Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Mind of a Killer"

Simon Beaufort is the pseudonym of Susanna Gregory and Beau Riffenburgh when they write jointly.

Beaufort applied the Page 69 Test to Mind of A Killer and reported the following:
Page 69 of Mind of a Killer doesn’t reveal any dark secrets, but it does grab the essence of one of the book’s subplots.

The story takes place in London in 1882, when Alec Lonsdale, a junior reporter for The Pall Mall Gazette, begins to suspect there was more to a fatal house fire than a simple accident. Slowly, he becomes convinced that the victim was murdered and the house set ablaze to hide the fact. He and his colleague Hulda Friederichs investigate, and uncover a series of seemingly related murders. From the fashionable mansions of Bloomsbury to the dank lanes in Bermondsey that even the police won’t enter, the pair seek answers to give them a sensational story and help build their reputations.

Lonsdale and Hulda do this despite the police trying to suppress the investigation, and having to overcome roadblocks from another alarming place: their own editor. But were the editor’s reservations about the story actually a surprise?

At the time, The Pall Mall Gazette was a small, but politically influential, evening newspaper, the editor of which, John Morley (later the government’s Chief Secretary for Ireland), believed that its pages should be reserved for helping readers understand ‘great affairs’, such as the ‘Irish question’. Inexplicably, Morley had hired as his assistant editor the liberal firebrand W.T. Stead, who later helped bring American-style sensationalism to the British press.

Page 69 shows the interplay between Morley, who thinks a murder investigation lowers the tone of his newspaper, and Stead, who sees the investigation as part of The PMG’s moral obligation. In the middle of this debate are the dedicated Lonsdale and the impetuous Hulda, trying to put forward their points of view. Will Stead convince the editor to approve the investigation, will the pair be reassigned to write theatre reviews, or will Lonsdale have to result to nefarious means to follow the trail of a killer?
Visit Simon Beaufort's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2018

"The Saint of Wolves and Butchers"

Alex Grecian is the national bestselling author of the contemporary thriller The Saint of Wolves and Butchers, the novels of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, including The Yard, The Black Country, The Devil’s Workshop, The Harvest Man, and Lost and Gone Forever, as well as the critically acclaimed graphic novels Proof and Rasputin.

Grecian applied the Page 69 Test to The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Saint of Wolves and Butchers comes in the middle of a letter Ruth Elder has written to her adult daughter. Ruth started her life over after World War II, but she recently spotted a man she’s convinced is a former Nazi named Rudolph Bormann, and she’s concerned that her life may be in jeopardy.
I did not tell the men I worked for that I was a trained nurse. I could not bear anymore to see men who were wounded and dying. I feared I would see Dierk when I looked at an injured soldier. But I did well in my secretarial duties and was put into the guard training program at Ravensbrück, in the north of Germany. I did not know what that place was when I was assigned there, but I soon discovered what kind of camp it was.

The prisoners were almost all women, and so the guards were women, too. The administrators were men, of course, but interactions with prisoners were mostly left to us. There were female guards at other camps, but all of us went first to Ravensbrück. We were shown how to subjugate and terrify. We were given dogs and taught the commands that would make our dogs attack prisoners.

We were not taught any command to make the dogs stop attacking.
There are four main characters in this book, and none of them is featured here, but I still think this is pretty representative. Here we see how the past and present are intertwined, and how we’re powerless to escape history, an important theme throughout the novel.

Ruth’s letter is being read aloud to Travis Roan, a Nazi hunter who has travelled to Kansas to meet with Ruth, but has arrived too late. So he believes the letter is the only remaining key to help him find Bormann and bring him to justice. Ruth’s story motivates others, too, including Skottie Foster. She’s a state trooper, who is there to keep an eye on Travis, but she’s touched and disturbed by the letter. She agrees to help Travis, which ends up putting her family in harm’s way and ultimately pushes her to make some life-changing decisions.
Visit Alex Grecian's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Workshop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Death Comes in through the Kitchen"

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1966. She earned her BA in English literature and an MA in Spanish literature at the University of Havana, and her PhD in Latin American literature at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of twelve other works of fiction and three plays, and is the winner of the Rincón de la Victoria Award and a finalist for the Herralde Award.

Dovalpage applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Death Comes in through the Kitchen, and reported the following:
On page 69 Matt is talking to Yarmila’s best friend, an enterprising cook named Isabel. Isabel owns a paladar –a small private restaurant located in her house. When she finds out that Matt is looking for a place to stay, she quickly offers him one:
“We have a room,” she explained, turning to Matt. “Small but recently painted and renovated, with its own bathroom and everything. Eh, viejo?” she prompted her husband. “Tell him.”

Despite being called an old man, Luis smiled pleasantly and said, “Yes, it is a penthouse. It has the best views in Havana.”
The page is representative of the book in the sense that Matt, a well-intentioned, naïve American, is led to believe something that turns out to be false. A few paragraphs later, when he gets to see the room, Matt realizes that calling it “a penthouse” is quite an overstatement. This sets the tone for his entire Cuban experience.

On page 69 there is also a mention of food:
Luis and Padrino had begun to discuss food providers. “The pound of pork costs seven CUCs at the Cuatro Caminos Farmers’ Market,” Luis was saying. “But I’d rather buy it from a guy that brings it to us for eight.”
Food is a theme throughout the book, particularly in Yarmila’s blog, which contains authentic Cuban recipes.

If writing this novel didn’t make me a better writer, it did make a me a better cook. I tried all the recipes before including them. Buen provecho!
Visit Teresa Dovalpage's website.

Writers Read: Teresa Dovalpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Cut You Down"

Cut You Down, the latest novel in Sam Wiebe's series featuring Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland, is garnering rave reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He's also the author of Invisible Dead and Last of the Independents, and the editor of the forthcoming Vancouver Noir. Wiebe lives in Vancouver.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Cut You Down and reported the following:
On page 69, Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland and his partner Jeff Chen approach the house of a pair of suburban gangsters, very dangerous men...who live with their parents.
"You bring your gun?"

The question surprised me. Jeff knew I'd bought a pistol last year during another case. He hadn't approved. Our security guards had firearms, and we were both licensed, but guns had never sat easy with Jefferon Chen.

I shook my head and pulled the Maglite out of the passenger's side footwell.

"You gonna swat bullets away with that?"

"We're just asking friendly questions," I told him and myself. "No need for things to escalate."

We stepped onto the ratty welcome mat and I rang the buzzer. Discordant chimes went off inside the house.

Jeff nudged my shoulder and pointed towards his feet. Beneath our shoes the letters on the mat spelled F C RIGH FF. I shifted my right foot and uncovered a K.

"Fuck right off," Jeff said.

The door was opened by an old woman carrying an axe.
Cut You Down involves a search for a college student who disappeared in the midst of a scandal involving millions of dollars. The search takes Wakeland across the Pacific Northwest, encountering people and situations that range from the absurd to the violent. This scene shows both. I'd say Page 69 offers a glimpse at what lies ahead for Wakeland, and represents both his doggedness as a detective, and the case's surprising nature.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Invisible Dead.

Writers Read: Sam Wiebe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Witchy Winter"

D.J. (“Dave”) Butler grew up in swamps, deserts, and mountains. After messing around for years with the practice of law, he finally got serious and turned to his lifelong passion for storytelling. He now writes adventure stories for readers of all ages, plays guitar, and spends as much time as he can with his family.

Butler applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Witchy Winter, book two in the epic fantasy series Witchy Winter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He didn’t want to kill the gander. But the bird seemed to be begging him. He rode hard, fighting to keep his eyes open against sudden tears that threatened to blind him.

the goose honked one last time—

it turned its neck to thrust its greased head into Nathaniel’s outstretched palm—


Nathaniel slowed and then stopped his horse, looking down in shock at the bird’s head that lay twitching in his cupped hand. “Woden’s beard, I think he did it.” George walked away from Charles toward Nathaniel, reaching up to pull down the other young man’s hand to look inside.

~ thank you.~

“Thank you,” Nathaniel repeated, feeling exhausted.

“Publish the banns.” George snorted as he took the goose’s head. “Jenny’s yours, young Chapel.”

“I guess I’ll be having goose for dinner tomorrow night.” Nathaniel tried to grin big, and a ect the bravado the others seemed to feel. Charles smiled back at him. Nathaniel’s ear tingled, so he rubbed it.

“You know, if you left your ear alone, it might not have swollen up to that ridiculous size,” Landon said.

“It’s not that young Nathaniel’s ear is large.” George grunted, climbing onto his own horse, where he swayed back and forth during the pause in his speech. “It’s that it sticks out sideways. Poor bastard looks like a windmill on his left side.”

“I’d have said an elephant,” Landon suggested.
Page 69 is representative in several ways of the larger book.

We see here the sufferings of Nathaniel, the sick young man who must become a healer if he and his sister are to survive. He is one of the three siblings who are the key characters of the series.

Witchy Winter is a book about America and its peoples, and we see here a couple of features of the Cavalier culture of the Chesapeake: intense pecking order and violent blood sports (this is the climax of a ganderpull).

Magic in the Witchy Winter setting is not some artificial game-influenced system built on colors or metals, but is rooted in real-world magical ideas and practices. Nathaniel's illness is a result of too-much openness to the sounds of the cosmos, including the voices of spirits (which appear in the fragment) and also the music of the spheres (which he hears as cacophony). His healing will ultimately come from shamanic initiation.
Visit D.J. Butler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Whispers of the Dead"

Spencer Kope is the Crime Analyst for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. Currently assigned to Detectives Division, he provides case support to detectives and deputies, and is particularly good at identifying possible suspects. In his spare time he developed a database-driven analytical process called Forensic Vehicle Analysis (FVA) used to identify the make, model and year range of vehicles from surveillance photos. It's a tool he's used repeatedly to solve crimes. One of his favorite pastimes is getting lost in a bookstore, and he lives in Washington State.

Kope applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Whispers of the Dead, and reported the following:
Oh, a lot of fun things happen in the first 69 pages of Whispers of the Dead. After solving a brutal murder in the first chapter, the FBI’s elite Special Tracking Unit finds itself in El Paso, Texas, where Special Agent Jimmy Donovan and his partner, Magnus “Steps” Craig, are expected to unravel the story behind a rather peculiar find.

It seems someone doesn’t like Judge Jonathan Ehrlich. This is not surprising to those who know the judge, but then no one has ever expressed their displeasure by leaving a pair of severed feet on the judge’s living room floor. To sort out who might be targeting the judge, Steps and Jimmy must first figure out who the feet belong to.

What they can never reveal, not even to Diane Parker, the team’s top-tier intelligence analyst, is that Steps is a fraud. Oh, he can track like no one else in the world, but he doesn’t use traditional man-tracking methods.

When Steps was eight years old, he got lost in the Cascade Mountains and was clinically dead from hypothermia by the time they found him. After he was revived, he found that his eyes didn’t work like they used to. He could see what some might call the human aura, something he came to call “shine.” The interesting thing about shine is that it’s like DNA or fingerprints: no two are alike. It also attaches itself to everything one touches, which means Steps can walk onto a crime scene and see who walked across the floor, who turned the doorknob, and who held the knife.

The only problem is trying to figure out who the shine belongs to.

By Page 69 of Whispers of the Dead, Steps knows that the suspect, already dubbed the Ice Box Killer, has an ice blue shine. The team is also one computer search away from identifying the first victim ... and that’s about the time the next shoe drops ... so to speak.
Visit Spencer Kope's website.

Writers Read: Spencer Kope.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2018

"A Death of No Importance"

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history. She has written several novels for young adults; her novel Crunch Time was nominated for an Edgar in 2007.

Fredericks applied the Page 69 Test to A Death of No Importance, her first mystery for adults, and reported the following:
“Page 69? That’s kind of random.”

When I first heard of the Page 69 Test, I worried that just picking a page—any page—in the book was going to reveal a stretch where the story has ground to a halt. Characters are wandering around, staring off into space, muttering about the weather. Maybe you can get away with that in other, lesser genres like literary fiction. But not a mystery.

But I steeled myself and opened to page 69 of A Death of No Importance. What I found was an argument between two maids—and a turning point for my narrator.

It is the morning after the murder. The Benchley family has returned from the Newsome Ball shattered because Charlotte Benchley’s fiancé has been found bludgeoned to death. Our narrator, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is spending a dismal morning caring for distraught Benchleys and she is furious to find that Charlotte’s ball gown is missing. She vents her frustration on a younger maid, only to find that the dress did not come home for a very curious reason. One question leads to the next until Jane realizes that what seemed like negligence on the part of a inexperienced co-worker could be something altogether more sinister.

It’s the first time Jane starts to critically analyze the events of the night of the murder. “If X did Y, that could mean Z is true.” It marks the starting point of her transformation from a servant who performs any task asked of her without complaint to a woman who reserves the right to ask questions and draw conclusions. A woman who feels her analysis and conclusions matter.

In short, she has started to become a detective.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome"

Man Martin writes and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been twice named Georgia Author of the Year.

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“For obvious reasons, I can’t divulge the actual names of my patients. Suffice to say, Y’s problem is very real, and by no means untypical. Y was a successful car salesman, a decent person. Wife and family. Deacon at the Baptist Church. Whole nine yards. Got it?” Bone said he got it. “So anyway, one day Y disappears. Vanishes. They put in a missing-person report, checked the morgue, the hospitals, the works. Nada. No one knows what happened. But then one day, what do you think?” Bone did not know what to think. “Someone recognizes him! He’s living in a different town! He has a different name, a new job, he’s even got himself a girlfriend. So anyway, they tried reuniting him with his family. Y tried. He moved back in with his wife. He slept with her. Helped with the dishes. Called her “Sugar Boo.” But it didn’t come back; he never remembered his old life. His wife says he was like a whole ‘nother person after he returned. It’s like he never really came back at all. The fact is, Y no longer exists. His body is still there, nothing wrong with the body, only now there’s a whole ‘nother person inside it. As far as Y himself is concerned, or the man who used to be Y, there’s no such person as Y. To this day, Y has not come back, and the man who used to be Y will swear on a stack of Bibles he doesn’t know him.”
This passage not only represents the rest of the the book; in a way, it is the book, for it describes the syndrome which gives the book its title. Dr. Limongello, pronounced Lemon Jell-O, tells his patient, Bone King, of a mysterious syndrome which has become increasingly, alarmingly, common, threatening to become an epidemic - a terrifying condition in which the “self,” the soul if you will, dislodges from the reticular formation in the brain and floats away forever.

At this juncture, an eerie “moo-ha-ha” seems called for, so I shall provide one.

Visit Man Martin's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Man Martin and Zoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Lord of the Pies"

An avid foodie and writer, Nell Hampton (AKA Nancy J. Parra) decided to finally combine her two loves. She lives in Richmond, VA.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lord of the Pies, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“But I thought they ate lemon pie,” Agnes scrolled through several pictures. “See? Here’s a lovely piece with sky-high meringue.”

“Wait, yes, that is my pie. There’s two pieces missing out of it.” I frowned. “How was there a whole lemon pie left? I thought it was in one of our pie plates. It looked like my pie. Well, I assumed it was mine since mine were the only pies in the kitchen when I arrived.”

“Do you think someone slipped a poison pie in with yours?”


“Well, if people got sick they would certainly say that on their social media.”

“And everyone would get the impression that I’m a terrible cook,” I said. “If that’s the case, we’re lucky no one else ate that pie.”

“Did you count all the pie plates when you got back?”

“No,” I said. “Why would I? Mine were the only pies served. I didn’t think I needed to check the inventory.”

“You should count them,” she said.

“I’ll do it after lunch service. I have to assume one is missing because CID identified the pie as being in a pie pan from my kitchen.”

Lunch for the family consisted of several courses, to teach the children about official dining. We kept it simple with stuffed mushroom appetizers, potato and chive soup, roasted chicken, and rice pilaf, then pudding for dessert. Well, in England dessert was pudding so they had pudding for pudding. The thought made me smile.

By the time Agnes got back from taking lunch up to the family, I had done a quick inventory of my pie pans. Two seemed to be missing.
Page 69 has our sleuth wondering how one of her pies had become poisoned and why someone might be trying to frame her. It’s a great little peek into daily life and gives a hint of what it’s like for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children. Carrie Ann is an American in the royal kitchen and takes delight in the things that are different from life as an American chef. Things like pudding for pudding.

That was a fun exercise as I had never looked at a random page to see how it fit into the theme of the book.
Visit Nell Hampton / Nancy J. Parra's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Nancy J. Parra and Little Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"Devils Unto Dust"

Emma Berquist grew up in Austin, Texas and sunburns easily. She currently lives in New Zealand and avoids the beach.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Devils Unto Dust, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The heat hits me like a solid wall when I step out into the sunshine. I breathe in the scorching air and the heat sears my lungs, clearing out the smoke and noise from the bar. I don’t know how folk can stand to live in there, crammed together with no space to think.
This is the beginning of a chapter where Willie escapes a crowded bar and starts on her way back home. Growing up in a small town in the middle of a desert, she’s not comfortable being in small spaces with lots of people. (In this instance, her inner monologue would probably match my own thoughts!) It’s not just the crowd that makes her uneasy, though, it’s the fact that Willie has trouble trusting anyone but her closest friends and family. It’s doubly a relief for her to get out of that situation and be alone with the one person she trusts the most.

Page 69 is fairly indicative of the rest of the book; Willie is introspective, and we spend a good amount of time in her head.
Visit Emma Berquist's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Just Between Us"

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don't Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story "Loaded," which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir.

Drake applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Just Between Us, and reported the following:
I hadn’t heard of this test before, but it’s interesting, and in this case page 69 is representative of all of Just Between Us and I hope a reader skimming this page would read on. It happens to fall on the opening of a chapter, and right after a big reveal, and it really epitomizes what the book is about—the friendship between four women and their concern for one of them:
There are certain moments in life that you can remember with all the clarity of a photograph—where you were and who were with and how the place looked or sounded or smelled. I can see us just as we were, the four of us sitting in Alison’s living room, Heather hunched over on the sofa, hands cradling her midsection as if holding a child, Julie in the chair closest to her, unconsciously tearing a napkin to shreds in her lap, and Alison, so startled that she’d stopped talking, her mouth falling open. Everyone so shocked by what Heather had revealed that for a long minute the only noise you could hear in the room was the faint hiss and pop of logs burning in the fireplace. These are the things I remember with perfect clarity: The slight smell of woodsmoke, the taste of cabernet, dark and dry, the table lamps casting shadows on the walls. The light from the fire illuminating the wine as I refilled my glass, a gush of liquid splashing, deep red, like blood pouring from a wound.
I wanted to explore female friendship, and how women communicate with and about one another. The book is told in four, first-person POVs, with each of the women—Alison, Julie, Sarah, and Heather—taking turns discussing what happens after they discover that Heather is being abused by her husband. It was challenging to write in four different points-of-view, because I wanted to make each character distinct, but also make sure that they had some shared vocabulary, the way we do with those closest to us. In order to avoid any confusion for readers, I asked my publisher to put the character’s name as a header on each page in their individual chapters. So page 69 falls on the opening of a Sarah chapter, and if readers forget that, they only have to glance up to remember who’s speaking. The unspoken question on this page and throughout the entire book is this: How far would you go to help a friend?
Visit Rebecca Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2018

"The Magnificent Esme Wells"

Adrienne Sharp is the critically acclaimed author of the story collection White Swan, Black Swan, a Barnes & Noble Discover Book and a national bestseller; and the novels The Sleeping Beauty, named one of Booklist’s ten best first novels of 2005; and The True Memoirs of Little K, which was a finalist for the California Book Award and a Historical Novel Review Editors’ Choice.

Sharp applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Magnificent Esme Wells, and reported the following:
When Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Club was closed down by order of the mob in early 1947 because it was hemorrhaging money, Meyer Lansky himself came out to Las Vegas to find out what the hell was going on. On page 69, Lansky and a fictional associate I created for him, Nate Stein (handsome, Roman nose, big head of black hair), watch a rehearsal of the floorshow in the shuttered nightclub. No detail of the property or its activities was too small for their inspection. While the Andrews Sisters croon “Near You,” my main character, Esme, fifteen years old and one of the Flamingo dancers in her red high-heeled shoes and pink feathers, finds Nate looking at her, looking away, looking back. He’s fifty. And after rehearsal, at Nate’s instigation, Ben Siegel reluctantly introduces Nate to Esme. She can tell he’s not happy about doing this “because I was Benny’s Baby E and Nate was staring at me in this certain way and Ben could see what lay ahead and he didn’t like it.” Esme shakes Nate’s hand and tells him her name, her stage name, first time she’s used it, Esme Wells. He laughs. “He knew exactly who I was, Esme Silver, fifteen years old, practically unschooled, a nobody, but he understood my affectation, even approved of it. All these men approved of ambition, of reinvention.”

Which is, I suppose, the theme of the book—reinvention. Esme’s mother is girl from Boyle Heights who took a few dance classes at Daddy Mack’s studio and became a Busby Berkeley girl in a blond wig and shoes with satin bows and a chiffon dress. Esme’s father is a bookie who haunts the parking lot of the Hollywood Park race track and now works as a gofer for Mickey Cohen and Ben Siegel. First in Los Angeles and then, later in the book, in Las Vegas. Reinvention. The men who made their money in scrap metal, rags, and nickelodeon houses at the turn of the twentieth century are the men who created Hollywood—Goldwyn, Mayer, Lasky, Fox, Warner. And the men who made their money in the Midwest during Prohibition are the men who opened casinos in Las Vegas in the thirties and forties, places like the Desert Inn, the Dunes, the Stardust, the Flamingo.

The Flamingo itself, like all of those other hotels before their demolition, has been reinvented many times—currently it’s a hodge-podge neon nightmare, but in 1947, it was a beautiful place, a glass-backed bar filled with liquor bottles, the ceiling a pocked gorgeous blue-green like some magnificent moon, and a marble spiral staircase. The casinos back then were small, with a just a few tables and slot machines, and the hotels themselves were long and low, the old school motels where you pulled your car up to your room. The pool out back was spotted with pink-painted fake flamingoes. The real ones Siegel imported had died in the desert heat. So, reinvention with plastic and steel.

Siegel’s reinvention as a casino magnate was short-lived. He was murdered a few months after Lansky’s visit to Vegas.

But for Esme, that visit is the catalyst for her own personal reinvention—with her stage name, with her promotion from cigarette girl to show girl, and with her introduction to Nate Stein. She moves from soundstage rat cloaked in her mother’s jewelry--a little girl so neglected she barely attends school and suffers from impetigo from lack of bathing, a little girl women everywhere take under their wings to wash her face or to comb the snarls from her hair-- is now about to become the mistress of one of the most important men in Las Vegas and through him a headliner on the Strip. But for now she’s dressed “like a piece of candy in a candy-colored costume, my face orange with Pan-Cake and my lashes an elongated black, my hair as long as a child’s.”

Half girl, half woman, and page 69 is her pivot, the moment she makes the transition from one thing to the other, from girlhood to womanhood, from powerlessness to a certain kind of power, adulthood with all its treacherous pleasures. She recognizes this herself. “One day you were a child and then, all at once, you weren’t.”
Learn more about The Magnificent Esme Wells.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2018

"The Fairies of Sadieville"

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He has been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls.

Bledsoe applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Fairies of Sadieville, the sixth book in his Tufa series, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Fairies of Sadieville, our two protagonists, Justin and Veronica, are driving along a winding rural highway on their way to Cloud County in search of the vanished coal town of Sadieville. They pull over so Justin can pee, and while alone in the car, Veronica ponders her concerns about the trip:
The one thing they hadn’t discussed was the obvious: a Latina and her black boyfriend would certainly stand out. They’d both had their share of experiences with racism, but this was the first time, as a couple, they’d ventured into what they believed was the heartland of it.
Any story set in the contemporary American south, if it’s honest, has to deal with race. It doesn’t have to be the focus, which it isn’t here, but to omit it entirely is, quite frankly, cheating. My fictional Tufa people frequently encounter racism outside their community, so their response to other minorities is filtered through that. Similarly, the important and omnipresence of religion has to be acknowledged, since it permeates so many aspects of southern life. Not that it’s all bad, either in real life or my Tufa novels; sure there are hypocrites, but there are also true believers, like recurring character Craig Chess, a Methodist minister. The important thing is to understand race and religion as part of that society’s foundation, because whether you’re a believer or not, a racist or not, they are inevitably there.

Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book? I hope so. It helps create the reality against which the fantasy elements will appear that much more fantastic. Through this book, and the series as a whole, I’ve attempted to achieve that same balance.

And I certainly hope a reader skimming that page would be inclined to read on, because the last line is:
He slammed into the car. “I saw a dinosaur!” he gasped.
Learn more about the book and author at Alex Bledsoe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"The Flicker of Old Dreams"

Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award. She is the author of the novels Up from the Blue (2010) and The Flicker of Old Dreams (2018).

Henderson applied the Page 69 Test to The Flicker of Old Dreams and reported the following:
From page 69:
My father grows quiet. He tries so hard to keep our business afloat, tries every way he knows to keep our customers and potential customers happy.

“He’s a bad memory for this town,” he says, carefully choosing his words. “I think our neighbors will feel relieved the less involved he is.”

“We have to do what’s right for the customer,” I say.

“We have to do what’s right for the town.”

“I won’t do anything unprofessional, Pop.”

“Let me handle it, then."
This is a scene between father and daughter, funeral director and embalmer. I don't think it's representative of the book because so much of the story is about death--the death of this small town and the death of a way of life, as well as the dead bodies moving in and out of the funeral home. This scene, however, touches on the trouble that's brewing between Mary and her father now that a former and long-hated resident of this small town has come back to bury his mother.
Learn more about the book and author at Susan Henderson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Up From the Blue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Michael Kardos is the author of the novels Bluff, Before He Finds Her, and The Three-Day Affair, an Esquire best book of 2012, as well as the story collection One Last Good Time, which won the Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award for fiction, and the textbook The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Writer’s Guide.

Kardos applied the Page 69 Test to Bluff and reported the following:
From page 69:
The air was gustier than it was up north, and I wrapped my arms around myself as Ace and I crossed the street. You couldn’t see inside the bakery because of the shelves of bread blocking the windows. The sign on the door said closed, but the door was unlocked.

Ace gently touched my arm. “If you win a hand, don’t lay your cards down extra slow to rub it in. It’s bad etiquette.”

“Slow rolling. I know.”

“And protect your cards. Not everyone’s as honest as you and me.”

I smiled.

“Let’s go get ’em, tiger,” he said, and we went in.
On page 69 of Bluff, the novel’s protagonist, Natalie Webb, is accompanying a professional card cheat named Ace into an Atlantic City bakery, the setting of the novel’s first of two key poker games. Natalie, a world-class sleight-of-hand magician, is there to observe Ace’s technique: she plans to write a magazine article comparing the techniques and artistry of magicians and cardsharps. But to ensure his cover isn’t blown, Ace has insisted that Natalie can’t simply watch the game and take notes: she must sit at the table, put up her own hard-earned money, and play.

Will everything go as planned? (Spoiler alert: No.)
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Kardos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"The Italian Party"

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Lynch is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Italian Party, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Wow—it’s kind of crazy how well this works! Page 69 in The Italian Party is a page that might deter some readers, because it’s a Michael page (instead of a section from the point of view of his wife, Scottie) where he’s realizing how much he doesn’t understand about Italian politics, and feeling frustrated about how to even begin the mission he’s been sent to do, to throw an election. (An aside: when I started writing this novel in 2013, no one was talking about throwing elections! I’m amazed that the things I dreamed up for Michael to do are things that people who want to throw elections apparently actually do.) Page 69 is a pivotal page in Michael’s story, and sets up everything that comes later. Michael is trying to figure out how to flip a reporter who is writing negative stories about America, “ridiculing its films as treacle, its products as flimsy and its presence in Europe as imperialist.” He knows he has to get to that guy and get him to change his tune. He’s also thinking about the news that Khrushchev has just denounced Stalin: “What did it mean, the papers kept asking, and everyone had a contradictory answer. Some said it was the beginning of a loosening of Soviet control over the Eastern Bloc. Others said it was a consolidation of power in new hands. Things had begun to shift and change in ways that Michael found unnerving. It felt to him like the entire world was having a migraine.” Michael’s Cold War anxiety is growing, and then at the bottom of the page he gets even more bad news, that the Communist mayor of Siena is predicted to win reelection. That fact is a low point in his story that drives him to take actions that have many repercussions…
Visit Christina Lynch's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Italian Party.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 1, 2018

"High White Sun"

J. Todd Scott was born in rural Kentucky and attended college and law school in Virginia, where he set aside an early ambition to write to pursue a career as a federal agent. His assignments have taken him all over the U.S and the world, but a badge and gun never replaced his passion for books and writing. He now resides in the American Southwest, and when he’s not hunting down very bad men, he’s hard at work on his next book.

His debut novel, The Far Empty, was published in 2016.

Scott applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, High White Sun, and reported the following:
One of the themes of High White Sun, and really, the whole series, is how Sheriff Chris Cherry struggles with the authority and responsibility that’s been thrust upon him. This plays out over page 69, which is the culmination of an on-going argument between Chris and county attorney Royal Moody over Chris’s handling of the murder investigation that kicks off the novel; in fact, it’s emblematic of a deeper disagreement over Chris’s fitness to wear a badge and carry a gun. Chris had zero law enforcement experience before becoming a deputy, and now, sheriff, and if a football injury hadn’t derailed his college plans and possible pro career, he never would have returned home to Murfee, Texas. Living in the shadow of the venerated (but corrupt) former sheriff, Stanford “Judge” Ross, Chris only wants to uphold the law and modernize the Big Bend County Sheriff’s Department. It’s a noble ambition, but with very little support from the community, and threats seemingly everywhere, it’s one he’s afraid he’ll never fully realize.

High White Sun is a big, brawling, violent book, and although this scene is one of the “quieter” ones, it’s powerful because it shows that not all of Chris’s enemies carry guns, and not all of his troubles lurk in the desert surrounding Murfee.
Visit J. Todd Scott's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 31, 2018

"England Expects"

Sara Sheridan is an Edinburgh-based novelist who writes cosy crime noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton and historical novels based on the real-life stories of late Georgian and early Victorian explorers.

Sheridan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, England Expects, and reported the following:
Currently I don’t have a copy of the US edition of England Expects so I am going to use the UK edition. So page 69 is when Mirabelle and her side-kick Vesta visit the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. It’s been deserted and has fallen into disrepair and they are visiting because there has been a suspicious death. A cleaning lady has died in the local Masonic Lodge (she worked there) and Mirabelle has found out that she had another job part-time, cleaning at the palace. Mirabelle and Vesta pick through the overgrown path and consider breaking in but then they are ‘copped’ by a local park keeper who is there to check the grounds once a week. The book is set in the summer of 1953 in Brighton and I had great fun researching it. During WWII the Pavilion had been a recuperation facility for recovering soldiers. It’s the most extraordinary palace - built by the Prince Regent in the 1700s and dripping in exotic architectural detail - as if an Indian/Chinese decorator got absolutely ripped and was given no restriction on budget, just told to go! In 1953, however, Britain was pretty much broke and in real life, the palace had fallen into disrepair - the roof was damaged in a storm. I had been waiting to use it as a location - holding off in the first two books - because it is so stunning and a disused palace is a more or less perfect component for a murder mystery. When I was a kid we had a Victorian nunnery next door and it was closed down around, I suppose 1980. My brother and I sneaked in over the back wall and in a back window. The nuns had been lovely - they used to give us sweets - but we’d never been inside. I used the memories of the long corridors and the artefacts left behind to write the inside of the deserted Royal Pavilion. There is something magical about empty, old buildings - and of course, the electricity is off so the light is eerie. And it’s a palace so there had to be secret passages. I’ll say no more!

The page 69 Test - is it representative of the rest of the book? Hell yes. Mirabelle and Vesta spend this entire book snooping around asking tricky questions in some great locations. They even have a trip to Cambridge in this one - to a college campus where Mirabelle ends up locked in a wine cellar and has to escape. So their approach to Brighton Pavilion is pretty representative. I won’t tell you what happens when they get inside.
Visit Sara Sheridan's website.

My Book, The Movie: England Expects.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"The Wild Inside"

Jamey Bradbury's work has appeared in Black Warrior Review (winner of the annual fiction contest), Sou’wester, and Zone 3. She won an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Bradbury applied the Page 69 Test to The Wild Inside, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…That hot coal still burning inside me, but it had changed. Felt more like hope smoldering in me now than anger. A feeling like that, there’s two options. You can leave it be and it will burn out eventually. Or you can do something with it. Stoke it. Add fuel. Watch the flames grow.

Take it into the woods, light your way.
Page 69 of The Wild Inside turns out to contain most of the elements that drive the entire book: At the top of the page, there’s rebellious Tracy, making a decision to defy her father’s rules and sneak out with her sled dogs to train for the Iditarod at night. Later, when she does, she’ll make a discovery—there’s someone out there in the woods, someone waiting and watching her family’s house—that will determine her actions over the course of the rest of the book.

Then, after the page break, Tracy is back inside her own head, remembering her mother, Hannah, who passed away two years ago. This is how most of the book is structured, switching between present action and past memory as Tracy tries to understand the secrets her mother kept and the reasons so much was left unsaid when she died. In fact, page 69 begins to reveal the key to that understanding as it describes Hannah’s mercurial temperament—the way she seemed to change almost overnight, becoming depressed and cutting herself off from the world.

Here, too, as in the rest of the book, Tracy’s voice is what drives everything. Throughout The Wild Inside, her strange way of talking—her odd metaphors and grammatical laziness—narrows the sometimes unreliable point of view and challenges readers to ask: Is Tracy really seeing things for what they are?
Visit Jamey Bradbury's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"Laura & Emma"

Kate Greathead is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair, and on NPR’s Moth Radio Hour. She was a subject in the American version of the British Up documentary series. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the writer Teddy Wayne.

Greathead applied the Page 69 Test to Laura & Emma, her first novel, and reported the following:
On page 69, Laura, a single mother, is looking for an apartment for her and her toddler daughter. Like many New Yorkers, she discovers that her wish list (fireplace, sunlight, proximity to Central Park) doesn’t correspond with her budget, and she must settle for an apartment that falls outside the border of her desired location. Set in pre-Giuliani 1980s New York, 96th Street east of Lexington—“Harlem,” she calls it; “Across the street from Harlem,” her broker corrects her—is not a place Laura, who grew up in an Upper Eastside brownstone, ever imagined herself living.

The page is emblematic of the book in that it captures Laura’s sense of entitlement, a result of the privileged upbringing she is simultaneously ashamed of but shamelessly benefits from. It is one of many moments in the book that I imagine will make readers roll their eyes at Laura. As a character, we see things about her that she is unable or unwilling to acknowledge about herself.
Visit Kate Greathead's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2018


Damian Dibben is the creator of the internationally acclaimed children's book series the History Keepers, translated into 26 languages in over 40 countries. Previously, he worked as a screenwriter, and actor, on projects as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera and Puss in Boots and Young Indiana Jones. He lives, facing St Paul's Cathedral, on London's Southbank with his partner Ali and dog Dudley.

Dibben applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Tomorrow, and reported the following:
From page 69:
.. my companion'll not eat, nor fish, but has a passion for beans, fagioli, in whatever style suits your kitchen..
I love the idea of the page 69 test. I have never heard of it before.

On page 69 of Tomorrow, our hero and his master (their actual names are not revealed until near the end) dine together in Venice on what will be - though they don't know it yet - their last night together for more than a century, or perhaps ever. Only the reader is aware of this, so the scene has particular poignancy. Our narrator is a dog who must travel through the courts and battlefields of Europe - and through the centuries - in search of the man, his master, who granted him immortality. He befriends both humans and animals, but whereas, in a line from the book, "a person who keeps dogs, will lose many in their lifetimes, (he) was a dog who lost people."

But if he can find his true master, if they can be re-united once again, as they were at dinner in Venice, our hero would find his home once more.
Visit Damian Dibben's website.

My Book, The Movie: Tomorrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Death of An Unsung Hero"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in the American Southwest.

Arlen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Death of an Unsung Hero, the fourth book in her Lady Montfort mystery series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘We missed luncheon because I was teaching Lieutenant Carmichael to plow –the old way with a horse…”

“No luncheon, you must be famished!” Clementine thought her words sounded a bit forced, or even worse, jolly.

“Not at all, Molly sent us out a picnic lunch of bread and cheese. It was delicious –she sent cider too!”

Us? Clementine felt the evening was slipping away from her. What on earth is going on? She couldn’t quite remember this Lieutenant Carmichael who had spent most of the day with her daughter.
On page 69 of Death of an Unsung Hero Clementine is coming to terms with one of the most enduring changes on the home front caused by the first world war: the effect that it had on its women and most of all its young women. Pre-war Clementine’s daughter, Althea, would have been chaperoned everywhere after she had come-out in polite society as she was groomed to marry ‘the right man.’ Now in 1916 she is wearing breeches, driving around the countryside in her own motor car and running the local Land Army. She is independent for the first time in her life and loving the responsibility of doing something useful. She is also at risk as there is a particularly resourceful and cunning murderer on the loose in the local farming community of Haversham. When Clemmie learns that Althea has been picnicking alone with a young officer –not known to her family –she is extremely alarmed, not just for Althea’s lack of decorum at picnicking alone with a young man but also for her safety. Death of an Unsung Hero features Clementine Montfort’s daughter who has been set free from the hidebound conventions of the upper classes by a terrible war. Many of the female characters in the book are young women who work in munitions factories, drive public transport, or nurse in auxiliary hospitals –a considerable change in the early 1900s.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

Writers Read: Tessa Arlen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2018

"If Tomorrow Comes"

Nancy Kress's many books include over two dozen novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing. Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Kress’s work has been translated into two dozen languages, including Klingon, none of which she can read.

Kress applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, If Tomorrow Comes: Book 2 of the Yesterday's Kin Trilogy, and reported the following:
Below is Page 69 in its entirety. Noah Jenner’s eyes are “oversized” because he, born on Terra, has had himself altered to look more like World’s inhabitants. The point of view is Dr. Salah Bourgiba, a physician from Terra:
…cause there. If you have any labs left standing, we might be able to synthesize more.”

Jenner’s already oversized eyes went wider. “You brought vaccine?

Lieutenant Lamont said, “That’s not our mission. Our mission is to establish relations and return to Terra,”

Salah stood. He was aware that beside the young Ranger, he was short, a little bit flabby, old. He said, “We can’t go home, Lieutenant. There is no means to go home. Vaccines are our mission now.

“We have to save as much of this planet as we can.”
Page 69 is not typical of If Tomorrow Comes in that it is a chapter end and contains only 4½ short paragraphs. However, it is typical in that it contains a reversal of my characters’ expectations, of which the book has many. It also hints at what will be a growing, important schism between two factions on the planet World: military and scientists. I don’t usually write military characters, having no direct experience, but for this book, I researched for a long time, wrote the book, and then hired an Army Ranger to go over it and point out anything I got wrong. He was very helpful.
Visit Nancy Kress's website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Tomorrow's Kin.

Writers Read: Nancy Kress.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2018

"City of Sharks"

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley applied the Page 69 Test to her new Miranda Corbie Mystery, City of Sharks, and reported the following:
I love the Page 69 test, but this time I’m afraid I’ve flunked it. Page 69 in the hardcover of City of Sharks is actually the division page for Act Two of the novel!

Here’s what it says:
Act Two: The Plot

“The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V, scene i
It’s also got a very nice decorative scroll element at the top, thanks to the awesome production designer of the book.

Now, while you won’t get any clues about Miranda’s state of mind, her investigation of Alcatraz, or her vacillating physical and emotional feelings for Gonzales, you can glean from this page that City of Sharks is essentially about writing.

And writers.

And publishers.

And the many crimes that occur in the creation of crime stories.

Like most writers, I’ve spent a good amount of time not just thinking about the process of creativity, especially in regard to the written word, but about what happens to creativity when it is commodified … about what happens in that dance between the subconscious talent and the conscious craft when it’s forced to march rather than to waltz.

There’s a lot of San Francisco history in City of Sharks—famed columnist Herb Caen steals every scene he’s in, and backdrops include Playland-at-the-Beach and Alcatraz. There’s also a thorny mystery, some ethical questions to ponder about crime and punishment and, as always, social and political commentary.

But don’t overlook the writing/publishing theme. As page 69 tells you, it’s the structure the story’s built upon.
Learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"If I Die Tonight"

USA Today and international best-selling author Alison Gaylin has been nominated for the Edgar three times. (Most recently, What Remains of Me was nominated in the best novel category.)

Gaylin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, If I Die Tonight, and reported the following:
On page 69 of If I Die Tonight, Jackie, the concerned mother of outcast teen Wade Reed, finds herself in a rare moment of calm. It is the morning, and as she makes coffee in silence, Jackie reflects on the unusually pleasant dinner she shared with her two sons the night before – a rarity, especially now that high school football star Liam Miller is on life support, the victim of a late night hit-and-run that many in their small town suspect Wade of having committed. As she readies herself to do the laundry, Jackie realizes the main reason why she and her children shared such a stress-free evening: they’d all avoided the news, the phone, and, most importantly of all, social media – perhaps the most formidable villain in the book. It’s a moment of calm before a storm that proves more devastating than Jackie could ever imagine at this point. It highlights the true danger of the outside world by showing how much safer everything feels in its absence.
Learn more about the book and author at Alison Gaylin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Head Wounds"

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime. His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

Palumbo applied the Page 69 Test to Head Wounds and reported the following:
In the hardcover edition of Head Wounds, a reader opening the novel to Page 69 would be thrown immediately into the heart of a scene as harrowing as it is puzzling. Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, bound and helpless, has just witnessed a horrific crime, whose perpetrator is now gloating about it. The scene reveals both the stunned reaction of our psychologist hero and his defiance in the face of a brilliant though obsessed killer. It also displays Rinaldi’s empathy and concern for crime victims, even when in jeopardy himself. According to his friends and colleagues, this trait is a misbegotten “hero complex,” the result of his survival guilt for having lived through a deadly mugging years ago that took the life of his wife. Though by the end of Page 69 he’ll be released from his bonds, there’s the sure knowledge of more murders to come that keeps the tension simmering. As with all my Rinaldi novels, I strive in this scene for both well-rounded characterizations and edge-of-your-seat suspense. I hope that’s what this page delivers.
Learn more about the book and author at Dennis Palumbo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2018

"The Hunger"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, she had a long career in intelligence, working for several US agencies and a think tank. She currently is a consultant on emerging technologies.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Hunger, and reported the following:
The Hunger, a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party with a horror twist, is told from multiple POVs. Necessary, because there were a lot of people involved in that original tragedy (and they share the blame, too, for what happened) but because of this, it’s hard for any excerpt to be representative of the entire book. Page 69 does give a nice window into what you can expect. This chapter is from the POV of James Reed, an Irish immigrant and self-made man who becomes the de facto leader of the wagon party when George Donner cracks under pressure. In real life, James Reed was not well-liked; the working-class families that largely made up the party thought him arrogant and condescending. The James Reed in my novel is that, too, but he also harbors a secret that drives his self-destructive tendencies.

Here, Reed is worrying that the wagon party is falling behind schedule, and that his fellow travelers don’t seem concerned about their dwindling supplies. In the midst of his ruminations, two boys crawl out from under a wagon, puking up liquor and when he tries to find out where the boys got it, he draws an unwelcome crowd:
“You ain’t the boys’ father.” This from another of the Donners’ men, Samuel Shoemaker.

“Their father’s probably lying facedown in a ditch himself.” The words came out before Reed could stop himself. He cursed his sharp tongue. He could imagine how he must sound to this crowd, many of them hungover themselves from dancing half the night away. His palms started to tingle. He could feel dirt gathering in his eardrums, in his nostrils, beneath his fingernails. He needed to bathe. “Look, I’m only trying to find out where the boys got the alcohol.”

“Are you saying it’s our fault the boys got themselves drunk?” Elliott said, raising an eyebrow.

“No. I’m just saying we must do a better job keeping track of all our supplies.” He shook his head. He would try again. “We might want to lock up our spirits, for example—”

Tall and angular, always hovering like an ominous scarecrow, Lewis Keseberg pushed his way through the crowd. Reed could’ve predicted it: Keseberg always seemed to be spoiling for a fight. “You’d like to take our liquor away, wouldn’t you? You’d probably chuck it in the Little Sandy when nobody was looking, every drop of it.” He jabbed a finger into Reed’s chest. “If you try to lay so much as one finger on any of my bottles, so help me God—”
If you know the story of the Donner Party, the appearance of Lewis Keseberg should send shivers down your spine. By the way, even if you’re familiar with the Donner Party, I think you’ll find The Hunger will still surprise you. It definitely looks at the famous tragedy in a new light.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

My Book, The Movie: The Hunger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Memento Mori"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, Tabula Rasa, Vita Brevis, and the newly released Memento Mori.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Memento Mori and reported the following:
Memento Mori is set in the town the Romans called Aquae Sulis – “aquae” because of the natural hot springs that rise there, and “Sulis” because that was the name of the local goddess who supplied them. One of the springs was adapted by the occupying Roman authorities, who poured money into the building of a large temple and bathing complex around it. In the novel I’ve invented some entrepreneurs who have made a disastrous attempt to build over one of the others.

On page 69 my lead character Ruso has just tried to rescue a naked man from drowning in the one remaining “unimproved” spring. This has not gone down well with the man, who was in fact happily communing with his native goddess. Fortunately Ruso, who is married to a Briton – albeit one from a distant tribe – is able to speak to the man in his own language.
…the native said, “At my age I might have died of shock.”

“You might,” Ruso agreed, wondering if this was the prelude to a demand for compensation.

But instead the native busied himself rubbing a graze on his elbow and observed, “A Roman with the voice of a Brigante, eh? We don’t get a lot like you around here.”

“Nor anywhere else,” Ruso told him. “Sorry about dragging you out.” He nodded toward the water, which was now swirling with mud. “Is it good?”

“Your lot haven’t ruined this one yet, but give them time.”

“What’s going on with the one behind the fence?”

The man’s face creased into a grin. “They were told not to interfere with that spring. I told them, my sister told them, their own people told them, but they knew better. Till Sulis gave them a bloody nose.”

“What happened?”

“You can’t disrespect our goddess and get away with it.”
This small scene captures some of the tensions of the story: between the natives and the Romans, and between the religious (who see any misfortune as a sign of the goddess’s anger) and those who consider themselves more rational. Ruso’s British wife has an unshakeable belief in the supernatural, which leaves Ruso himself caught squarely in the middle – a place that’s always interesting to write about, and hopefully to read about, too.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

The Page 69 Test: Tabula Rasa.

The Page 69 Test: Vita Brevis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"The Third Victim"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases. Margolin lives in Portland, Oregon.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Third Victim, and reported the following:
Is page 69 of The Third Victim representative of the book?: Yes. Robin Lockwood is a new lawyer whose idol is Regina Barrister, Oregon’s top criminal defense attorney. Soon after Regina hires Robin, Regina is retained by Alex Mason, the defendant in a death penalty case. The police believe that Mason, a wealthy attorney, is a serial killer, but he claims he is innocent. The case is complex and Regina must be at the top of her game to win it, but she starts acting strangely and Robin – who has no medical training and has never been in a courtroom - begins to suspect that Regina may be experiencing the onset of dementia. If she is wrong and she confronts her boss she might be fired from her dream job. If she doesn’t do something and she is right, their client could die.

On page 69, Regina wakes up in her house but her bedroom seems strange to her. She has to get to the jail to talk to her client but she can’t find her keys. She panics and this is the first time that the reader realizes that something is terribly wrong with this brilliant attorney.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Phillip Margolin.

My Book, The Movie: The Third Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"In Sight of Stars"

Gae Polisner's books include The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, and The Pull of Gravity. Her new novel is In Sight of Stars.

A family law attorney and mediator by trade, but a writer by calling, she lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional-looking small dog she swore she’d never own. When she’s not writing, she can be found in a pool, or better yet, in the open waters of the Long Island Sound where she swims upwards of two miles most days.

Polisner applied the Page 69 Test to In Sight of Stars and reported the following:
On page 69, my MC Klee (pronounced “Clay”), who is at the beginning of a two-week stay at an inpatient adolescent psychiatric center after an act of self harm, is lost in telling his therapist about his first real date with Sarah, the girl in his new high school who was the first person to take his mind off all the horrible stuff that has happened to him recently.

At the bottom of the page, he stops, mid-story, remembering Dr. Alvarez is in the room:
Dr. Alvarez has put her pen down. Her eyes are closed, and for a second I wonder if she’s sleeping. I can’t believe I’m telling her all this stupid stuff anyway. The small things. The private things. What do they even matter now?

She shifts her feet under the table, opens her eyes, and studies me. “I love Central Park,” she says. “And don’t be fooled by my eyes,” she adds, closing them again. “Sometimes I just listen best this way.”
I love this moment from page 69 because it shows you the skill Dr. Alvarez possesses to bring Klee to her and allow him to trust her, and in fact, shows you the moment he begins to do just that, trust her, which is, of course, key to his healing.
Visit Gae Polisner's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Summer of Letting Go.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory of Things.

Writers Read: Gae Polisner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2018

"The One"

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last twenty years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. His novels include The Wronged Sons, Welcome To Wherever You Are, and, newly released in the US, The One.

Marrs applied the Page 69 Test to The One and reported the following:
By the time you reach page 69 of The One, you will have met each of my five main characters, whose stories are contained within their own chapters. The book concentrates on five men and women who for one reason or another, have chosen science over fate to try and find their soul mates. Set in a time when a DNA test is all it takes to find The One you are guaranteed to fall in love with, it’s Nick who comes into focus on page 69. He’s a little different to some of the others as he already has a fiancée, Sally. She is pushing them both to take the test just to make sure they are definitely suited. However when Nick gets his results back, he learns he is actually Matched with a man. Page 69 finds him coming to terms with that revelation and he is in complete denial. He had his life planned out before him – he was to marry Sally and they’d spend the rest of their lives together. But now he’s supposedly destined to be with someone of the same sex, where does that leave him? Will curiosity get the better of him and will he meet his Match? How can you fall in love with a gender you aren’t attracted to?

Page 69 is quite indicative of the rest of The One. I have tried to create a novel full of twists and turns as each character comes to terms with their differing futures. Hopefully such predicament, like those on that particular page, will make the reader question what they might do if they were faced with my characters’ dilemmas.
Learn more about The One, visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Writers Read: John Marrs.

My Book, The Movie: The One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"The Vain Conversation"

Anthony Grooms is the author of Bombingham: A Novel and Trouble No More: Stories, both winners of the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction. Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, he has taught writing and American literature at universities in Ghana and Sweden and, since 1994, at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Grooms applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Vain Conversation, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Vain Conversation, the protagonist Lonnie Henson, a 10 year old at the time, is involved in a knotty conversation with the philandering Vernon Venable, a local planter in 1946 Georgia. Venable, under the guise of teasing is trying to gain leverage on Lonnie who has recently stumbled upon him having sex in the woods with a prostitute. The conversation seesaws between gentle teasing and subtle threats. It confuses Lonnie, who is not sophisticated enough to follow Venable’s double entendres. Not only is this scene representative of the twisting uncertainty that entangles Lonnie morally and socially, but it is a pivotal scene. It drives the actions of the first part of the story, nags at Lonnie through for the next two decades, and returns to accuse him at the end.
Visit Anthony Grooms's website.

Writers Read: Anthony Grooms.

My Book, The Movie: The Vain Conversation.

--Marshal Zeringue