Author Interview: Mark Pryor, The Sorbonne Affair

 I love mysteries and was happy to discover a bookstore here in Scottsdale called Poisoned Pen which sells mostly mysteries, although they have expanded what they sell a bit. I love to go there and wander around and the staff  can always point me to new authors that I haven’t heard of.  I was looking around and noticed a table set up featuring books which had France and mostly, Paris, as the setting. The Sorbonne Affair was one of these. I bought it and was about half way through reading it when I started wondering if the author, Mark Pryor, would agree to an interview. Happily, he agreed. I love doing author interviews.
 The book is set in Paris and is about a well known author who feels she is being spied on and consults with an American Embassy head of security, Hugo Marston, and the story proceeds from there with some deaths and intrigue. I wasn’t able to guess who the murderer was. Along the way, you get some looks at Paris which I especially liked as I could picture them as I read, some tasty food descriptions and information on writing books and getting published. So, if you like Paris and mysteries this may be for you. If you don’t like the “f word”, one character will really bother you.
1. This doesn’t have anything to do about your book but how did someone from England end up in Austin, Texas? And, also, how did you go from being a journalist to being an assistant district attorney? Do you deal with murder cases in your job?
Well, my mother is actually from Chapel Hill, NC, and we used to come over here every couple of years to visit. In the early ’90s I went there to travel a bit, spend time with family. I ended up falling in love with the States, with living here, and resolved to stay. I worked as a freelance journalist in Chapel Hill and Raleigh and also went back to school to get my journalism degree from UNC. I then decided to go to law school, attending Duke just down the road.
I met my wife there, Sarah, and after law school we decided to move to Texas, where her dad and sister lived. We got jobs at big law firms (which we hated!) and after three years I applied to the DA’s office here in Austin. I realized I wanted to be in a courtroom, doing trials, and that was the only way I could think to do that. Roll on ten years and I’m still doing it!
2. I love the cover of your book. Did you have anything to do with selecting it? Do you know which terrace in Paris it was taken from? (I think I have been to the terrace seen on the front of his book. It’s on top of the Terrace Hotel, 12 rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018 in Montmartre.
I’m so glad you like it! No, my publisher has an art department that does all the covers. I loved the one for The Paris Librarian, too, they do a great job. And if I knew where that terrace was, I might be there myself, sipping coffee…
3. How did it come about that you set your series of mysteries (Hugo Marston-head of security for the American Embassy) in Paris? Do you spend time in Paris doing research?
Honestly, the only reason is that I had an idea for the first book, The Bookseller, while I was there. Literally walking down the street alongside the Seine and the idea came to me. And so Hugo Marston was born!
Yes, I do spend time there for research. I go for every book, once I have the idea of what the story is. I’ll be going again for the new one in December and this will be something like my 18th visit! I know, I know, it’s tough that I have to go there and research in person but like every artist I’m prepared to suffer a little… 😉
4. I did a Google search for the hotel featured in your book, the Sorbonne Hotel, but couldn’t find it so I assume you made it up for your book. Is it based on a hotel that you know in Paris? Where do you stay when in Paris?
Right, I made it up as there’s no hotel with that name — there should be though, right? As for where we stay, generally I’m there for a whole week so we’ll rent an apartment to make it a little cheaper. We tend to pick different parts of the city each time,just because we’ve been there so much it’s too easy to drift back to a favorite spot. When we go in December it’ll just be for a few days, so we’re scouring for a good hotel in Montmartre, where I plan to set the next book.
5. Did you ever have any contact with someone in the American Embassy in Paris to know how to write about it and your main character?
Yes! I was too shy/embarrassed to do it before The Bookseller came out, but once it hit the shelves I felt like a ‘real writer’ so had the nerve to email the State Dept and inquire. After a few emails got bounced around to several people, someone from the embassy there invited me to come take a tour. I ended up sitting down with a real RSO (not Hugo’s counterpart, he was traveling, but his 2nd in command) for about two hours just talking about what they do and how they do it. it was fascinating and, best of all, it turned out I had got pretty much everything right in the first book. Pure luck, of course!
6. How did you learn about the French legal system?
I actually try and steer clear of getting too technical as far as that goes. Because of my day job I’m pretty familiar with police procedures, crime scene protocols etc, but you’ll notice that once someone is arrested for the murder, the book usually ends. What little I put in there comes from internet research, although now I think about it I do have a friend from law school who works in a Paris law firm now and she advised me on one aspect of The Sorbonne Affair (which I can’t mention, as it might give something away!).
7. How do you get ideas for your books?
I never know how to answer this question, because it sounds weird: I don’t know. Occasionally I’ll take a snippet from something I’ve seen in real life, but not usually. The fact is, I have a hundred books in my head that want to be written, I just don’t have the time. Coming up with plots isn’t hard for me, quite the opposite, and I know I’m very fortunate in that regard.
8. Why did you start writing mysteries?
Because I grew up reading them. I’ve always wanted to write, always did write even as a kid. And so when I started in on it seriously, it only made sense for me to write a mystery. It’s about all I watch on TV, too, mysteries, true crime… and soccer. Crime and the mind of the criminal have always fascinated me and I suppose this is another way I can explore that fascination.
9. Favorite mystery authors?
How many am I allowed?! Ok, so historically my faves have been Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, PD James… those folks. Now I’m super into Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir series, I love Alan Furst, adore Tana French.. who else? Oh, big fan of James Ziskin, Jamie Mason, Craig Johnson…if only I had more time to read!
10. I assume you visit Paris often. What are some of your favorite places there? If someone were going there for the first time, where would you tell them to go?
Yes! As often as I can. You know, the thing I like to do the most there is walk. Just walk. On my last trip I wore a device that tracked how far I went, and my fei and I covered ten miles every day (and still I put on a few pounds, what’s that about?!). There are lots of obvious tourist attractions, but I would point someone towards the Musee d’Orsay, the grounds of the Louvre, and the Catacombs. And advise them to find a cafe and just sit and have a coffee or a drink and watch people. Rush about for an hour or two, then just sit and watch.
11. Have you visited other parts of France? If so, any favorites? Being from England, were you lucky enough to visit growing up?
Yes, I have, I’m very lucky in that regard. My mother actually lives in the Pyrenees mountains in France, and my wife and I were married in her tiny little village. I’ve driven and taken the train to or through most every part of France and love it all. The Loire for its castles, Bordeaux for its vineyards, Pau for its mountains. Even the flatter northern parts are wonderful, so rich in history with little stone villages dotted around… ahh, you’re making me want to go there now!

4 thoughts to “Author Interview: Mark Pryor, The Sorbonne Affair”

  1. Enjoyed the interview. I had read about this new novel recently and put it on my “to-read” list. I love series with the same main character, and all the better if the story takes place in Paris!

  2. Loved learning of a mystery series set in Paris, and enjoyed your interview as well as the references in it to other mystery writers. Thank you for sharing this with your readers, and good for you in contacting Mark Pryor, very proactive!!

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