Friday, September 11, 2009

"Losers Live Longer"

A former managing editor of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Russell Atwood published his first Payton Sherwood mystery, "East of A," in EQMM in 1996 after leaving the magazine. Encouraged by a letter from a publisher, he wrote a longer work involving the East Village private eye, The Land of Plenty of Nothing, published by Ballantine as East of A in 1999, which was nominated for a Shamus award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Losers Live Longer, his new Payton Sherwood mystery, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of my novel? Well, oddly enough it does contain many reoccurring elements, so I'd have to say yes.

Losers Live Longer is an attempt to update the classic private eye novel best exemplified by the film The Big Sleep. This page contains one of those typical Bogie/Bacall verbal fencing matches between my private detective, Payton Sherwood, and the lead femme fatale, Sayre Rauth.

It also displays the novel's quick pace, not to mention my arguably simplistic sense of humor.

Payton teases Sayre about mixing up "in" and "out" and cites having learned the difference from Sesame Street's Grover, and offers to teach her about near and far as well. Sayre drily opts to begin with "far" and starts to shut the door on him. This is one of my--what one reviewer has called--"pleasantly understated pop culture references."

And while the page starts off light, by the bottom, a sense of menace is introduced. When Payton reaches behind his back to get his wallet, Sayre reacts as if he might be going for a weapon. It makes Payton take a firmer hold on himself and take a second look at her. What kind of a person is he dealing with here?

This sort of change in dynamics is something I try to do throughout the entire book, to keep the reader always wondering what's coming next.

Below is page 69 in its entirety:

or else that was all just from the ponderous frown she leveled at me.

“Not exactly,” she repeated. She had some trace of accent I couldn’t place, but not American, more guttural, her words spoken under her breath. “Could you be exact?”

“Possibly. Given time.”

“I do not have time, I’m about to go out.”

“But you just got back in.”

She cocked her eyebrow, but ignored the deliberate provocation. “And now I go back out again.” She pushed the intercom button and, when she heard a crackle from the speaker, said, “The door.” The latch clacked and she pushed the door open behind her and took a backward step.

“That’s in,” I said, feeling playful.


“You’re going in. You said you were going back out again, but that’s in you’re going. I learned all about it. From this guy, Grover. Shaggy blue hair, red nose, thin dangly arms? No? He also taught me about near and far. If you like I could teach you sometime.”

“Yes. Let us begin with far.” She started to swing the door closed.

“I have information.”

Her eyes narrowed. She stepped out again, keeping one hand behind her back. I heard the door shut.“Who are you?”

I reached into my back pocket and she stiffened, her shoulders tensing, until my hand came forward with my wallet. Her reaction made me uneasy—what had she expected, what sort of thing was she used to? I opened my wallet, keeping my thumb on the snapshot of Owl, while I extracted one of my business cards, one of a batch I had printed last year. Nicer than the old

(from Losers Live Longer, © 2009 Russell Atwood)
Read an excerpt from Losers Live Longer. and learn more about the book and author at the Losers Live Longer website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue