Thu
Aug 18 2016 2:45pm

Q&A with Mark Pryor, Author of The Paris Librarian

Mark Pryor, author of The Paris Librarian, shares some great stories about his annual visits to Paris, some of the historical details in his novels, his relationship with his protagonist, Hugo Marston, and a heartwarming tribute to a dying friend. 

Read this exclusive Q&A with Mark Pryor, author of The Paris Librarian, and make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the book!


After five Hugo Marston novels, you assumed a more familiar role as an Englishman living in Texas in Hollow Man. What’s it been like to return to the series after some time away from Hugo?

Well, not too familiar. After all, Dominic was a psychopath, and I promise I’m not one of those….

As you can imagine, writing Hollow Man was harrowing at times—it’s a much darker and grittier book, so yes, you’re absolutely right that returning to the series was an event.

In one word: comforting. Like going home, only when your home is in Paris and all your friends and family are cool and interesting. No crazy uncle Barry (not his real name, you know who you are), no needy in-law Barbara (ditto) sucking up all the energy. Just whacky Tom, sophisticated Claudia, and good old Hugo—a man you can rely on to save your life, hand you a good book, and make bloody awful coffee, every time.

And, of course, being able to immerse myself in Paris again, that’s something I’ll never get sick of. 
 

As always, the crew of characters in The Paris Librarian is, in a word, motley. Are any of your newcomers inspired by friends, relatives, chance meetings?

Funny you should ask. Well, funny, or maybe you’ve already heard this story. I’m gonna pretend you haven’t.

You see, last January, a lovely lady from Wisconsin—a bookseller—emailed to tell me she liked my books. And, to tell me that her father liked them even more. Problem was, he was fighting cancer and not expected to win, and in fact, he was sure he wouldn’t live to see the release of the upcoming Hugo book (The Reluctant Matador).

She, being a sweetheart, was emailing to see if I could get her father an advanced copy of the book to enjoy in his last month or two. A few days later, I had an advanced copy in my hand, which I signed and sent off to my new friend. 

He (and you’ll see why I’m not using his name in a little while) emailed me from time to time, letting me know how he was getting on with it and saying that he didn’t want to read too fast—to finish and not be in Hugo’s world any more.

Yeah, that feeling you have right now, I got that too. Such a lovely man. 

Eventually, he finished the book and was kind enough to let me know he’d enjoyed it very much. But, we were both sad, I know, that he wouldn’t being seeing Hugo again.

Or would he?

I wrote to my friend with a suggestion: Sure, I can’t write a book fast enough for him to read it, but what I can do, is write a book and put him in it. Make him a character in the next Hugo so he can live on in that small way—interact with Hugo and walk the streets of Paris for his family and friends to see and enjoy.

Well, he was pleased with the suggestion. Very pleased. And, I did one thing for him that I’ve never done for anyone else: I let him choose which role he wanted. He didn’t hesitate. He told me he’d worked hard all his life to be a good father, husband, and friend. He’d always looked to see the best in people and help those less fortunate (and I know all that to be true)—and so he told me, “This time, I wanna be the bad guy!” How cool is that?!

So, that’s why I didn’t use his name here. There’s more than one baddie (as we say in England), so don’t think it’s narrowed down by gender. In fact, don’t think at all; just dive in and enjoy Paris and Hugo’s adventure in The Paris Librarian, knowing that a good man appears within its pages.
 

The mystery and history swirling around Isabelle Severin is somewhat unique to the series—where did she come from? Could you tell us a bit about how you researched the historical aspects of this book, especially?

Absolutely, she was a lot of fun. So, I read a story about Olivia de Havilland, and originally I wanted to actually have her as a character in the book, to be Madam Severin. I reached out to people close to her, but couldn’t get an audience with the esteemed lady herself when I went to Paris, which meant I couldn’t ask her permission to make her a character. Of course, I wasn’t going to do it without her blessing, so I came up with the name Isabelle Severin.

The thing is, I’m still fascinated by World War II and, as in The Bookseller, I wanted to show how such a mammoth event in history can reach forward to the present day and play a part in people’s lives and motivations. Or appear to…

Doing my research, I discovered that there were, indeed, famous people who used their positions to try and undermine the German takeover of Europe, to aid the Resistance. One of those appears at the end of the book, which of course I shan’t detail for fear of spoiling a small thread. But, Hugo’s final deduction is very much based on a true account.
 

Paris is a gorgeous city, and—even with the inevitable murder—that comes through in your writing. How do you keep the streets so fresh with each new novel?

Thank you for saying that, I try really hard! And, by “try really hard” I mean I force myself to go to Paris every year to walk its streets and sit in its cafés. Actually, that’s the truth and the measure of it: I think that to portray a place in an interesting, captivating, and enticing way, a writer absolutely must go there—spend some time wandering and watching. 

I tell people when I give talks that for readers, Paris isn’t evoked by descriptions of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. We all know those are there and what they look like. No, it’s the businessman nibbling the end of his baguette as he walks home from work; it’s the girl wobbling along the street on a bicycle with her hair and scarf flying as she drags a rolling suitcase behind her; and it’s the chef in his white jacket standing on the top step of his little bistro, smoking a cigarette and keeping a casual eye out for customers. Those aren’t things you can see using Google Earth or some other map app. Those are things you have to go there to see, and, despite the obvious and undeniable horror of an annual Paris vacation, I am dedicated to my craft and, fortunately, have the full support of my wife, who adores Paris as much as I do.


The trail of breadcrumbs leading from Hugo’s bed on page 1 to the conclusion at the end is just right: not too obvious and not too spare. How do you navigate the need to give the reader clues while still not showing your hand?

I don’t know! Really, I don’t. Walking that tightrope is one of the hardest things in this business, for me anyway. I don’t want people guessing halfway through who did it, or why. But, I don’t want readers getting to the end and saying, “Really? I never woulda thought…” No, the perfect intersection of bemusement and discovery lies somewhere in that final chapter, where the reader is a fraction of a step behind Hugo and says at the reveal, “Oh, right, of course! Now I get it!”

But, how to achieve that, well, it’s a fair question, but such a hard one to answer. Revision is key. Once I’m happy with the obvious blunders, I tackle the book as a reader would, imagining I’m seeing the clues and hints for the first time. But, that said, I will also have a spool running in my head, like a TV in the background, which lets me compare what happens later in the story to what I’m reading—like a B-roll, I guess, so I can see the gaps and drop in a clue when I need to. Or, alternatively, remove the boulder-sized giveaway that even the slowest armchair detective would run right into. 

I’m pretty sure, though, that it’s one of those things that’s easier to do than explain…and it’s not easy to do, as I’ve said. You only really know you’ve got it right after the fact, which can be pretty nerve-wracking (so thanks for the compliment!).
 

You’ve said in previous interviews that Hugo Marston is somewhat of an amalgamation of figures from your own life. Over the course of writing this series, how much has your own identity converged—or diverged—from Hugo’s?

This may sound weird, but I think we’ve always kept each other a little at arm’s length. He’s a tough chap to get to know, for sure, and because we’re both in this for the long haul, I feel like we haven’t rushed to spill our guts to each other, reveal every little secret or personality quirk. That’s the kind of thing I might do, but it’s not in Hugo’s personality. 

That said, we’ve become more comfortable with each other. I know in an instant how he’d react to a situation or a person; I don’t have to sit and ponder it. And, he’s seen fit to reveal more of himself to me—some fairly titillating information that I’m using in the Hugo book I’m writing right now (do you think he’ll mind?!). 

It’s been a slow-growing friendship, shall we put it that way? Saying that will sound utterly insane to some people, no doubt, but you asked and that’s how I feel. I think you’ll understand…


What are you currently binge-watching on Netflix?

Ah, great question. Doc Martin has sadly been plundered, and right now, it’s Marcella. I will confess to a secret admiration for, and acquaintanceship with, Justified when my wife is away. I adore that show more than she does, but together we’re charging through English crime shows at quite a pace.
 

What are you currently reading and/or what was the last book you read? 

Several things, actually. I’m just about to get started with What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin. I’ve heard so much about it, and she’s such an awesome person, so how could I not be looking forward to this one?

I’m also finishing up Gift Of Darkness: Growing Up In Occupied Amsterdam by Craig Comstock. That’s more for research purposes, but it’s still a fascinating experience as a reader and comes on the heels of another book on the same subject, Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies, the woman who helped hide and sustain the Frank family.

The Paris Librarian is out August 9, 2016 by Seventh Street Books. 


Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor!

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The Paris Librarian Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/stories/2016/08/qa-with-mark-pryor-author-of-the-paris-librarian-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) August 18, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET August 26, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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Mark Pryor is the author of The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief, The Blood Promise, The Button Man, and The Reluctant Matador, the first five Hugo Marston novels, and the standalone Hollow Man. He has also published the true-crime book As She Lay Sleeping. A native of Hertfordshire, England, he is an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.

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76 comments
Joanne Mielczarski
1. jtmswim
This book sounds so interesing - I love reading about all things Paris.
Gordon Bingham
2. gordonbingham
Not familiar with Mark Pryor - plan to remedy this asap...
Barbara Khan
3. leftyonkey
Why did I not know about this series? I better check that out. Thanks!
Sandy Klocinski
12. attea2d
Sounds like an interesting read. I need to read it.
JAMES LYNAM
14. jpl123456
Different but I think I will enjoy this book.
Barbara Lima
16. barblima
Thank you for the interview, I enjoyed it enormously! I know I will enjoy the book!
Rina Horenian
19. RDgirl
I would absolutely love to win this book!
Sabine Blanch
20. Schlauberger
Would love to read this book.. Thank you so much!
Vivian T.
22. Book Diva
Adding this to my TBR list. Thanks for the introduction to a new-to-me author and book.
Kate Baxter
23. engel301
Sounds like the perfect book for me and will soon appear on my TBR list. Thank you for providing the interview and for the insight into this books characters.
Alyson Widen
24. Sunnymay
I like the idea of the author leaving a trail of breadcrumbs since it helps to sprinkle clues as you go along. Some may lead off on tangent or dead end, while others get you closer to the action. I never really know until the end how the mystery will be solved. Paris is steeped in atmosphere along with having all tht great art. Looks like a page-turner.
Bonnie Karoly
25. grobiemum
I think it's so cool that the author is featuring a fan of his as a bad guy in this book. I didn't know about this author, and I would love to read his book. Of course, I will have to get his other books.
patricia gibby
26. pgibby1
Always looking for a good new author to read
Debra Schron
28. browsermix
Sounds great. Thanks for the chance to win...
31. Marta
This is a great series. We did the first one with the Mystery Book Group at B&N Tysons. Many kept on following the series. Love to catch up.
Martina Norelli
32. Marta
This is a great series. We did the first one with the Mystery Book Group at B&N Tysons. Many kept on following the series. Love to catch up.
susan beamon
33. susanbeamon
I don't believe I've read any of the books in this series, yet. I do not remember a mystery series set in Paris. I have read many stories in and about Paris, just no mysteries.
Michelle Fidler
34. Micky
I also like to watch lots of English detective shows but not on Netflix. I get the DVD's from the library. I've been watching Vera and D.C.I. Banks (almost done with all the episodes but two!). Then I'll go back to Scott & Bailey. Also watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (about magic so it's not a crime show).
Michael Carter
35. rubydog
I'd love to win this one.
Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
Donna Shaw
36. Donnas
This sounds like a super story. My daughter and her family have been living in Paris the past 3 years. I would love to share this book with her, after I've read it, of course.
Pat Dupuy
38. Pat D
I love this series! Hugo is such a cool guy. And it doesn't hurt that he's from Texas.
Sandra Furlotte
39. skfurlotte
I just finished reading The Bookseller and enjoyed it so much. I look forward to the continuance of the series.
Pauline Barlow
41. Pauline
I have never been to Paris; you make it sound so inticing. That is so sweet of you, putting the sick man in one of your tales to be with "his friends".
Patricia Hill
42. plhill2000
I would love to read this book. I love books with a wide range of characters.
Lawrence Lundigan
44. larry1179
The Marston books are tremendous fun
Great wish fulfillment, but, unhappily, about as realistic as the NCIS franchise
Jim Belcher
46. librarypops
I was once a Texas librarian in Paris. I even visited a couple of libraries which are hard to find if you don't French for library. :)
Connie Williamson
48. angelbun
This author is new to me, but this book of his looks like it would be right up my alley. Hoping to win!
Ivette Fantasia
50. ivettefantasia
I have been reading this series and so I'm very excited to return to Paris with Hugo! (The only way I will get there for now). Enjoyed reading the background of this new book.
pearl berger
53. beach
A captivating and intriguing novel which I would enjoy greatly. Thanks.
Beth Talmage
55. wordygirl
I love the Hugo Marston novels, and am so glad I can look forward to another one.
Carol Eaton
56. ladysgma
Looks like I will have to read all the Hugo Marston novels. I would love to win this book. Thanks for the opportunity.
Melissa Keith
58. melly801
"After all, Dominic was a psychopath, and I promise I'm not one of those....."I promise nothing! Hey, Mark. I won a copy of HOLLOW MAN when I lived in FL. I live in Austin now. Slaughter Ln. That street name is sooooooo apropos....
Hope we can meet at a signing in the future. Would love to check out your Hugo Marston novels.
60. Christal M
Looks great!
Jerry Marquardt
63. versatileer
I would like to thank you for your continued useful reviews and the
Q&A with Mark Pryor, Author of The Paris Librarian Sweepstakes. I look forward to freading the book very soon.
Carl White
64. CarlWhiteEntry
I used to date a Paris librarian, Paris, Idaho, probably not as exotic.
L
65. LStirling
Such a sacrifice to travel to Paris every year, just to keep the writing fresh for his readers! I should suffer such a taxing fate! The book sounds wonderful, and I love that Mr. Pryor has written a character to immortalize a dying fan. Speaks greatly to his character. Would love to read this...I do love visiting Paris!
vicki wurgler
69. bison61
book sounds good-I've never read a book by this author
Buddy Garrett
70. garrettsambo
It sounds like a great read. I want to read it. Thanks.
LeAnn Knott
71. knottlady
Thanks for the chance to read anew author. Sounds like a good book. I do like the bread crumbs analogy. Good review!
Patricia Boyle
72. Charleydog
Always interested in reading a book about librarians. I have an MLIS degree from McGill University.
Nedra Whittemore
74. Nedraw
I am always looking for new authors and this series sounds perfect for me. Hope to win this!
Laurence Coven
75. Holmes
Such a great series. I like to image Cary Grant as Marston and Walter Matthau as his CIA friend while I'm reading. Works great/
Donna Shaw
76. Donnas
This sounds like an intriguing book. My daughter and her family just moved back to the states after living for 3 years in Paris. I'd love to read this book and share it with her.
Clydia DeFreese
77. clydia
I don't know Pryor's work, but I'm always eager to read new authors...Thanks for the opportunity.
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