Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sean Doolittle's novels include The Cleanup, Rain Dogs, Burn, and Dirt. His short stories have been collected in Plots With Guns and The Year's Best Mystery Stories 2002.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Safer, and reported the following:
From p. 69 of Safer:

“Excuse me, your Honor?”

“I asked you a direct question. Have you been drinking?”

There’s a ripple of chatter behind me: a few whispers from the gallery, a low chuckle or two. I can hardly believe it. This is actually getting worse.

Douglas Bennett pauses as though he, too, can hardly believe it. He produces a facial expression that seems to indicate that he’s heard the question, and it has taken him aback. Or maybe bending over to pick up my case file has altered his equilibrium. Either way, he’s swaying noticeably on his feet.

He does his best to camouflage the imbalance, taking a moment to arrange his snarl of papers. He taps the file folder on the table, squaring away the edges. While he’s doing all this, he glances at the same clock above the bailiff, shakes his head like he’s heard a good joke, and says, “Judge, I think we’d agree that it’s a bit early in the day.”

“We would most certainly agree,” the judge says. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

“I believe that it goes without saying—”

“Counselor, are you, at this moment, inebriated in my court? Yes or no?”

“Absolutely not, your Honor.”

At this point, the prosecutor pipes up from the other table. “Your Honor, the People can smell defense counsel from here.”

I’d say this bit is a pretty fair yardstick for the rest of the book. Tone-wise, it’s a bit lighter than some of the later pages, but it’s certainly on the same weather map. Unfortunately for poor Paul Callaway--protaganist of the book and the “I” in this scene—it’s almost entirely representative of his situation that, on the morning of his arraignment on (presumably false) charges of sexual impropriety with the 13-year old girl next door, his defense attorney should show up late to court and half in the bag. Being page 69, it’s appropriate to assume that things get much worse before they get any better.

Would the skimming reader be inclined to keep turning pages? I guess I can’t say for sure, though if you’ve ever been drunk in a room full of sober people, it does sort of seem like they can’t help watching what you’ll do next, so here’s hoping....
Read an excerpt from Safer, and learn more about the author and his work at Sean Doolittle's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue