He applied the Page 69 Test to the UK paperback edition of The Good Son, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of the UK version of The Good Son is an interesting one for the author. Out of context, I feel it is not hugely representative of the rest of the novel, but it does mark one of the very rare cases in the book of overlap between the author’s reality and the fiction of the novel, as well as signalling the narrative’s turning point.Learn more about the book and author at Russel McLean's website and blog.
It comes at the end of chapter 10, as our protagonist – Scottish private investigator J McNee – finds his investigations into the life of an apparent suicide lead to real murder. A woman who claims to be the dead man’s lover (and who also happens to be the wife of a prominent London gangster) has been found dead in an apartment and in possession of one of McNee’s cards. The case is getting serious, now, and McNee’s mild misgivings are turning into something close to fear.
Page 69 itself starts like this:
“My muscles contracted. Leaving me with fingers and toes curled into tight fists that refused to open.”
McNee is standing by the river Tay, contemplating what has just happened when this sensation overcomes him. Growing up, I used to suffer serious panic attacks. These would tend to come at times of severe stress. In my first couple of years at university, some people called me Tony Soprano given that the symptoms were very similar to the fictional mob-bosses own attacks. The Sopranos started in ’98, and I recognised Tony’s symptoms from episode one as those I had known for years. Only, I never saw anyone like Dr Melfi. My doctors had told me that the attacks were merely “growing pains”. As I got older, the attacks faded, something McNee also notes, which makes this episode particularly unexpected and crippling.
“I concentrated on the ice in my lungs. Forced myself to take each breath slowly and carefully. Ignoring the signals that my brain was sending, forcing myself to take in shallow gulps of oxygen.”
The attack underlines the powerlessness McNee feels by this point in the narrative. As an detective, he is the perpetual outsider, and this murder occurs before he understands the salient facts of his investigation. It throws his world off balance, adds an unexpected urgency which may be the cause of the attack.
Page 69 marks the point of no return for McNee. While this attack could be interpreted as a warning about the dark places this case may lead him, McNee chooses to move past it and sets down a path towards a cathartic and terrifying finale.
Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.