Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Writing mysteries set around the world – and Texas

She is a native Texan, turned Brit, and back again, who dropped out of high school, got a college degree in biology, and now writes police procedural mysteries set in London.

He is a born and bred Englishman living in Austin, Texas, who prosecutes bad guys by day, and by night (or whenever he finds the time) writes mystery novels about an American in Paris.

Deborah Crombie (l) & Mark Pryor
He (but this is a different he) is a native of Paris – Texas – who lives in Texas and, astonishingly enough, writes historical mysteries set in . . . Texas. He also loves hunting, fishing and humor, sports a terrific mustache, and has a middle initial whose meaning still remains elusive.

I’m referring of course to the contestants of Saturday’s Mystery Jeopardy program at the Dallas Book Festival, where the answers were: Who are Deborah CrombieMark Pryor, and Reavis Wortham?

Crombie, Pryor and Wortham, each with multiple books under their writing belts, delighted the audience packing the Evans Studio at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library Saturday morning. And sometimes struggled to remember which question from which of their many books inspired the answers posed by audience members.

“I wanted to be a field biologist,” Crombie said, replying to the conundrum of her college major, “but life just takes you in really funny directions.” The biology, however, did come in handy when she took a forensics course at the University of North Texas as part of her research for her novel series starring characters Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. (She also travels back yearly to England to keep her knowledge of the country fresh.)

And who’s to say that her personal menagerie of dogs and cats doesn’t help her deal with the cat and dog problems of the James-Kincaid duo, who feature most recently in Garden of Lamentations, out in February of this year.

Pryor, who previously worked as a journalist, came to the United States to visit his American grandmother while he tried to decide between a career in journalism or starting over in a law career. With his grandmother’s encouragement, he chose law, and now works as an assistant district attorney in Travis County, Texas, and spends “every waking moment,” as all good mystery writers must, “thinking of killing people.”

Visits to the booksellers’ shops along the Seine in Paris started him thinking about killing people in Paris, and he has looked back only rarely. Although he has set one stand-alone thriller and a true crime story in Texas, he opted to set his best-known mysteries, the Hugo Marston series, mainly in Paris. “I’ve been back to England once in 14 years, but I’ve been to Paris 15 times,” he said. “It’s hard doing research, isn’t it?”

His latest book, The Paris Librarian, stars Marston as the head of security at the U.S. Embassy in Paris. “Does anyone know what the head of security at a U.S. embassy actually does?” he asked. “No? Neither did I,” he admitted. What he most needed to know, was whether Marston could be authorized to carry a gun around Paris, finally eliciting the diplomatically-evasive answer, “Well, I wouldn’t say you’re wrong.”

Unlike Crombie and Pryor, who began writing as adults, “I had been trying to get published since I was in the seventh grade,” Wortham said. Discouraged, after
a final move to Frisco, Texas, he threw away his “two big boxes of rejection notices” and started fresh as a freelance outdoor sports columnist, first published in the Paris, Texas, newspaper.

More than twenty years later, after publishing thousands of articles, he ventured back to writing fiction with his Red River mystery series set in the 1960’s. He starts a new series, starring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke, in July.

In common with his fellow Mystery Jeopardy contestants, he detests cell phones, and loves the rugged Big Bend region of Texas for, among other virtues, its lack of cellular service. (Or, if all else fails, make sure the phone batteries go dead.)

(Next: what makes three law-abiding Texas women turn to crime – writing, that is? More answers to come from authors Kathleen Kent, Melissa Lenhardt, and Lisa Sandlin, courtesy of the Dallas Book Festival.) 

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