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: 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.