The Reluctant Matador
A Hugo Marston Mystery
I have been a steady Hugo Marston fan since the debut novel for the series, The Bookseller, appeared in 2012. But I will be honest about this fifth book. As much as I like and admire Mark Pryor’s mystery fiction, I am a bit reluctant to recommend The Reluctant Matador as your first encounter with his excellent investigator, Hugo Marston, head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris. The Reluctant Matador moves at a slower pace and with more subplot distractions than I prefer in stories where the good guy supposedly is racing against the clock as he (or she) chases down the bad guys.
If you are looking for a new investigator series to take up, I heartily endorse Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston. Thus, get The Reluctant Matador and keep it handy. But start reading earlier in the series first. The Bookseller and The Button Man remain my two Hugo Marston favorites. And there is plenty to like in The Crypt Thief and The Blood Promise, as well. (Actually, “start at the beginning” often is a good approach for taking up any mystery series).
It is always possible, of course, to have too much of a good thing. And this is what I think slows The Reluctant Matador down a bit, at least for me: Too many interesting characters and too much interesting detail within a very interesting and apparently very laid-back city: Barcelona. (And why, really, are we in Spain now? Isn’t Hugo supposed to be helping keep our Paris embassy secure?)
In The Reluctant Matador, the 19-year-old daughter of an old friend has gone missing in Paris, so Hugo Marston agrees to try to help find her. The sparse clues left behind soon lead him to Barcelona and the realization that the young woman’s life definitely is in danger and the clock is ticking. But there also is a murder and other terrifying issues to complicate the plot and the urgent quest. And the young woman’s father, meanwhile, has taken things into his own hands and gotten himself jailed in Spain. And the Barcelona police and underworld have some interesting characters. And Hugo Marston’s investigator buddy, Tom Green, an ex-CIA agent, is supposedly helping out but also being a bit of a drunken, obnoxious lout. And several women want to sleep with Hugo. And…
And, inexplicably, I began thinking about The Canterbury Tales and The Pilgrim’s Progress about two-thirds of the way through The Reluctant Matador. We keep ambling forward in our quest, picking up more and more characters and their stories as we go.
Many readers, of course, likely will be charmed by Mark Pryor’s mini-portraits of Barcelona. It does comes across as a very appealing locale. But, is there really time for some sightseeing and a siesta and some bantering with the locals when the hours and minutes rapidly are running out on a life held in deadly captivity?
If you are already a Mark Pryor fan, definitely read The Reluctant Matador. There is much to like in this book, and the writer clearly has put plenty of effort, creativity, research and talent into producing it. On the other hand, if you are new to Hugo Marston and want a fast-paced mystery thriller, you might think this one moves too slowly and decide to ignore the four other books in Pryor’s series. Don’t do that. Read the others and read this one. But read at least one of his earlier works first.
— Si Dunn