Friday, August 3, 2007

"The Last Jew Standing"

Michael Simon, a former actor, playwright, and Texas probation officer, is the author of four thrillers, including Dirty Sally, Body Scissors, and Little Faith.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his newest thriller, The Last Jew Standing, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test sounds a little racier than it is. In this case, it captures a taste of one element of my book, that is, the detection element. My novels are thrillers, so they’re more focused on what’s happening now and what’s about to happen, then they are on what happened in the past. But because my main character is a homicide detective, (in fact, the only Jewish, New York Mafia-born homicide detective in the Austin Police Department), a certain amount of detecting is necessary to tell the story.

Here, Dan is on the phone with an FBI agent from Dan’s home town of Elmira, New York, a town described by some as the buckle of the rust belt. Dan is trying to hide how much he knows about the murder, not least that the murderer’s car was stolen by Dan’s own father.

I enjoyed this challenge, but the test that authors are subjected to more often is the infamous Page 1 Test. If agents, editors, or readers don’t like page 1, they won’t go on to page 2.

Page 69 in its entirety:

He explained, “Social services moves them in, leaves them for twenty-eight days and transfers them out. So they do in the hotel whatever they would do on the street. But Berelman wasn’t there through social services. He checked in on his own. And one night, maybe a week or so ago, he choked on the exhaust pipe. Maybe he tried to swallow it, or maybe someone went into a psychotic rage and rammed it down his throat. So I took the exhaust pipe and showed it around, went to a muffler shop and had the guy match it to the car it was from. Dead end because it was just a rusted piece of pipe. We finally found the rest of it sitting in the hotel parking lot. Whoever killed Berelman must have gone to the Allerton looking for him, then found the pipe in the parking lot and picked it up on impulse and brought it inside.”

“And no one witnessed any of this?”

“Fair question. I knocked on every door. There seemed to be an epidemic of amnesia and temporary blindness. Even the clerk said he didn’t see anyone unusual enter or leave the building that night, which is possible. If their usual is crackheads, hookers and pimps, there might not be much that would qualify as unusual. Or the clerk could have been distracted, or stoned. But the building had other points of entry, so whoever came and went could have bypassed the lobby altogether.”

I asked, “Was he a pimp?”

Interesting question,” Hayden commented. “What made you ask that?”

What made me ask that? I said, “Who knows? Little guy goes into the business, sells women, sells drugs. Steps on someone else’s toes, doesn’t even know it, winds up dead in a hotel.”

“Interesting theory,” he said. “I’ll follow up on it.”

“Great.” A pause made me think he was done and the call was over. “Well, thanks.”

“No problem. Oh, by the way, Reles. Where are you from?”

Bingo. He was on to me. I tried to rewind the tape and figure out if I’d committed any crime of omission. “Elmira, New York,” I said, mustering up something that sounded like pride.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

I took a moment. “I thought you knew.” Then, “You did, didn’t you?”

“Well, yes.”
Read an excerpt from The Last Jew Standing, and learn more about Michael Simon and his books at his website and his MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue