Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A minute too late...

On Thursday night, all was quiet in Charlie Sector. I was riding with Jared, who was coming up to the end of his first year as an APD officer. I'd guess this was my fourth or fifth time riding with him, he's highly regarded by the two Sergeants he's worked under. I got to see why.

We were coming back from a nothing call when a new message popped up. Burglary in progress, and pretty close to where we were. The normal protocol for that is to hit the lights and sirens (aka "running code") until we're close, then shut off the siren (and sometimes lights) in the hope of catching the burglers in the act.

Jared checked the computer for the most recent update and hit the accelerator, but not the lights and sirens. After a couple of streets I asked if he was going to put them on, as we weren't particularly close to the house being burgled. Then I looked at the computer myself, the call text, and saw that the 911 caller (the victim) had chased the bad guys out of his house, struggled with one of them, and the two intruders had sped off.

Jared, basically a rookie, had taken an indirect route to the house, driving fast but quietly, because he was trying to head off the home-invaders. On the map, we could see the house was close to MLK Blvd and I-35.

"If you're fleeing from a crime you've committed, you want to hit the nearest highway to put some distance between you and the cops," he said. And putting the lights and sirens on would make sure they put more distance between us and them. Smart guy, and quick-thinking.

We didn't spot the dark van we were looking for, so we went to the house and were first on scene. We were met by a slightly dazed and bloodied victim. He was a young man who'd come to UT to study, from Taiwan, and only been here three months. He told us he'd been taking a nap when he woke up to the sound of people in his house. He ran into the living room and saw one person, and chased him out. They fought in the front yard until the bad guy said he had a knife, at which point the victim (intelligently) backed off. I could see pieces of his property strewn about the yard, including a large, flat-screen TV lying face down and broken on the driveway.

Two more patrol units arrived in the alley that runs in front of the house. They played flashlights over the grass and the alley to look for more property.

Suddenly, where was a noise on the other side of the chain-link fence, just yards from where we were standing. Three flashlights trained on the area and there, staring right back at us, was a miniature pony.

"Well," I said. "There's your eye witness. Anyone speak horse?"

East Austin. You never know what you're going to get.

EMS arrived to treat the victim, who had been remarkably stoic throughout the ordeal, and the crime scene unit came to take DNA samples in case any part of the bad guys stuck to him. As of the end of the shift, though, the two criminals who'd invaded the poor man's home were free and clear.


Monday, December 16, 2013

How's your Hungarian?

Hungary is one of the countries where my first novel, THE BOOKSELLER, has been published.




The hard thing about foreign publication is knowing how it's doing. Not just sales, but also reviews. I can find the reviews easily enough, by searching for my name plus "Hugo Marston," the problem (obviously) is knowing what they say.

The only tool I have is Google Translate. And when I say "tool" I mean... well, see for yourself. This from a blog where the blogger reviews books (I think):

Uh-huh, because I could not get myself again.  This is the last dose and the toughest one, but I do not care this year. : D Up greasy bread I eat a whole month. : P Mark Pryor: The mystery bookseller Mark Pryor.

Rather unsatisfying, I think you'll agree. So if you speak Hungarian, pop over to: http://olvasoszoba.blogspot.com/ and let me know whether the blogger enjoyed my book. Or whether greasy bread is, in fact, involved.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Criminal Luck, and in the Cold (...but the good guys win)

Some weekends go to hell in a hand-basket, the criminals seep out from their lairs and dispatch your fun times with a sociopathic callousness that leaves you utterly helpless. So helpless that sometimes all you can do is laugh, and appreciate some of the good things.

(Oh, sure, I'm exaggerating a little. But hindsight mellows trauma and the mind of a writer maximizes it, so you get what you get...)

It started with an ear-ache and a slice of fortune. Eldest girl had one, and luckily the doctor was already expecting her and her twin brother for their annual check-up. Sarah drove them in, a five o'clock appointment, while I stretched out on the couch for a solid hour of writing time. Then the phone rang, Sarah concealing panic but not very well.

"There's smoke coming out of the hood. What should I do?"

I suggested a three-pronged approach: 1. pull over; 2. disembark herself and the kids; and 3. call 911.

I knew she'd have done 1. and 2. anyway, but like a lot of people she's hesitant to call 911 because she doesn't want to tie up emergency services, to stop the cops/firemen/paramedics from getting to a real emergency. Me, I don't have those concerns. I know precisely the crap that people call 911 for, and so I assured her that a car fire would make the chaps in the big red engine whoop with delight.

She did so, and I hopped into my car to dash out there and bring them all safely home. Nothing is that easy, of course, because the "We'll be there in sixty to ninety minutes" tow-truck company didn't show. We waited in an empty parking lot for two hours as night settled around us. Waited with three hungry kids, one of whom had an ear-infection. Not the most fun evening that the Pryors have had.

Jump to a week later. It's Saturday morning, the car's fixed and we all load up for Henry's first soccer tournament, heading to San Antonio. Two games on Saturday, two on Sunday. I'm more excited than he is, because while I play soccer I'm not anywhere near as talented as he is. Or intense (not the goalie, the one with the death-ray stare):



So, we set off. Thirty miles later, West of Dripping Springs, I notice the temperature gauge. It's poking the "H" and, even though I'm no mechanic, I know that "H" doesn't stand for "Hey, if the arrow's pointing at me, all's well." I pull over and open the hood. (How much of a mechanic am I? It took me ten minutes to figure out how).  Coolant reservoir empty, gurgling noises from the guts of the beast. Not good.

Sarah calls the dealership, who redirects her to a towing company. A friend gives up her Saturday morning to come get us, and we text Henry's team to let them know he'll miss the first game. Bollocks.

Double bollocks, because we hear later that his team was leading up until the last three minutes, then ran out of steam. Henry never runs out of steam, and I'm convinced his presence would have made a difference. Don't believe me, here's his evaluation (yeah, I'm bragging on him. He's my son.):



Anyway, get home from Dripping Springs (thanks Allison!) and pile into my car, then drive in the opposite direction (east) to the dealership and get a loaner. I'm now driving a minivan, which I swore I'd never do. Dear Sarah tries to make me feel better: "Ooh, wow, it has more pick-up than I'd thought" ... "It's great for the kids, they'll be less annoying with all that room" ... "Yes, I still love you."  I put on a hat and false mustache and steer us back to San Antonio (west). I try not to drive off the road, but I feel like I'm cutting butter with a dead fish. Awful vehicle.

But we make Henry's game. It's at 8pm, it's minus fifty, and my feet lose feeling about five minutes before kick-off.  But he scores the opening goal, so I just know things are turning around!

Then the other team scores six goals, and I start praying for the final whistle so Henry and I can head to the hotel and hot baths. Sarah salvages the evening by buying a bottle of scotch, a chocolate eclair, and wearing a French maid's outfit. (Two of those are true.)

The next morning the whole family piles into the minivan, false mustaches and hats in place, and we head out of San Antonio to Game Three. Two hundred yards into the journey I pull over, thanks to some weird noises from the back right side of the van. I see this:

 Awesome. I have thirty minutes to change the tire, nail on the spare, and get Henry to his game.

I spend twenty minutes locating the spare, ten minutes figuring out how to detach it from under the van. Hope is lost, Game Three is missed.

Plus it's cold. Soooo cold.

Here's what happened next:

Yeah, pretty much, Henry changed the tire. Did I mention I'm proud of him? So we get the spare on, and locate a Wal-Mart that has a motor-car place thingy, where they fix punctures. The guy tells me it'll cost ten bucks and take 45 minutes.

Ten bucks! I just know things are turning around now!!

We linger in Wal-Mart, call the team and tell them we'll meet them for lunch, and also make it to Game Four. Back on track!

An hour later, the mechanic pages me.

"Can't fix it."
"You said you could. Ten bucks, remember?"
"Can't. The hole is in the sidewall. I could fix it, technically speaking, but Wal-Mart policies forbid me from fixing this type of puncture, in that location."
Now, I've grown my hair out recently, and so I start pulling some of it out. I take nine deep breaths and ask, "So what are my options?"
"Two, really. You can drive around and maybe find someone who'll fix it. But it's Sunday, and I wouldn't know where to send you."
"Option number two?"
"Buy a new tire."
"But it's a rental car. I don't want to buy Enterprise a new tire, I really don't."
"Huh. Have you called them?"
"Closed. And the 1-800 directs us to call the local offices. Which are closed on Sundays."
"That sucks."

It did. So we paid $160 for a new tire. You're welcome, Enterprise.

On our new tire, we do actually make it to Game Four, though. In time to warm up and everything. In fact, the sun starts to shine, to cut through the cold, and the day turns pleasant. Maybe, just maybe... The whistle goes for the kick-off, and in two minutes Henry's team is down two goals. The score gets worse. Henry doesn't score.

One of the other dads offers to follow us home, make sure we get there. I'm not sure if he's kidding or genuinely concerned.

But we make it home fine, no speeding tickets, accidents, or alien abductions.

On Sunday evening, I sit in my chair in the living room and I think to myself, well, several things. How lucky we are to have two cars. How fortunate we are to be able to pay $160 for a new tire (you're welcome, Enterprise) just like that. How cool it is my son is a good soccer player, and that as a family we can get a hotel room to watch him play in a tournament. Part of a tournament. How great it is that in a weekend when everything goes wrong, we're all home safe, unhurt, and able to laugh about it.

So, that criminally bad luck that stole into our weekend and tried to screw it all up: nice try. You failed. This is our living room that night:




We win.


















Thursday, December 5, 2013

You! Yes, you - want to be in my novel?

I read recently that Harlan Coben (more likely his publisher, he's probably busy) is staging a competition to let readers become a character in one of his books. Great idea, and one I've been using since the launch of THE CRYPT THIEF in May. Just sayin'.

Anyway, I've shared the idea with some fellow authors, and even let them see the disclaimer I read to potential winners. Me being me, it's as amusing as it is legalese and I was prompted by one of those authors to share it here. That way, I can point people to this blog post to see what it takes to be a character.

Incidentally, the next time this form will see the light of day is January 17, 2014, for the launch of Hugo's third adventure in France, titled THE BLOOD PROMISE. 

More on that later... first this...:



Disclaimer, Waiver, and Agreement
 
On __________, I took part in a raffle at _________ and, even though I complain about never winning anything, my name was picked from the hat.
I therefore acknowledge that my mildly egocentric desire to see my name in a novel is being realized. To be clear, I entered this contest because I actively want my name to appear in one of the Hugo Marston books.
I also agree to the following:
  • the character who is given my name might be a murderer, a masochist, a priest, or a pervert. Or, all four;
  • the character who is given my name might appear just once in the novel, or may become a recurring character;
  • the character who is given my name might be killed off as soon as he or she appears; I agree that this does NOT mean the author wishes to kill me off and I will not take it personally if the character who is given my name is shot, stabbed, smothered, skewered, or otherwise made dead.
Furthermore, I agree to give up all control over my fictional appearance. The character who is given my name may be beautiful, ugly, tall, short, fat or thin. He or she may be a snappy dresser, a slob, or even wear clothes normally associated with the opposite sex. Or a nudist.

Additionally, if I win and I have a silly name, I give unconditional permission to the author and his characters to make fun of it. If I don't have a silly name, the author or his characters may still make fun of it.

In summary, I entered this raffle voluntarily and with the sole intention of giving my name to Mark Pryor to use as he sees fit in any number of his Hugo Marston novels. If I decide later that I do not wish my name to be used, I appreciate that it is at the sole discretion of the author whether or not to stop using that name.
Finally, I understand and agree that if a block-buster movie is made, I do not automatically get to play the character who is given my name, but will have to attend the casting call like everyone else.


________________________________
Signature and date


________________________________
Printed name

Monday, December 2, 2013

James Bond - Patriot or Psychopath?

James Bond is a Christmas tradition in my family. As kids, we'd sit with Mum and Dad and watch two or three Bond films every year. At a minimum, the BBC played one on Christmas Day itself, and one on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.

So I was thrilled to see that over the Thanksgiving weekend, a string of Bond movies were playing on some obscure channel. I recorded four of them.

Also over the weekend, I worked on a new novel, one that delves into issues of psychopathy and sociopathy. No wonder that the question popped into my mind halfway through CASINO ROYALE: is James Bond a psychopath?

Shall we see?

Just to define a parameter or two, and slide in the usual disclaimers: I am not a psychiatrist. My analysis is for fun. I don't know any psychopaths or sociopaths. At least, I don't think I do. I am treating those terms as the same for the purposes of this blog post. My analysis is based on my recollection of the Bond movies, as I've not read the books. I'm also aware that different Bonds come across quite differently - Roger Moore is high on slick charm, Daniel Craig is more of a (sexy) brute, and Sean Connery is... well, the best all-round Bond. There, I said it.

Excellent. So. How does one diagnose a psychopath? The professionals use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, which is a 20-item inventory of personality traits and recorded behaviors.  Each of the items in the checklist is scored on a three-point scale. A value of 0 is assigned if the item does not apply, 1 if it applies somewhat, and 2 if it fully applies.

And just so you know, a score of 30 or above qualifies a person for a diagnosis of psychopathy.


Shall we begin?

  • glib and superficial charm 
Absolutely. No question at all. Score: 2. 

  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self 
One might think so, although it strikes me that it's easy to confuse his glib charm and self-confidence with being grandiose. Also, look at how darn good he is at everything - fighting, shooting, shagging... if he's actually good at everything, he's not really exaggerating when he boasts, is he? That said, he does occasionally value his worth higher than those around him. The best example of this is in CASINO ROYALE when he breaks into M's flat. It's made clear that this was a gross invasion of privacy, utterly inappropriate, and yet he's cocky. It seemed to me he was showing off to M, trying to impress her by demonstrating how clever he is.. Score: 1.

  • need for stimulation
 Oh, yes. Bond can't keep still for two minutes, he's always killing bad guys or blowing up secret nuclear silos. Or shagging. Score: 2.

  • pathological lying
He does lie, but it's for his job and not for his amusement. Now, one could argue that he went into that profession in order to channel his deceptive nature but I can't think of any direct evidence of him lying a great deal in a way that's not related to his work. Of course, he and I don't hang about it bars when he's off-mission. Score: 0.

  • cunning and manipulativeness
He is. Again, it's job related but whereas pathological lying is a behavior, I see cunning and manipulativeness as traits. Which he has in spades. Score: 2.
 
  • lack of remorse or guilt
Given the number of people he kills in a two-hour period, I can't imagine he has any room for remorse or guilt. I certainly don't see much evidence of it. Score: 2.

  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
To me, this means insincerity. I don't really see that in him, he doesn't fake emotions. He beds a lot of women but I don't see him tricking them into bed, he's pretty up front with all that charm. Score: 0.

  • callousness and lack of empathy
I'm torn on this. As I said before, he kills a lot of people and seems fine with it. No regrets, no PTSD. In fact,tThe bad guy in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is Scaramanga, and he seems to recognize this coldness, this ruthlessness. He even compares himself, a paid assassin, to Bond. Bond responds: "When I kill, it is on the specific orders of my Government.” But does that just mean he gets paid less to kill? Bond adds that, “those I kill are themselves killers,” but in CASINO ROYALE I'm not sure that's true -- the opening sequence has him shoot an unarmed man who stole from the Government. And he does it with a witty remark on his lips. Pretty callous.

On the other hand, check out the final scene from ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, when Bond's wife is killed - he cries (but there is a cop watching, maybe he's faking it so he doesn't get arrested?!). And in CASINO ROYALE, he seems to empathize with a hot accountant when she's distraught over seeing her first killing. Of course, his way of showing empathy in that movie involved sitting in a running shower with her, so maybe it was a callous ploy to bed this very stand-offish woman?

One also has to take into account his patriotism. He does an awful lot, risks an awful lot, "for England." I don't think a true psychopath would give a hoot about his country, he'd care only for himself. Is it an act on Bond's part? Somehow I don't think so.

Here's where I come out: Score: 1.

  • parasitic lifestyle
Well, he does suckle on the teat of the government pretty hard. All those gadgets, cars, clothes, trips to the Bahamas. In Casino Royale he's pretty quick to lose ten million pounds at the poker table, then expect a refill from his (beautiful, naturally) accountant. Score: 1.

  • poor behavioral controls
 I have to split the baby on this. His job requires him to do outrageous things but sometimes I get the feeling he uses the job as an excuse. Shooting people willy-nilly, and bedding the bad guy's wife, come to mind. Score: 1.

  • sexual promiscuity
 Shame I can't give him a 3 on this one... Score: 2.

  • early behavior problems
Hard to say because his background, his childhood, remain shrouded in mystery. Pretty much all we know is that he was orphaned at age 11, when his parents died in a mountaineering accident. Some more tidbits here, but no indications of setting fires or torturing puppies. Score: 0.

  • lack of realistic long-term goals
This isn't really addressed in the films, of course. I've not seen his five-year promotion plan, but he does acknowledge that double-0s have a short lifespan, so I'd understand if he didn't have one. Maybe he took the job so he didn't have to bother with planning his own future? Makes sense to me...  Score: 1.

  • impulsivity
 Yes. Again, he has to be for his work but it does seem to be in his nature. Score: 2.

  • irresponsibility 
Given all the stuff he blows up, the gadgets he destroys, and the stress he gives Q, and various comments by M ("I knew you weren't ready to be promoted"), there's a case to be made for him being irresponsible. On the other hand, does he get that job if he's totally irresponsible? Probably not. Score: 1.
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
In YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE Bond offers to resign as a result of his screw ups. Is it a genuine offer, though? And when he breaks into M's secret flat and is told, quite chillingly, not to do it again he just gives that wry smile. In the same movie, when he shoots someone he's supposed to bring in for questioning, he justifies it by saying, "There's one less bomb maker in the world." A close call, so I'm saying: Score: 1.

  • many short-term marital relationships
Just the one marriage, though it was certainly short-term. Not his fault, though. (I will point out that he tells Vesper Lynd he doesn't date single women, just married ones, so he does have short-term relationships with married women...) Even so: Score: 0.

  • juvenile delinquency
 No evidence of it, as noted above. Score: 0.

  • revocation of conditional release
 Not that we know of. Score: 0.

  • criminal versatility
While most of Bond actions are contra-law, because of his job they are essentially legal. Even required. This might be another case of him channeling his desire to commit harmful acts into a safe space (the job) but there's a nobility about James Bond that indicates to me that if he spotted a wallet of cash he'd return it to the owner, not steal it. Score: 0.
 
 
And the verdict? According to my estimation, James Bond scores a 19 on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, making him a interesting dinner-party guest but not a psychopath.

I don't know about you, but I'm rather relieved.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Exposure" is something you die of when you can't pay the rent

I saw an interesting article in the NYT today, called "Slaves of the Internet, Unite."  A quick double-take, because I read the last word as "Untie," which actually makes sense in context.

But anyway. This is something that I've seen in my legal career, and as a writer: people expecting stuff for free. I first wrote about it back in November of 2011, in the context of people seeking pro bono legal help.

In today's NYT article, the writer begins: "I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money." He goes on to say:

"People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. They often start by telling you how much they admire your work, although not enough, evidently, to pay one cent for it."

Which is sort of the point I made two years ago, right about the time I got my first publishing deal. Who knew I was taking on two careers where I'd be expected to give it away for free?!

I myself have been invited to submit articles/short fiction to organs that don't pay. The response, to me and others, when we decline is uniform:

"But you'll get exposure!"

Which is a good thing, of course. Except, my view is that if people value what I do then they should value it enough to pay the market value (which ain't $0). For another, wonderfully foul-mouthed, opinion on this subject, read this by John Scalzi.

Going back to the exposure point. Imagine this to be the conversation:

"Hey Mark, would you write a short piece for us, for free, please?"
"For free?"
"Yeah, you'll get good exposure, we have like two hundred people who read our blog/magazine/whatever."
"Well, okay then."

Two weeks later.

"Hey, Mark, thanks for writing that piece, it was awesome."
"Oh, you're welcome."
"And you got some exposure, eh?"
"I did, yes."
"Great!"
"Not really. Fifteen people asked me to write stuff for them. For free."
"Wow, awesome, think of all that exposure!"

Hey, I wonder if the Statesman will publish this blog entry - a couple of years ago I agreed to let them do it, for free, and I never withdrew that permission. Think they will?

Nah, me neither.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My problem with writing reviews. Except this one.

I have a problem: I don't like writing book reviews.

It's not a huge problem, I agree, as far as problems go. But as a writer, and as someone who maintains a blog, it's there nonetheless.

First, I have a hard time imagining anyone cares whether I like a book or not. If I'm right about that, then I'm wasting my time writing a review. I don't like wasting my own time. I do hope my opinion counts just a little, to a few people, and if nothing else my posting a book's cover and synopsis might allow people to check the book out for themselves.

Second, I don't like trying to find nice things to say about a book if I didn't really like it. I can do so if necessary, but I don't want to because it's misleading (assuming point one, above, doesn't apply and someone's paying attention). Now, this is a problem only when I feel obliged to write a book review (say if the President or the Dalai Lama asked me to) so I've pretty much eliminated it by writing only reviews when I want, and about books I like. Put another way, if I read a book and don't like it, you won't see it here.

And a book review is why we're all here today. This one's a little funny because under normal circumstances I might not actually have read this book, let alone liked it. It's set in Texas (get plenty of that already) and is sort of a "cozy" mystery (traditional definition would be something along the liens of  "‘gentle’ books… no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex"), although somehow it doesn't fit entirely into that slot. Nothing wrong with those things, I've just been leaning towards international spy stories lately.

[Quick disclaimed: the author, Terry Shames, has become a friend because her book is published by Seventh Street Press, my own publisher. But see aforementioned discussion about my policy of simply not reviewing a book if I don't like it. Additionally, Terry didn't ask for this review, I'm posting it because I loved her book. So there.]
 

So, here's the book cover, which I think is very cool:


Synopsis of the book (taken from Amazon):

The chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in.

He discovers that a lot of people had it in for Dora Lee. The conniving rascals on the farm next door want her land for nefarious purposes; her estranged daughter could be seeking vengeance; her grandson wants money for art school; and then there's that stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her.

Does Craddock still have what it takes to find the killer?

In this debut novel, the strong, compelling voice of Samuel Craddock illuminates the grandeur and loneliness of the central Texas landscape and reveals the human foibles of the residents in a small Texas town-their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues.

My opinion:

I read this book in three days, over a very busy weekend. I chose to read it rather than watch sports yesterday, just so I could finish it and find out whodunnit.

So, yes, it's a good mystery, the kind that even half-way through you're thinking, "I have no clue who the killer is." Additionally, all suspects seem equally plausible, I didn't feel like any were thrown in just to confuse the reader and that takes some pretty nifty writing. And you read on, because you really do want to know what happened and why.

Which brings me to the writing style: it's so easy, so flowing, that you will hit that half-way point before you know it. The plot is easy to follow, she doesn't get bogged down with narrative description, and the dialogue is spot on.

Best of all, for me, was the cast of characters. The central figure, Samuel Craddock, is utterly original and immensely likeable, which is key for a mystery. And Terry has done a great job with all her characters, who are real, interesting, original, and layered. It's absolutely, the kind of book that cries out to be a series, which it will be (this was the first). A really, really, good book and I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Kind words

I try not to post too much about my writing life because I assume most people who come here are interested in things criminal.  But, as I often say, it's my blog so I can post what I like and every now and again something pops up that I want to share.

I received this message at my Facebook Author Page:

I'm 74 and never wrote an author before.. just finished The Bookseller. Loved it! My favorite kind of novel, one that drags me into 2am to finish it because it's too hard to put down. First thought was this would make a great series, then I looked at the cover again - sub title "The first...." duh. I think Hugo will rank up there with Alan Gregory, Harry Bosch, "Oliver Stone" and Jack Reacher! Looking forward to reading The Crypt Thief and many more Parisian, or other European cities, adventures. 

Now, I get messages there, and emails via my website, pretty much every week. But this one really made me smile and, as I'm sure you can guess, it was because this gentleman is 74 years old, and contacted an author for the first time.  That tells me he can really relate to Hugo Marston, my main character, and it tells me I succeeded in my quest to create a central, identifiable hero that readers will want to get to know, to hear more from. One reader, anyway.

That's just, plain fantastic. And let's hope he's right about Hugo's longevity and popularity!

Taking a wider view, it did remind me how important kind words are. This chap had no idea whether I would be giddy with pleasure or shrug at another reader email, but he took the time to say a few nice things to a stranger.  I try to live my life that way, though it's more likely to be a joke than anything, but still.

So there's your reminder on a Friday, and you have all weekend to go out and make a complete stranger a little bit happier.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Human Trafficking in Austin and Amsterdam

I've made some good friends in the Austin Police Department, thanks to my ride-alongs. Because they are patrol officers, they're usually at or near the lower rungs of their career ladder, which means that sooner or later they move up and on. Which is great for them, but sucks for me because I don't see them any more!

One of those friends is a sergeant, somewhat further along in his career, and he's one of the nicest human beings I know, and a fantastic cop. One of the best things about him is his intelligence and the way he works with his officers. He loves training them, getting them to think about why they do what they do. He and I talk about the law, about the best ways to apply it in the field, and one of his greatest achievements (from my perspective) has been to show his guys how to write a clear, concise offense report. Bless you for that.

Anyway, he's moving on to head a human trafficking group within APD. I've seen myself, even working in our juvenile division, that there are victims of human trafficking right here in Austin. This is noble work for a noble cop, and I know he'll do a great job there.

It's fitting that I post this video. It's less than 2 minutes long, and is fairly safe for work (no nudity, but there is scantily clad dancing).

It's shot in Amsterdam's Red Light District. A crowd gathers to watch what appears to be a planned dance routine by the ladies working in an establishment. There are hoots and hollers, and everyone's having fun until the end, when the real message is made clear.





Good luck in your new job, Sarge, you're saving lives.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Case - an opinion

I've been asked countless times in recent days to give my opinion about the George Zimmerman case. That can mean a couple of things, of course: my opinion on the incident, or on the trial. I have no desire to second-guess someone else's trial work, and don't plan to.  And I hadn't really planned on saying anything about the incident, either, until I read the words of a friend, fellow author, and former cop.

His name is John Levitt and I asked (and received!) his permission to post here, in its entirety, his view of what happened and why. I thought it one of the most insightful things that I've read on the matter, and hope you find it interesting.

And for context, he was responding to this opinion:

These stand your ground and concealed carry laws seem to me like something that can give guys with chips on their shoulders a perceived opportunity to do what they've always fantasized about--getting away with killing someone they don't like.

John said:

I really don't think that's what Zimmerman was about. He was a wannabee cop, imo, and I've run into plenty of them in my time.

A police job can seem incredibly tempting for a certain type of person. It's not, like you might assume, about having the power to push people around. It's about being part of a special group, living a life most people don't get, doing a job most people can't. Like being an Army ranger. Or part of an elite sports team. It feels special

You cruise around in your patrol car on a late graveyard shift, watching out for your city, listening to radio chatter from people you know well, people you've worked with for years, people who have possibly saved your skin more than once and perhaps you've saved theirs as well. You belong.

It's an attractive prospect -- esp for someone who has been a "loser," an outsider for much of their lives. Never one of the cool kids.

So you try to join up -- but more often than not, you don't make the grade. Wannabees exude a certain desperation that makes departments shy away from them.

So you take criminal justice courses. You go to self defense classes. You get a job as security guard, or become a neighborhood watch person.

But just doing the job of neighborhood watch is not enough. You want to play cop. So you call in everything you can -- not just because you're being suspicious, but because that way you get to talk to dispatch, maybe even talk to the cops when they show up -- hey, guys, I'm one of you. You're part of the fraternity -- or so you imagine.

So when you see a "suspicious character" namely a young black male, you call the cops. But then you decide to go a little further, to play cop yourself. I mean, you're almost a cop yourself, anyway, right?

'These punks always get away.'

But not this time, not when George Zimmerman is on the job. So you follow him. You're not particularly worried -- the cops (your backup) are on their way, and besides that, you're packing. That criminal better not give you any trouble if he knows what's good for him. George Zimmerman is nobody to mess with.

I don't think he thought it through. I don't think he thought at all. He just thought he was going to catch a burglar and be a hero.

Then, when he comes out of the darkness to confront Martin, things don't go according to his fantasy. The black "criminal" (Martin) doesn't meekly surrender, or try to run away. He sees Zimmerman as a threat and defends himself.

Suddenly Zimmerman is in a fight. A real fight, not like sparring in the dojo. He gets hit, and it hurts. He gets knocked to the ground. And at this point, he stops thinking at all, if ever he had been.

A dangerous black criminal that he confronted is kicking his ass. His life is in danger. Why does he think that? Because black criminals are violent and dangerous. It's him or them. So he pulls out his gun and shoots him.

What's more, he feels totally justified. In his little cop fantasy world, he simply did what he had to do.

And guess what? The cops buy it. Dangerous black kid, up to no good. That's a part of this story that gets overlooked, but that mindset is telling.

The whole thing is more sad, pitiful, and disgusting than evil.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Excuse of the day

In juvenile court, we get some wonderful excuses from kids as to why they missed court or didn't meet with their probation officer.  One of my recent favorites.:

"Well, see, it was raining, and I didn't have no umbrella or nothing."

And yes, I berated his probation officer for setting up drug counseling, psych counseling, and job training but forgetting the brolly.


Monday, July 8, 2013

A dearth of death - that's good right?

Please excuse my long absence, it's been due a combination of busy-ness, laziness, and lack of worthwhile stuff to write about. I'm still busy and lazy, but I realized that a lack of worthwhile stuff to write about has never stopped me in the past.

Now, where was I?  Ah yes, a dearth of death... especially over the 4th of July, well, you'd think that's good every which way. Right?

Not so.

Picture a group of young people interested in law enforcement, wanting to be DAs and cops, or at least know what DAs and cops go through.  It's a summer morning, the Friday after July 4, and a field trip awaits. They've been looking forward to it all week, in a trepidatious kind of way. Most people are taking the day off, of course, but this group heads into work early, making a detour for the Travis County building that contains, among other things, the Medical Examiner's office.

Yes, they signed up to watch an autopsy.

Now, I was invited. My thoughtful and kind office-mate asked me to come along. But a few things you need to know about me: I'm not good with copious amounts of real-time gore. Death makes me sad. I don't ever plan to cut up a body, so I don't need to learn how. I've seen plenty of dead bodies (read about this one? I was riding out with APD and stood feet from her as EMS workers tried to save her, then covered her with a sheet).  So I declined.

A couple of juvie prosecutors went, though, three I think, as well as a handful of interns.

But there was no body.

It's a rare occurrence, apparently, but there were simply no customers for the ME's table that Friday. After all that screwing of their courage to the sticking-place, I gather there was some disappointed. Which was immediately tempered by (a) relief and (b) a twinge of guilt at feeling disappointed that no-one had just died.

The group, I am told, promised the ME they'd return for a future demonstration, and promptly went out to breakfast.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A balloon, all alone.

On my ride out last week, the first call was a low priority, a request to deal with a balloon.  Not a hot-air balloon, but a regular one. A popped one.

A resident had found it in a patch of scrub near his home. It wasn't the balloon itself that bothered him, more the powder spilling from it.  Another unit got there before we did, a rookie, and this is the conversation that ensued between him and my officer, AJ:

AJ:  What does it look like?
Charlie:  Errr, a balloon.
AJ:  No, fool, the powder. Is it black?
Charlie:  No, it's white.
AJ: So if it's heroin, it's China White. Balloons and heroin go together, but it maybe cocaine. How close are you?
Charlie:  Standing right over it. Why?
AJ:  It could also be anthrax.
Charlie:  Holy s*#@, really?
AJ:  Nah, just messing with you.

Turns out it was none of those things. Just some flour some kid (probably) had put in a balloon to throw at one of his buddies.  I guess you'd call it a false alarm, of sorts, but I did suggest AJ taste the stuff just to be sure.  He declined, and we went on our way.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy Launch Day!

Today is a day I never dreamed I'd see, and I'm excited to announce the release of my second mystery novel, THE CRYPT THIEF.



The story...

It’s summer in Paris and two tourists have been murdered in Père Lachaise cemetery in front of Jim Morrison’s grave. The cemetery is locked down and put under surveillance, but the killer returns, flitting in and out like a ghost, and breaks into the crypt of a long-dead Moulin Rouge dancer. In a bizarre twist, he disappears under the cover of night with part of her skeleton.

One of the dead tourists is an American and the other is a woman linked to a suspected terrorist; so the US ambassador sends his best man and the embassy’s head of security—Hugo Marston—to help the French police with their investigation.

When the thief breaks into another crypt at a different cemetery, stealing bones from a second famed dancer, Hugo is stumped. How does this killer operate unseen? And why is he stealing the bones of once-famous can-can girls?

Hugo cracks the secrets of the graveyards but soon realizes that old bones aren’t all this killer wants. . . .

Praise for The Crypt Thief...

"The Hugo Marston series now belongs on every espionage fan’s watch list."
Booklist

"Mark Pryor has created a perfect second book for Hugo Marston. It delivers everything we loved about The Bookseller without being a retread. The Crypt Thief is proof that both Hugo and Pryor should be around for some time."

MysteryPeople

“Haunting imagery in Père La Chaise cemetery sets the stage for Pryor’s chilling sophomore entry, and the City of Light becomes a backdrop for Marston’s adventures. The clever antagonist leads him on a merry chase that will keep the reader entertained throughout."
RT Book Reviews

"Two young lovers make the fatal mistake of sneaking into Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery the same night as a bone-stealing psychopath in Pryor’s propulsive second novel starring affable former FBI profiler Hugo Marston…. The engaging characters sweep readers into a suspenseful chase from Pigalle to the Pyrenées."
Publishers Weekly 

Pryor's second case for Marston (after The Bookseller) doesn't disappoint.
—Library Journal 

Author Pryor uses this truly creepy scenario to create a nail-biter of a novel. It has enough bizarre twists to keep you reading into the night. The setting in the famous Paris cemetery gives the story just enough of a sense of the exotic to pull the reader in, and to anticipate something far different from a run of the mill mystery. “The Crypt Thief” leads us on the trail of a cold-blooded killer to a truly fiery conclusion.
Suspense Magazine 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Charlie Sector, cold and quiet

It was quiet all night.  A may evening when the cops in Charlie Sector and I should have been wearing short sleeves. Instead, the car's heater was on and the cold wind seemed to have swept people from the streets.

Even at 12th and Chicon, where the dealers and buyers meet for huddled sales conferences, where the girls looking for Johns hang off the sidewalk in the hope of business, even on this busiest of east Austin corners, all was quiet.

We set up in an alley and saw little more than trash cart-wheeling in front of us. One man, his head down, waved a gloved hand as he passed, perhaps mocking or perhaps in sympathy. We bided our time but finally moved to a stretch of MLK where Nick, my officer for the evening, promised we'd catch people blowing away the 35mph limit. But fifteen minutes with the laser-gun gave us nothing, even the traffic was slow and lumbering, not happy about being out in the cold.

Then, at 9pm, a hot shot call. A disturbance, violence, people at risk. Nick hit lights and sirens and I checked the map on his computer. We were on the wrong side of Charlie but what caught my attention was the mass of units heading to the call from every direction, electronic bugs swarming to only light in the dark, like nerds spotting a hot girl at a Star Trek convention.

The call was downgraded soon enough, so we peeled off hoping to find something somewhere else. The best we could manage was a trip to the A&E at St. Davids to get the name of a woman injured in a car crash. When we got there, she'd gone.

Nick apologized several times for the quiet night but it wasn't his fault. I told him that, said he'd done such a great job the criminals were scared to come out and play.

And, for the first time since I started riding out, I actually wondered, "Should we go get donuts?"

We didn't.

Monday, April 22, 2013

TGIM!

Yep, you read that right - Thank God It's Monday.

I mean, seriously, last week was utterly insane (West explosion, Boston manhunt, DA DWI just for starters) so I, for one, am glad to move on to a fresh week.

Note, please, that all are topics of too great an import or too close to home for me to scribble about, hence the protracted silence.

In good news this weekend, Reese Witherspoon got arrested (kidding, kidding). I've always liked that name though, 'Witherspoon.' Think about etymology, did it come from a wizard who had it in for utensils?

Anyway, I wanted to say hello and spread some happy news (happy for me, that is) because I received a copy of the flyers they always send out for me to distribute. Somewhere.  Have a look:

Yeah, you'll need to click on it to read it.

Not much crime news to report to you, my ride-outs have been quiet and my cases are still juvenile so I don't feel like I should share. The best I can come up with is something from England - a soccer player I like bit another player. Yes, you read that right, during a game he got mad and bit an opponent, and amazingly this isn't the first time he's done it.

You should see the choppers on him, in Texas those would be classified as deadly weapons. But it did make me think about the kicks and slaps, the pushes and trips players endure on the field that they'd never put up with in the real world. I mean, every Sunday I get a new set of bruises from my soccer games, and that's an over-40 league.

Biting though? Should that be a criminal charge? My first thought was, Grow up, dude.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Man in a Can

I've been quiet here for a while, partly because it happened again, and I didn't know what to say about it.

A prosecutor in Texas was murdered.

Again, I don't really know what to say and so don't plan to talk about it - for one thing, I don't know any more than has been reported in the media.

So let's move on, shall we?

On a recent ride-along I got to see a wonderful example of efficient law enforcement in action. Here's what happened: a driver allegedly caused an accident in which people in the other vehicle were injured. The law requires you to stop and render assistance in that case and failing to do so is a felony. In fact, we saw a high-profile case here in Austin relating to this kind of incident, only far more serious, if you recall.

Anyway, the chap who allegedly caused the accident decided not to stick around, and took off on foot. APD was called and their mission became to find him.

I was in the car with the shift Sargent who was calling some of the shots, but interestingly the patrol officers seemed to know what to do even before we got there: not charge into the crash scene but set up a perimeter. On the computer in Sarge's car, I could see the other units setting up on all egress points. Our man was fast and agile, supposedly hopping fences to get away, but with a police car on every street there wasn't much for him to do, nowhere for him to go.

So he hid.

Overheard, APD's chopper Air One buzzed the neighborhood. It was still light and there was a lot of foot and car traffic, but they had a secret weapon. Well, not secret really, just cool: heat-detecting visual aids.  Over the air came the call:

"There's a trash can I'm seeing. Very hot. Never seen a trash can put out that much heat."

And just like that, it was over. One gentleman in custody, no one else hurt. Textbook, you might say, quick and efficient, with everyone doing their job. Very impressive to see first hand.









Saturday, March 23, 2013

Three Graves Full

Every now and again I will recommend a book to you, but very rarely will I do a full book review. Mostly that's because I'm short on time and this isn't a book-review blog.

Today is different.

The book is THREE GRAVES FULL by Jamie Mason. For ease of reading, I'll divide this review into three sections: (1) story summary, (2) my review (3) disclaimer (I know that's not normal, but read on and you'll see).

Before I begin, I'll let you know that this is one book that you can judge by its cover, which I just love.

Right, let's begin:

(1) Story summary (from Amazon):

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.
 
But it could always be worse. . . .

More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property—neither of which is the one Jason buried.

Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime, and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colorful cast of strangers. A jilted woman searches for her lost fiancé, a fringe dweller runs from a past that’s quickly gaining on him, and a couple of earnest local detectives piece clues together with the help of a volunteer police dog—all in the shadow of a dead man who had it coming. As the action unfolds, each character discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn't necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.



(2) My review:

The story: I read a lot of crime fiction, and as you know I write it, too. Originality, true originality, is rare but we have it here. Once an author comes up with a unique premise like this, the reader is inevitably going to be hooked and I was. It's a clever double-hook, too, with Jason's body in the back yard and two unknown ones in the front--that's two mysteries that the reader wants to investigate.

Having hooked me, the plot continued to pull me along, not because the author throws in manufactured twists (which can be annoying) but because the story flowed like a river (one of those white-water, excitingly bubbly ones) and I couldn't help but find myself on the cusp of another disaster and desperate to know how it turned out. But also, the characters...

The characters:  here's a challenge: write a story where the main character is a wimp. How do you hold the reader's interest when your central figure is kind of a passive, soft-spined, scaredy-cat? Well, you write this book. See, the other characters become extensions of him, moulding his mind and actions and pressing him into activities that create conflict, which is the essence of a good book. And those surrounding characters are themselves original, interesting, and real.

The other thing that happens, is that you as the reader start to donate spine to the main man. I felt anger on behalf of Jason as one of the characters bullied him, and Jason's flaws let me root for him when I wasn't directly identifying with him.

I reserve a special nod for one character, though, because Mason manages to pull off something that normally irritates me, something that will by itself make me put down a book and roll my eyes. See, there's a dog in the book, Tessa, a dog you come to love very much and Mason tells part of the story (a small part) from Tessa's point of view. Not only did she pull that off, but left me wishing more of the story came from Tessa's POV. (That said, it wouldn't have made sense to do so, I just love how she did it.)

The writing: I probably should have started with this, because the writing was perhaps the greatest pleasure for me. This book has been billed as a kind of Coen brothers movie in book form. I happen to think that's an apt description because this book has a literary flair that elevates it above others in the genre. I've seen reviews calling THREE GRAVES FULL literary and I concur. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page, I reveled in the beauty of the language. Mason has a way with words that, as a writer, delights you and makes you envious, and as a reader is beyond charming. Think of a book as a meal, with the plot as the recipe, the characters as the ingredients, and the writing as the process of combining those two and cooking. Mason is a master chef.


(3) The Disclaimer:

This is Jamie Mason:

I know Jamie Mason. I offered to read and review her book because she's a friend. Understand, though, that such an offer trails behind it an invisible but very real ripple of trepidation. What if I hate the book? What do I do and say then?  Well, I'll tell you: what I don't do in that case is write a long, slobbering review raving about it. I only do that when I love the book, which as you can tell happens to be the case. Now, I haven't said this to Jamie, though I know she's felt the same as a writer and reviewer, but about nine sentences in I experienced a huge wave of relief (and in this case excitement) when it became clear that she could really write.  And believe me, she can really, really write.

If you want to know more about her and her work, check out these links:

Her web site:  http://www.jamie-mason.com/
Her blog: http://jamiemason.wordpress.com/
The writing site she co-run: http://authorscoop.com/
Her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JamieMason.writer