The Reluctant Matador, Mark Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel, has our head of security at the US embassy in Paris on an Iberian adventure as he heads to Spain to track down a friend’s missing daughter. In the process, he makes adversaries of some unsavory folks in the sex trafficking industry, as well as gaining aid from his usual colorful cast of underworld characters. Mark will be joining two of his fellow authors from Seventh Street Books, James W. Ziskin and Terry Shames, this Saturday at 7PM. Mark was kind enough to take an initial interrogation from us via e-mail.
MysteryPeople: It’s been awhile since Hugo was involved in a adventure that was personal from the outset. What do you have to keep in mind when he knows the victim?
Mark Pryor: Yes, throughout the series I’ve tried to test Hugo in different ways, put him in new situations and only with The Bookseller was his quest personal. This time, I think you’re right, it’s even more so. The obvious concern is him losing perspective, that Hugo will go charging ahead and risk alienating people who could help him, and maybe risk putting himself (and therefore the girl he’s trying to find) in danger. The thing I like about Hugo and his cohort Tom is that Tom is the fired-up engine, the hot-head who wants to go in with guns blazing. Putting Hugo into more of that role was fun but, interestingly, he pushed back a little. That sounds silly, maybe, but in writing the book it was clear to me that Hugo taking this personally didn’t result in him acting recklessly, but rather verbalizing his frustrations. And here’s how he handled it: Hugo usually rescues Tom from himself, holds him back with calm, reason, and logic. This time Hugo rather let Tom off the leash, because he knew it might be the most effective way to find Amy. This wasn’t a case of solving a crime, where time and measured deduction are luxuries. No, a friend was missing and time was against them every step of the way so he let Tom do the things he himself wasn’t prepared to do. Perhaps he used Tom a little, just for a change. All for the greater good, of course.
MysteryPeople: Much of the book takes place in Spain. What made that country exciting to write about?
Mark Pryor: If only I had some great literary reason for that, perhaps a link to Cervantes or…. but no. I wanted to go to Barcelona, my wife wanted to go to Barcelona, and my son is a huge fan of Barcelona Football Club… Looking at the question from a different perspective, I was glad to be able to move Hugo away from Paris for much of the story. People often ask how a writer keeps a series fresh and interesting for readers and I do think that when location plays such an important role in the books, as they do with mine, then a simple excursion to a new locale is a fresh and welcome ingredient. The point, I suppose I’m saying, is not so much that Spain was a necessary destination, but that a man such as Hugo, worldly and curious, would absolutely pursue an investigation abroad, and his fans would expect him to do so (and hopefully enjoy the jaunt). Barcelona just happened to be the location, as much by chance as design.
MysteryPeople: You deal with sexuality a lot in this book, both with the crime of human trafficking and American versus European mores. what did you want to explore with the topic?
Mark Pryor: I actually see them as two very different topics, but in essence you are right. I’ve been involved with Austin’s Human Trafficking Division for a while now, and it’s opened my eyes to the barbaric ways people will treat young women to make money. The scenario in Matador is a little extreme, but it happens and most people would be shocked by how often, and how brutal some of these people can be. I don’t know that I can bring much awareness to the subject by writing about it, but every little bit helps, I think.
As far as the differing European and American sexual mores, I have to be honest that this subject has fascinated me for a while. More the prurience I see over here than the freedom in Europe. It never ceases to amaze me that American movies can show human beings obliterated by machine guns and bombs, have their faces chewed off by zombies or vampires, but heaven forfend a female nipple gets revealed in the process. America is an amazing country, and I choose to live here because you can be anything you want to be, chase any dream. But I do have trouble sometimes reconciling that side of American culture with the rigidity with which sex and marriage are viewed, such inflexibility doesn’t seem, in my opinion, to fit the American rubric. And I think it’s more than a religious constraint, at this point it’s woven into the fabric of our culture and I like to poke fun at it. Thank you for noticing. 🙂
MysteryPeople: This one has some of the best Hugo-Tom stuff. What makes that friendship fun for you to write?
Mark Pryor:Thank you for saying that. I readily admit that writing the dialogue between those two is some of the best fun I have when writing. In fact, even though it’s too much for some people, I genuinely tone it down. I think it comes so easily because I am in large parts both Tom and Hugo, and some of the arguments I have with myself every day would look a lot like their discussions. Part of their banter comes from my upbringing, too, where repartee was a way of demonstrating intelligence, social power, and also affection. Tom and Hugo are never going to hug it out, they’re just not, but sometimes their back-and-forth feels to me like a verbal hug. The other thing is that Hugo is sometimes a tough character to convey. He’s stoic, he’s a little quiet, and he’s not very emotional. Often it takes something extreme to provoke a reaction, to draw him out for the reader to see who he is, and so Tom is the foil I use to do that. He’s not the only one, of course, but Hugo can compartmentalize the death of his first wife or the disappearance of a friend. He can’t compartmentalize Tom, because he’s always there, a living and breathing reminder of Hugo’s weaknesses and strengths, his true (if hidden) character.
MysteryPeople: You will have a standalone, Hollow Man, out in September. Can you tell us a little bit of what that’s about?
Mark Pryor: I’d love to, because it’s a departure from the Hugo Marston series. It’s a psychological thriller set here in Austin. The main character is Dominic and he’s a prosecutor, a musician, and a psychopath. But, he’s not your usual psychopath, he has no desire to hurt anyone and, in fact, he tries to hide his ‘condition’ from everyone because he knows it might cost him his job, and certainly most of his friends. His music is how he connects with people, his bridge to humanity, as it were. Then one day, he’s demoted at work and someone accuses him of stealing a song. At that point, provoked in part by a beautiful woman, he engages in a crime that goes very wrong. The other guys involved run for cover and Dominic has to decide whether he goes back to his somewhat meek self in the hope he gets away with it, or whether he needs to release the psychopath inside to ensure he gets away with it. Guess which one he chooses?!
The book is definitely a lot creepier than anything I’ve done before, but hopefully it’s pretty compelling, too. One of the fun themes of the book addresses the perfect crime–the various characters have their own ideas, but it’s not until the end that Dominic realizes what it means to him (and others around him). So far it’s received great reviews and we’re all very excited about the release.
MysteryPeople: You’ll be doing an event with us on June 20th with two of your fellow Seventh Street authors Terry Shames and James Ziskin. What do you admire about their work?
Mark Pryor: I’ll be frank: both Terry and Jim have me addicted to books I might not have read, if they weren’t with Seventh Street Books. I started Terry’s series first and have devoured every one. Usually within a week of the release date. She has an amazing ability to construct characters that are real, memorable, and original. She does it without any effort, it seems, and without making them caricatures, which would be so easy to do. Her Texas settings are familiar to me, of course, but the way she’s created a whole world for her characters is remarkable. I wish she’d put pen to paper many years ago, she’s an amazing talent.
I think Jim has a similar ability with his characters, especially Ellie Stone, his protagonist. For one thing, for him to be able to create such a compelling and real female character speaks to a writing ability I can only admire from afar. And then he’s also able to take us back in time, put us in a world we recognize from books and TV. It’s not just that he’s incredibly courageous for doing that, but he succeeds magnificently. I realize with the last book, Stone Cold Dead (which I think might be even better than the previous one), that he’s also a master at dropping in little clues along the way. I tend to be pretty good at spotting them (I do it for two livings!) but his subtlety is rare. The other thing Jim does brilliantly is humor. It’s subtle but it has to be because Ellie uses it like a rapier to protect herself in a male-dominated world. Dialogue generally is one of Jim’s strengths, but he really excels when it comes to Ellie and her humor.
It’s kind of funny because whenever I read a book written by someone I consider a friend, there’s this moment where I hold my breath and hope that it’s good, and if not that I can find good things to say. One of the great pleasure of both Terry and Jim’s books is that I know for a fact that I can pick one up and will love it. Absolutely love it.
You can find copies of The Reluctant Matador on our shelves and via . Mark Pryor joins us this Saturday, June 20th, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. He will be speaking and signing with two other authors from Seventh Street Books, James Ziskin and Terry Shames.