I’ve never tried this before, but it is fascinating. The page begins on a broken sentence, but makes sense in context of the paragraph. By the time we finish the first three lines of page 69, we know that this is a police matter, and that the narrative is currently told from a police point of view. (We…”)Learn more about The Last Nightingale at Anthony Flacco's website and at the publisher's website; read an excerpt from the novel.
“Moses” steps forward in the next paragraph, and even as we watch him speak with authority, relaying orders, we also observe that something is out of place with him.
The next paragraph is all dialogue from Moses, and it indicates that he is speaking for some source of corruption in the Police Department: “You just put the story in a nice box…”
We meet Blackburn in the fourth paragraph, and I love the fact that he is introduced while he is in the act of questioning an authority that we already suspect. He uses logic to contradict what Moses has told him.
The next two-line paragraph is classic Randall Blackburn: keeping his voice low, he wants to know exactly who is calling for this.
I love the fact that we don’t need to know anything at all about his backstory, in order to observe that he is the Protagonist, by virtue of his behavior. He takes exactly the kind of action that we want any solid protagonist to take in the face of official corruption.
The next paragraph reveals that Moses’ position of power comes after a long career as the Departmental record keeper, an important but anonymous job. He has a hard time making eye contact with a man like Blackburn, who is revealed at that point as being so tough that he fights ten rounds with the local thugs every time he goes to work. So we see that Blackburn is also physically strong, in addition to being strong in the face of misused authority.
Best of all, for me, was seeing that page 69 enunciates the essential conflict that is suffered by Randall Blackburn throughout this story – he is alone amid the falsehood and corruption of his own Department.
Whether or not this page 69 theory has its true origins as a well-lubricated joke told somewhere around closing time, this has been a fascinating challenge. Perhaps we can find similar elucidation by flipping to page eleven, which every crime writer, cop, and coroner will recognize as 69 for worms.
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