We are excited to be hosting Mark Pryor Sunday, May 19th for his signing of The Crypt Thief. The book is a follow up to his successful debut, The Bookseller. The stories feature Hugo Marston, the head of security of the US embassy is Paris. His sense of right finds him involved in adventures in the shadowy corners of the city, helped by Garcia, a Parisian police detective, his sexy journalist girlfriend, Claudia, and hard living CIA buddy Tom Green. We recently asked Mark about his new book and his characters.
MysteryPeople: Was it easier to write Hugo and his friends in the second book since you were familiar with them or was it more difficult in finding that balance of delivering what people like, but making it different?
Mark Pryor: That’s a hard question to answer because I wrote both books before finding a publisher. In other words, I really had no feedback as to the characters until both were finished, which I suppose means that I simply wrote the characters as I felt they needed to be. Quite nice to be able to do so without any pressure, actually! Now, I just finished the third Hugo Marston book (THE BLOOD PROMISE, to be published in January of 2014) and I did incorporate feedback from readers to some degree. Interesting, Claudia is the one who has provoked the most comments from people, something I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted. Tom, of course, tended to be either loved or not by readers and that’s exactly what I’d have guessed!
MP: The Scarab is one of the most chilling villians I’ve across in a while. How did you come up with him?
Pryor: Why thank you. I knew I wanted to have him… wait, that’d give the story away. Let’s just say that his physical appearance and her personality match very much how he moves about the city. The other thing with him, I wanted to have a serial killer but not the suave, dead-eyed, handsome man who seduces and murders his victims. He’s not really a sadist, he kills because he has a purpose, although (and I didn’t necessarily intend this) he does come to enjoy it. But then he makes himself suffer, too, so he’s all kinds of messed up. Or evil, if you will…
MP: Hugo is a refreshing because he is a throwback to the old fashioned good guy. What drew you to create a lead who is more of a boyscout than the current flawed and brooding heroes in the genre?
Pryor: You know, I always liked those heroes, the old-fashioned ones who drank martinis (Mr. Bond) and were suave (the Saint). Hugo is more in their mold than the tortured alcoholics of some modern series. I don’t mean that as a criticism, I just always felt that I’d be able to write a more emotionally balanced hero and not be as capable as some are of creating the flawed hero. I think it also allows me to focus on moving the plot forward, the mystery itself. I hope that Hugo still comes across as a complete character and in some ways his niceness is, in fact, a flaw, I suppose. Certainly, Tom and Claudia make fun of him for being the nice guy all the time.
MP: The supporting characters like Tom, Claudia, and Inspector Garcia are so well drawn they could easily carry their own book. What’s the best advice you could give about writing your hero’s allies?
Pryor: Thank you again, I’m pleased to hear that. I always intended these books to be a series, and I knew I’d want a strong cast of people around Hugo. Any detective, in fiction or in real life, needs interesting and smart people to work with, be friends with, or make love to. I think it’s dangerous to rely on just one strong character for a single book, let alone a series, so each facet of Hugo’s life is complemented in the form of a complete character. And, of course, their roles over-lap, which makes it more important that they are well-drawn, and in some ways makes that task easier for me. As far as advice, I think I’d sum it up by suggesting that a writer should create supporting characters that their hero will enjoy spending time with, who will reflect his strengths and complement his weaknesses.
The other thing I should say, and this is aimed at those characters you named, well, they better watch out. As any hero will tell you, if you start to steal the limelight bad things can happen. Of course, Hugo’s too nice to say that or fight for the spotlight so I’ll warn the reader right now – in the third novel, things go very, very badly for one of the supporting characters…
MP: I was surprised you addressed Tom Green’s drinking so early on in the series. What prompted you to do that?
Pryor: That’s easy. If he’d kept going like he did in THE BOOKSELLER, he’d have died of liver failure by the end of THE CRYPT THIEF. Actually, it was an organic, unplanned thing. I didn’t set out to have him dry out; rather it was his extreme reaction to an extreme event. Of all the characters, Tom is the most reckless and appears to have the least regard for human life and this realization, this taking control of his own life and health, was a way (his or mine, I’m not sure) of showing that deep inside, he’s as scared of dying and as respectful of life as anyone. It also creates tension between him and Hugo, and within himself because, as you say, it’s early in he series and it’ll be very hard for him to stay sober over the long term. Who knows what might happen if he falls off the wagon?!
MP: You practically make Paris another character in both The Bookseller and The Crypt Thief. What do you want to come across most about the city?
Pryor: Paris is a city of many faces. It’s history is as rich as any in the world, and visually it’s one of the most beautiful. That’s a lot of material for me to work with, no? With the first two books, I wanted to feature particular aspects of the city, the bouquinistes in THE BOOKSELLER and the amazing cemeteries in THE CRYPT THIEF (and one other aspect of Paris which I can’t mention for fear of giving something away!). I wanted, in other words, to write books that could only have been set in Paris. Hopefully, I can do that with future books in the series, and it looks like Hugo will start venturing out of Paris deeper into France and even to other countries. If I do my research right, each book will explore a (new?!) place and make it integral to the story.