Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Mark Pryor--The Sorbonne Affair

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What fun to have MARK PRYOR, our Jungle Red friend who is English, lives in Austin, and writes books set (mostly) in Paris. I'd call that a real cosmopolitan guy, and I love his character, Hugo Marston. Lucky for me I got to grill Mark about his new Hugo novel, THE SORBONNE AFFAIR. This series is one of my very favorites of the last few years, and I can't believe this is the seventh book already!

Before we start, let me get you up to speed with a little a snippet about THE SORBONNE AFFAIR:

Someone is spying on American author Helen Hancock. While in Paris to conduct research and teach a small class of writers, she discovers a spy camera hidden in her room at the Sorbonne Hotel. She notifies the US Embassy, and former FBI profiler Hugo Marston is dispatched to investigate.

Almost immediately, the stakes are raised from surveillance to murder when the hotel employee who appears to be responsible for bugging Hancock’s suite is found dead. The next day, a salacious video clip explodes across the Internet, showing the author in the embrace of one of her writing students—both are naked, and nothing is left to the imagination.

As more bodies pile up, the list of suspects narrows; but everyone at the Sorbonne Hotel has something to hide, and no one is being fully honest with Hugo. He teams up with Lieutenant Camille Lerens to solve the case, but a close call on the streets of Paris proves that he could be the killer’s next target.

DEBS: In some ways this book seems an homage, both to the classic mystery and to the espionage novels of the mid-twentieth century. Even the title, The Sorbonne Affair, made me think of books like Helen MacInnes's The Venetian Affair. Were you inspired by that era, and if so do you have favorite authors or novels?

MARK: That’s the era I grew up in, reading books that were both espionage and crime thrillers. Living in the English countryside, it was an exciting way for me to see other parts of the world, and to learn more about the Second World War, which has always fascinated me. I was reading a lot of domestic mysteries, too, though, like Agatha Christie and the Sherlock Holmes, so I suppose it’s inevitable that my own novels reflect streaks of all of that.
As far as favorites, the authors themselves are different these days but the genres and topics are not. Right now, Philip Kerr is an author I admire and enjoy, as is Alan Furst. And what do they write? Mysteries and spy stories set during the Second World War...!
DEBS: Not to downplay the suspense--there is plenty--but this book seemed to me like a love letter to Paris. It made me want to walk the Paris streets, sit in cafes drinking coffee, and eat pastries! Tell us about your very difficult research:-)
MARK: Thank you, Debs, and it’s a struggle for sure. Every year I have to make the trek to Paris to ensure I’m not missing out on anything, slogging my way through pastries and patio gardens, dragging my weary carcass along boulevards and into parks... but who else is going to do it for me? I’d never ask that of someone else. My wife is kind enough to brave these trials and tribulations with me, so there’s that, but I try to remain cheery as I sip cafĂ© and wander through Paris’s idyllic cemeteries (idyllic, I suppose, if you’re not a permanent resident).
You know, a couple of years ago a friend of mine gave his wife one of my books, and as a result she insisted they visit Paris. He was actually a little put out, as it wasn’t his first choice. But he’s a kind man and a good husband so he relented and they went. On his return he sought me out and gushed about how they were now doing everything in their power to move to Paris! I was delighted, of course, and every time someone feels, sees, or tastes a little bit of that beautiful city in one of my books it makes me so happy. So thank you!
DEBS: You had a lot of fun with the business of writing. Was there anything, or anyone-- that inspired the Helen Hancock story line (that you can tell us!)
MARK: Not especially but it’s interesting to me that one of the themes of the book arose entirely organically. Hugo, the broad-minded and non-judgmental fellow that he is, repeatedly finds himself being called a snob, something he would rail against. But it’s true, because despite himself he’s surprised to find so many of his friends and colleagues enjoy a good romance novel.
I think this has sprung from a pet peeve of mine, which is people drawing lines around genres and then looking down their noses—we’ve seen it several times in the past year when certain writers have been snotty about crime fiction. I won’t name any names, but the idea that because a book contains a crime, and maybe its solving, the story automatically becomes less worthy is laughable. But the same is true of other genres, like sci-fi or romance. I suppose The Sorbonne Affair is a chance for Hugo to be challenged on this point, and it was rather fun for me to prick him with his own prejudice.
DEBS: Your transgender French police officer Camille Lerens is a major character in the book. We learn a little, along with Hugo, about her transition process. Was Camille inspired by a particular person?

MARK: Camille has become more and more real and important to me, for quite a few reasons, and while she was not inspired by any one individual I think it’s desperately important that (especially white, male, privileged) authors create novels that reflect the world around them, not just the bubbles they’ve lived in. My early books are quite white and vanilla, which is okay to a degree but it’s not where we live. The world is full of people with different skin colors, sexual orientations, gender identities, and while some people may not like or understand these differences, it remains true that they exist. And books should include all these experiences.

To be clear, I didn’t create Camille as some sort of political statement, not at all. She’s there to reflect the real world because there are thousands and thousands of Camilles out there, and just as many Hugos wanting to better understand her, just as there are thousands of people who don’t care to.
So, after the first books I realized I was depriving myself and my characters of the full richness of the world, keeping Hugo from experiencing all of its orientations, so to speak. In The Button Man I gave him Merlyn, who is sweet and kind and thoughtful and kinky (writer Jillian Keenan has argued, and persuasively I think, that kink is itself an orientation). Hugo had to deal with her and face his preconceived notions, and now he has Camille who doesn’t so much challenge the way he thinks (he embraces her for who she is) but he’s not sure how to talk to her about it. So it’s fun for me to work through that with him, and help him grow as a character. And, on the lighter side, force him into a pair of leather assless chaps…

The bottom line is that when authors include likeable, relatable characters who are perhaps in a different demographic, we can confront what we don’t know in a safe way, maybe think a little and learn a little. I don’t know, but I feel like right now the world needs a little more kindness and understanding. Heck, a lot more kindness and understanding, and if one character in one book can be a drop in the bucket towards that, I’ll be thrilled.

DEBS: Who else loved those mid-century espionage thrillers? I read that one of Helen MacInnes's books was used as a manual for training British spies during WWII!
And would you want to give Hugo a good talking to for being a genre snob???

Mark Pryor is a former newspaper reporter from England, and now a prosecutor with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, in Austin, Texas.
He is the author of the Hugo Marston mystery series, set in Paris, London, and Barcelo

na. The most recent is ​ THE SORBONNE AFFAIR, a "flawlessly constructed whodunit," according to Booklist. His previous novel in the series was THE PARIS LIBRARIAN, which the Toronto Globe & Mail says “has it all… a finely structured plot that’s one of Pryor’s best books yet.”  The first Hugo Marston novel, called THE BOOKSELLER, was a Library Journal Debut of the Month, and called "unputdownable" by Oprah.com, and the series was recently featured in the New York Times.

Mark is also the author of the psychological thriller, HOLLOW MAN, and its sequel, DOMINIC, which will be published in January of 2018. He also created the nationally-recognized true-crime blog 'D.A. Confidential.' As a prosecutor, he has appeared on CBS News's 48 Hours and Discovery Channel's Discovery ID: Cold Blood.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Let's Pretend

 RHYS BOWEN: Who is watching the eclipse right now? Is it as impressive as you thought it would be?  It's a little foggy here so I'm not sure we'll see much, except darkness.

A friend once said to me “Some people hear voices and they are locked up and called insane. Other people hear voices and write them down and are called authors.”

I guess that’s true: I certainly lived in the world of my imagination as a child. I was lonely and cut off for much of my childhood, first living in a house with my grandmother and great aunts and then in a big drafty Victorian in an acre of garden and away from the rest of the village. So I always had to amuse myself. As a small child I had imaginary friends. They were called The Gott Family. (and no, I didn’t know any German) They were four sisters: Gorna Gott, Leure Gott, Googoo Gott and Perambulator Gott. You.’ll see from that that I was a rather strange child. But my excuse is that I didn’t know any real children so I wasn’t up on names.

 The Gott family had to come everywhere with us—shopping, to the park. Places had to be laid for them at table. When I wasn’t playing with the Gott family I played with my grandmother’s buttons. She had a huge box of discarded buttons and these became members of a family, a school, a hospital (the buttons with chips in them were the patients in match boxes and the white buttons were the doctors and nurses).

Later when we moved to our big house I played at being Patsy of the circus on a trapeze I built in our orchard. Oh, and I pretended (or thought) that I was Queen of Swanley (the nearest village). I’d ride around on my bike nodding graciously to people I passed. They must have thought I was batty. (and it turns out my dear friend Louise Penny also thought she was really royal and had been left with peasants!)

In past times in upper class England it was normal for a child to grow up alone in a nursery. I don't think this was healthy in many ways, but it did produce some wonderful imaginations. Just think what we would have missed if Christopher Robin had been sent to pres-school!

So I’m curious about the rest of the Reds. Did you do a lot of pretending when you were small? Did you have an imaginary friend?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  SO funny. My go-to threat to my parents was that if they persisted in doing whatever onerous and unacceptable thing they were doing, like, say, making me go to bed at a "reasonable" time,  they would be  SO SORRY when my  REAL parents, the King and Queen of..somewhere...came to retrieve their long-lost princess daughter. Hey. It could still happen.

We did lots of "shows" wearing crinolines (where did we get those?  Sometimes on our heads so we had long flowing hair. We made up songs and dances, and really practiced. We were amazingly skilled Olympic ice skaters (in socks) on our slick wood hallway. And we were fabulous Olympic gymnasts on the pommel horse (back of the couch) until Mom yelled.  We were big on cowboys, I remember, and...detectives.

I had too many siblings to need imaginary friends. I was more likely to imagine that my siblings disappeared. Just saying.

LUCY BURDETTE: I played nonstop with my older sister (by eleven months, can you imagine?) We had stuffed animals more than dolls. Her favorite was a Dalmatian named Roland, who must have come from the original 101 Dalmatians movie. I sewed her a miniature version of that dog, about 3 inches high and flat, with spots painted on by a magic marker. She called him "Little Rol." And his best friends were my stuffed cats (covered in colored rabbit fur) called Fuzzy Wuzzy, Wuzzy Fuzzy, Queenie, Tangerine, and Licorice. (I know, showing a lack of imagination in a major way!) When we grew older, she might send me Little Rol for company if I was up against something especially challenging. And then I'd send him back. Today we exchange photos of our gray cats, who provide comfort in a similar way. I would show you the original cats, but sadly roaches in Florida ate away all the fur and I finally had to throw them out!

HALLIE EPHRON: Roberta, why am I not surprised that you played with stuffed animals?!?

I did not have imaginary friends. A failure of imagination, I suppose. Not big into dolls or stuffed toys, either. But I liked to play "school" -- my parents got me a chalk board and a little desk, but my younger sister only played along under duress. I had a dear friend, a boy who used to put on plays (I played Wendy to his Peter Pan, Cinderella to his Prince…) and invite the neighborhood. My parents were working still at 20th Century Fox so I got a 'ball gown' from the costume department for Cinderella. I've often wondered how excruciating we must have been to watch.

I loved watching my daughter design elaborate cityscapes on her bedroom floor. No matter how many blocks we bought there were never enough. She's an architect, of course.

JENN MCKINLAY: Rhys, I have not stopped laughing at the name Perambulator Gott. That absolutely made my day! Lucy, like you, I played non-stop with my brother who, again like you and your sister, is eleven months older than me. Irish twins! I was determined to do everything he did and between the two of us, we were cops and robbers, soldiers, veterinarians, archeologists, and then there was an unfortunate Tarzan episode where I was cast as the friendly ape. We did have Tonka trucks, and GI Joe dolls, and I had one girl doll, but I cut off all of her hair so she could keep up with GI Joe. The best part of childhood was making up adventures with my brother. I am ever grateful that I had such a cool sidekick.

INGRID THOFT: I don’t recall any imaginary friends, probably because I had three siblings so I didn’t have to look far for a playmate.  Hallie, your theatrical endeavors reminded me of the shows I use to put on with one of my sisters.  We dressed up as Donny and Marie Osmond and would perform their greatest hits for our parents and grandmother.  My sister was Donny, and I remember wearing a nightgown in my attempt to approximate an evening gown!  It was probably painful and hilarious to watch, but I’m grateful that my parents and Nanny (that’s what we called my grandmother) were such an attentive audience.  We also use to stack encyclopedias (remember those?) in the hallway to make jumps for horses.  The same sister was usually the horse and would carry me on her back.  You might think she got the short end of the stick, but I clearly remember her dressing me up as various things—kind of like Gertie does to E.T.—including one memorable turn as a flight attendant with an ample sock bosom.  Ahhh, siblings!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, I was quite isolated, too. My brother is ten years older, and up until I was about six we were in the country with no close neighbors (the suburbs grew around us after that.) I had imaginary friends (sort of), little gnome-like people who lived in a cave in a creek bank near our house. They would invite me to tea. Very Narnia-esque, but of course I wouldn't read those books until a good many years later. I played with stuffed animals, too, for hours on end. And I played with my grandmother's buttons! So funny. How many kids these days get to play with buttons? (Although I have a whole tub of them which I'm sure will come in useful in a year or two around here.)

After I started school, my best friend and I spent days roaming the creek, playing spies and army and Indian trackers. Not very girly girls, I guess, and we never put on plays or musicals, much to my disappointment now, but we did eat a lot of Vienna sausage and Triscuits on our adventures.

I'm going to be laughing over the Gotts for the rest of the day. No wonder you have such fun with the names in the Georgie books.

RHYS:  Yay, Debs. I knew we were kindred spirits. You played with buttons too!
So who else had a pretend-friend and lived in a world of make-believe? These days with all the stress going on in the real world I think a make-believe world to escape to might be rather nice, don't you?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Night and Day--Eclipse Safely!


By I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/

We all know what we are doing tomorrow, right? Eclipse day! Are you prepared? I am dying to see it, but nowhere can I find those eclipse glasses. Talk about not planning ahead, sigh.  

I keep thinking someone will come up to me and say--hey, Hank, want some ISO approved eclipse glasses? And I will say, oh. lovely thank you!

But I'm not hot on the pinspot thing, that's not read. And TV is ever less real. But if this is the only time in my lifetime I'm gonna be able to see this, I want to SEE it!  (But I do not want to fry my retinas, right?)  

So I am crossing my fingers.

Seriously. If you are going to watch it raw, make sure your eyes are properly protected!

As for today, I'm in New York at the Writers Digest conference (as I have been since Thursday, teaching a class each day), and will spend the morning on a panel with Hallie, Paula Munier and Jane Cleland, moderated by Laura DiSilverio! And then I'll attend some other seminars, then Acela home! (Just in time to watch Game of Thrones. Oooh.)

How about you, Reds and readers?  Where are you, and what are you doing today? (And did you get eclipse glasses?)

Let us know what you're up to!

(And did you check to see if you won a book this week? Look back at the blogs where you commented--we've listed the names there! And congratulations--here's to the next ten years with Jungle Red!) 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Take Your Pick

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Don’t ever let it be said that the Reds have failed to allow you to learn new things. Widen your horizons. Deepen your skills.   Yesterday, what to do if you are kidnapped. And today, another lesson that may well come in handy, er, someday. We are the first place you look for that kind of valuable stuff, right?

This wisdom, hard-won and in-depth and exclusive to Jungle Red (J) , comes from the amazing Kristen Lepionka.  If you hear a sound in the background, that buzz is everyone on the planet talking about her new (and debut) novel THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK.   

Now, take notes, you all. Then—hide them.

Unlocking the Secrets of Unlocking

Lock-picking always looks so easy in the movies. Is it weird that I notice this? Probably, but no matter--with a single bobby pin or paperclip, Hollywood wants us to believe that our heroine can get any door open in mere seconds. But in reality, it’s not so simple. I know this because, when I created the protagonist in my novel THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK--Roxane Weary, a private investigator who’s been known to trespass through locked doors--I wanted to get the details about lock-picking just right. First, I fell down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos about lock-picking. Then I ordered an instruction booklet from a vaguely sketchy website. Then, still unable to figure it out on my own, I wondered if I could get someone to teach me how to do it.

Maybe the sketchy website could put me in touch with someone locally? This type of question seems perfectly reasonable to a writer in full-on research mode.

Then I heard about an organization called Locksport International which is an entirely upstanding and non-sketchy group dedicated to competitive lock-picking. Locks are basically just the home security version of a Rubik’s Cube, and Locksport International gathers people together to practice, compete, and challenge each other to “solve” them. And they’re quite generous about teaching, too! I attended one of their workshops and learned all about this delicate art, including things that Hollywood often gets wrong--like that single paperclip I was talking about.

You really need two tools to open a lock--a pick, and a tension wrench. Without both, it’s virtually impossible. Here’s how it works.

Your garden variety front door lock--a pin and tumbler lock--consists of a series of short vertical pins that are lined up in a matching series of holes drilled into the top of a larger cylinder (which contains the keyhole on the front). The pins prevent the cylinder from turning. But if you push those pins up and out of the cylinder, it will open freely. Each lock has pins of different heights, which is where those jagged edges on your housekey come in. Their purpose is to move the pins up and out of the cylinder, a point called the shear line.

But you can’t open a locked door just by inserting a key and standing there watching, right? You have to turn the key too. Hence the second tool. The pick simulates the jagged edge on your key, and the L-shaped tension wrench simulates the turning motion you make when unlocking your front door the regular way. As soon as the pins are lifted above the shear line, the motion of the tension wrench turns the lock open.

So the next time you watch a movie where a character picks a lock, take a look at how they’re doing it. And check out Locksport International for more information on the exciting world of hobby and competitive lock-picking--it’s quite a lot of fun. Here is a video of me demonstrating

To win a signed copy of the The Last Place You Look, comment with your favorite "rule-breaking" detective character!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ooh. We just did a big story about the unscrupulous lock-pickers out there, the ones who take advantage of panicked homeowners who have locked themselves out. See? Now you can avoid all that.

Rule-breaking detective. Hmm. Isn’t that all of them? Or is it? Gotta start with Sherlock Holmes. How about you, Reds and readers? 

And have you ever picked a lock?

THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK to one lucky commenter! 

(And hey, Kristen, tell us more about your book in the comments!)

 Kristen Lepionka is the author of the Roxane Weary mystery series, starting with The Last Place You Look (Minotaur Books, 2017). She grew up mostly in a public library and could often be found in the adult mystery section well before she was out of middle school. Her writing has been selected for Shotgun Honey, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and Black Elephant, and she is also the editor of Betty Fedora, a lit journal focusing on feminist crime fiction. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner and two cats.




Nobody knows what happened to Sarah Cook. The beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton―black and from the wrong side of the tracks―was convicted of the murders and is now on death row. Though he’s maintained his innocence all along, the clock is running out. His execution is only weeks away when his devoted sister insists she spied Sarah at an area gas station. Willing to try anything, she hires PI Roxane Weary to look at the case and see if she can locate Sarah.

Brad might be in a bad way, but private investigator Roxane Weary isn’t doing so hot herself. Still reeling from the recent death of her cop father in the line of duty, her main way of dealing with her grief has been working as little and drinking as much as possible. But Roxane finds herself drawn in to the story of Sarah's vanishing act, especially when she links the disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl.

The stakes get higher as Roxane discovers that the two girls may not be the only beautiful blonde teenagers who’ve turned up missing or dead. As her investigation gets darker and darker, Roxane will have to risk everything to find the truth. Lives depend on her cracking this case―hers included.

Kristen Lepionka
Author of The Last Place You Look, out now from Minotaur Books
www.kristenlepionka.com | Sign up for my newsletter