Featured: Until Proven Innocent by Mark Scott Piper
Mark Scott Piper
Until Proven Innocent is a mystery with strong thriller elements, memorable characters, complex relationships, and plenty of wry humor.
Recently retired English professor Mac Faulk returns to Headley University to teach one more creative writing class.
Among the first batch of student stories, he comes across an anonymous dark tale describing a heinous crime. He thinks little of it—until the story’s details start to come true.
When the author, who calls himself the Paladin, submits two more, even more, disturbing stories, Mac is caught up in a frustrating web of intrigue and mystery.
The perpetrator has some unidentified score to settle with Mac and does everything he can to make sure all the evidence points directly to Mac.
Now, on the radar of the local police, Mac becomes the chief suspect in the investigation of the crimes described in the stories.
If Mac hopes to prove his innocence and try to save the next victim’s life, he has to confront the Paladin himself.
Not only is Mac forced well out of his comfort zone, but he also has no idea how to identify and locate the Paladin.
And he only has a few hours to save the life of the latest victim and clear his name.
Meet Mark Scott Piper:
Mark Scott Piper has been writing professionally his entire adult life. He is a longtime freelance writer and video director/producer. Mark holds an MA and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon, and he has taught literature and writing at the college level for several years.
His debut novel, You Wish, is the 2019 American Eagle Book Awards first-place gold winner. His second novel, The Old Block, was published in 2020. His third, Until Proven Innocent was released in 2022.
Mark’s bookshelves are overflowing. Among his favorites are Christopher Moore, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, Tony Hillerman, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anne Lamott—all of whom successfully conspire to keep him humble.
His stories have appeared in Short Story America, The California Writers Club Literary Review, and online literary magazines, including, Scrutiny, Writing Raw, Fabula Argentea, Animal, Slurve, and others. In addition, two of his short stories have been Honorable Mention selections in Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction contests. See more of his work at www.markpiper.net.
You can email him at email@example.com
Review by Jack the Knife:
Dawson McIntyre Faulk – “Mac” – is a recently retired English professor at a northern California university, hoping to at last write the novel he thinks has always been in him. But then a sudden vacancy occurs in his old department, and he’s cajoled into filling in short-term.
It’s a community college-ish Creative Writing course offered to townies for no credit but at nominal cost. Mac finds himself teaching an eclectic class of students ranging in age from the twenties to middle-age.
When he reads the short stories submitted for their first assignment, he’s taken aback by a chilling, perverted story of revenge over a long-ago, seemingly inconsequential insult. The protagonist calls himself Paladin and the writer does not identify himself. Mac wonders which of his students submitted it.
When the events told in the story actually occur, and Paladin suggests Mac himself is personally involved in some way, the real mystery begins and is exacerbated when a subsequent Paladin submission points to the planned murder of one of Mac’s students. He feels compelled to find the sicko before that story comes true, all the while the police suspect him as the perpetrator and Mac thinks Paladin is stalking him.
Mac’s character is well-developed, but his frequent introspections is a bit overdone in my view, though they do serve to bring the reader into his mindset. What I found frustrating – and this is likely author Piper’s intent – is Mac’s inability to make himself understood by the police, his estranged family, and even Paladin’s target.
Mac comes out on the short end of his verbal confrontations, as he is constantly being interrupted when trying to explain what is happening, and he gives up. This nebbish quality is in contrast to the steely resolve he exhibits elsewhere in the novel. Heroic at times, tongue-tied bumbler at others,
That said, Piper has written a well-crafted plot leading to a resolution complete with a surprising twist. Several literary and music allusions along the way, coupled with Mac’s amusing can’t-help-it grammar comments add spice to the narrative. It was an enjoyable read, and I recommend it.
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