Mark Pryor wrote three novels that were, he says, “rejected by hundreds of agents.”
And then, in 2012, came a mystery called The Bookseller, set in Paris and featuring a character called Hugo Marston.
“Paris is my favorite city in the world,” Pryor says, “and I know the city quite well. I had the idea for The Bookseller while I was there, and I just went into this Tabac and bought a pen and paper, came out and sat at a café and started writing. There was interest in that straight away.”
That book launched a series that plunges readers into the maze of Paris—and occasionally places like London and Barcelona—as they follow Hugo, a Texan and head of security for the U.S. Embassy, through a world of mystery, history, and intrigue. They often have a literary or historic bent to them, even as they take place in the present. In fact, the city serves as more than just a backdrop for the action.
“I like Paris to be a character of its own,” Pryor says. “I want people to see a slice of Paris life and experience it.”
His new novel, which he’ll sign and discuss at Murder by the Book on February 10, is titled The Book Artist, the eighth in the series, which finds Hugo and his boss, Ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, in Montmartre, at an exhibition of sculptures made entirely from books. When a guest is found murdered, it plunges Hugo in to a case where he must prove the innocence of the man arrested. Concurrent to the action, he’s got his best friend Tom to contend with. The former (possibly current) CIA agent is in Amsterdam chasing ghosts from the past who, once they get Tom in their clutches, set their sights on Hugo as well.
“I like this new book because of those twin story lines,” he says. “There’s the crime at the exhibition, but we also get into Tom and Hugo’s backstory. There’s an adventurousness to the pacing and plot that’s a bit different from the other stories.”
Pryor started writing fiction because he hated his day job, a civil law position in England he called “uninspiring.” Having been a journalist, he knew he could write. He moved to Texas after law school and is currently a prosecutor in the Austin district attorney’s office, a day job he loves. His writing, however, gives him a creative outlet. In addition to his Hugo series, he’s written two stand-alone novels, The Hollow Man and Dominic. While he has no plans to give up the law and write full-time, he also has no plans to give up writing.
“I’ve actually just started on the ninth Hugo book, and it opens with Hugo in the Tuileries, waiting to meet someone for dinner when some idiot pulls out a gun,” he says. “I had no idea that was going to happen; it’s just where the scene led.”
As he’s continued to write the Hugo Marston series, he says he’s come to enjoy getting to know his characters better. He’s also occasionally recognized as their creator by fans, which he said is “lovely.”
He remembers one email exchange with one fan furious he’d killed off a main character. She later showed up early to one of his signing events to hash it out further.
“It’s amazing to me that people see these characters as real human beings, which is wonderful for a writer,” he says.
Mark Pryor and Kay Kendall, Feb. 10. Free. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet St. 713-524-8597. More info at murderbooks.com.