We’re always thrilled to have Mark Pryor back a new Hugo Marston book. This Saturday at 3PM, he’ll be signing and discussing The Button Man, taking us to London and Hugo’s past, looking at his early days with an early assignment as head of embassy security and how he met his ally, Meryln. Molly asked Mark some questions about the book beforehand.
Molly: You have chosen to represent a version of England experiencing the hangover of a more judgmental and restrictive era. Did you set out to show the link between conservative social politics and vigilantism? Do you feel that British conservative politics are on the upswing?
Mark Pryor: Let me start by saying, or emphasizing, that issues like politics, religion, and Beatles v. Rolling Stones should never be (in my humble opinion) front and center in crime fiction. The soapbox I possess is very small and is never produced when I’m writing. These issues reverberate in the back of my mind, as they do with us all, and so creep into themes and sub-plots. They are capillaries not aortas, country roads, not freeways.
That all said and understood, and in the context of The Button Man, I think that inevitably there is a strong link between vigilantism and a perceived better time, between the vigilante and a combined sense of impotence and nostalgia. A lot of my stories begin for the characters way before Chapter One, with a dose of personal history that surfaces and propels them into action. So it was here – a character feels powerfully that injustices would be lessened if the past could be resurrected. And since society as a whole won’t do it, the character will.
And you’re right, there is a parallel here between the story and the way I see things. To be fair, I’ve not been to England that much since I left but I do follow the news closely. And times have been hard for a lot of people, which makes them long for better days. They can’t see what’s coming up in the future so they look back. One area where this is true is immigration – if you think feelings are running high here, have a look across the pond. At least here there seems to be an acknowledgment a fix is needed, some sort of accommodation. But in Europe, not just in England, a lot of people are harking back to yesteryear, wanting to blame their travails on the open borders and wrap themselves in the comforts of the past.
Molly: You grew up in England, now living in Austin, and your character is a Texan living in England and then France. Why did you decide to write the character that way?
Mark: Originally, it was to honor my new home. I love Austin, I love Texas, and so I started there with Hugo. As must be obvious, I also love Europe and there’s no better start to a story than to drop someone where he doesn’t belong. Of course, Hugo adapts and loves being in Paris, and London, but a Texan strolling the boulevards of the City of Lights in his cowboy boots, well, I guess that was an image I couldn’t resist.
I had an interesting discussion with some people about Hugo recently. An older gentleman said that Hugo was the very image of an American. That took me (and a couple of other people) aback because I think people’s image of the average American may be a little less flattering. But he explained that he was thinking of Hugo’s Texas as the wild west, and Hugo himself as a cowboy figure. I didn’t have a cowboy in mind when I created him but it struck me that the gentleman was absolutely right – he’s the cowboy sipping his whiskey in the saloon, watching, staying out of trouble but able to handle himself when need be. I love that image of Hugo now, a modern cowboy.
Molly: The Button Man is a rather kinky novel at times. What made you want to explore the BDSM scene and its dynamics in a murder mystery?
Mark: Just so we don’t scare people off, I’ll point out that any kinky happenings take place off the page! But yes, I did want to use something a little different to spice things up, and I have several reasons. First, I wanted to challenge Hugo. I always tell people that he’s the most open-minded and live-and-let-live person, he doesn’t judge at all. He’s also very phlegmatic in his daily life. My fault, of course, I made him that way. But I wanted to press him a little, take something that’s totally foreign to him and see how he’d deal with it, what assumptions he’d make. I could have done it with a grisly murder or some other more criminal way, but this just struck me as more fun. And yes, after his initial surprise, he does manage to have some fun with it.
I also liked the idea of inserting something into the novel that ran strongly counter to the stuffy image a lot of people have of the English. It’s a broader point, I think, because it’s so true that you never really know what your friends and neighbors might be getting up to. And isn’t that sort of a fun idea? I personally love that about life, the knowledge that my neighbor might secretly be hoarding priceless stamps, that the English teacher across the street has fantasies about becoming a cat burglar, or that the old lady I walk across the road used to be a dominatrix.
Molly: Merlyn is such a fascinating character. What was the inspiration for her?
Mark: Thank you. As with most of my characters, she’s an amalgam of people I’ve known. And, I guess, people I’d like to know. I think I like Merlyn a lot because she really exemplifies two extremes – a great confidence and strength, but also a great delicacy of feeling. She’s also the only one to tell Hugo what’s really going on, she’s the one able to reach across from the kinky world he finds himself in, to explain it and try to make sense of it to him. The thing is, to do that she has to reveal secrets about herself, ones that most people would be embarrassed to share but she doesn’t feel any of that. She is the person that she is, exploring her inner desires with curiosity and honesty, not shame. Wouldn’t we all like to be a little more like that?
Molly: Your previous novels in the series have taken place in France, and The Button Man, as a prequel, takes place in England. What did you find most enjoyable about the change of scene? Do you have plans for Hugo Marston to travel elsewhere on the continent?
Mark: Like most people, I have great nostalgia for the place I grew up. I wanted to share that with my wife and kids, and then I wanted to share it with Hugo and my readers. So it made perfect sense to feature the village of Weston (where I grew up) and have something grisly happen in the churchyard there. People keep telling Hugo about the legend of Jack O’ Legs, too, from the village and I’ve always thought it a cool story, one worth sharing.
One of the traits Hugo and I share is a love of travel, seeing new places. And basing my books in Europe seems like too good of an opportunity to waste, for both of us. So yes, in the next book Hugo (and Tom) will have to go to Barcelona. The daughter of a young friend is missing and they trace her to Spain… I think after that I’ll return to Paris for book six. Maybe Bordeaux will feature, I don’t know yet. But definitely back to France. After that? Well, he and I will have to wait and see.