The Blood Promise By Mark Pryor: Review/Interview/Giveaway

Mar 15, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance Mc Arthur

This week we have a review of The Blood Promise by mystery author Mark Pryor, along with an interesting interview with Mark. At the end of this post you will find details on how to enter to win a copy of The Blood Promise.

The Blood Promise By Mark Pryor

The last thing Hugo Marston wanted to do was act as babysitter to a French-hating US senator with aspirations to Oval offices, part of delicate negotiations over Caribbean territory, but the head of security for the US embassy in Paris didn’t have a choice, in Mark Pryor’s The Blood Promise, a twisting mystery with a touch of thrill and a good amount of kill.

It all starts in the 1700s with a secret mission and a sailor’s sea chest fitted with secret compartments. There must be something important about it, because it triggers murder after murder of people who didn’t know enough and people who know too much. Of course it’s hard to believe, but it’s a great chase filled with a socialite who has had too many scandals to be elected, a CIA agent who prefers talking to shooting, Camille (a French police detective with a surprising background), politicos, intellectuals, and comfortable footwear.

The senator disrupts treaty talks when he claims an intruder watched him sleeping. Then, he disappears, and a fingerprint ties his story to an ugly murder and that box of hidden drawers. Things go whizzing around France—and the bodies keep dropping—until a tense climax on the Queen Mary II. Reserve your guesses until the end, and you still might be wrong.

Pryor’s prior Marston tales (The Bookseller, The Crypt Thief) have established him as a formidable story-weaver with a touch for the details that make France so French, even if the writer is really an assistant DA in Austin, Texas.

Marston is a widowed, no-longer-drinking, former profiler who finds out that embassy security isn’t less stressful, after all. Take a little of the are-you-really-going-to-believe-this history of The DaVinci Code, pour on a lot of James Patterson, layer with Tom Clancy (but minus the technology), toss in a sidekick who comes across like 007 with a warped sense of humor, and you have The Blood Promise.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a Community Librarian for the WoW! (WithOut Walls) Division of the Fresno County Public Library, roaming the Valley to meet the public’s information needs.

Interview With Mark Pryor

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Mark: When I was in elementary school my teacher asked our class to write about what we did on the weekend. I wrote a detailed account of mine, which included climbing a haystack with my best friend and fighting off alligators. The brilliant thing was, she never called me out for making up that story and I think it was not only my first piece of fiction, but also my first measure of encouragement.

For many years after that I toyed with short stories and started dozens of novels but I never took my writing seriously, not until about ten years ago. I realized that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to really go for it. That meant reading books about creating fiction and, just for once, finishing a novel. I did so, and I think that kind of got me hooked. Even though that first novel went nowhere, I finished two more and then, finally, wrote the book that got published.

KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?

Mark:It came out in October 2012, and is called The Bookseller. It is the first in a mystery series featuring Hugo Marston, who’s a Texan but is head of security at the US Embassy in Paris.

In that novel, Hugo buys an ancient book from a friend called Max, who is a bookseller (a “bouquiniste”) beside the River Seine. As they’re completing the transaction, the old man is kidnapped right in front of Hugo. The Paris police are oddly disinterested, so Hugo investigates the disappearance of his friend by himself. He discovers that Max was a former Nazi hunter, as well as having a reputation for knowing and selling valuable books. So Hugo has to figure out whether it was his past (the Nazi-hunting), his present (the bookselling), or maybe something completely different that got Max kidnapped.

And then another bouquiniste goes missing…

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Mark:Yes, pretty much. The only exception is a true-crime book I wrote, about a ‘cold case’ here in Austin that I prosecuted. That’s called As She Lay Sleeping, and I tried to give the reader an inside look at how a 25-year-old case is solved and then prosecuted. Otherwise, it’s all about the crime novel for me – that’s what I read almost exclusively, and have done so since I was a kid. I think a steady diet of the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie set me on that path and I don’t see myself deviating too much.

Mark Pryor

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.

Mark:Sure, the series is set in and around Paris. The reason for that is simple: I love the city. In fact, I was there with my wife when I had the idea for the first book. We were literally walking alongside the River Seine when I spied the bouquinistes and my little gray cells began working immediately, wondering what devious use I could put the book stalls to, what nastiness I could inflict on the fine men and women who run them. Anyway, we went straight to a tabac where I bought a pen and paper, then headed to a café where I sat and outlined the story for twenty minutes. Now, my wife will claim it was more like two hours, but…

As for the main character, as I mentioned his name is Hugo Marston. He’s a former FBI profiler and now heads up the security department at the US Embassy in Paris. In some ways he’s kind of a throwback to old-style heroes in that he’s not tortured by drug or alcohol abuse, he’s not emotionally crippled, he’s just a stand-up guy, a little reserved, and he relies more on his smarts than his fists to solve problems. (That said, he has a best friend who pops up from time to time who makes fun of him for being Mr. Clean. The friend is Tom Green, and as a semi-retired CIA employee, he’s the wild child of the series.)

Hugo is based on several real people, and several imaginary people. His quiet, non-judgmental, thoughtful side comes from my Dad, and his investigatory prowess comes from a couple of FBI profilers I’ve known. Mostly, though, he comes from a vague notion I have about old-fashioned heroes. Maybe he’s a grown-up version of one of the Hardy boys!

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Mark:I write to entertain, purely and simply. I suppose themes occasionally pop up but they aren’t anything I devise in advance and insert, they’re part of the story. For example, I dip into history a lot because I find it interesting how the past can influence the present, but that’s a sub-element of the story, which is primary for me.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Mark:I have a full-time job (as a state prosecutor) and three little kids, so I have to grab time when I can. My eldest daughter loves to go to the library to read, so she and I will disappear there for a few hours each weekend. That’s my writing haven, the library, I’ve written all three novels so far at my local branch.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Mark:Good question, because I’ve changed my habits. The first two books, no, I just wrote by the seat of my pants. Sorry, trousers. But the third… I started writing it the same way and got myself tied up in knots. Which wouldn’t have mattered previously, but by then I had a deadline to meet. So I scrapped the book and wrote a very general outline. Not much more than target points, things in the book I wanted to have happen. How I got to each point, well, I still made it up as I went along, but I had definite goals ahead of me. And that’s a technique I’ll continue with, I think, as it worked pretty well.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Mark:Ideally, if I didn’t have a day job, I think I’d drop my kids at school, go to the gym, and then be at the library by 10 a.m. I find it hard to write for more than three or four hours in a day so I could be in my hammock with a book in hand by 2 p.m. Hmm, I like the way that sounds…

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Mark:Yes, very. In fact, I wrote three books that went nowhere. Couldn’t even get an agent to look at the full manuscripts. Which means that over the course of two or three years I must have received two hundred rejections. With The Bookseller, though, I got some agent interest pretty quickly. I suppose I have to admit that those first three books just weren’t good enough, and that’s why I always tell people not to give up. Not to give up writing, or hoping.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Mark:My agent, Ann Collette, emailed me and asked me to call her. I was driving to Houston with my wife, to a Kings of Leon concert when the email arrived. We pulled off the highway into a nameless, faceless, utterly forgettable restaurant that may or may not have served Italian food. All I remember is trying to play it cool as I called her, and she offered to represent me. I’ll always love that restaurant, whatever it was, and wherever it is.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Mark:I was asked to moderate a discussion between two other mystery writers at our local bookstore here in Austin. One of the writers canceled last minute, but the other one showed up on time. As did two people for the audience. I’d heard about writers having empty seats in front of them, but this was ridiculous. But still, two people had taken the time to come out to the store so I basically decided to forget the format altogether. We pulled our chairs into a circle and just chatted, the four of us, for over an hour. It ended up being one of the most rewarding and fun ‘signings’ that I’ve done.

KRL: Future writing goals?

Mark:I’d like to continue the Hugo Marston series as long as possible. I’ve grown very fond of him, and I really enjoy writing the books. I’m going to expand his (and my) horizons by setting future stories in other places in Europe, beginning with London and Barcelona. I also have non-Hugo stories rattling around in my brain, so I’m hoping to get a chance to pop those onto paper, too.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Mark:So many. Alan Furst and Eric Ambler are near the top of the stack, though, for the way they create mood and atmosphere. Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle for their brilliant plotting, of course. In more recent times, I am a great admirer of Tana French, Liz Silver, and Jamie Mason for the beauty of their writing. I’m pretty careful to read only books I think I’ll enjoy, and each time that happens I seem to have a new writing hero.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Mark:The one thing I’ve learned is that if a writer includes any kind of factual detail (type of gun, how books are made, and the depth of graves…) someone out there will know more than you, and let you know if you get it wrong. So, for The Bookseller I worked with a London seller to make sure I got pricing and materials right. I even went to the US Embassy in Paris and spent an afternoon there, talking with the security officers about what they do. And I have a friend in the FBI who is an expert on forensic anthropology, which is very useful when one of my characters needs to dig up an old body.

I also find it important to visit the places I write about. I’ve been to Paris a dozen times, probably, and still get great pleasure from exploring its lesser-known streets. I took my family to Barcelona for ten days, too, so I could write with some authenticity about the old quarter where a future victim of mine currently resides, unmolested and unaware… the internet is an amazing too, for historical and geographical information. I do think it’s vital to visit any place I want to write about, and if that means more travel, well, I’m willing to make the sacrifice.

KRL: What do you read?

Mark:Mostly crime fiction, to be honest. It’s still my favorite. I’ve started reading a little more non-fiction but quite often it’s crime-related. I’m just coming to the end of The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science, which is utterly fascinating to me as a crime writer and as a prosecutor. Great book.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Mark:I love the Bourne movies, I watch them over and over, and I’m a James Bond fan. No surprises there, eh? For TV, I just love the new Sherlock adaptation, with Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern Sherlock Holmes.

KRL: I love Sherlock too! Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Mark:Lots. I think the first thing any writer has to do is get good at writing. That may sound obvious, but it’s not because it’s hard to know when you’ve reached that point. I thought my first three novels were technically good, but I know now they weren’t. Practice, of course, is key, but practice can also mean you keep making the same mistakes over and over. I recommend Stephen King’s On Writing, and think aspiring writers should find other books on the craft of writing.

Once your writing is good, I think the most important thing someone can do to help themselves is be persistent. As I said earlier, I received several hundred rejections over three or four years. That’s tough, but if you want to get a trade deal it’s very common. My wife often asked me why I kept subjecting myself to disappointment after disappointment and I never had a good answer. I think I felt the need to exhaust every ounce of effort, otherwise I’d regret not trying hard enough. But after all those rejections, you can imagine how sweet it was when my agent offered representation, and when she called me a year later with a three-book deal.

If people are thinking of self-publishing, I’d just recommend they get a professional editor and be ready to do a lot of marketing themselves. For better or worse, whether you’re trade or self-published, writing is very much a business as well as an art. It took me a while to realize that, but I think it’s very true.

KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?

Mark:I love it. I’m of the opinion that if books are easy to obtain, more people will read, and more books will be read. That’s a win for readers and writers.

KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?

Mark:Ha! No. I’m not averse to them but for now I like the heft of a real book. Plus that clicking sound when you turn a page annoys my wife…

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Mark:Maybe that I used to be a ski instructor. Or that I once had dinner with Princess Diana. Perhaps that, even after 20 years here, I can’t put on an American accent for the life of me. The real juicy surprises about me, of course, must remain hidden…

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Mark:Yes, these days one must:
Website: and a blog at:
Twitter: @daconfidential

KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?

Mark: I go back and forth on this – sometimes I worry myself silly, and other times I tell myself worrying won’t help. I think all you can do is write the best book possible, and trust a little in lady luck. I’m fortunate to have great publicity people, and I try to get out and meet as many readers as possible (in person and online) but there’s only so much you can do. And every hour spent marketing is an hour one could be writing. I think the best advice is just to get on with your next book, as I’ve seen a bump in sales every time a new one comes out. Having put out four books in two years has helped me, I’m sure.

To enter to win a copy of The Blood Promise, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Blood,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 22, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.


  1. Interesting premise

  2. series sounds fascinating – would be a great introduction even if not the first book in the series

  3. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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