might have offered Amy a "modeling" job. Uh-oh.
"Field trip?" Tom said hopefully.

"We don't know she's there for sure, or where in Spain if she is. ... We can take a local field trip."

"Where to?"

"The club where Amy met this Spanish dude."

"What kind of club?"

"No idea, but it's in Pigalle."

"I don't know if that's a good idea," Tom said. They both knew that Pigalle had two faces, the saucy, playful one that showed in the day, and the darker, raunchier one that emerged at night. Any club out there was likely to dangle temptations in front of Tom that he didn't need. "You know the name of the place, I assume?" Tom asked.

"Club Caterina. Familiar with it?"

"No. But I can't remember half the places I've gotten wasted in."

"Well then," said Hugo. "We'll just have to behave ourselves and hope they don't remember you."
Turns out that's not the problem -- the real complication is, Amy didn't just visit that bar, with its brass dance poles and sleazy ambience, trolling for modeling work. Umm ... she danced there. Taking her clothes off for every work shift.

Soon enough, Hugo and Tom figure out that Amy must be in Spain with "that dude." Of her own free will? Or absconded and pressed into prostitution or other sleazy efforts? As the risks pile up -- maybe a ring of kidnappers serving the hot market in young American flesh, or worse -- the investigators race to Barcelona and immediately rub the Spanish police the wrong way, slowing their race to save Amy and turning up a dead young woman. Is it Amy? If not, where is she, and how fast can they find her, before terrible things happen?

Mark Pryor's series featuring Hugo Marston is a great way to armchair-explore Europe; his earlier four titles have covered a lot of ground in France, both urban and rural, as well as some diversions elsewhere. This plunge into Spanish policing and culture adds fresh spice to the series -- this is the fifth book, and no, you don't need to read the others before this one. But I've enjoyed them all. Pryor walks the fine line of a traditional crime investigation without extremes of gore, adding just enough reality of the evil and losses that deadly crimes bring with them. And Marston is in some ways an "amateur sleuth" because his U.S. Embassy work isn't supposed to put him into a police role -- but in other ways he's a seasoned pro with an FBI past and a grasp of how to work with other police forces.

Pryor's own background -- he grew up in Europe, worked as a crime and police reporter, and moved to the US in 1994, adding a law degree and becoming an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas --
keeps the details well grounded, and the pace and twists of THE RELUCTANT MATADOR are tight and engaging. Best of all, he provides memorable investigators worth following: not just Tom's efforts to get sober and do the dark work around Hugo's careful diplomacy, but also Hugo's own personality, determined to save, rescue, coordinate ... but also very worried about his love life, uncertain of how to woo or win the smart and elegant woman who's captured his attention. Add a fiercely competent Barcelona investigator to the blend, and the action never stops. Risk, danger, and fast thinking -- and oh yes, that diplomacy that Hugo is supposed to have mastered, they all are needed if Amy is to have a chance at surviving her mistakes.

From Seventh Street Books, which has developed a really good line of crime fiction: check it out. And here's Mark Pryor's website, also worth a visit.

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