I set my alarm every night but it’s the city that wakes me up, the sounds of my Paris street coming alive, voices and footfalls drifting up through my half-open bedroom window. I know how lucky I am to have a top-floor apartment, looking out over Rue Jacob in the Latin Quarter.
My day starts with a morning walk to the U.S Embassy. I’m head of security there, the Regional Security Officer or RSO, but for thirty minutes I’m a regular guy on the street, stopping to buy a croissant when I spy an open boulangerie door, or pausing on Pont du Carrousel to gaze down at the River Seine. When it’s cold I wear a fedora and long coat on my walks—the former by habit, the latter hides the gun I wear under my arm. I’ve needed that more than you’d think in Paris. It’s not a dangerous place, but the bad guys here don’t think twice about dumping people in the Seine after putting a couple of holes in them.
Once I’m at work, my secretary Emma always brings me a cup of good coffee. That woman does everything to perfection but I put coffee at the top of her list. Her other main asset is that she’ll give me a “Code Green” alert when I need one. It’s a personalized warning to let me know that a certain Tom Green is headed my way. Tom’s a combustible, unpredictable, and dangerous man, prone to heavy drinking, associating with ladies of the night, and taking my money. He’s also my best friend, and lives in my spare room when he’s not away on one of his secret missions for the CIA.
My day job varies, that’s why I like it so much. My boss is Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, a former spook but one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet and he gives me free reign, not one of those micro-managers. For instance, when my friend Max, a bouquiniste (aka bookseller) beside the Seine, went missing the Paris police weren’t interested, figured he’d gotten into a beef with some guys and taken off on his own. I knew that wasn’t right and Ambassador Taylor gave me time and resources to look for him. Likewise, when an American was killed in the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery everyone thought “terrorism,” but that didn’t fit. I believed someone was stealing bones from the graves and he let me profile, then chase, the bad guy how I saw fit.
Ah, but you’re not here for me ramble on about my cases, so back to the daily routine. Often it’s nothing more fun than organizing the other RSOs and making schedules, but sometimes I’m escorting dignitaries, or maybe investigating crimes against US citizens. I work with the Paris police frequently, and on the more serious crimes I turn to Lieutenant Camille Lerens of the Brigade Criminelle. Talk about a force of nature. Without doubt, the toughest cop (maybe human being) I’ve ever met. She’s had to be—born as Christophe Lerens, you can only imagine how it was for a black, male cop to go through the transition process from Christophe to Camille. And yet she makes no big deal about it, just does her job spectacularly well.
I have a handful of cafes and bistros I walk to for lunch, and sometimes my friend Claudia Roux treats me. I say “friend” but we date, too, in a frustratingly casual way. I’m the one doing the chasing, a new experience for me, but we’re both good-natured about it. She’s a journalist, whip-smart and beautiful to boot. It doesn’t hurt that she has family money, in the sense that she never skimps on cheap wine and good cheese. I tell her that’s all she’s good for, but we both know better.
On my walk home, and on weekends, I like to stroll alongside the Seine and talk to the bouquinistes. I met several during that first case with Max and they’ll often hold a book for me—I have a small collection of first editions, and they love to come up with something new.
Which brings us to evening in Paris. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s anywhere that makes me happier. Taking a small table at a sidewalk cafe, smelling the garlic from the kitchen, tearing off a piece of fresh baguette or chewing on an olive as I look over the menu. On weekends I’ll start with a cocktail, usually an Americano, and move onto wine for the meal. I prefer a few small courses over one large one, and the French do this magnificently. Maybe escargot to begin with and duck confit for my main course. I’m usually with Claudia or Tom, sometimes Camille will venture out with us, and hours can pass that way, intense conversation but also moments of silence, watching people go by.
How I love to people-watch, and there’s nowhere better in the world. I get to travel in my job, but I always come back to Paris. Always. You should join me one evening.
The Paris Librarian is the sixth book in the Hugo Marston mystery series, published by Seventh Street Books, August 2016.
Hugo Marston’s friend Paul Rogers dies unexpectedly in a locked room at the American Library in Paris. The police conclude that Rogers died of natural causes, but Hugo is certain mischief is afoot.
As he pokes around the library, Hugo discovers that rumors are swirling around some recently donated letters from American actress Isabelle Severin. The reason: they may indicate that the actress had aided the Resistance in frequent trips to France toward the end of World War II. Even more dramatic is the legend that the Severin collection also contains a dagger, one she used to kill an SS officer in 1944.
Hugo delves deeper into the stacks at the American library and finally realizes that the history of this case isn’t what anyone suspected. But to prove he’s right, Hugo must return to the scene of a decades-old crime.
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Meet the author
Mark Pryor is the author of The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief, The Blood Promise, The Button Man, and The Reluctant Matador, the first five Hugo Marston novels, and the stand-alone Hollow Man. He has also published the true-crime book As She Lay Sleeping. A native of Hertfordshire, England, he is an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children. Visit Mark on Facebook.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of The Paris Librarian. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end August 18, 2016 at 12 AM (midnight) EST. Good luck everyone!