Monday, October 6, 2008

"Hell Bent"

William G. Tapply is a contributing editor to Field & Stream and the author of numerous books on fishing and wildlife, as well as more than twenty books of crime fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test--and the Page 99 Test--to his latest novel, Hell Bent, and reported the following:
I'm not at all sure of the validity of the p. 69 (or is it p. 99?) test. I understand -- just pick a random page and see how it sounds. It's a way to judge the writing, but it's a questionable way to judge the story. It could easily fall in the middle of a sub-plot, couldn't it?

I applied the test to my new novel, Hell Bent: A Brady Coyne Novel (which is the 24th in this series that began back in 1984, and still fun to write -- and, people tell me, to read). Page 69 is a short page, the last one in a chapter, just a few lines. Trust me, it doesn't reveal much. Hell Bent fails the p. 69 test -- or the test fails the book.

But page 99 happens to fall smack in the middle of the first big plot point of the story. Here Brady is having evening with his old girlfriend, Alexandria Shaw, perhaps rekindling their old spark, when Alex gets a call from her sister-in-law, Claudia. Claudia is worried about her husband, Alex's brother (and Brady's new client), Gus, who is recently back from Iraq and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gus has threatened suicide in the past. Now Claudia has received an email from him. "I don't think I can do this anymore," Gus wrote. And he's not answering his phone.

Chalk one up for the p. 99 test.

Here's page 99 from Hell Bent:

“I don’t think I can do this anymore? That’s what he said?”

Alex nodded.

“And Claudia thinks . . .”

“She’s afraid. Of what Gus might do. I am, too. It sounds like, you know . . .”

I nodded. “When did he send the email?”

“She didn’t say. It was waiting for her when she checked her emails after supper tonight.”

“When was that?”

“Around six-thirty.”

I looked at my watch. It was a little before ten. “She’s been trying to reach him since then?”

Alex nodded. “No answer.”

“There’s a million explanations for that,” I said. “He’s out, his phone’s turned off, the battery’s run down, he just doesn’t want to talk to Claudia –“

“Except for that email,” said Alex.

“It could mean a lot of things,” I said. I didn’t want to tell her that Gus was talking about starting his life over in Bali. That was a privileged conversation. “Try calling him,” I said. “Maybe he’s just screening Claudia.”

Alex nodded. She picked up her phone, pressed some numbers, then put it to her ear. After a minute she shook her head. “He’s screening me, too, then.”

I took out my cell phone. “His phone won’t recognize mine. What’s his number?”

Alex recited it, and I dialed it. It rang five or six times before the telephone company’s recording invited me to leave a message. I declined the invitation.

I looked at Alex and shook my head. “What do you want to do?”
Read an excerpt from Hell Bent, and learn more about the book and author at William G. Tapply's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue