Monday, August 20, 2012


Kathleen George is the editor of Pittsburgh Noir and the author of Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, The Odds (Edgar finalist, best novel), Hideout, and the newly released Simple. The novels are set in Pittsburgh. The author teaches theatre and writing at Pitt.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Simple and reported the following:
On page 69 Cal Hathaway is having his first meal in the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. He’s just confessed to the murder of a woman he admired, even adored, but the police kept coming at him and he thought, “maybe they know something, maybe I did it.” He said yes to make them stop yelling. He fell onto his cot and slept through breakfast. In spite of the warnings that no valuables be kept in a cell, he insisted on keeping his watch, a good one, a gift from his mother.

He’s used to being alone. The thing that frightens him most about jail is all the people, the din, the noise. He plans to eat his lunch and not come out of his cell for dinner.

How could he have confessed to the murder of a woman he loved and who was kind to him? He frets through this question though he knows the answer. It’s because he was beaten as a boy by bullies; the brain damage he sustained led to blackouts—and to a slow and considered speech pattern. He’s not stupid. People think he is. They think he’s simple.

In the scene on p. 69 he finds a place to sit with his lunch tray. He soon understands that the inmates he is sitting with are not friendly. They are already beginning to make fun of him, already taunting him. And the one named Sydney wants his watch.

I loved writing Cal. He’s a quadroon who keeps passing for white in spite of the fact that he doesn’t want to pass at all. He’s sweet tempered and pure of heart. I think I was influenced in naming him by the Cal in East of Eden. He’s only one character in a large cast of characters. We mostly get to know the murdered woman, Cassie Price, through other’s memories of her. She was deeply in love with her boss, gubernatorial candidate Mike Connolly. She said he reminded her of a saint. Is that simply crazy? Not exactly. Connolly may be married and having an affair with Cassie, but there is also something good about him. Simple also features my usual cast of detectives.

But Cal gets page 69. And he’s important. He’s as much of a victim as Cassie is.
Now Cal got his tray and sat down at the only seat he could see at a quick glance. There were small white metal tables around the pod floor—each seated four men. The man sitting directly across from Cal was middle aged, white, or looked white, and he was neat-looking about his person, and alert, but at second glance that alertness was the nasty sort. His eyes glittered. His smile was mean. He said, “Nice watch.”

Cal didn’t answer. Lunch was two hot dogs on a bun, a pile of greasy fries, and some kind of Jello thing that seemed to have fruits tumbled in it. Cal began on the meal, planning to eat it all because he wasn’t at all sure he wanted to come out of his cell for dinner. For a long time now, he’d been a solo guy, doing everything on his own. All these people talking and looking at him made anxiety rise in him. It took the form of a ball of anger and nervousness making its way up his digestive tract, fighting the food that was on its way down.

“So this is the badass came in last night?” the question came from the man to his right. He was large, pale, and sloppy, with messy long hair.

The man who had commented on his watch said, “Can’t you tell?” And the two laughed.

“He doesn’t want to talk,” said the guy with the braids, passing. “I tried him.”

“That’s Levon,” said the man across from him, pointing to the one with dreads. Cal could see Levon went to sit with other African American men. There were significantly fewer white guys here, no surprise.

“I’m Sidney,” the man continued. “This here joker next to me is Boreski. Some guy named Shiron is going to come up to you sooner or later and ask what you need to buy. Whatever you buy, I get half or the whole. I watch out for you. That’s all you need to know for today. Otherwise you’ll be overwhelmed.”

The two men laughed.

There was a lot of noise, but Cal was pretty sure he heard Sidney ask, “You ever think you’d end up here?”
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

The Page 99 Test: Afterimage.

The Page 99 Test: The Odds.

The Page 69 Test: Hideout.

My Book, The Movie: Hideout.

--Marshal Zeringue