I love it when books come with their very own mysteries. This month I bought a used copy of Mark Pryor’s “The Paris Librarian,” and when I began to read it, out fell a boarding pass from a United flight in 2014. Its owner, who I shall call “V” as that is her first initial, flew from Kona, Hawaii, to San Francisco, in a middle seat in economy. Was there a story behind this trip? A forbidden romantic tryst? A crime scene fled? A flight to the other half of a secret double life? A panicked escape? I pictured V, using her boarding pass as a bookmark while she read a mystery to while away the time. Was she anxious? Was the book just a prop so as to avoid calling attention to herself? Or … have I just read too many mysteries?
The only question I can answer for sure is that final one, and undoubtedly that answer is yes. I suspect V’s trip was entirely run-of-the-mill … maybe. Boarding passes, alas, tell no tales.
Anyway, “The Paris Librarian” was good fun. It’s No. 6 in Pryor’s Hugo Marston series, and I suppose I should have started at the beginning (the book is full of references to previous installments), but I was drawn to the title. Said librarian is Paul Rogers, who quicker than you can say “Bonjour!” is found dead in a locked room in the American Library in Paris; Marston, a former FBI agent who now works security at the U.S. Embassy, is grieved by the loss of his friend and starts poking into the circumstances of his death.
And those circumstances are indeed complicated, involving various employees of the library, an elderly expatriate 1940s movie star (shades of the late Olivia de Havilland), some way-too-clever journalists and rather a lot of croissants. Along the way I enjoyed spending time with Marston, who has Holmes-like deduction capabilities — a scene where he deftly reads a Les Deux Magots waiter like a book is a treat — and an endearing love of libraries.
Moving along: Last month’s column on book-within-the-book mysteries (brought about by my love of Elly Griffiths’ “The Stranger Diaries” and Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders”) inspired a few suggestions from readers. To wit:
- A.S. Byatt’s Booker Prize-winning 1990 novel “Possession,” which a reader ably argued could be considered a mystery (albeit an academic one), with “two developing romances one-hundred-odd years apart, wonderful villains (though not murderers) and in general, everything you could ask for in a novel.”
- “The Shadow of the Wind,” a bestselling 2001 novel by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves, in which the son of a bookshop owner becomes fascinated by a seemingly cursed book. This one’s been on my to-read list for a while; time to move it up!
- “The Child’s Child” by Barbara Vine (ak.a Ruth Rendell), a 2012 thriller about two brother-sister pairs, one of them in an unpublished novel-within-the-novel.
- “Eight Perfect Murders,” a new novel by Peter Swanson in which a bookseller makes a list of fiction’s best murders — only to find himself investigated by the FBI because somebody is imitating the acts of that list.
I’d be happy to add more titles to this genre — keep them coming! (I’ll confess I tried googling “mysteries about books” and mistakenly typed it as “mysteries about boots” which sent me down a bizarre rabbit hole about mysterious wellies gone missing somewhere. If you’ve read a really good mystery about boots, let me know about that too. I always enjoy reading about footwear.)
And finally, inspired by a friend whose pandemic project is to read every one of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series, I have begun “Raven Black,” the prizewinning 2006 first installment of the series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez. Not sure if I’ll make it through the entire series, but this one’s pretty swell; Cleeves wonderfully conveys the foreboding, atmospheric dampness of the seaside town with its ever-screeching seagulls. Anyway else out there making their way through an entire series this season, start to finish? Let me know, particularly if anything drops out of the pages while you’re reading. Happy fall!