There is a footnote on page 123 in Sixpence House that reads: Please accept my apologies: this book is a disappointment. The author, Paul Collins, is writing about something else, but I couldn't help thinking that he could be referring to his own book.
The premise is a fine one: American writer (Mr. Collins) moves with wife and young son from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Hay is known as the 'town of books' and is home to dozens of bookstores and a literary festival. There is even a castle. How could this possibly go awry?
I so wanted to like this book but never could quite get the point of Mr. Collins's rambling account. It seemed to be part journal, part disjointed dialogue that was neither enlightening nor entertaining, and part record of obscure facts that often seemed forced and didn't really advance the story. Finally, there was a sense that many of the episodes were simply the result of timed writing exercises.
Sixpence House refers to an ancient pub that Mr. Collins thought about buying in an effort to settle in Hay. That didn't work out. Unfortunately, in my eyes, neither did this book.
I took my leave of Mr. Collins and the bookstores of Hay-on-Wye and traveled south to the bookstalls in Paris where I got lost in a new-to-me mysteries series.
The Bookseller by Mark Pryor introduces a worthy protagonist to the world of crime solving. Hugo Marston is a former FBI profiler and now is head of security at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. A bibliophile himself, he befriends Max, one of the elderly bouquinistes selling books from a stall along the Seine. When Max is kidnapped right before Hugo's eyes, the adventure begins. Does his disappearance have to do with a rare book? Drugs? An old grudge? Someone's greed for money and power?
I followed Hugo and his friend, ex-CIA agent Tom Green (whose every sentence is expletive-filled which I admit grew quite tiresome), along with Claudia Roux, a journalist and Hugo's newest flame through the narrow streets of Paris, into a French count's well-stocked library of rare first editions, on to a handful of literary sites, and, of course, a few refreshing stops at the cafés and patisseries of the city.
Hugo Marston is a fine upstanding fellow. He hails from Texas and it doesn't perturb him one bit to wear his cowboy boots with his tuxedo to a formal dinner. But he is not a Good Ol' Boy. He lives in a terrific fifth-floor apartment on Rue Condorcet that is filled with books and has a balcony that overlooks the city's rooftops. Not quite the wide open spaces of Texas, but for him it will do.
There are five more mysteries is this series including The Button Man, a prequel that recounts Hugo's post at the U.S. Embassy in London. I can hardly wait to join him on his next adventure.