Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Upon the Flight of the Queen"

Howard Jones’s debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (2011), was widely acclaimed by influential publications like Library Journal, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, made the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Release of 2013 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He is the author of four Pathfinder novels, an e-collection of short stories featuring the heroes from his historical fantasy novels, The Waters of Eternity, and the new novel from St. Martin’s, the second in a new fantasy series, Upon the Flight of the Queen, the followup to For the Killing of Kings, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to Upon the Flight of the Queen and reported the following:
My trilogy is centered on a heroic order of champions who discover a terrible conspiracy in their midst at the same time an invasion is underway. Naturally I assumed a page 69 test would take me to some of my protagonists unravelling one of several mysteries, or engaged in some swashbuckling action, but what I discovered instead was the madness of their queen, Leonara. In the first book of the trilogy, the queen’s mostly off-stage, and apart from one scene, we only see the terrible results of her choices. Come book two she’s sometimes center stage, and on page 69 Leonara is letting it be known just what she intends to do with her newfound powers. I dare not reveal that, for fear I’ll spoil book one, but suffice to say that she has far too much faith in her own intellectual superiority, and has surrounded herself with yes-women and yes-men eager to curry favor. On page 69 one of them is starting to suspect the queen’s vision may well lead them to disaster and dares suggest a proposed course of action might be premature. The queen’s responses, and those of her closest subordinate, go a long way toward showing us just how dangerous Leonara’s going to be to our protagonists over the course of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Andrew Jones's website.

View the animated book trailer for Upon the Flight of the Queen.

Writers Read: Howard Andrew Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

"Wyoming"

JP Gritton’s awards include a Cynthia Woods Mitchell fellowship, a DisQuiet fellowship and the Donald Barthelme prize in fiction. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Greensboro Review, New Ohio Review, Southwest Review, Tin House and elsewhere. His translations of the fiction of Brazilian writer Cidinha da Silva are forthcoming in InTranslation.

Gritton applied the Page 69 Test to Wyoming, his first novel, and reported the following:
The top of page 69 reads, “I think I must’ve half wanted it to go south.” Shelley Cooper, the construction-worker-by-day/drug-runner-by-night who narrates my novel Wyoming, has just invited a lady of the evening to join him in his hotel room. In some ways, this invitation is exactly what the book is about: the manner by which we subconsciously participate in the disasters of our lives.

Before this point, Shelley’s progress through the book has been a series of dumb ideas. He steals an air compressor (dumb idea). Later, to help his best friend pay for chemotherapy treatments, Shelley agrees to drive fifty pounds of Colorado high-grade down to Houston (dumb idea). He has some dumb ideas about the money he gets for his trouble, which comes padlocked in a stainless-steel briefcase.

There isn’t a lot of me in Shelley, but this much we have in common: sometimes I get the feeling that I am the casual viewer of a TV show about self-sabotage. Bad idea, I’ll think. Don’t do it! And then?

The next line reads, “I smiled to watch her blow inside—this time I hadn’t bothered fastening the chain—smiled even if there was a sweet sad voice in my head, ringing like a bell: You will regret this, it went, you will regret this, you will regret this.”
Visit JP Gritton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wyoming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 18, 2019

"Life and Limb"

Jennifer Roberson has a BS in journalism with extended majors in British history and anthropology. She spent her final semester in London on an American studies program as an adult student in 1982, and while there, two days after her 28th birthday, received a telegram (pre-email!) from her agent informing her DAW Books had bought what became Shapechangers, the first in her Chronicles of the Cheysuli fantasy series. Her collaboration with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, The Golden Key, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. In addition to the new Blood & Bone series, she has published eight Cheysuli novels, the Sword-Dancer Saga (#8 to come) and three of four volumes in the Karavans universe. The second volume in Blood & Bone is Sinners and Saints, scheduled for publication in March of 2021. Hobbies include showing dogs, and creating mosaic artwork and jewelry. She lives in Arizona with a collection of cats and Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

Roberson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Life and Limb, and reported the following:
Life and Limb is the first volume in an ongoing urban fantasy series about the End of Days, and two perfectly ordinary young men who are strangers to one another have been conscripted to join the heavenly host in a battle against Lucifer’s spec ops troops: demons who now inhabit characters and creatures from fiction, history, myths, legends, and folklore. But the angels have agendas, and Gabe and Remi—an ex-con biker and Texas cowboy—must also come to grips with the unwelcome discovery that they themselves are not after all entirely human, even as they climb the steepest of learning curves in an attempt to save the world.
“It will come,” Grandaddy said. “It’s a process.”

I shook my head. “We have lives. Hell, I just got mine back. You can’t expect us to walk away from everything.”

Grandaddy’s voice took on an edge unlike anything I’d heard from him before. My skin itched, and I stared at him in shock. He was doing something again.

“That’s exactly what I expect, Gabriel. This is the End of Days I’m talking about, with the fate of the world at stake. Everyone born of heaven must answer this call, if we’re to succeed. Is it a sacrifice?—of course it is. But there is nothing in your lives that is of greater importance than this.” His eyes were steady. “You have never disappointed me. Don’t do so now.”

I looked for compassion. Found none. “What about our families?”

Grandaddy didn’t even attempt to hedge. “I said we could massage things. Well, I have massaged the minds of your parents and brother. They believe you are in prison finishing your sentence.”

“But that’s only six more months.”

“And your father’s reaction once you’re out? Would you be welcome in his house?”

After a long moment, I said no. Because I remembered what my father had said, even if he didn’t because of Grandaddy’s brain massage. That night on the porch, as I rolled my bike out of the garage, felt like a death-knell. My mother stayed inside, and kid brother Matty was probably out getting high.

“And what would you do, Gabriel?”

“Get on my bike and head out. Maybe for good.”

Grandaddy nodded. “Well, we will free you of that. They will remember no hostilities, only that you are on the road. And so you are free to do your duty without interference for however long it takes.“

I glanced at the cowboy, looked back at Grandaddy. “What about him?”

“Remi is traveling the world undertaking research for the book he plans on writing. And he may, from time to time, call home to reassure his parents. But the calls will show overseas locations, nothing in this country. You, on the other hand, may drop postcards to your mother. Your father’s a son of a bitch, but she is a worthy woman.”

And there it was, all tied up in a neat little bow. The present. Our futures. An explanation for it all.
Page 69 is representative of the book in that Grandaddy is laying out their futures, and their stakes in that future. It's the end of the world, which is the main plot-driver for the series. The introduction to their new lives is not well-received and sets up internal conflict as Gabe and Remi learn they must sink or swim.
Visit Jennifer Roberson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2019

"An Equal Justice"

Chad Zunker studied journalism at the University of Texas, where he was also on the football team. He’s worked for some of the most powerful law firms in the country and invented baby products that are now sold all over the world. He has wanted to write full time since he took his first practice hit as a skinny freshman walk-on from a 6’5, 240 pound senior All-American safety — which crushed both him and his feeble NFL dreams.

Zunker is the author of the David Adams legal thriller, An Equal Justice, as well as The Tracker, Shadow Shepherd, and Hunt the Lion in his Sam Callahan series. He lives in Austin with his wife, Katie, and their three daughters.

Zunker applied the Page 69 Test to An Equal Justice and reported the following:
Page 69 of An Equal Justice consists of a scene where David Adams, our hero, follows an old homeless man named Benny—who has just saved David’s life from a mugging—deep into the woods of East Austin. Benny is taking David to see his home for the first time. This scene is one of the most pivotal in the entire book. It’s David’s first exposure to a secret homeless community called The Camp, where David meets many others like Benny. Soon after this scene, David begins to feel caught in between two worlds—the wealthy and powerful, and the poor and outcast. This tension leads him toward a dramatic climax as David tries to unravel a dark and sinster conspiracy at his law firm.
Visit Chad Zunker's website.

Writers Read: Chad Zunker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2019

"One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow"

Through unexpected characters and vivid prose, Olivia Hawker explores the varied landscape of the human spirit. Hawker’s interest in genealogy often informs her writing. Her first two novels from Lake Union Publishing, The Ragged Edge of Night and One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow (2019), are based on true stories found within the author’s family tree.

She lives in the San Juan Islands of Washington State with her husband Paul and several naughty cats.

Hawker applied the Page 69 Test to One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow and reported the following:
From page 69:
I had never really known Substance in life, but I knew him now, in death… and a more stubborn man the world had never seen. No one who died stayed put together afterward quite so long as Substance—no one I’d ever encountered, anyway. But there he was, a presence hanging over his own grave, aware, knowing, furious in the face of his fate. The hens I killed for our soup pot fell apart the moment their wings stopped flapping—those quick, curious, darting little spirits bursting like sparks from a campfire, dispersing out into the world. My ma had cherished a pet cat some years ago, and when it had died suddenly, I sat beside its body and felt the cat’s awareness linger for half an hour or more. The cat had been amazed by its sudden weightlessness, pleasantly drawn to all the silver strands of light that reached for it, thirsty for its spirit—the threads of all the lives that continued on: mine and my family’s and the hens in the yard and the cattle in their pen, the squash vines and carrots in the garden, the insects trilling on the prairie—the prairie itself. Sheep seemed to consent to their dissolution even before their bodies had died—and most plants, too, as if the great unraveling was a sacredness for which they had always lived. But Substance Webber refused to do what other spirits did. He would not be dissolved. He would permit no other life to touch him, to take him, to use him. He didn’t yet know that we can’t remain whole forever, but he would learn the truth soon enough. No one escapes the great unraveling; no thread is unspooled and escapes the weaver’s hand. I knew the roots of the newly sprouted grasses surrounded Substance’s body. The bindweed thrived on his rich flesh. A few yards away, the cottonwoods were already reaching toward him, delving through the soil with ancient hands. Before much longer, the earth would take every last bit of Substance Webber, whether he consented to be taken or not.

But he wasn’t gone yet.
I think page 69 of One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow is a pretty solid representation of the book as a whole. On this page, Beulah recounts her attempts to convince the spirit of Substance Webber to stop hanging around his grave and “fall apart”—surrender to the fact of his death, relinquish his hold on his ego, and accept his place in the cycles of life. The rest of the novel deals with those same ideas, so this page is a pretty good indicator of what the reader will encounter throughout the book.
Visit Olivia Hawker's website.

My Book, The Movie: One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"Beside Herself"

Elizabeth LaBan lives in Philadelphia with her restaurant critic husband and two children. She is the author of The Restaurant Critic’s Wife, Not Perfect, and Pretty Little World, which she co-authored with Melissa DePino. She also wrote the young adult novel The Tragedy Paper, published by Knopf, which has been translated into eleven foreign languages, and The Grandparents Handbook, published by Quirk Books, which has been translated into seven foreign languages.

LaBan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Beside Herself, and reported the following:
From page 69:
They found Joel sleeping peacefully on the couch under Ridley’s thin fleece, Despicable Me blanket. Perfect, thought Hannah.

“Shhhhh,” she said to the kids, putting her finger to her mouth. “Daddy still isn’t feeling well. That’s really why he slept down here. He didn’t want to bother me. So let’s let him sleep. Okay? Don’t wake him up.”

Hannah knew he had an important meeting this morning, at ten…she knew he wanted to impress the Minnesota office. She had the urge to yank the blanket away or, better yet, get a picture of him so the words Despicable Me were clear as day and send it out into the world on Facebook or Instagram. But she knew not doing anything, letting him sleep through the meeting, was the worst thing she could do, at least for now.
I am always amazed, when I take the Page 69 Test, how something truly telling about the book almost always lies right there on that page. This is a perfect excerpt to pull out of Beside Herself because it is really one of the lowest points between Hannah and Joel. I am not giving anything away when I tell you that Hannah has discovered that Joel had an affair and she is shocked, completely blindsided, she did not see it coming. This scene is the morning following the first night that Hannah tells Joel, reluctantly, that he should sleep downstairs on the couch. It also follows an early morning phone call from Hannah’s best friend Kim who has just recently gone through a devastating divorce. At the moment Kim’s kids are with her ex-husband in Orlando visiting Disneyworld for the first time. Kim calls Hannah in a panic because she just learned they visited Cinderella’s Castle without her. She tells Hannah that it is too late for her, but not for Hannah, and Hannah should do what she can to salvage her marriage and family. At that moment, Hannah is not at all sure she can or should. It is right after the phone call that she comes down to find Joel asleep under the Despicable Me blanket. That is fitting on many levels, not only because Joel behaved in a despicable manner, but also because when Kim describes the Cinderella Castle situation Hannah realizes they have long meant to go to Universal Orlando to see the Minion ride, based on characters in the Despicable Me movie, and in that way it is a symbol also of what Hannah has to lose, and really, what they all have to lose.
Visit Elizabeth LaBan's website.

Writers Read: Elizabeth LaBan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

"Tracking Game"

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. The latest title in the series is Tracking Game. Active within the writing community, Mizushima serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019-2020 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima applied the Page 69 Test to her new mystery, Tracking Game, and this is what she reported:
From page 69:
“Thanks for your time, Flint,” Mattie said as she handed him back his gloves. Wanting to offer another line of communication, she gave him one of her own cards before saying goodbye.

While she drove away, she checked the rearview mirror, having to look over Robo as he stood staring out the back window. Sure enough, JD came out of the house to stand beside his son, indicating he’d been keeping tabs on what was going on outside his front door.

Stella pulled her seat belt across herself and fastened it. “Was everyone at that dance last night except me?”

“Just about.”


“Did you see Flint there?”


“I can’t say I did. But the place was packed, and we were dancing most of the time before the explosion. I wasn’t really looking for him.”

Stella shot her a sideways glance, eyebrows raised. “So the handsome Dr. Walker was taking up most of your attention, huh?”

Mattie felt her own face begin to flush, like Flint’s. “I was off duty, Detective.”

“Right.” Stella took out a small notebook she carried with her and started recording notes. “What did you think of Flint?”

“I’m not sure. I was about to give him the benefit of the doubt until he lit up when you asked him for an alibi. But that blush could’ve been embarrassment over hooking up with a girl he barely knew.”


“Possibly.” Stella paused her writing and looked out the window. “But we can’t eliminate him yet.”

Mattie thought they shouldn’t underestimate the influence this kid’s dad had on him. “I saw JD step outside to join him when we left. Let’s let him have some time with Flint. Maybe he can get him to come forward with more information before we need to give it another go.”
Page 69 of Tracking Game provides a fair representation of some of the investigative work that Deputy Mattie Cobb and Detective Stella LoSasso do in the book, but it doesn’t show the K-9 action that this episode in the series offers.

The book starts with a bang when an explosion near town interrupts the community dance that Mattie and veterinarian Cole Walker are at, their first public date as a couple in the small mountain town of Timber Creek, Colorado. When they arrive at the scene of a burning van, they find one man dead and another man, who is Cole’s best friend, badly injured. Cole also knows the dead man, an outfitter who has married into a local ranching family.

The character that Mattie and Stella interview on page 69 is the dead man’s employee, Flint Thornton, the son of another rancher who has actively tried to keep his rebellious son in line over the years despite Flint’s run-ins with local law enforcement. And when Robo finds a trace of cocaine behind the door panel of the burnt van, it becomes apparent that the victim’s outfitting business may have been a shell for illegal activity, so Flint is an important person of interest.

Besides investigative work, each episode in the Timber Creek K-9 series brings the reader a story packed with K-9 work, action, and adventure; and Tracking Game is no exception. Soon Mattie and Robo are called at dusk to search the foothills for another victim, and there they have an encounter with an apex predator. It’s too dark to see the big cat clearly, but its growl shakes Mattie to the core. She has heard a cougar before and knows there’s something different about this cat’s roar. Only after she, Cole, and others band together to track down the animal do they discover exactly what it is and why it’s been transported to the Colorado wilderness.

I invite you to join Mattie and Cole in their latest adventure and see why Library Journal has described Tracking Game as, "Compelling and twisty...Fans of Western mysteries as well as those featuring dogs will enjoy this latest entry in the series." Also, Library Reads has named Tracking Game one of their Top 10 Picks for November 2019. Hope to meet you on the page!
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

My Book, The Movie: Burning Ridge.

The Page 69 Test: Burning Ridge.

Writers Read: Margaret Mizushima.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 10, 2019

"Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon"

James Lovegrove is the New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Odin. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004, and also reviews fiction for the Financial Times. He is the author of Firefly: Big Damn Hero with Nancy Holder and Firefly: The Magnificent Nine. He lives in south-east England.

Lovegrove applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Sherlock Holmes novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon reported the following:
Page 69 of Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon consists predominantly of a conversation overheard by Holmes and Watson. Eve Allerthorpe, the young woman who has summoned the great detective and his companion to her family home, is talking to her brother, Erasmus, about the series of mysterious and possibly supernatural incidents that have left her terrified and fearing for her sanity. It is, I suppose, an expository passage but it serves to establish the relationship between the siblings, which is fairly crucial to the plot, and also their relationship with their recently widowed father:
“Papa was furious at him for not being more inquisitive.”

“Papa needs little excuse to be furious these days.”
Holmes, having eavesdropped for a minute or so, announces his presence by clearing his throat “decorously”, which I feel is a nice touch and completely in-character. Holmes is courteous, forever mindful of manners, and would not simply go barging into the situation. He has also, however, been able to gather some data, because Sherlock Holmes is always on the lookout for hints and clues. That’s something my editor on these Holmes adventures keeps drumming into me: our detective hero never achieves his deductions by luck or accident. Either he seeks out clues or he carefully analyses any information that comes his way by chance, mining it for detective gold.
Visit James Lovegrove's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 8, 2019

"Echoes of the Fall"

Hank Early lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes crime, watches too much basketball, and rarely sleeps. His new book, Echoes of the Fall, is his third Earl Marcus novel.

In a previous life, he published horror as John Mantooth.

Early applied the Page 69 Test to Echoes of the Fall and reported the following:
I like to think page 69 of my latest Earl Marcus mystery, Echoes of the Fall, does three things pretty well. First, it clarifies for the reader and Earl exactly why a dead man has ended up in his front yard. Well, maybe not exactly, but it offers a strong nudge in the right direction.
He’d clearly been coming to see me, most likely to hire me. But for what? Could he have wanted me to investigate the Harden School all along?
The Harden School is an all boys’ reform school nestled deep in the North Georgia mountains. Except there is much more to the school than meets the eye. Page 69 also has Earl making the connection between the secretive school and local politician and his arch nemesis, Jeb Walsh. Earl has just discovered Jeb’s son is a student at the school and his ex-wife has filed multiple complaints about the school’s teachers and administration.
This last piece might have been the most intriguing, suggesting a complex and vast picture that could actually mean something good for this whole county if I could assemble it and use it to somehow bring Walsh down.
Earl has just found his goal, the mission that will propel him and the reader through the rest of the novel.

The third thing page 69 does is pull in Earl’s chaotic sidekick, Ronnie Thrash. While Earl is busy assimilating these new tidbits of information, Ronnie has been trying to tell him about something he just witnessed when they were briefly separated on the campus of the Harden School:
“You ain’t been listening to a damn word I’ve been saying, have you?”

“Huh?” I realized we were almost to Ronnie’s place. The old church was in sight.

“I was telling you about the weird stuff I witnessed in front of the school.”

“What weird stuff?”

Ronnie blew out a long sigh. “Jesus H. Christ, Earl, you are as bad as child sometimes. You mean to tell me you ain’t heard none of what I was saying?”

“I heard… some of it,” I said.

“About the band?”

“Oh, I got that.”

“So where did you stop listening?"
The page ends right about there, but Ronnie goes on to describe a strange encounter with one of the students, during which the student babbles almost incoherently about “Indians and his sister.” The kid is visibly upset, and Ronnie senses that there is something sinister at work here, though it will take both he and Earl’s most diligent efforts to find out just what it is.

Overall, I was really pleased with the results of my Page 69 Test. It allows the reader to get just a glimpse of the powerful forces at work in the novel, while experiencing a side of Ronnie Thrash’s irrepressible personality, as well as a hint at the deeper, more esoteric secrets that haunt the Harden School.
Visit Hank Early's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

"Blind Search"

Paula Munier is the author of the bestselling Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, Writing with Quiet Hands, and Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle. She was inspired to write A Borrowing of Bones, the first Mercy and Elvis mystery, by the hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue, her own Newfoundland retriever mix rescue Bear, and a lifelong passion for crime fiction.

Munier lives in New England with her family, Bear, and a torbie tabby named Ursula.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Mercy and Elvis mystery, Blind Search, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Henry stirred in his father’s arms.

“He could be a material witness,” said Harrington. “And he’s waking up now.” The detective waved his hand, directing the group to fall back. “Jenkins, come with me and bring your boy.”

“He probably won’t tell you anything. He doesn’t talk much unless it’s about math or video games or Batman.”

Henry pulled away from his father and embraced the dogs.

“Come on, Henry.” Ethan rose to his feet, pulling the boy with him. “You need to stay with me. We’ve talked about this before.”

But Henry wriggled away from his father and slid down to the forest floor, tucking himself into a ball, just as he had under the gutting table in the bob-house. The dogs formed a shield around him, Susie Bear a big black shaggy boulder and Elvis an elegant fawn wall of fur.
In Blind Search, I started with a story I'd read in the newspaper about a boy with autism who'd wandered off into the Vermont woods and gotten lost. He was rescued safe and sound, but the writer in me thought: What if a boy with autism got lost in the woods and witnessed a murder? Mercy and Elvis would have to save him…and I was off and running.

Which led me to this scene on page 69. The scene in which Mercy and Elvis have tracked Henry through the woods and returned him to his father, who’s waiting at the crime scene. A young woman has been shot through the heart with an arrow—and everyone is beginning to realize that Henry may know who did it.

But he’s not talking.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: Blind Search.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 4, 2019

"Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders and reported the following:
From page 69:
I counted out coins and Mrs. Glossop’s hand came down to stop them spinning on the smooth wood of the counter with such finality that I knew she was far more annoyed about Grandad’s Sunday lunch-after-church-idea than I had first thought. But I didn’t want her to lead the village in a witch-hunt against the Americans either. “Sergeant Perrone has been detained on suspicion of murder, but he has not yet been tried and found guilty. None of us can be sure that he killed Doreen and Ivy. I hope he gets a fair trial,” I said in what I hoped was a conciliatory and reasonable tone. She didn’t care for it.

“He’s being court-martialed by them, not tried in an English court which he should be after killing two English girls.”

“Either way he is innocent until proved guilty...”

A sharp intake a breath from Mrs. G. and I looked up to find her watching me intently. “You don’t believe he did it, do you?” There was no point in denying it. “I don’t see how he can have done both murders. After Doreen’s death all the Americans were confined to the base. You have to hand it to them; their security is amazing. Have you seen their perimeter fence?” She stared at me, her face like stone, so I explained. “He would have had to climb a ten-foot woven wire fence crowned by four or five strands of barbed wire.”

Fierce little eyes bored into mine. “Who then? You are not going to suggest it was one of us?”

Why not? I wanted to say. Why were we so above reproach?

Her stare was so intimidating that my voice almost shook as I answered her. “I am not suggesting anything Mrs. Glossop. I am only supporting my grandparent’s decision to try and heal a rift by including the young men up at the base in our village community. That is of course if they want to be part of it. After all they have come to help us win this war, haven’t they?”

I heard the breath hiss out of her like an old bicycle tire with a puncture, and her face became thoughtful as she folded her arms underneath her non-existent bosom. “Alright then,” she said as she tucked her chin down onto her chest and pondered the alternatives. “So, if you’re so keen on finding a culprit off base …what about that Mr. Ponsonby? Him who has retired, so he says, from London. Lives on Water Lane between the doctor and Mrs. Ritchie.”
In this excerpt from Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, Poppy, a young WWII Air Raid Warden, is investigating the murder of two young women who have been dating American airmen from the base that has been built on the edge of the village. She is in conversation with the Little Buffenden’s postmistress, Enid Glossop, who is a leading light in the village.

Little Buffenden is an out of the way place, a backwater, and like all remote English villages, even in the 1940s, its inhabitants are an insular and unworldly group. A new airfield just outside their village has been a difficult adjustment for the villagers to make in the first place, but naturally patriotism wins the day—or at least it does outwardly. But the Friendly Invasion, as the press call the arrival of Britain’s American allies in the fight against Nazi Germany, is another matter entirely. Why, many ask themselves, aren’t our boys stationed at the airfield? What’s wrong the Royal Air Force?

As the villagers come to terms with the generous informality of the young American airmen who enjoy a pint or two in the village pub, share their ‘candy’ bars with the local schoolkids and take pretty young girls out for a night of dancing in the nearest town, Little Buffenden settles down to its daily round if not in open approval, at least in acceptance of what they call the Yank invasion. Then two popular local girls are murdered, and the village closes ranks. Of course, they tell themselves, the killer has to be an outsider, nothing like this has ever happened in Little Buffenden before.

The underlying theme of Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders is how the unknown and the different are often treated with suspicion and distrust: you are either village or you aren’t, and in Little Buffenden’s case, strangely enough, it has nothing to do with class. Who qualifies as a trusted member of rural Little Buffenden’s close knit community where families have existed together for generations? Certainly not the retired solicitor from London, nor Little Buffenden’s eccentric, but tolerated, vicar. Even the publican of the Rose and Crown is a ‘townie’ from Wickham. Fingers point and whispered gossip is rife in the morning queue at the local butcher’s shop. But independent minded Poppy blithely continues on her night patrols determined to discover the identity of the killer who she is quite convinced does not come from the American Air Force base.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

See Tessa Arlen’s top five historical novels.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 3, 2019

"The Worst Kind of Want"

Liska Jacobs holds an MFA from the University of California, Riverside. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The Rumpus, Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Millions, and The Hairpin, among other publications.

Jacobs applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Worst Kind of Want, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I ask Hannah to get me water but Donato volunteers.

“Silvia,” he calls out. “Come downstairs with me.”

I feel every cell bristle. Of course, they are together, and why should that matter to me anyway?

Hannah puts her head on my shoulder. “Do you think Silvia is very pretty?”

Tiny lights strung across the terrace turn on and I can see her watery eyes. Below I hear Donato’s laugh.

“She’s a lot older than him,” I say.

“Only by five years.”

Her body starts to shake, tears fall on my shoulder. Hush, I tell her. Hush. Instinctively I look around to see if any of their friends are watching.

“Come on.” I pull her up from the settee. “Call us a ride, and I’ll get your backpack. We can pick up a pizza on the way home.”

I wipe the smeared mascara from under her eyes and point her toward the stairs. I say goodbye to her friends, making up an excuse that Paul wants us home. He’s made dinner. I can tell Donato doesn’t believe this, but he doesn’t say so. When he kisses my cheek, I cannot help it, I press him against me. He feels broader than I thought he would, and that liquid fire at the center of me rejoices.

In the cab Hannah gives in. She is bawling.

“I miss Mom,” she chokes out. “I miss her so much.”

Letting her drink was probably a bad idea, but isn’t she old enough to know her limit? Or at least learn what it is? I knew not to drink a third Bellini at fifteen, or if Guy offered to make me a screwdriver, to drink it slowly because he always made them very strong.
I’m so pleased this worked! Page 69 has all the emotional elements of the book. Cilla playing the role as mother and caretaker of her niece Hannah, her burgeoning desire for the seventeen-year-old Donato, the pushed aside grief surrounding the death of Hannah’s mother (Cilla’s sister), and Cilla’s resentment toward her youthful romance with an older man. How wonderful.
Visit Liska Jacobs's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Worst Kind of Want.

--Marshal Zeringue