Sunday, March 3, 2024

"Knife Skills"

Wendy Church is the author of the Jesse O’Hara and Shadows of Chicago Mysteries series. The first book in the Jesse O’Hara series, Murder on the Spanish Seas, was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Mystery/Thriller novels of 2023, and received a starred review.

Church's newest books are Murder Beyond the Pale, the second Jesse O’Hara mystery, and Knife Skills, the first Shadows of Chicago mystery.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Knife Skills and reported the following:
On page 69 of Knife Skills, the main protagonist, Sagarine Pfister, is trying to get listening devices installed in a restaurant, while a Russian mobster is there doing the accounts. Sagarine’s worried that she’ll be caught.

This is a pretty good indication of the book’s main plot: A chef reluctantly helps the FBI take down a dangerous Russian gang, where much of the action takes place in a restaurant, and there is an element of suspense.

Of course there are other storylines, and characters, including Sagarine’s roommate who works for the Chicago PD, and writes ‘female centered pleasure books’ in her spare time, as well as a creepy stalker, and a romance between Sagarine and one of the Russian gang members. But page 69 lays out what Kirkus summed up in their review: “Audiences who wish the TV series The Bear could make room for Russian mobsters are in for a treat.”
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

Q&A with Wendy Church.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Beyond the Pale.

Writers Read: Wendy Church.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2024

"The Haunting of Velkwood"

Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Pretty Marys All in a Row, The Invention of Ghosts, and Boneset & Feathers. She's a Lambda Literary Award winner, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin and Ignotus awards.

Originally from Ohio, Kiste now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Haunting of Velkwood, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Haunting of Velkwood:
“What’s it supposed to be?” I asked, gazing up into the neon glow.

“Anything you want,” she whispered, her hand suddenly entwined with mine, her touch softer than velvet. I remember staying that night at her apartment, a weird little warehouse loft in the Strip District, and how we drank too much rosé. I slept on the couch as always, one room and a million miles away from her. Even when Brett and I were in the same place, there was always an unbreachable chasm between us. She was right there, but she still felt like just another ghost.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said the next morning, but I pretended not to hear her as I walked out the door.

I’m still thinking about her, as Jack and I climb into the car so he can drive me back to Velkwood Street. There’s no welcoming committee joining us this time—it’s just the two of us.

I hear Brett’s voice again, echoing inside my head. Why do you bother with boys like him?

Except Jack’s not quite like the other guys I’ve known. He’s certainly not normal, that’s for sure. Nobody ordinary has ever been this obsessed with ghosts. As we turn out of the driveway, I notice something on him. A necklace dangling over his T-shirt, a charm at the end of it. A titanium compass. Only it’s bent a little in the middle so that north doesn’t quite point in the right direction anymore.

“From your aunt?” I ask, and it’s a total guess, but Jack smiles, and I know instantly that I’m right.

“You asked me before what she would think about all this,” he says. “And I think she’d love it. This neighborhood. Everything we’re doing here.” He hesitates before adding, almost sheepishly, “She always wanted to prove that ghosts were real.”

“And you told her you would try, right?” I gaze at him. “At the end of her life, you told her you’d find her again?”
This is definitely a great page to get a feel for The Haunting of Velkwood. My book has already been described more than once as a character-driven story, and this page in particular definitely conveys just how much this is a tale about the people involved with this ghostly mystery rather than only about the ghosts themselves. We come into the page during a brief flashback where our main character Talitha and her sometimes best friend Brett are at an art installation that Brett helped to organize. Brett and Talitha’s friendship—and all its many complications—is so critical to the novel overall, and this page shows a bit of their backstory that illuminates just how emotionally fraught their relationship really is. Then, in the present day, we see Talitha about to return to the haunted neighborhood of her past, all while she’s bonding with the lead researcher Jack who’s desperate to learn more about ghosts. Their back-and-forth dialogue is indicative of their budding relationship and shows the different reasons why someone might want to pursue a neighborhood filled with phantoms. Perhaps most importantly, Talitha’s voice is also on full display here on page 69, which helps to give readers a taste of what they can expect from the book as a whole. So I’m very pleased to report that in my opinion, The Haunting of Velkwood very much passes the Page 69 Test!
Visit Gwendolyn Kiste's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Where They Lie"

Claire Coughlan has worked as a journalist for many years, most recently for publications such as BookBrunch and the Sunday Independent. She was a recipient of the Words Ireland National Mentoring program, funded by Kildare Arts Service and the Arts Council. Coughlan has an MFA in creative writing from University College Dublin, and she lives in County Kildare with her husband and daughter.

Coughlan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Where They Lie, and reported the following:
On page 69 Nicoletta attempts to interview Charles Creighton, a well-known local jewelry business owner at his residence at Seaview House in Dublin, where the bones of missing actress Julia Bridges have been found after twenty-five years. He tells Nicoletta: “I’m sure you understand, this is a private matter for all concerned.” Nicoletta and Barney, her colleague, take their leave of Creighton and make their way to the end of the garden, where they hope to knock on the door of the mews house and interview John Dawkins, the man who found the human remains, and his wife Delia, Charles Creighton’s daughter. According to Barney, Dawkins is “an artist of some sort. The neighbors have made dozens of complaints to the Guards about loud parties, and he’s said to be smuggling dope on the ferry.”

If a browser opened page 69 of Where They Lie, they would certainly find an accurate snapshot of the story; this page is absolutely pivotal to the novel’s progression. Although the seemingly unflappable Charles Creighton, who we are previously told has a “tight, practised smile,” tells Nicoletta that the story is a private matter and essentially none of her business, he can’t quite bring himself to show her the door. He is very taken with Nicoletta and keeps her talking longer than necessary. She is so overwhelmed by everything that has been happening, including the glamor of this old house, which is unlike anything she has ever experienced, she doesn’t question his motivation. However, Charles is actually quite an important character in the overall plot development, and he will have greater significance towards the end, without giving any spoilers. When Nicoletta and Barney make their way towards the mews at the end of the garden to ‘doorstep’ John and Delia Dawkins, they are unwittingly stepping further into the tangled maze of this story, beyond which there is no turning back.

All the action on page 69 takes place at Seaview House. This house is central to the story: a spooky, turreted Victorian seaside mansion in Dublin with brick “the colour of dried blood”, where human remains have been found, and whose inhabitants are all keeping deadly secrets.
Follow Claire Coughlan on Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

"At Any Cost"

Jeffrey Siger is an American living on the Aegean Greek island of Mykonos. A former Wall Street lawyer, he gave up his career as a name partner in his own New York City law firm to write the international best-selling, award recognized Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series of mystery thrillers telling more than just a fast-paced story. The New York Times described his novels as “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales” and named him as Greece’s thriller novelist of record.

Siger applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery thriller, At Any Cost, and reported the following:
Here is page 69, plus a dozen words in brackets from preceding page:
[“I sensed he didn’t want to alarm me with what he thought] might be the most chilling scenario. It’s an academic thing not to guess but wait for the facts. That’s why he wants to see Syros.”

“When do you think he’ll come to Athens?”

Andreas shrugged. “The tickets are on us as an engagement present, but Anna has school obligations, and Jack has a business to run. They might not be able to change their plans. Besides, Jack’s given me enough leads to likely keep us busy until he gets here as planned.”

“Get some sleep.”

Andreas leaned over and turned off the lamp on his nightstand. “Good suggestion, because it looks as if my real time life, starting first thing tomorrow morning, will be all about figuring out how to kick some big time international digital butt back to the stone age.”


New York City’s East Village has hidden treasures that more likely than not survived gentrification efforts by two simple means. One, they delivered desired and appreciated services, and two, there’s no landlord to boot them out in favor of higher paying tenants, or to sell out to a developer. A prime example was the oldest continuously operating Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

The massive mound of white candle wax at the back of the restaurant’s rear dining room, close by a pair of ever-swinging kitchen doors, has been growing (and getting shaved back to manageable proportions) since 1908. Its tin ceilings, tiled floors, and walls adorned in frescoes of rustic Italian scenes, frame a white-linen-tablecloth candlelit intimacy that’s launched many a memorable evening, and continues to draw crowds of loyal clientele packing its simple bar while patiently waiting for a table.

That early 20th-century, Roaring-‘20s ambience has made this East 12th Street restaurant a popular setting for memorably dramatic scenes in some of America’s best known gangster films and TV series. But its celebrity was not why Jack had picked it for dinner with Anna. He found its southern Italian cooking and reasonable prices hard to beat elsewhere in the city.

They sat at a corner table by the kitchen, facing toward the front room. A waiter swiftly brought menus and what remained of the half carafe of red wine they’d ordered at the bar.

Jack ordered the restaurant’s famed garlic bread and house salad to share.

Once the waiter left, he said, “I had a wonderful talk with your uncle this afternoon.”
Page 69 of At Any Cost captures the essence of what differentiates this 13th novel in my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series from its brethren. It introduces new core characters, existential technological threats, and a US locale in a supporting role. The scene opens with Andreas confiding in his wife, Lila, his take on a just concluded telephone call to New York with his niece Anna’s fiancé, Jack.

Jack is an expert on all things metaverse, and Andreas sensed his future nephew trying not to alarm him over a threat to world order posed by a consortium of powerful, wealthy and ruthless autocratic nations seeking to establish a European beachhead on the Greek Cycladic island of Syros in the coming battle for metaverse dominance. Page 69 concludes with Jack and Anna having dinner close by where she attends university in New York City’s East Village, as Jack’s about to share with her his concerns over what’s confronting her uncle and explain why Andreas wants him on Syros ASAP.

Here’s a bit more of the story line:

In the aftermath of Greece’s horrendous wildfires that claimed three unidentified victims, Kaldis and his engaging cast of characters find themselves immersed in a fast-paced, mystery-thriller confronting the ethical, political, and societal challenges of a race for metaverse dominance.

Syros, the Grande Dame of the Cyclades, once served as the commercial and shipyard center for the region, but the rush of tourism bringing unimaginable prosperity to Cycladic islands such as Mykonos and Santorini largely passed it by.

Syros’ desire to resurrect its glorious past without sacrificing its soul to tourism is offered precisely that in a proposal it must immediately accept or mourn what could have been…be it a deal with the devil or not.

It falls to Andreas and his team to connect the seemingly unrelated dots and corral the ambitions of those willing to stop at nothing to assure the success of the consortium’s plans for Syros and beyond. Not even Andreas’ family is safe.
Visit Jeffrey Siger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Mykonos.

The Page 69 Test: Prey on Patmos.

The Page 69 Test: Target Tinos.

The Page 69 Test: Mykonos After Midnight.

The Page 69 Test: A Deadly Twist.

Q&A with Jeffrey Siger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 26, 2024

"We Are Only Ghosts"

Originally from Oklahoma, Jeffrey L. Richards is the author of the 2015 novel, The Summer of Jenny Wade. He has lived in the New York City area for two decades.

As a playwright, his play “Stillwater” presented at the Venus/Adonis Theater Festival in New York City in 2016.

Richards applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, We Are Only Ghosts, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Eventually, the soldiers come to know him as another resident and stop checking his papers, leaving him free to explore the cobblestoned streets as any other German. He nods to the men and women who recognize him from the konditorei or whom he passes with frequency in his wanderings. They are generous with returned nods and a friendly “Guten Tag” or a routine “Heil Hitler,” which Charles returns. Soon, Charles determines ruefully that Germans are very nice, as long as you are one of them.

While he explores every street and alley and nook and cranny of the small town, Charles most often finds his way to the Hofgarten by the New Palace. Despite the war raging beyond its borders, Bayreuth has maintained the gardens, ensuring they remain pristine yet natural, as if touched only by the hands of God. Charles wanders the meticulous grounds, winding along the maze of paths amongst the flower beds, dormant in the winter, the sculpted bushes and trees along the canal, and the various statues, which appear out of nowhere, as if ghosts. But no matter the path he might take, he always ends at the gazebo. A sense of security fills him as he sits beneath the gazebo’s bright azure-blue dome. Snow-white columns – gilded at the top with brilliant gold – support the grand canopy. On occasion, when he feels most secure, happy even, he wonders about Berthold and the Werden family. He wonders where they ended up. He wonders if they were captured or if they made their escape as planned. Each time he is unsure which scenario he wishes to be true. He wonders about his own fate – what will become of him when he is discovered? – for he knows it is only a matter of time? While he likes Frau Hueber and Elsbeth, possibly loves them as he would his own family, and the life he is creating in Bayreuth, he knows he cannot stay. Every day in Bayreuth, in Germany, is a risk.
So, does page 69 of We Are Only Ghosts give a reader a “good idea” of the larger work? I would have to say no. Of course, the reader will see we’re set in Bayreuth, Germany and from the use of “Heil Hitler” as a greeting, along with the presence of soldiers, we know we’re in the midst of WWII, but since the novel spans a timeframe from mid-30s Czechoslovakia, when the Nazis invade the Sudetenland where Charles and his family live, to 1968 New York City when Charles and Berthold unexpectedly meet once again, this page represents but a small moment in the grand scheme of the story. True, the reader will get a sense of the danger that permeates the novel and will also get a glimpse of the sense of unbelonging that plagues Charles throughout his life, the novel, the story, and Charles’s life is much more brutal and unflinching and, frankly, more traumatic than this somewhat serene scene suggests. I would think anyone who read only this page might expect the atmosphere and tone of it to be carried throughout the book and they would be more than a bit shocked at the darker tone to come.

For more context, the novel starts in 1968 New York City when Charles, the headwaiter in a small café, realizes one of the customers is Berthold Werden, the Nazi officer who took Charles out of Auschwitz when he was 17 years old to work in the Werden home and also forces Charles into a sexual relationship. The novel unfolds via a uniquely structured dual timeline that reveals Charles’s harrowing life at the hands of the Nazis as he and his family move through the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. When Charles and Berthold meet again in 1968, both living fabricated lives, Charles finds himself once again entangled in Berthold’s world. He soon becomes torn between an ill-placed sense of loyalty to the man who saved him from certain death in Auschwitz and revenge for the man who destroyed his life in the first place.
Visit Jeffrey L. Richards's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2024

"Murder Beyond the Pale"

Wendy Church is the author of the Jesse O’Hara and Shadows of Chicago Mysteries series. The first book in the Jesse O’Hara series, Murder on the Spanish Seas, was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Mystery/Thriller novels of 2023, and received a starred review.

Church applied the Page 69 Test to Murder Beyond the Pale, the second Jesse O’Hara mystery, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Murder Beyond the Pale, the main protagonist, Jesse O’Hara, and her best friend, Sam, are talking with Leo, the boyfriend of the missing young woman, Cait Gallagher. Leo shares that the reason that Cait has kept their relationship a secret from her family is because his father was in the IRA. The page shares a little bit about Jesse's best friend Sam’s ability to connect with people.

Browsers opening to this page would get some idea of the book, as it includes a few of the elements that make up the essence of the novel: a missing woman in Ireland, the IRA, and the relationship between Jesse O’Hara and her best friend Sam.

There are two principal elements in the book that are missing on this page. The first is the snarky running internal dialogue of the introverted, profane and often inebriated Jesse, which makes up a significant part of the book, as well as the series. The second is Jesse’s relationship with Ireland. Each of the Jesse O’Hara novels is set in a different country, and how she navigates the countries is central to each. In this book set in Ireland, a good portion of Jesse’s attention is on the various brands of Irish whiskey, and also the family’s business, a stallion semen farm.
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

Q&A with Wendy Church.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 23, 2024

"Mrs. Gulliver"

Valerie Martin is the author of twelve novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, four collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her novel Mary Reilly was awarded the Kafka prize, shortlisted for the Prix Femina (France), and made into a motion picture directed by Stephen Frears and starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovitch. Property won Britain's Orange Prize (now called the Women's Prize) in 2003.

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mrs. Gulliver, and reported the following:
I think the Page 69 Test works rather well on my novel Mrs. Gulliver.

Page 69 has a discreet design ornament in the middle of it, signifying the end of one scene and the beginning of another. By this point all the major characters have been introduced save one. What’s interesting about this page is that all of them appear, though not together on this one page. Also, a major turn in the plot takes place in the first section.

The characters are Mrs. Gulliver, the narrator and madam of the brothel, Carità Bercy, a young, blind prostitute, new to the house, Ian Drohan, a college student with a crush on Carità, and Brutus Ruby, Mrs. Gulliver’s “colleague” who provides protection for the business.

Carità comes down the stairs of the brothel where she works to find Ian Drohan, a college boy who is taken with her, waiting near the bar in the drawing room. She takes her accustomed chair, and he procures a flute of champagne, which he brings to her. Mrs. Gulliver, the madam of the brothel, describes the scene.
He bent over her, speaking softly. She smiled as her fingers closed on the glass stem, and she lifted her free hand to touch first her own cheek and then his. He kneeled before her, his face cradled in her hand, speaking earnestly, while she sipped his meager offering. She was fond of champagne.

“This is too sweet,” I said to Brutus.

“I don’t trust that kid,” he replied.
Then comes the scene break.

The second section begins the following morning in the kitchen, when Bessie Bercy, comes to take her sister Carità for a walk. She brings a white folding walking stick and a straw hat. She has arrived “a little early” because she wants to talk with Mrs. Gulliver about “how Carità’s doing here.”

That’s the end of the page.

I think this page, oddly enough, gives a good sense of the world of the novel. The house itself, a sturdy Victorian with gleaming mahogany and carpeted stairs, is a character, as it provides both debasement and refuge for the women who work and live there. The drawing room is where men play and women work; but in the kitchen the women are free to drink, eat, gossip, and enjoy their well-earned time off. It’s night and day, and they are both on page 69.
Visit Valerie Martin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

"Village in the Dark"

Iris Yamashita is an Academy Award–nominated screenwriter for the movie Letters from Iwo Jima. She has been working in Hollywood for fifteen years developing material for both film and streaming, has taught screenwriting at UCLA, and is an advocate of women and diversity in the entertainment industry. She has also been a judge and mentor for various film and writing programs, and lives in California.

Yamashita applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Village in the Dark, and reported the following:
On page 69, we start on Chapter Nine.
Cara’s rental was a townhouse in a quiet neighborhood. There was nothing particularly remarkable about it other than that it had an open plan and high, lofty ceilings. After burying Aaron and Dylan, she had sold the house and placed most of their things in storage. She hadn’t yet been able to let go of their belongings but also didn’t want to be constantly reminded of what she had lost. As a result, her unit was sparsely furnished with only the necessities—a microfiber sofa, a wooden coffee table, a dining set, an end table with a generic lamp. It looked more like a characterless Airbnb rental than someone’s actual home.

Outside, the atmosphere was dark and bitter. A cold wind had blown in, and snow had begun to gust past the window in speckled sheets. It added to the feeling of emptiness in the apartment.
The story is quick-paced as a whole, so I don’t think this half of a page is a good indicator of the rest of the book. However, it does give some insight into Cara’s character.

The book begins with the protagonist, Cara Kennedy, exhuming the bodies of her husband and son after receiving clues that their deaths may have involved foul play instead of being the result of a hiking accident as she had been told. This is her driving motivation through the book. I also have two other voices weaved in, including a surly innkeeper named Ellie Wright, in her 60’s with a southern drawl and a Bonnie and Clyde past. The third voice is Mia Upash—a young woman who is half Ainu (Japanese indegenous) who grew up in an off-the-grid village run by women. It isn’t clear initially how their stories are connected. They weave in and out until they eventually come together.

On this page, I describe Cara Kennedy’s home, which reflects her character and state of mind. For one thing, she is claustrophobic, so it was important for her to have high ceilings. We also get the explanation that her husband and son have been buried and all their things were put in storage. We also see that her apartment is currently characterless and rather empty, reflecting how she feels since her loss. The weather outside reflects the chill of Alaska where the story is set.
Visit Iris Yamashita's website.

Q&A with Iris Yamashita.

The Page 69 Test: City Under One Roof.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 17, 2024

"The Framed Women of Ardemore House"

Brandy Schillace is the author of several works of nonfiction, including Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher. She is the creator of Peculiar Book Club, a twice-monthly live-streamed YouTube show. A former professor of English and gothic literature, she writes about gender politics and history, medical mystery, and neurodiversity for outlets such as Scientific American, Wired, CrimeReads, and Medium. She is also autistic, though has not (to her knowledge) been a suspect in a murder investigation.

Schillace applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Framed Women of Ardemore House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“We’re just about through, sir.”

“Find anything?” MacAdams asked. She gave him a thin-lipped smile.

“Found everything, sir. Lots of different prints.”

It was going to be a mess of paperwork. They had found hairs on the sheets that weren’t Sid’s—prints that weren’t Sid’s—leftover toiletry items that on analysis also weren’t his. He turned to Fleet, who was turning slowly in place.

“Rental,” he said. “Any number of people may have been through here.”

“Have you checked for a register?” Fleet asked. MacAdams stared.

“A guest book? Of course we have, and no, nothing.” MacAdams watched Fleet with growing impatience. “You’ll want to see the body, surely.”

“In time,” was the enigmatic response. Fleet had begun to walk the room. When he reached the sofa, he tugged up both trousers and squatted low, his face nearly touching the floor’s uneven surface.

“There are marks from a rubber sole,” he said. “Didn’t you tell me there was a rug here?”

MacAdams found himself dropping to one knee and looking askance in the light. There did appear to be a smudge. And not from their paper booties. He hadn’t seen it there before. But then, he hadn’t been on his knees looking for it.

“Maybe someone forgot to suit up,” he said, trying to think back to their initial discovery. Fleet got to his feet.

“Curious,” he said. “And no other papers to be found here?”

“Papers? What are you looking for?” MacAdams asked. It was past noon already; they still had to see Struthers so Fleet could have a look at the actual entry wounds.

“If you haven’t found a guest register, perhaps there’s a reason.” MacAdams felt his masseter muscles locking tight.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s a reason,” he agreed. “I’m sure it doesn’t exist. Sid Randles wasn’t exactly a tidy bookkeeper.”

“And yet, you tell me there are multiple sets of prints and DNA. Someone was staying here, however itinerant.” Fleet performed a full quarter turn on his heel, as if for military drill. “This does not have the appearance of a holiday let. But that doesn’t mean he hadn’t used it for other purposes.”

“Meaning what?” MacAdams asked. He had assumed that Sid merely treated it as his personal home away most of the time, probably for an occasional bender with Ricky Robson and company. Fleet straightened back to his ruler-stiff posture. The look on his face had remained cordial.

“Has it not occurred to you that Sid might be involved in drug trafficking?” MacAdams sucked air: Oh-my-fucking-God, it would be the first assumption of any modern detective.

“Yes. It has occurred,” he insisted quietly. “We’ve not found so much as a bag of weed here or his flat—and he’s never had prior for it. And yes, before you ask, we brought the proper equipment to look for traces. There isn’t any reason for you to do a more thorough search for the same things.”

The infuriating half smile remained.

“All the same,” Fleet said. “I’m here to help.”
Hello readers! The above passage comes from my book, The Framed Women of Ardemore House, page 69. The question: does it give us a good idea of the larger work? This is a tricky one for my book because we have two intersecting mysteries—and two primary character points of view: Jo Jones (American: a quirky, New York book editor who inherits a manor and a mysterious, now missing, painting) and James MacAdams (British: a hard-boiled, cynical detective who has a related murder to solve). The two tales intertwine in all sorts of ways, but page 69 only gives you the detective’s point of view, while the heart and soul of the book, really, is Jo Jones. I’d say page 69 gives you a great introduction to the police procedural and MacAdams personality—not to mention his rocky relationship with Fleet, the interloping detective from Scotland Yard. But it doesn’t show you the wild Yorkshire moors, or the quaint cottage (where a murder happens), or the sparkling wit and peculiar POV of Jo, our heroine.

Jo (Joesphine) Jones is both autistic and hyperlexic—just like me, the author. She’s also been uprooted from her routine by divorce and the illness of her mother, and then transplanted to the British countryside to take possession of a family estate she knew nothing about. We get to see Jo navigate these changes with her unique perspective on the world—and we watch as others react to her with curiosity and often perplexity. They might chalk it up to her “Americanisms,” but Jo’s eidetic memory, fascination with words, and appetite for knowledge also makes her an excellent amateur sleuth. In the end, MacAdams might find he needs the help of this unsinkable, deeply relatable protagonist. It will take the coordinated efforts of a diverse cast of characters to finally untangle the double mystery—who is the woman in the painting and why was it stolen? Who fired three shots and murdered the sneaky groundskeeper? But perhaps the bigger question has to do with Jo’s bid to build a new life. How do you fit into a new community when you are suspected of murder—while potentially being the real killer’s next victim?
Visit Brandy Schillace's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 15, 2024

"The Blue Window"

Suzanne Berne is the author of the novels The Dogs of Littlefield, The Ghost at the Table, A Perfect Arrangement, and A Crime in the Neighborhood, winner of Great Britain’s Orange Prize.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Blue Window, and reported the following:
Page 69 falls on the first page of Chapter 11:
Marika refused to visit the urgent care clinic. It would take too long to see a doctor. When Lorna pointed out that she could get all of Marika’s errands done while Marika waited for an appointment, Marika said she didn’t want to sit for an hour in a waiting room full of crying children with bellyaches or fishhooks in their thumbs and that she was fine in the car. Despite the heat, she wouldn’t let Lorna roll her window all the way down, either.

“I’m cold-blooded.” Marika gazed out at the miniature suns flaring from a dozen windshields. “I like being hot.”

She watched Lorna head toward the post office, and then folded her hands as she contemplated the village green across the street, an open rectangle of grass interrupted here and there by shade trees and wooden benches. To the left was a bridge with wrought-iron railings, leading across a narrow-channeled river to a long redbrick building, once a paper mill that now housed the post office, a hairdresser’s, and a couple of shops selling knickknacks and T-shirts for tourists. A diner called the Millstone had opened there a few months ago, replacing a coffee shop that had been there for years.
A reader opening randomly to page 69 would get both an accurate and skewed idea of the novel. What’s accurate is the impression that Marika is a grouchy older person who’s hurt in some way, but refuses care. Nor does she want to face other people’s complaints and injuries—especially those of children. In her own words, she’s “cold-blooded.” She insists on sitting in a hot, stuffy car and looking out at a world she seems unable to relate to except as an observer, a tourist in her own town. From this page a reader could guess, correctly, that somehow Marika will be forced to confront her own childhood injuries, and perhaps the injuries she inflicted on a child, or on children.

But page 69 might also give the impression that the whole novel is about Marika, which is not true. The other main characters, her estranged daughter, Lorna, and her grandson, Adam, are actually more central. It’s what dealing with Marika does to them, how attempting to care for such a locked-up person moves them out of their own locked places, that provides the real heart of the story.

Tension between uncomfortable, closed spaces and the wide, active world outside runs all the way through the novel, so I’m glad to see that tension appear literally on this page.
Visit Suzanne Berne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 13, 2024


Roxana Robinson is the author of eleven books—seven novels, three collections of short stories, and the biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were chosen as New York Times Notable Books, two as New York Times Editors’ Choices.

Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Best American Short Stories, The Southampton Review, Ep!phany and elsewhere. Her work has been widely anthologized and broadcast on NPR. Her books have been published in England, France, Germany, Holland and Spain.

Robinson has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacDowell Colony, and she was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library. She has served on the Boards of PEN and the Authors Guild, and was the president of the Authors Guild. Robinson has received the Barnes and Noble “Writers for Writers Award,” given by Poets and Writers, and the Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community from the Authors Guild. She teaches in the MFA Program at Hunter College.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Leaving, and reported the following:
Most of the book is about Warren and Sarah, who were deeply in love in their teens, and who then found each other again in their sixties. The book revisits their early passage, then recounts the present. But page 69 is about Warren and his wife of 37 years, as he comes home from a business trip. The reader already knows a great deal about them from the narrative before this; this page simply recounts Warren’s arrival and his wife’s welcome. Will the reader be able to understand who they are? Will she understand the few references to Sarah? I hope the reader can see the tone of their relationship, how they speak to each other, how they react. Is this a long and healthy marriage, one worn smooth and flexible by the years? Or is this a threadbare fabric, worn thin and translucent with endless tension? I hope the reader will be able to choose between the two, or at least to understand how these two characters connect.
Visit Roxana Robinson’s website.

The Page 69 Test: Cost.

My Book, The Movie: Cost.

The Page 69 Test: Sparta.

My Book, The Movie: Dawson's Fall.

The Page 69 Test: Dawson's Fall.

Q&A with Roxana Robinson.

Writers Read: Roxana Robinson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 11, 2024

"Play of Shadows"

Barbara Nickless is the Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts bestselling author of At First Light and Dark of Night in the Dr. Evan Wilding series as well as the Sydney Rose Parnell series, which includes Blood on the Tracks, a Suspense Magazine Best of 2016 selection and winner of the Colorado Book Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence; Dead Stop, winner of the Colorado Book Award and nominee for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence; Ambush; and Gone to Darkness.

Nickless applied the Page 69 Test to the third book on the Dr. Evan Wilding series, Play of Shadows, and reported the following:
Page 69 shows the team—forensic semiotician Dr. Evan Wilding, his assistant, Diana, and his brother, River—as they come together to try to solve a riddle left by a serial killer at the crime scene. The riddle is written in an ancient, undeciphered script from the Greek island of Crete. Here’s a brief clip as Evan gets the team organized:
Evan stood. “Now, before we begin analyzing the signs on the victim’s body, let’s assemble our tools. We’ll need drawings of the Cretan hieroglyphs, the Linear B signs and their phonetic values, and symbols from the Phaistos Disc.”

He had all the glyphs memorized from his attempts at deciphering the Phaistos Disc. He could draw the symbols in his sleep. But sometimes there were small variations in the renderings. Better not to take chances.
Did the Page 69 Test work? Yes and no. The page absolutely shows a repeating aspect of the novel, which is the coming together of the primary characters as they try to decipher the killer’s riddles in time to prevent more murders. What it doesn’t reveal is the amount of action the book contains, or the strong relationships between all the characters.

Play of Shadows is the third book in the Evan Wilding trilogy. It is based on the myth of the Minotaur, who was imprisoned in an underground labyrinth by his stepfather, King Minos of Crete. To keep the Minotaur alive and to exact revenge against King Aegeus of Athens, the monster was fed a tribute every nine years of fourteen Athenian maidens and youths. The killer in Play of Shadows is enthralled with this myth and what is says about the relationship between fathers and sons. In his own horrible way, he is recreating the myth and waiting to take on a hero who might have the courage to kill him as Theseus slew the Minotaur.
Visit Barbara Nickless's website.

The Page 69 Test: At First Light.

Q&A with Barbara Nickless.

--Marshal Zeringue