Saturday, August 13, 2011


Kathleen George, author of police thrillers, was an Edgar finalist for best novel for The Odds. A trade edition of The Odds was released last month.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hideout, the sequel to The Odds, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Let’s start with the window sill in the bathroom. See how it goes.” She came down the stairs a bit more. She was dressed up, possibly going somewhere and didn’t want him to know. She was saying, “Last night, I put everything in the hallway outside the bathroom, so I’d be ready for today.” She ushered him up the steps ahead of her.

He saw things on a tray: paint, the brushes, a scraper, some sandpaper, a scrub brush. She said, “If there’s paint that’s chipping but won’t come off, you use this. Then you sand it all down smooth. Then use the brush to get all the dust off.”

“Where do I dump it?”

“Waste basket. Call me when you’ve finished this one. We’ll see where to go from there.”

He watched her go downstairs. The tools were lined up and they looked simple enough. He had to try. Soon he heard a radio playing. The idea that the accident might still be on the news sent a shiver though him. Gray truck, gray truck, he told himself. He heard pots and pans clattering. Ten dollars an hour. He could drag it out. Enough for food if nothing else. It would take a couple of days of work, more, to fix the truck.

He concentrated on the job at hand. He spent twenty minutes working on the bathroom sill. When it looked smooth, he decided to start on places on the outside part of the windowsill that were down to raw splintered wood. The woman hadn’t asked for it, but it would buy him time. Once he got started, he began to notice places on the upper window frame that needed work. Weather, years of weather. When people lived in rural places, they left their windows open.

A sugary smell made its way up the steps from the kitchen, making his stomach gnaw itself.

Some minutes later, she came up the steps to check on him. “Still on the same sill?”
What does my page 69 of Hideout show me--or any skimmer/browser leafing through the book? It shows me Jack Rutter and Addie Ward on the same page—uncomfortable both. She’s trying to show him work that needs to be done at her summerhouse. He’s looking at possible weapons and remembering what his brother wants him to do--hit the old lady, incapacitate her, steal something of value.

Only forty-eight hours ago, Jack was checking out this area up at Sugar Lake, two hours from Pittsburgh. He got the idea from their friend Chester about finding a place to squat for a while and Chester said country homes were good for that. Jack knew of a place all right. His mother had rented the Jensen summer house when he and his brother Ryan were little boys. It was the only vacation of their lives and it went sour when they got kicked out for trashing the place. While Chester and Ryan were in Pittsburgh terrorizing old ladies for money, Jack drove up to look at the Jensen place, but he didn’t break in. He planned to take the idea back to Ryan who was always urging him to do something to support them. A place to stay was something. After all, they had no money and they lived in their truck. Still, he wanted to take back more. So, that same day Jack drove down the road to explore another place, but that one turned out to be occupied. Addie Ward, an eighty-two year old woman, was in Sugar Lake early for the season. She answered her door and he had to pass himself off as a worker looking for odd jobs. He got back to Pittsburgh with a little money. His brother Ryan snatched the money and it went immediately for drugs.

Then a little over twenty-four hours ago before the scene that happens on p. 69, Jack Rutter and his brother Ryan were driving wild and crazy in the middle of the night on Pittsburgh’s Northside streets. Jack was woozy with alcohol, Ryan high on crack and behind the wheel. Jack felt the danger but he couldn’t stop Ryan who purposely drove at, hit, and killed a young mother walking to her job at the hospital. Jack took over at the wheel and got them out of town and to the Jensen place. They found beds there. A little booze. Hardly any food. And still they had no money. For one thing they had to get the truck fixed. A crackly radio told them the young woman was dead and the police were searching.

So on p. 69 Jack has once again entered the remote vacation home owned by octogenarian Addie Ward.

This time, when Jack enters, half announcing himself, also scoping the place out, Addie Ward is descending the steps from the second floor. She’s hard of hearing--he knows that from their first meeting. He finds himself studying her. He is aware that she’s a natural beauty and she doesn’t dress like most old ladies. She wears a gauzy skirt and a colored top and earrings, as if she’s going out.

He could easily overpower her.

She smiles and greets him. She thinks about what work she can give him. Will she offer him food again?

What I’ve tried to do in Hideout, is to tell a tale of old against young, steady against dangerous, innocent against guilty. I like the remote setting—Sugar Lake, pre-season, two hours from Pittsburgh. I had to plump up Sugar Lake to bigger than it actually is, but I was able to use the surrounding towns, like Cochranton. My cast of detectives have to track clues in the ‘burgh before they know enough to travel to Sugar Lake and Cochranton and eventually Meadville.

I remember being enchanted by Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton—it featured an old woman and a young man. I remember, too, being terrified by Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation which uses the same conflict configuration. I wanted to write my own story of an old woman and a young man. Hate, love, suspicion, violence, the whole ball of wax.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Odds.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue