Mark Pryor is a debut author who is as fascinating as his hero Hugo Marston, head of security for America’s Paris embassy. Raised in England with an American mother, Pryor works as a prosecutor in Austin Texas (he’ll publish a true crime book about one of his cases next year.) His novel, The Bookseller, deals with rare books, drug cartels, and the French history of collaborating with the Nazis. It’s also a fun buddy adventure. Mark was kind enough to answer some of our questions about himself and his book.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: One of the the things that make this a unique thriller is your lead’s job as head of security for the American Embassy in Paris. How did you choose that occupation?
MARK PRYOR: It was mostly a matter of practicality. I needed Hugo to have a job that gave him access to police resources to solve crimes, and to a group of fellow Americans so that I didn’t have to make him speak in French the whole time. The Embassy was a good choice because it provides those to him, and also allows him to travel, which I plan to have Hugo do in future novels. Additionally, it lets him meet (and guard/save/investigate) all manner of interesting if shady dignitaries, which will also be a feature of upcoming books. As well as the practical side, I think it’s an interesting and somewhat secretive role, so I have a little bit of discretion or leeway with how I have him act, what I make him do. At least until the State Dept. comes knocking.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Part of the mystery is tied to French citizens who collaborated with the Nazis. What drew you to that?
MARK PRYOR: As an Englishman, the Second World War was a large part of my consciousness growing up, I think Americans would be surprised how powerful its effect on the national psyche remains. Additionally, I have always been fascinated by the impossible moral choices people sometimes face. The Second World War provides so many examples of that, from the grand scale (do we use an atom bomb?) to the individual dilemmas that tortured the souls of ordinary citizens. On the micro level these decisions usually came down to self-preservation v. doing the ‘right’ thing, and I’m well aware how mind-numbingly tough those choices were for people. So I wanted to explore that issue and take it a step further by showing how these difficult choices didn’t just affect those making them (or those being betrayed) but how the effects lingered on and touched the lives those people’s children. Two important characters, Max and Claudia, both suffer as a result of horrendous decisions made by other people and they deal with their suffering very differently but in neither case, I think, can we make absolute value judgments about their reactions. But I would love for people to read about these dilemmas, think about them and wonder what they might do in that situation.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Paris setting is very evocative. Does it come more from experience or research?
MARK PRYOR: Thank you, one of my goals with the book was to bring a sense of Paris to the reader. I have been there many times and my mother lives in the Pyrenees mountains, in the south west of France, where Hugo visits on his quest for answers. Online research is so easy to do these days, with mapping tools and the internet generally but I think to effectively portray a place like Paris you have to spend time there. In fact, The Bookseller was conceived in Paris and I began writing it in a cafe there. I’m headed back in December to do some digging around for my third Hugo novel and, as you might imagine, I don’t view the necessity of in-person research as a hardship, not one little bit!
MYSTERYPEOPLE: One of the other standouts in a thriller like this is the fun buddy relationship that Hugo has with his CIA buddy, Tom Green. Besides back up and resources, what else do you think Green does for him as a character?
MARK PRYOR: Thank you for picking up on that because I absolutely love dreaming up and writing the scenes with Tom in them. In fact, I see him as a release for Hugo, and for me as a writer. Hugo is old-fashioned, he might cuss now and again but he’s pretty stoic and you never quite know what he’s thinking. Tom, on the other hand, will shoot from the lip every time. That makes him an enormously fun character to write because being with him is like being with my best two or three friends after a martini or two. But he’s also a great foil for me and Hugo professionally – in most crime fiction, you have to push the boundaries of an investigation, take a chance here and there. Hugo can’t do that very often but Tom can, and once Tom kicks that secret door open, well, Hugo might as well follow him through. But Tom also allows Hugo to show his softer side because they don’t just go busting doors down together, they are true friends. You’ll see that in the second and third books, when the pair find it necessary to look out for each other outside of the job.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What makes Hugo a character worth following for you as a writer?
MARK PRYOR: I would like to think he has some depth. Of all the characters in The Bookseller he may be the most decent, honest, and likeable but I also think he’s the hardest one to get to know. He’s reserved and watchful, and his private life is just that. As a writer, this let’s me develop him over the series in almost the same way I develop a plot, dropping in clues as to his personality here and there, showing him in different situations and exposing his strengths and weaknesses. I’m into the third book now and am working on showing a side of him that will even surprise Hugo himself, at least a little bit. I like the idea that my readers will be intrigued by him and want to get to know him, and will be rewarded by a more gradual revealing of his character in the same way you get to know a real person.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: It appears from the book you’re a bibliophile. Do you have any prize books in your collection?
MARK PRYOR: Very observant. This is something I have always wanted to do, and still plan to. As of right now, I don’t have a collection but I’m drawn like a moth to a flame when I stand in front of old books and one day I hope to have a library of them. Part of the problem is knowing where to start but the other part of the problem is having kids who are equally fascinated by books and crayons… but one day!
MysteryPeople welcome Mark Pryor to BookPeople to speak about & sign The Bookseller on Friday, October 12 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public. To order a signed copy of the book, visit www.bookpeople.com or call 512-472-5050.