Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mark Pryor--The Paris Librarian

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You have to love Jungle Red. We get to go to Paris two days in a row! Yesterday it was Paris in WWI, today it's Paris in the present. Ever wonder about the story behind the story? Here's a great one from another of my favorite writers, the terrific MARK PRYOR

First, a little background on his newest Hugo Marston book, THE PARIS LIBRARIAN:

Hugo Marston’s friend Paul Rogers dies unexpectedly in a locked room at the American Library in Paris. The police conclude that Rogers died of natural causes, but Hugo is certain mischief is afoot.

As he pokes around the library, Hugo discovers that rumors are swirling around some recently donated letters from American actress Isabelle Severin. The reason: they may indicate that the actress had aided the Resistance in frequent trips to France toward the end of World War II. Even more dramatic is the legend that the Severin collection also contains a dagger, one she used to kill an SS officer in 1944.

Hugo delves deeper into the stacks at the American library and finally realizes that the history of this case isn’t what anyone suspected. But to prove he’s right, Hugo must return to the scene of a decades-old crime.

Here's Mark to tell us how it all came about.
There are two stories that lie between the pages of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN. One makes me cry, the other makes me laugh.
Shall we start with the tears? Good, so let me present a nice photo of a gentleman called Michael Harmuth. He’s with his daughter Sarah, who happens to be a book seller in Wisconsin, and her daughter, Scout.

Well, early last year Sarah wrote to me and said that her dad, Michael, was a fan of the Hugo series. But she said Michael had cancer and was unlikely to live until the next book in the series was released (THE RELUCTANT MATADOR) in June.
Was there any way I could get an advanced copy to him? she wondered.
Now, my own father was taken by the pestilence that is cancer so, obviously, my answer was heck yes. I asked my publisher to send me an ARC, and I wrote a wee note in it, signed it, and sent it to Michael.
That started a wee conversation between the two of us, and he kept me informed as to his progress with the book. He said he was reading it slowly, so as not to get to the end too fast. As you might imagine, that email had me reaching for the tissues.
Turns out Michael enjoyed the book, which I’d been hoping for desperately. And I didn’t want the last page to be the end of Michael’s association with Hugo so I wrote to him and asked, “How would you like to be a character in the next book?”
He loved the idea and, even though I’ve put the names of other people I know in books, he’s the only one I’ve let choose his role. Good guy, bad, guy, red herring, eye-witness… whatever he so desired.
And now, of course, I must remain tight-lipped for fear of giving anything away. Suffice to say, even though Michael is no longer with us, he lives on in Hugo’s world, and in Paris no less!
Now for the laugh, which comes in the form of a “truth is stranger than fiction” guffaw. As you might be able to tell from the title, Hugo’s latest adventure takes place in and around the American Library in Paris.

Now, back in 2015, once I formulate the idea for the story, I email the good people there and ask rather boldly: “Hello, do you mind if I kill someone in your library?”
Not even hours later I receive a resounding “Yes!!” and an invitation to tour the place. Now, I’m not one to turn down a visit to Paris, so my wife and I hop on a plane to spend a week in our favorite city. And this is where the story gets somewhat amusing.
When we show up to the library, librarians Audrey and Abigail are there to show us around. They start with the front, the circulation area, then lead us through the stacks. At the back of the building, they both stop and when I look past them I see a set of stairs leading down, roped off.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Err, the basement. We store books down there.”
“Can I see?”
Nervous glances between them, and a hesitant response. “Well, I guess that’d be OK.”
“Oh, is there a problem?”
“Umm, no real problem. It’s just... a little creepy down there.”
Which, as you know, is precisely what a mystery author wants to hear.
So we head down and it is creepy, slightly dim and musty. I tell them about the book in progress, and explain that I’ll have a character who dies early in a locked room. Audrey says, “Oh, that’s funny, we have a small room down here. We call it the atelier, you can see it.”
Sure enough, there’s the tiny little room for my poor, unsuspecting victim to die in. 

We poke around downstairs a little more and I disappear down a short hallway near the foot of the stairs. To my right is a small boiler room, but to my left is a door. In the wall. It blends in and you could walk right by it.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Oh.” That hesitation again. “It’s our secret door.”
Are you kidding me?? I thought that, didn’t say it. Not like that, anyway. Instead I ask mildly, “Oh, do tell.”
Turns out it’s their door into the American University, which takes up the majority of that block. A door they’re not allowed to use because, well, it’s kind of their secret.
“Do you happen to have a key?” I ask.
They side-eye each other. “We do but we’re not allowed to....”
My raised eyebrow stops them, and one of the women heads upstairs for the key.
Now, you know what I’m thinking. It’s a possible escape avenue for my killer, right? But that requires lots of people to have access to the key, and what are the odds of that given that it’s to a secret door? But I ask anyway.
“Only the library staff and volunteers can access the key,” they assure me.
“And how many...?”
“Maybe ten staff and, in the course of a year,” Abigail thinks for a second, “maybe a hundred volunteers.”
I grin like a chimpanzee. “Perfect.”
Later, as I wrapped the book up, it struck me that these coincidences might appear too good to be true, too contrived. So I actually put an author’s note in the front of the book pointing out that the library does have a secret door!
And this made me wonder if my fellow writers ever came across situations like this, when their research came up with something almost too perfect... or if readers ever stumbled over something in a novel, not believing it at first but then finding out it was true?
Oh, and you’re probably wondering if I went through the secret door that afternoon. I will tell you that had I done so and admitted it in writing, my librarian friends might have got in trouble.
So here I am, admitting nothing in writing...

DEBS: That is heartbreaking but wonderful. I'm so glad Michael Harmuth got to be in your book, and I love the locked room mystery. And the American Library is now on my must-see list next time I go to Paris.   

REDS and readers, Mark will check in to chat, and is giving a copy of THE PARIS LIBRARIAN to one of our commenters. (Last time Mark was a guest, his kids got to choose the winner.)

Mark grew up in Hertfordshire, England, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and three young children. He is currently an Assistant District Attorney with the Travis County DA's office.

PS: The winner of Charles Todd's THE SHATTERED TREE is Bev Fontaine! Bev, email me at deb at deborahcrombie dot com and we'll get the book out to you!


  1. I enjoyed hearing some of the behind-the-book stories of “The Paris Librarian.”
    Michael’s story is so touching . . . I can’t wait to read the book and find out what character Michael chose.

    I am still chuckling over “Hello, do you mind if I kill someone in your library?” and, although I can’t think of a book I’ve read where things seemed too perfect, I think it’s really rather amazing that your library tour yielded a perfectly creepy basement complete with a tiny dying room and a secret door . . . .

  2. That has to be the most perfect story for a writer ever told. The American Library sounds like a ready made set. Only in Paris.

    What a lovely story about Michael, and how wonderful that he will live on in The Paris Librarian.

  3. Now I'm sobbing about Michael and his role in your next story. What a lovely gift for him, Mark.

    So cool to have found a "secret" door, too.

  4. Wow..can't wait to see what role Michael plays in this one!

  5. Love these stories Mark. You are so smart to set books in Paris...

    I auctioned a character name off in DEADLY ADVICE to benefit the local library. There was some spirited bidding, and the item was finally won by a very nice man named Bernd Becker. He became a condo manager in the advice series, a strong character like the real man. I learned as I wrote the second book that he was sick with cancer, and he died soon after. Like you, Mark, I was really happy to have a way for him to live on...

    I know Michael's family must be thrilled to see him on your pages.

  6. Such a wonderful story, Mark. And once again confirms what a stand-up guy you are. Books are so powerful, in so many different ways. Thank you for sharing this with us here this morning.

    (I've got the book, of course, so I recuse myself from the drawing)

  7. Thank you for two very sweet stories… As for the too- coincidental one -- so funny! My book The Wrong Girl ( yes, it has girl in the title but it was written in 2012, OK? :-) is based on a real life incident .

    A woman called to say that her cousin had been sent to the wrong birth mother, as a result of a mixup and an assumption at an adoption agency: She explained that two infant girls, one named Mary and one named Marie, were born to cousins with the same last name on exactly the same day, and turned over to the adoption agency. 25 years later, when Mary was looking for her birth mother, so was the mother of Marie. Those two were matched up as mother and daughter. So as you see, the agency sent the birthmother at the wrong girl.

    I thought that was such a fabulous story! But in the book, I had to make it happen a different way, because the truth was way too unbelievable.

    Congratulations on a wonderful sounding book! And I love the cover too!

  8. What a wonderful gesture Mark. Now Michael gets a trip to Paris, my preferred destination. I also love the story about the secret door and look forward to your book. Where is the American Library and University? Haven't come across those in my trips to the city of light. I like to visit the places I read about in books, brings it to life for me. (Yes I could google the address!)

  9. Welcome, Mark! It was on my nightstand before this interview and now I'm pushing it up to the top! I'm working on THE PARIS SPY, set in 1942....

  10. No perfect settings for me, but I did have the perfect name. I offered a character named at auction for my daughter's school. The winner wanted her aunt to be the character. The aunt was an elderly Catholic lady, very devout, Who Loved Mysteries. She had a very Italian name, difficult to put into my Upstate New York series, so... I made her a nun. As it happens, having a nun in the book was what set up the entire plot. A happy turn of events!

  11. What a sweet story! I look forward to meeting the fictional Michael.

    It's a pleasant surprise to find out you have another book out. Since I'm on vacation and reading my way through my TBR pile,I'll make it a priority to set some others aside so I can read it as soon as I can. I love how I get so wrapped up in your mysteries that when I look up from the book to find myself in my living room instead of in the scene I'm reading, I'm surprised. And wow! A secret room! Looking forward to it!

    Deb Romano

  12. What a touching story about Michael.

    The story about the library though. That has me laughing. How perfect. And what a wonderful set of circumstances for a mystery author! I wonder what your librarian friends were thinking. "We could get in such trouble, but..."

    No need to enter me in the drawing for the book as I won a copy from the publisher via Twitter. It's sitting on my piano. Perhaps it'll have to be next in line!

  13. Thanks everyone! You know, I get to meet Michael's brother next weekend, I'm doing a signing in his neck of the woods, in Dallas, so that'll be a treat for me. I'm gutted I didn't get to meet Michael in person, but I've been in touch with several members of his family and they are all wonderful people. I feel lucky that Sarah reached out to me.

    As for the whereabouts of the American Library, I'm not surprised you missed it, Ann, it's not the gran structure it deserves to be. The address is 10 Rue du Général Camou, which is a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, maybe one block away.

    I've since heard from the two librarians who gave us the tour, and they read the book and aren't mad at me, so I'm going to assume they didn't get into TOO much trouble. :)

    Thank you so much for hosting me, JRW, I'm a loyal fan of yours and am honored to appear amongst you.

    Oh, and hope to see you all in New Orleans!


    1. We always stay in the 7th so we shall look for it next time. That's my favorite arrondisement

  14. Hi Mark and all! So funny, I couldn't get the photo Mark sent me of the American Library to go in the blog (sometimes Blogger is really cranky like that) so I did an image search for the American Library in Paris, and ended up taking a little Paris tour. I can tell you just from that that the view of the Eiffel Tower from the library is stunning. And now I really, really want to go back to Paris....

    Mark, what's up next for Hugo?

  15. Mark, it's on my nightstand too. Can't wait to finish the book I'm writing so that I can read again. And now I must visit the American library next time I'm in Paris. A secret door? Perfect.

  16. What a sweet, wonderful story about Michael, Mark. It speaks volumes about how important that connection between reader and author is, and your compassionate nature shines through. The secret room is absolutely delicious. I imagine that those librarians had quite a lot of fun showing you around and experiencing your delighted reaction to the creepy and the hidden.

    Every winter I chose at least a couple of series to either catch up on or start and finish. Yesterday, the Todds were here, and it so happens that catching up on the Ian Rutledge series is on my schedule for this winter. And, now, Mark is here, and Hugo is also on my series schedule this year. The Paris Librarian sounds like a read I will easily love, but I'll have to hold off on it until this winter. That is not going to be easy.

    Looking forward to seeing you at Bouchercon, Mark.

  17. Terrific stories!
    I'm in the Houston area right now helping out with my brand new granddaughter. We're almost neighbors!

  18. I am a volunteer at my local library with a key that gives me access to most areas so I can relate to how easy it would be to use that for something wicked. I love reading this blog because it introduces me to so many fabulous series. I just finished The Wrong Girl by Hank, and Siracusa by Delia Ephron, and will put Mark's series on my list. Thank you, Jungle Reds for getting the word out about all these wonderful writers!

  19. Reading this post is my first introduction to your series, Mark -- hard to believe, but true. :-) Anything to do with libraries and secret rooms is right up my alley. What a lovely things for Michael's daughter to have her father's name included in a book posthumously. An homage.

  20. Debs: next for Hugo is an adventure with a romance writer who discovers a spy camera in her posh hotel room... and where Hugo discovers a body in the stairwell... Still in Paris, and I suppose I shall just have to go and do some more in-person research, eh? Poor me...

    Rhys: you should definitely visit -- I recently heard from them, they are renovating the place and have discovered ANOTHER secret, a little room. Amazing, and lovely people working there.

    Ann: have you tried the Indian restaurant on Avenue Rapp? New Jawad... SO good!

    Kathy: Hugo will wait for you, don't worry! And yay, seeya in NOLA!

    Libby: I just got back from a signing there, sorry we didn't cross paths earlier. :)

    Teri: this really is a wonderful venue for discovering new writers, absolutely. If you get to the Hugo books, I do hope you enjoy. :)

  21. For Dallas area readers, Mark will be signing at the Creekwalk Barnes & Noble in Plano on Saturday, September 3rd, at 4 p.m. I'm certainly hoping to make it!

  22. Thank you Mark for sharing the background events that helped shape the setting for your latest book. I'm looking forward to reading it. Whenever I travel I usually always make it a point to visit a library, and sometimes I spend an entire day poking around the collections. If I get back to Paris, the American Library will be on my to do list.

  23. What a touching tribute! This is the first I've heard of the book, but it's definitely getting added to my TBR pile.

    I love the library story. My mom works at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, which is the largest public library building in the world. I love it there, and luckily work about 5 minutes away, so I visit it weekly. Now you've given me the idea to set one of my stories there. Perhaps a murder in the Winter Garden...

  24. No perfect settings for me, but I did have the perfect name. I offered a character named at auction for my daughter's school. The winner wanted her aunt to be the character. The aunt was an elderly Catholic lady, very devout, Who Loved Mysteries. She had a very Italian name, difficult to put into my Upstate New York series, so... I made her a nun. As it happens, having a nun in the book was what set up the entire plot. A happy turn of events!

  25. You've given me evil ideas Mark. Next time I am visiting some interesting historic place I'll try that "I'm writing a book. . ." and see if I can get a behind-the-scenes tour. I got behind on Hugo's adventures. I need to read The Reluctant Matador before I enjoy The Paris Librarian. Two things to look forward to!

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  27. Thank you so much for the endearing background to both threads in THE PARIS LIBRARIAN, Mark. I'm reading it now and enjoying it very much.
    When I was researching my Jane Austen series some time ago in England, I spent the night at a lovely old Palladian villa outside Bath, Ston Easton Park. While wandering around the hotel, I noticed an intriguing group portrait from the late Georgian/early Regency period of four servants. I asked one of the staff about it, and was told: "That's the housekeeper on the left; on the right is her husband, the steward; and in the middle is the stillroom maid. The housekeeper suspected she was sleeping with the steward, and murdered them both." Immediately, the words JANE AND THE STILLROOM MAID leapt into my mind. Book five in my series. :)

  28. Delighted to hear some of the backstory to a book (and a series) I thoroughly enjoyed. I think of these as the Hugo Marston stories. Sorry, Author, I can never remember your name!

  29. Delighted to hear some of the backstory to a book (and a series) I thoroughly enjoyed. I think of these as the Hugo Marston stories. Sorry, Author, I can never remember your name!

  30. How fun to hear those back stories, very cool. Stephanie, that's incredible, I would have jumped all over that story too!
    And Susan, I'll forgive you as long as you keep reading the series!
    Mia, how about: Buried in the Winter Garden. Wait, no. Deep in the Winter Garden. Wait, no...

  31. How could I not love The Paris Librarian. A book set in Paris featuring a librarian with a character named for a man with terminal cancer, a lover of the author's books. Made my day just to read this, Debs. Great blog today. Great guest in Mark Pryor.

  32. Lovely naming story (nice he at least got to choose his eternal position in the line-up). And the librarians were a hoot (well, in a librarian sort of way). Looking forward to it!

  33. Trick of language question: "yes" is not the answer I would have expected to your question, Mark Pryor-- do you mind if I murder someone in your library? I would expect "no, I don't mind."
    A "yes" answer to the do you mind question just doesn't make sense to me as permission to do the thing...although it seems to make sense to many others.
    Just wondering if anyone else shares my version/confusion.

    Will be putting The Paris Libraian on my to read list.

    Thank you for telling of your meeting Michael and making it possible for him to finish just one last book.

  34. Ah, Mark, you've done it again, making me like you even more. Funny you should say that about my dad taking his time with your last book. When Jill was kind enough to give me an ARC of The Paris Librarian, I took my time with it because my dad was there again for a short while. I didn't want it to end because I wanted to keep seeing his name and imagining how happy he'd be if he were reading it! It's a fabulous book and we're so honored to see him memorialized in this way. Looking forward to buying you a drink (or two, or three...) in NOLA next month.

  35. Michael was my dad. To know Mark was putting him in his book made him very happy. For me, the act of sending my dad an ARC so he could read it before he died, makes Mark a hero.
    Being a bookseller, my sister got an ARC of the Paris Librarian. She texted my mom & our siblings a picture of the dedication Mark wrote. I was in the middle of a meeting & cried.
    Mark - I.m jealous my sister gets to meet & thank you in person. Please come to Northern California so the 3 of us here can take you to dinner.

  36. @scoutandralismom - just three drinks??

    @Elizabeth - that sounds absolutely lovely, and I may even take you up on that offer.

    1. Ha! It's New Orleans, so I suppose only three drinks is probably considered the appetizer :)

  37. Mark Pryor,

    The Paris Librarian sounds terrific! How wonderful that you could send the ARC to Michael Harmuth before he died. I just learned about the Hugh Marston series from another book reviewer a couple of weeks ago. Hugo Marston sounds very interesting. Can I ask which of the High Marston books is the first book in the series?

    On another note, I just finished Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown. One of the characters works at the American Library during the 1920s.

    Look forward to reading The Paris Librarian.


  38. Hi Diana, looks like I need to pick up that book, then. :) The first Hugo book is called THE BOOKSELLER, the new one is number six in the series. If you get around to it, I hope you enjoy meeting Hugo!

  39. What a wonderful story. And the books go right on my list to read soon as possible. How did I not hear of them before?(???)