Saturday, May 5, 2007

"Death Pans Out"

Ashna Graves's first Jeneva Leopold mystery is Death Pans Out.

The author applied the "page 69 test" to the novel and reported the following:
The action on p. 69 occurs at a gold mine, which certainly represents the book in that the main character, Jeneva Leopold, is spending her summer at a mine while recovering from a double mastectomy and subsequent depression. This scene takes place at a mine down the creek from Jeneva’s, and involves two important characters, a charismatic young miner named Reese Cotter, and his young partner, Roy. Reese has just learned that Jeneva found a hat and knife belonging to his missing brother. Deeply worried, he reacts with violent emotion that comes out as anger.

Reese’s sudden ferocity made her recoil backward on the catwalk. Her foot hit a support strut and she fell against the railing. His hands flashed out, grasped her shoulders, and pulled her upright again without a break in his outpouring. “Those belong to my brother and nobody else, hear me? He went missing. We didn’t have a goddamn clue where he went. Not a goddamn clue.”

Reese apologizes for getting rough, explaining that his brother “doesn’t have all his marbles, if you know what I mean,” and demands that she take him up the desert canyon to the water trough where she found the hat and knife. As they hurry out of the mine pit, Roy tries to tell Reese something but is cut off, a moment that most readers would slide over but that turns out to be loaded.

“Wait a second,” Roy said, but Reese strode by with a terse, “Can it, Roy. I’ll be back.”

“But I want—“ he tried again.

“I said can it. I’ll be back in a jiff.”

Neva exchanged a sympathetic look with the young man, and was struck by his dark eyes, the irises precisely defined against the clear whites in the manner of a Byzantine painting. She said, “He’s really worried.”

Roy shrugged and smiled, the two conflicting gestures seeming to sum up frustrated good intentions.

This page gives no clue to Jeneva’s complex character — she’s a journalist with a finely tuned nervous system — or to the stark beauty of the desert landscape that restores her strength and interest in life, and the strong descriptions of the setting that occur throughout the book. With only this page for evidence, a reader would have no sense of the wide range of characters, from an itinerant religious scholar to an old lady artist who lives in a renovated chicken coop, or of the complexity of the plot. Even so, p. 69 does well in that the two young men soon become the focus of the story as one turns up dead and the other is arrested for his murder. Jeneva has different ideas about what happened, and this leads to discoveries that shock the whole region and nearly leave her dead rather than healed by her summer of blissful solitude in the desert.
Visit the official website for Ashna Graves and Wendy Madar, and read an excerpt from Death Pans Out.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue