Sympathy for the Devil: an interview with Mark Pryor

A couple years ago, Mark Pryor took a break from his true blue series hero, Hugo Marston, to crawl into the the dark mind of an Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath named Dominic in the acclaimed Hollow Man. He has recently released a follow up, Dominic, with our anti-hero tying up his loose ends. Mark will be joining Meg Gardiner (Into The Black Nowhere) for a discussion of writing fictional psychopaths on January 30th. Mark was kind enough to talk to us early about dealing with his dark creation.
Pryor-Photo-by-Alia-Michelle-Photography3476-33MysteryPeople Scott: Was there anything in particular that drew you back to Dominic?
Mark Pryor: Several things. First, I’m (still) kind of obsessed with psychopaths, and Dominic was and is my way to explore their mentality. So I wasn’t done with the subject matter, and he’s my way in. Second, I kind of missed him. Weird, I know, but he was SO much fun to write that I wanted to do it again. I wanted to know what he could pull off again. I wanted to let the dark side reign and write him again. I think, too, he’s such a change from my Hugo Marston series that writing Dominic gives me a good balance, so in a way it’s healthy creatively for me to write about such a total bastard once in a while.
MPS: This time you split perspectives, which you had never done to this degree in a book. Did that prove as a challenge?
9781633883659MP: Actually, yes. You’re right in that I’ve not done this much before but as I thought about how to tell this story, I knew it was necessary. Put simply, if anyone who read Hollow Man read another book entirely from Dominic’s perspective, they wouldn’t believe a word he was saying. They’d be crazy to! So, I knew I had to corroborate events through other, more reliable, characters. It turned out to be fun, especially overlapping Dominic with the sycophantic Brian, getting two very different takes on one interaction.
MPS: One of the main reasons the book is so unsettling is that the reader feels they are in collusion with Dominic. Did you sometimes feel that way in the writing?
MP: Yes, and I think that’s vital. I mean, in practical terms I’m the one devising his evil schemes but even though it’s all fictional, and even though I could do anything I want, I really do sometimes feel like he takes the lead and does his nasty deed, with me as his note-taker. That may sound weird but it’s how I feel sometimes! I would say, too, that it’s a lot of work for me to get into the head of a psychopath, to abandon the emotion and the feelings, so I myself get that unsettled feeling and it makes sense that the reader would pick up on that.
MPS: How do you write a character with little or no empathy?
MP: Carefully. The biggest factor for me is accuracy. I’ve seen too many movies or shows, books too, where the character is given dabs of empathy here and there and I don’t think that’s realistic. Similarly, over the two books the one thing I wanted to avoid is giving him a character arc, because he’s not capable of it. Obviously, I’ve done a good amount of research to know what he would or would not feel as a psychopath, so there’s a crafty element to creating him, but as I say, I really want him to seem genuine. Genuinely horribly, that is.
MPS: What did you find as a key for writing a suspense novel like this?
MP: This novel and the previous one are much more carefully constructed than my Hugo Marston novels. By that I mean that I am more devious about planting clues and misdirecting the reader. I think the reason for that is knowing where the suspense comes from — the reader is going to be pretty sure that Dominic will achieve his objective(s), the question is how does he get there? Precisely how ruthless is he going to be? And, who will be casualties along the way? These aren’t straight forward mysteries where you can proceed from clue to clue like stepping stones, you have to look under the rocks (and find the snake!).
MPS: Since you are both a prosecutor and an Englishman living in Austin, what is the best way you have found to convince people you are not Dominic?

MP: You know, just between us, I’ve been surprised by how many people give me that side-eye and ask if I’m a psychopath. These are people I’ve known for years, and if you’ve known me for years I think it’s pretty obvious I’m not. So I laugh it off, and tell the story of how I took the psychopath test (yes, there is such a thing) at home, with my wife. Bottom line, the test is 20 questions, and you score 0, 1, or 2 for each. Anything over 30 and you’re a psychopath. I scored 7. Yes, seven. So low I was actually disappointed! I mean, as a prosecutor and crime writer you’d think I’d have something of a callous edge to me, but it turns out I’m a big softy.
The interesting thing to me is that if I’d written a character who was English, a prosecutor, and who had really been the one who killed John Lennon, no one would be asking, “Hey, did you really kill John Lennon?” All in all, I’ll take it as a compliment that I wrote a convincing psychopath, which is satisfying enough to stop me murdering whoever asks that question. Oh, wait, I didn’t mean that…

We hope you’ll join us January 30th at 7pm as Mark Pryor and Meg Gardiner discuss their new books!
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What I’m looking forward to reading in 2018

What I’m looking forward to reading in 2018 by Meike Alana

2017 has been a fantastic year for crime fiction fans, but 2018 promises to be even better.  Here are just a few titles that I can’t wait to get my hands on:

JANUARY

Dominic by Mark Pryor:  Picking up where Hollow Man left off, the titular Austin attorney/musician (who happens to be a psychopath) continues his murderous ways.

A Reckoning in the Back Country by Terry Shames:  When a resident of Jarrett Creek is mauled by vicious dogs, Texas lawman Samuel Craddock suspects a dog-fighting ring may be operating in his town.

The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani:  Originally published in France where it became a #1 bestseller and winner of France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Goncourt, it marks the American debut of an exciting new voice in crime fiction

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner:  Following  last year’s smash thriller Unsub, newly minted FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix investigates a series of murders around the Austin area.

FEBRUARY

Sunburn by Laura Lippman:  The New York Times bestselling author returns with a superb novel of suspense about a woman who knows how to play the long game to get what she wants.

MARCH

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell:  A Victorian gothic tale about a young pregnant widow who is sent off to her late husband’s creepy, crumbling, and possibly haunted estate.

If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin:  The award-winning Gaylin brings us an addictive story of psychological suspense told from multiple viewpoints.

APRIL

A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum:  Yocum’s A Welcome Murder was a 2017 favorite of ours here at MysteryPeople and we can’t wait for this tale of a local basketball star in a small Ohio town who tries to remake his life but instead gets tangled up in murder.

MAY

See Also Proof by Larry Sweazy:  Sweazy’s series featuring North Dakota indexer Marjorie Trumaine is another favorite of ours.  As she’s mourning the recent death of her husband during a particularly harsh winter, she helps investigate the disappearance of a neighbor’s disabled daughter.

JUNE

A Stone’s Throw by James Ziskin:  Ziskin’s series features 1960’s news reporter Ellie Stone, who is one of my personal favorite characters in the genre.  This time the intrepid Ellie investigates a double murder set in the glamorous world of horse racing.

JULY

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott:  The queen of noir (part of the writing team behind HBO’s The Deuce) returns with a mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever or ultimately tear them apart.

The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott:  Three women, all with the same name, have gone missing from idyllic Lakehaven.  Given that Abbott is one of the best thriller writers of our day, it’s pretty much a given that this is not a coincidence and that there are some sinister goings on here.

January Pick of the Month: DOMINIC

In Hollow Man, Mark Pryor broke from his square-jawed series hero Hugo Marston to enter the mind of prosecutor/musician/sociopath Dominic. The book showed another side and style to his talent. Now, this new year brings us the return of his anti-hero in Dominic.
The book takes place soon after the robbery, cover up, and revenge Dominic committed in Hollow Man, with him facing a few loose ends. A police detective keeps questioning Dominic while Bobby, a young man with his tendencies, keeps getting into trouble, and –most worrisome — Bobby’s sister, who Dominic seems attracted to, keeps reminding him she knows what he did. Add a position for judgeship and our man begins to maneuver.
Pryor seems to have tapped into Hitchcock as he builds his intricate tale. He piles layer upon layer of plot and tension effortlessly, yet never revealing what he intends to do until the moment of truth. Knowing that we’ve learned Dominic’s narration obfuscates from Hollow Man, he gives us differing points of view in each chapter. We are given a clearer view of the persona he exudes and where the cracks in his mask are that add to the tension. It also allows us to feel the moral blow back of Dominic’s crimes since we learn to understand his victims the way he can’t. Much like The Master Of Suspense, Pryor allows our anxiety to move between Dominic getting caught or his victims getting killed.
The book’s succinct prose and stylish black humor cut to the bone and into the dark heart of our anti-hero. We find ourselves colluding with him, even though we know better and feel the results. With Dominic, Mark Pryor once again proves to be at his best when he is writing about the worst.
Mark Pryor will be at BookPeople with Meg Gardiner on January 30th at 7pm — join us!

MARK PRYOR JOINS MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION OF THE CRYPT THIEF

Our December Murder In The Afternoon Book Club discussion of Mark Pryor’s The Crypt Thief will be special in two ways. With it being our holiday discussion, we’ll be bringing treats to share. Also, Mark will be joining us in person.

The Crypt Thief is the second book to to feature Hugo Marston, head of security for our embassy in Paris. When the son of a senator is murdered at the Pare Lachaise cemetery along with the theft of some the bones from a famed dancer at the Moulin Rouge, Hugo is asked to investigate. Obvious clues lead to terrorism, but Hugo suspects something else.

The Crypt Thief is one of the creepiest books in the series with one of the best villains. it will give us a lot to talk to Mark about. We will be meeting Monday, December 18th, 1PM on the 3rd floor. Books are 10% off to those planning to attend.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is one of our favorites here at MysteryPeople – we’ve followed his Hugo Marston series from the very beginning, and we’re happy to welcome The Sorbonne Affairthe seventh volume of the series, to our shelves. Mark joins us to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, August 26th, at 6 PM, along with James W. Ziskin and Traci Lambrecht of P.J. Tracy. Ahead of the event, our Meike Alana sat down with Mark to ask him about the book, Paris, his busy schedule, and what’s next. 

 

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: Your love of books (which you share with your protagonist, Hugo Marston) is on full display in the series (titles include The Bookseller and The Paris Librarian). Your latest, The Sorbonne Affair, deals with a best-selling American romance writer who discovers a hidden camera in her room at Paris’ Sorbonne hotel. You poke some fun at the romance genre–Hugo is slightly disdainful towards romance, and is incredulous to discover that many of his accomplished, intelligent friends are fans of the author. Do you care to elaborate on your own views?

Mark Pryor: Absolutely—my position is that a good book is a good book. As such, I hope it comes across as people poking fun at Hugo for being a book snob. I know for a fact some of my readers are also lovers of the romance genre, and just last month I gave a talk to a crowded and enthusiastic room of romance writers.

Ha, but you’re wondering if I read romance, though, aren’t you? Yes, I have and I would. My problem is that I don’t have time to read much, and almost all my reading time these days seems to be taken up blurbing books for other people. That means I have to prioritize, which in turn means I have a giant stack of unread books in my bedroom!

But again, what I’m trying to point out in a playful way is that if a book is good, its subject or genre shouldn’t matter, and yet there are some people who insist their reading or writing are more… let’s say elevated and don’t include one genre or another.

MA: This is the 7th installment of your series featuring the Paris-based Hugo, although Hugo has traveled to London (The Button Man) and Barcelona (The Reluctant Matador). For anyone planning a visit to Paris I always recommend they read one of your books–you so aptly capture the Parisian energy and mystique. Yet you’re a Brit who lives in Austin, Texas. How do you manage to capture the spirit of the City of Light so perfectly? And what’s your favorite spot in Paris?

MP: Thank you for the kind words, I try hard to bring Paris to my readers. To do so, and I know it’s tough, but I try to make myself go there as often as possible. Choke down a croissant or two, suffer through a dozen garlic snails, drag myself along the city’s boulevards on crisp autumn evenings. We all know artists suffer, and as you can see, I suffer as much as any of them…

As for my favorite spot, well, I have several. I always visit the bookstore Shakespeare & Co., and a walk in front of Notre Dame is a must. Other than that, I try to find new places to explore and share. There are always undiscovered cafes and restaurants, little parks and squares and churches.

MA: Previous Hugo novels have hinted at his previous FBI career but we’ve never learned the details about why he left that agency. We learn more about that in The Sorbonne Affair. What made you decide it was time for the reader to learn about the events leading up that his career change?

MP: Your boss. Seriously. That marvelous bookseller Scott Montgomery has said to me since the very first novel that he was sure there was a story behind Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI. I assured him on multiple occasions that no, there really wasn’t.
Turns out he was right.

As for why, I think it’s because I’m always trying to show a new side to Hugo. He’s a hard man to get to know so this particular event gives us a really good look at his psyche, and why his friendship with Tom means so much—to both of them. I better stop there before I give too much away.

MA: Given the complexity of your plots, the evocative Paris setting, the well-developed characters many readers would be surprised to know that you don’t write full-time; in fact, you balance your writing with a challenging legal career and a full family life including 3 young children. How in the world do you find time to write? Do you have to be very disciplined and organized, or do you just randomly throw words on the page when you can carve out a few free minutes?

MP: It’s all about the discipline, filling every spare moment with either writing or something book-related. The way I explain it is to say that I never, ever, have a moment in my life when I think, “Oh, nothing going on today, what should I do?” Ever. Even on July 4 I had to take time to write a couple thousand words in between pool trips and burger-making.

That said, I have no complaints at all. I have a fascinating job, books I love to write, and hugely supportive family and friends (and readers!). So, yes, I’m crazy busy but in all the best ways.

MA: What’s next for Hugo?

MP: I have a few ideas rolling around in my head but so far it’s all a little hazy. More than likely he’ll be paying a visit to Lake Como in Italy, which won’t be too much of a hardship I suspect (for him or me!). I want to develop the secondary plot like from The Sorbonne Affair a little more, the new threat to Hugo and Tom. And I think I want a princess in the book. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

MA: In addition to the Hugo series, you wrote the outstanding psychological thriller Hollow Man. (For anyone who hasn’t read it, the book tells the story of Dominic, a psychopath British district attorney who lives in Austin. Pryor is a British district attorney who lives in Austin. He assures us the work is “completely fiction.” Hmm….) Any plans for another book about Dominic?

MP: Dang it Meike, you know what a sweet, kind, non-psychopathic chappie I am! I haven’t killed anyone for ages and ages, I promise!

Actually, on January 30, 2018, the sequel to Hollow Man will be published by Seventh Street Books. It’s called Dominic, which is suitably ego-centric for that character. This time around he’s set his sights on a judgeship that he would like, but to get there he has to deal with two significant problems: a colleague going for that same position, and a detective who still has questions about Dominic’s role in a murder that someone else went to prison for.

MA: We always like to ask for reading recommendations from our favorite writers. Read anything lately that you want to tell us about?

MP: Oh, good, this lets me have a quick rave about Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, which is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in years. I’m also about to delve into Unsub by Meg Gardiner and Blame by Jeff Abbott. Oh, and the new James Ziskin, Cast The First Stone. Love that series. As you can see, my TBR pile is greater than my recently-finished stack, but to be fair it’s because I’m reading some manuscripts for blurb purposes, and not so much published work.

You can find copies of The Sorbonne Affair on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Mark Pryor joins us Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM to speak and sign his latest. He’ll be appearing with fellow crime writers Traci Lambrecht (of P.J. Tracy) and James W. Ziskin. 

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: THE SORBONNE AFFAIR by Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor’s latest Hugo Marston novel is our Pick of the Month for August! The Sorbonne Affair comes out Tuesday, August 22nd. Mark Pryor joins us to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM – he’ll be joined by fellow crime writers James W. Ziskin and Traci Lambrecht (of the writing duo PJ Tracy).

  • Review by MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana

9781633882614Mark Pryor is a perennial favorite here at MysteryPeople.  His Hugo Marston series has just enough danger and grit for noir-lover Scott, a sufficient level of international intrigue for world traveler Molly, and a cast of well-developed realistic characters for Meike (the dominatrix who gets Hugo into a pair of leather chaps is a personal fave– but I digress).  The BookPeople marketing staff witnessed quite the wrestling match when an advance reader copy of Pryor’s latest, The Sorbonne Affair, landed in the office; through sheer will Meike came up the victor (and you’re welcome for that visual).

Pryor’s Paris-based novels feature Hugo Marston, head of security for the US Embassy in Paris; the former FBI profiler’s best friend Tom is his partner in crime and the solving thereof.  In The Sorbonne Affair Hugo comes to the aid of well-known American romance author Helen Hancock, who has discovered a hidden camera in her room at Paris’ Sorbonne Hotel.  What begins as a surveillance affair almost immediately explodes into a murder investigation when the hotel employee believed to have been responsible for hiding the camera is found brutally murdered.  Soon a racy video featuring the author in a state of undress, clasping the equally unclothed body of one of her students, spreads like wildfire across the internet.  Hugo teams up with Lieutenant Camille Lerens to unmask the killer before he can strike again, but secrets run deep at the hotel and Hugo seems to hit one dead end after another.  At the same time Hugo must deal with a shadow from his past that could threaten his contented life in Paris.

Pryor is a fantastic storyteller and there is much to love about The Sorbonne Affair.  The complex plot is deftly woven and unspools at a perfectly measured pace; the unique characters are well-drawn and satisfyingly complex.  While this is not a light-hearted cozy romp through Paris, Pryor does weave bits of humor throughout his novels; bibliophiles will particularly enjoy Hugo’s incredulity at the width and breadth of romance author Hancock’s following–it seems even Hugo’s boss is a fan!  (Side note: The hardcore mystery fan looking for some great recommendations should pay attention to mentions of Hugo’s night-time reading.)    Finally, Pryor’s deep and abiding love for Paris shines through in his descriptions of the city and its denizens, and a croissant with café au lait (or perhaps a wedge of brie and red wine) would be the ideal accompaniment to this latest installment in the series.

Mark Pryor is a British-American prosecutor who works as an Assistant District Attorney in BookPeople’s hometown of Austin, Texas.  In addition to his six previous Hugo Marston novels, he is the author of the thriller The Hollow Man, the first in a new series. (The novel’s protagonist is a British Assistant District Attorney in Austin who is also a psychopath and goes on a killing spree.  Pryor assures us repeatedly that the character is “completely fictional.”) Keep an eye out in January for the sequel, Dominic: A Hollow Man Novel, which promises to be just as creepy as the first! 

The Sorbonne Affair comes out Tuesday, August 22nd – pre-order now! Mark Pryor joins us to speak and sign his latest on Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM – he’ll be joined by fellow crime writers James W. Ziskin and Traci Lambrecht (of the writing duo PJ Tracy).

A (Partial) Atlas of Texas Crime Fiction

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

A hard land with a difficult history, Texas has always lent itself well to crime fiction. From the crime fiction greats who helped define the genre to those writers shaping the landscape of crime fiction today, Texas has a long tradition of social critiques and sendoffs of hypocrisy (the hallmarks of Texas crime fiction, in my opinion) delivered via murder mystery. Tales of Texas history may gaslight their audiences into believing in the state as a land of triumph, but we crime fiction readers know the dark, murderous truth about the land we call home….

Below, you’ll find an incomplete (of necessity) guide to Texas crime fiction, brought to y’all in honor of Texas Mystery Writers Month (that is, May). Emphasis is placed on well-known classic writers and the wide array of new crime fiction released in the past few years. We know we’re leaving out quite a few of the Texas mystery writer greats, and many of the good one-off novels. Some have gone out of print; others have simply dropped off our radar as we find new voices to champion.

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