Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Mr. Jefferson's Women"

Jon Kukla received his B.A. from Carthage College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. From 1973 through 1990 he directed historical research and publishing at the Library of Virginia. From 1992 to 1998 he was curator and then director of the Historic New Orleans Collection. From 2000 to 2007 he was director of Red Hill – The Patrick Henry National Memorial in Charlotte County, Virginia.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book Mr. Jefferson's Women, and reported the following:
From page 69 (with a few words from pages 68 & 70):

The second story, confirmed by Jefferson’s account books, tracks the deepening of his commitment. In December 1770, Jefferson decided to buy Martha Wayles Skelton a small clavichord. He wanted it to be “as light and portable as possible” and veneered with “the finest mahogany.” Six months later in their courtship he decided that his fiancée should have a larger and more expensive pianoforte. Jefferson specified that his amended preference was for an instrument “of fine mahogany, solid, not vineered” -- and of a quality “worthy [of] the acceptance of a lady for whom I intend it.”

Martha Wayles Skelton was beautiful, talented, and wealthy, but Jefferson also found her status as a widow attractive. “Intimate emotional engagement with women,” historian Winthrop Jordan observed, “seemed to represent for [Jefferson] a gateway into a dangerous, potentially explosive world.” In private life and in public policy, Jefferson was always more comfortable with married women than with their undomesticated sisters. Jordan was not the first to notice that “throughout his life after the Burwell affair, Jefferson seemed capable of attachment only to married women.” Jefferson’s first biographer, who had the unique advantage of direct conversations with his family and contemporaries, hinted in the same direction. “Last [but] not least,” William Randall wrote in his list of Martha Wayles Skelton’s appealing qualities, “she had already proved herself a true daughter of the Old Dominion in the department of house-wifery.” Marriage, Jefferson wrote tersely in a notebook, “reverses the prerogative of sex.” Mary Deverell put the matter more clearly in an essay published near Philadelphia in 1792:

To the moment of your marriage it is your reign, your lover is proud to oblige you, watches your smiles, is obedient to your commands, anxious to please you, and careful to avoid everything you disapprove; but you have no sooner pronounced that harsh word obey, than you give up the reins, and it is his turn to rule so long as you live.

Once the vows of marriage had been spoken, husbands, Jefferson wrote, “expected to be pleased” by wives who were “sedulous to please.” Like many of his contemporaries, Jefferson regarded women’s sexual appetites as equal to or even stronger than men’s, and he felt a deep-seated fear of women as threatening both to his own self-control and to the proper ordering of society. As Winthrop Jordan perceptively observed, Thomas Jefferson felt that “female passion must and could only be controlled by marriage.”
Excerpted from Jon Kukla, Mr. Jefferson's Women (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) by permission of the author.

In one respect, page 69 is remarkably representative of conclusions I reached during the research and writing of Mr. Jefferson’s Women. This passage (given above with a few words from the previous and subsequent pages) occurs early in Chapter 4, which tells the story of Jefferson and his wife, whom he married in 1772 and who died in 1782. The observations about Jefferson’s “deep-seated fear of women as threatening both to his own self-control and to the proper ordering of society” reflect central themes that defined the organization of the entire book: after the Introductory chapter, five chapters deal with Jefferson’s relationships with specific women – Rebecca Burwell, Elizabeth Moore Walker, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, Maria Cosway, and Sally Hemings. The final two chapters place his experiences and ideas in the larger context of American and European history in the Age of Revolution.

I would also like to think that this page reflects some qualities of my writing throughout the whole book: The text is rooted in thorough research in primary sources. It attempts to depict Jefferson’s attitudes and ideas both in the context of his day and in light of the best relevant scholarship. And I hope it is clearly written.

In two other respects, however, page 69 is less representative of the rest of the book: First (because Jefferson destroyed virtually all of their correspondence) there is simply less information available about his wife than about many other women. In other chapters I could present a more detailed and enjoyable narrative. Second, this page is one of very few in which I mention or quote other historians. Both in Mr. Jefferson’s Women and in my earlier A Wilderness So Immense I strove to create an accessible story for general readers — a clear narrative uncluttered by disputes among historians — based on fresh and thorough scholarship that does matter to professional historians. Occasionally, as on this page, I quote salient commentary from other scholars, but in general I relegate the details about other scholarship to my extensive annotation at the back of the book. My goal is a readable, professionally informed narrative that tells the stories of the people who acted in history — in this case Jefferson and the women of his life and his age. The late Winthrop Jordan is one of only half a dozen scholars mentioned in the text of Mr. Jefferson’s Women.
Read an excerpt from Mr. Jefferson's Women and learn more about the book and author at Jon Kukla's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"On Borrowed Wings"

Chandra Prasad has written several books, including Death of a Circus, which Tom Perrotta says is “narrated with Dickensian verve, a keen eye for historical detail, and lots of heart.” She is the originator and editor of — as well as a contributor to — Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, which was published to international acclaim by W.W. Norton.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, On Borrowed Wings, and reported the following:
Page 69 of On Borrowed Wings touches upon major themes in the novel and also foreshadows a significant plot point. Here, the protagonist, Charles Pietra, is investigating his new quarters upon arriving to Yale University in 1936 as a freshman. His immediate concern is the lavatory. Most freshmen of any era would consider the condition of the lavatory relatively low on their list of cares. But page 69 reminds the reader that Charles is no ordinary incoming student. His priorities are completely different because he is, in fact, not the person he claims to be. Charles is actually a seventeen-year-old girl named Adele. She is a quarryman’s daughter who has resolved to resist the poverty and restrictions of her past by enrolling at Yale as a boy. Her success will pivot entirely upon believable masquerade. Thus, the lavatory, with its lack of privacy, is worrisome territory.

Walking past several urinals and one toilet, I’d been disappointed to see no bathtub, but relieved that at least the shower stalls were separate. Before arriving to campus I’d fretted about all the obstacles before me. None seemed riskier than a daily bath.

Mother had said, “There are ways to wash yourself outside of a lavatory, Adele,” and told me to get better acquainted with a bowl of water and a sponge. Granted, this was a logical solution—to wash in my room, a locked door between my body and curious eyes. But I would miss my daily soak terribly, so much so that I resolved, silently, to disregard Mother’s advice and add bathing to the growing list of perils that I was willing to brave, even if it meant tip-toeing into the lavatory at three in the morning.”

A bit later, Adele takes a look at her new room while in the company of another freshman, a wan, bespectacled boy who will soon become her friend. Here, too, the things Adele notices speak to her unusual situation and background.

“Are you coming or not?” Harry asked me. I’d been inspecting my mattress, which was thin and slightly soiled.

“Pietra, are you listening to me? I asked if you wanted to see my room. To compare.”

“Oh? Sure, that would be swell,” I answered, smoothing the bed sheets I’d laundered myself. I’d used too much starch and the cotton was stiff as paper.

Though she has trained herself to speak and act like a male, Adele can’t quite shed her old life. Having worked as a laundress until now, she is persistently aware of things like soap, starch, and bleach. Previously, she’d spent her hours scrubbing and rinsing the clothes of the “Cottagers,” wealthy vacationers who inhabited the mansions along her coastal Connecticut town. Now she is supposed to think and behave like a Cottager, or someone of the same rarified social class. This feat will require the constant squelching of old habits.

I followed Harry to his room, which faced the hustle-bustle of Old Campus. Taking a seat, I watched him unpack. I was practically finished with my own room anyhow. There hadn’t been much to put away. I’d unpacked my girl’s clothes first, giving them temporary refuge in the bottom drawer of my desk, underneath a thin blanket. I was already thinking of how I’d need to stow them elsewhere eventually, somewhere safe, but I’d worry about that later.

This, the last paragraph of Page 69, has Adele hiding her old clothes, the visible vestiges of her history. Further ahead, Adele will get in trouble for not using a more discreet location. When I wrote this paragraph, I thought about Scarlett O'Hara, the charming, indomitable heroine of Gone with the Wind. Adele decides to “worry about that later,” and Scarlett makes similar declarations whenever she faces difficulty: “I'll think about that tomorrow” or “tomorrow is another day.” Like Scarlett, Adele is both unexpectedly resilient and a quick study. Both heroines maneuver around immediate obstacles with remarkable pluck, but don’t anticipate the long-term consequences of their actions.
Read an excerpt from On Borrowed Wings, and learn more about the book at the publisher’s website.

Visit Chandra Prasad's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Little Face"

Sophie Hannah is a bestselling poet and novelist who regularly performs her work both in the U.K. and abroad.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her first psychological crime thriller Little Face, and reported the following:
From page 69:

I would like to be able to say that, as Florence's mother, my statement is worth any number of other people's, but I fear that it isn't. Simon wouldn't let me say half of what I wanted to say. He kept telling me that it had to be a factual account. I was not allowed to use what he called flowery language. I was not allowed to begin any sentence with the words 'I felt', or to say that it was my suspicion that someone crept in to the house and took Florence while David was napping. Apparently you can only include an opinion in a statement if it is a 'Hobstaff', whatever that might be. Simon tells me that this situation is not one.

In the end, all I was permitted to say was that when I came home this afternoon after having been to Waterfront, I noticed that the front door was open, which was unusual, and then I went upstairs and observed that the baby in the cot was not my daughter, although superficially she looked like Florence.

I will not speak again for the time being. I will not contradict David, whatever he says. What's the point? It isn't as if Simon believes me, and nothing I say or do is going to change anybody's mind. I will save my next effort for when Vivienne arrives.

I think this passage is a perfect example of the way P. 69 can represent an entire book. This above-quoted passage neatly illustrates the central dilemma/mystery of Little Face. Alice goes out alone for the first time since giving birth, leaving her baby daughter Florence at home with her husband David. When Alice returns, she insists that the baby in the house is not Florence, and yet David is equally adamant that it is, that Alice must either be mad or lying. Simon Waterhouse is the policeman who is summoned to the house to try and make sense of what's going on - has someone (David or someone else) swapped Florence for another baby, and if so, why? Alice and David live with Vivienne, David's controlling mother, who is has been like a mother to Alice since Alice's own mother died. Alice hopes that if Vivienne is on her side, the police will be more likely to believe her, so she is eagerly awaiting Vivienne's return. Simon has just taken statements from Alice, David and Cheryl, Alice's midwife, and Alice is terrified that he believes David and not her. I wanted the novel to contain a really intriguing mystery, the sort that would keep readers turning the pages, since that's the sort of book I like to read!
Read an excerpt from Little Face and learn more about the novel at Sophie Hannah's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Spaceman Blues"

Brian Francis Slattery is an editor, writer, and occasional musician living in New Haven, Connecticut.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel Spaceman Blues, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Spaceman Blues lands at the beginning of an autopsy of a strange corpse:

Its plaid shirt sliced off it, it lies bulbous and huge in the pathologist's lab. The pathologist has one knee on the table, hands inside the mass, peering at it through thick lenses and murmuring to herself. Inspectors Salmon and Trout stand behind her, Salmon playing with his upper lip, Trout eating sour-cream-and-onion potato chips from a noisy bag. He peeks at the notes the pathologist has written on the examination form, flecked with fluids, but the characters are illegible to him.

The pathologist pulls out her hands, snaps the liquid off her fingertips. "Well, gentlemen," she says, "I've got bad news: I've never examined a body as inconclusive as this one is."

"Is there a chance that it's Manuel?"

"Inspector, I can't even tell what gender it is. Really. Genitalia, secondary sex characteristics, internal organs, bone structure, all completely ambiguous. We can do a karyotype, but that'll take some time. The decomposition doesn't help much, of course, but I've examined cadavers far more decomposed than this and have been able to sex them right away. But that's just the beginning. If you look here...In an everyday corpse like yours or mine, the liver occupies most of this area here. It's a large organ, much larger than people give it credit for. But what do you see here, gentlemen?"

Salmon isn't looking. Trout leans over the table, licking his fingers. "I don't know..."

"There's no reason you should. Now let me tell you something exciting. I'm not sure what it is either..."

On display here is my inability to be serious for very long. Books are supposed to be fun, right? But Spaceman Blues is, after all, about mortality, about temporariness, and about people who deal with both as part of their everyday lives.

When my wife (then my girlfriend) was in medical school, she let me visit the gross anatomy lab three times: once at the beginning of dissection, once halfway through, and once very close to the end. The first two visits were fascinating. Muscle tissue, it must be said, looked a lot like pork, sometimes like chicken. I never imagined the liver to be so large, the lungs to be so small. In a way that would have been impossible otherwise, I understood the body as an intricate and supple machine; we ourselves are far more complex and adaptable than anything we could build, and whether we believe it's because of evolution or divine intervention, there's humility in that.

During my last visit to the lab, the head was uncovered. It had been quartered so that the top half of the head was gone and the brain removed; the skin on the right side of the face had been lifted away, so that the students could learn about the musculature beneath it, the workings of the eye. But the lower-left quarter of the face, from just above the eyebrow to the chin, was intact, intact and not expressionless, though the expression was inscrutable. Looking at that human face, so alien and so familiar at once, a lesson was imparted to me, a message was sent. To this day I can't say what it was, but I can't deny the awe it inspired either.
Read an excerpt from Spaceman Blues and learn more about book and author at Brian Francis Slattery's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2007

"Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution"

Woody Holton is an associate professor of history at the University of Richmond and the author of the award-winning book Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Unruly Americans describes one of the many forgotten conflicts that led to the Constitution. In 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, officers of the Continental Army threatened a military coup unless Congress granted each of them a pension equal to five years' pay. Congress approved the pensions (which were disbursed in the form of interest-bearing "Commutation certificates") and asked the thirteen state legislatures to levy sufficient taxes to pay the veteran officers their annual interest.

Citizens of the new nation were already reeling from taxes that were, on average, four times higher than they had ever paid as British colonists. Much of this money was destined for the speculators (including, surprisingly enough, Abigail Adams) who had bought up earlier war bonds at a fraction of the face value. Numerous Americans balked at forking over additional money for the officers (many of whose Commutation certificates also ended up in the hands of speculators). Especially strong opposition came from men who had enlisted in the Continental Army as private soldiers; their own pensions had consisted of a paltry one-time payment of $200.

Some state assemblies complied with the financial demands Congress made on behalf of the officers, but often the ensuing taxes provoked farmers' rebellions, the most famous being Shays's Rebellion in Massachusetts. These revolts generated grave concern among elite Americans such as Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. Other state legislatures refused to vote money for the officers, and their recalcitrance intensified earlier elite demands that Congress be given authority to impose taxes directly on citizens. The Constitution was in part a response to this grassroots and legislative tax resistance; it gave Congress the authority to levy taxes of its own. With ratification the officers got their pensions, and taxpayers who rebelled found themselves facing a well-financed federal army.

The battle over Commutation illustrates one of the major themes of Unruly Americans: that financial conflicts between ordinary and elite Americans played a critical role in the genesis of the Constitution. Today most people assume that the Framers of the Constitution knew what was best for the country, but as I read the arguments for and against Commutation, I became increasingly convinced that there were two sides to the story. So the Commutation fight neatly encapsulates the two principal themes of my book: that ordinary citizens of the founding era were neither as insignificant nor as irresponsible as historians have portrayed them.
Read an excerpt and learn more about Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"The Five Front War"

Daniel Byman directs the Security Studies Program and the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. He is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and also served on the 9/11 Commission. He regularly writes about terrorism and the Middle East for the Washington Post, Slate, and other publications.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book The Five Front War: The Better Way to Fight Global Jihad, and reported the following:
From page 69:

One of the most effective forms of defense is domestic intelligence: identifying suspicious individuals and carefully monitoring their activities.

Domestic surveillance of U.S. Muslim and Arab communities, which would be the communities from which al-Qa’ida would recruit and its sympathizers would emerge, may backfire in the end. Surveillance and official hostility may lead these communities, which for now are well integrated into U.S. society, to see a gap between being a Muslim and being an American.

So far, the United States has not thought about homeland defense — and about other aspects of the “war on terrorism” from a strategic point of view. The dilemma mentioned on p. 69 is a classic problem in counterterrorism. Stepping up government monitoring of a particular Arab-American or Muslim-American individual or group is necessary where there is a specific and well-founded suspicion of wrongdoing. But blanket measures usually produce little of value while alienating large swathes of the community. A few members might see this as justification for violence, but the biggest and most predictable effect is that the community as a whole no longer sees the police as its friend. If they do notice something suspicious, they do not trust the government to handle it properly. So far, many of the big breaks in domestic terrorism arrests have involved just this sort of community support. Losing it would be disastrous.

Beyond homeland security, there are many programs that are valuable for tactical reasons, such as renditions, targeted killings, and aid to dictatorships that can create more anger in the long-term. Terrorists exploit this anger to attract recruits and money, and publicized abuses lead vital allies to shrink from open cooperation with the United States. To be clear, such programs are at times necessary, but the day-to-day rewards must always be balanced with the longer-term picture in mind. The Five Front War uses such a perspective to evaluate key American’s struggle against militant jihadists, paying particular attention to homeland security, intelligence, the use of the military, information strategies, the promotion of democracy, alliances, and the situation in Iraq.
Read an excerpt from The Five Front War and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Deadly Companions"

Dorothy H. Crawford is Robert Irvine Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her forthcoming book, Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History, and reported the following:
The story of human history has been inextricably entwined with the story of microbes. They have evolved and spread amongst us, shaping our culture through infection, disease and deadly pandemics. At the same time, our changing human culture has itself influenced the evolutionary paths of microbes. Deadly Companions shows that one cannot be understood without the other.

Beginning with the dramatic story of the SARS pandemic at the start of the 21st century, the book then follows the interlinked history of man and microbes taking an up-to-date look at ancient plagues, and exploring how changes in the way humans lived throughout history made us vulnerable to microbe attack. As we moved from hunter-gatherer to farmers to city dwellers microbes like malaria and smallpox moved with us, changing and evolving to spread between us with ever more efficiency. Trade and conquest brought new opportunities to spread, and with the power to decimate populations microbes have shaped the course of history.

On page 69 of Deadly Companions (at right; click to enlarge) we find the schistosome. This deadly parasite is carried by water snails and infects humans wading, washing or swimming in infected waters. The microbe probably first infected Egyptians in the Nile valley when they took up irrigation farming around 6000BC. Back then it must have caused thousands of deaths from schistosomiasis, and this is still a major problem in the area today.
Learn more about Deadly Companions at the Oxford University Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"The Witch's Trinity"

Erika Mailman is the author of Woman of Ill Fame and the recently-released The Witch's Trinity, the story of a medieval German woman accused of witchcraft when her village undergoes famine.

Mailman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Witch’s Trinity is about as different from the rest of the book as possible. It’s one of the few flashbacks to the time when the village was happy — and also has one of exactly two sex scenes!

In my novel, the village of Tierkinddorf fights famine. Hungry neighbors turn to each other to try to learn who is to blame. My main character, Güde, casts her mind back to her wedding day when neighbors were far more open-hearted.

When I brought this scene to my writers group, people expressed disbelief that wedding revelers would lean in through the window to watch the first deflowering. I had found historical reference to neighbors actually sitting on the bed, and had tamed the concept slightly to be more credible. Sexuality in the middle ages was far more crude and rollicking, and privacy a foreign notion. I remember touring a chateau in France and the tour guide saying that the lord and lady of the manor would share their enormous bed with their servants, simply because heat was such an issue.

I felt this kind of flashback was important, to show the reader that the village was once the site of true revelry — that these peasants whose lifespans would be so short enjoyed the hell out of what they were given.

So, page 69 is not representative of the book as a whole, but a foil for the desperation that later ensues. Güde watches as her closest friend is accused of witchcraft, and then fights for her life as she is also fingered.

Note: As there was no glass for peasants at this time, the “window” is a hole covered simply by a cloth.

“Can we not pin down the cloth?” I pleaded.

“Aw, give them their pleasure, too,” smiled Hensel gently. “It’s summer time! We are all lovers now.” He positioned his body so his head blocked the view of the window for me. Such a handsome face! The eyes that wrestled with a gentian for the best kind of blue, and the strong jaw with soft whiskers. Hensel’s eyelashes were longer than a broom’s straw and I sank into his kiss until I didn’t care who saw my legs wrapped around him and eventually giggled at the thought of his arse pumping away to their amusement.

Afterwards, I pulled my gown back down, clean white it was, embroidered with tiny bluebells by my steady hand, and we invited everyone in to sit at the table and eat with us. They crowded in, the entire village practically, except for Ottilie Shuster who’d set her cap on Hensel and spent our wedding day crying in the forest. They were so many that they sat upon the bed — making great sport of avoiding the wet area where Hensel’s seed had leaked — and upon the ground and leaned against the wall ... and there was so much food back then! We had nary a thought of not sharing what we had; there was so much. Hensel’s mill was going all the day to grind the meal and oft he had to tell the men to return the next day; he had all he could do to grind what he had. There was a flock of sheep on the hill that was his, and he traded for whatever else we needed. That day we offered our guests bread, and lard cakes, and lamp chops with fat sizzling around the edges of the meat, and a profusion of radishes.
Read an excerpt from The Witch's Trinity and learn more about the book and author at Erika Mailman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Plague Year"

Jeff Carlson’s debut novel is the acclaimed thriller Plague Year, hailed by New York Times blockbuster James Rollins as “Harrowing, heartfelt, and rock-hard realistic. Not to be missed.”

Carlson applied the Page 69 Test to Plague Year and reported the following:
Page 69 of Plague Year dives into the story at the very end of Chapter 7, aboard the International Space Station, where a top scientist has been in orbit with the astronaut crew for eleven months after a nanotech plague decimated all warm-blooded life on Earth below 10,000 feet. Her name is Ruth Goldman. She’s been agitating to land their shuttle in Colorado to further her work on an ANN, an anti-nano nano, whereas Commander Ulinov has pushed to maintain the U.S./Russian presence in space as long as possible. In part, he wants to continue to provide surveillance for his countrymen in their war for the Afghanistan mountains. He also knows there may never be another launch into space in his lifetime.

Throughout their long exile within the station, Ruth and Ulinov have played at being lovers, but now they’ve become rivals, each of them trying to influence both the remainder of the crew and the government leaders on the ground. Before the tiny fragment on Page 69, Ulinov accuses her of inciting mutiny after he catches her talking with their pilot and their radioman, Gustavo. Ruth retreats to her lab module and almost immediately hears someone coming after her.

Ruth backed away. Her eyes went briefly to the viewport.

But it was Gustavo who filled her tiny space. “The radio, your friend James,” he yammered. “They said yes!”


“It worked! Everything you’ve been telling them, the ANN, getting you on the ground, they said yes!”

He stuck out one hand in congratulations and Ruth grabbed him instead, shouting right in his face. “Aaaaaaaaah!” There were no words to express the depth and complexity of her triumph.

She was going back to Earth.

There is another main storyline in Plague Year which resumes in the next chapter, following a group of survivors in California, and yet this fragment is indicative of the tension and high stakes throughout the novel. It’s the end of the world, after all. States and nations have been obliterated. The environment is crashing worldwide. Not everyone agrees on what to do next, and each decision is like stepping into a minefield.
Readers can find the first two chapters of Plague Year at Carlson’s web site, along with tour dates, a trivia contest, and advance information on the sequel War Day, forthcoming from Ace/Penguin in Summer 2008.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Prisoner of Memory"

Denise Hamilton writes the nationally best-selling Eve Diamond crime novels featuring a reporter who solves murders in contemporary multicultural Los Angeles.

In her latest book Prisoner of Memory, Hamilton plumbs her own family's Russian heritage to combine Cold War espionage and suspense.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
Page 69:

as though it were the most natural thing in the world. “She was very beautiful.”

“No,” I said honestly. “My parents never spoke of her.”

Mischa was looking around with appreciation at my living room, especially the deep comfy couch.

“Don’t get too excited,” I said. “You are going to sleep on my back porch. Don’t worry, it’s enclosed. You can take a shower first if you want, and I’ll bring out a bunch of blankets. You won’t be cold or wet. But tomorrow I’m driving you to West Hollywood and you’ve got to fend for yourself.”

“No problem,” he hastily assured me. “Spaciba, Eve. Our great grandmothers would be pleased.”

“Oh stop.”

I felt rather ridiculous as I hauled extra blankets, quilts, and pillows and an old down sleeping bag out of my closet and dumped everything on the back porch. If he meant to do me harm, he didn’t have to wait until I was asleep.

But Mischa bustled around happily, arranging his winter’s lodging on my chaise longue with the diligence of an overgrown badger making a nest. Then he crawled inside the sleeping bag and began pulling blankets over himself.

It occurred to me now that that this odd cousin wasn’t the only one I had to worry about.

“Mischa, you said earlier that these Mafia people might have my phone number. They could easily find out where I live. Don’t you think they’ll come looking for you here eventually?”

Mischa’s head popped out of the down comforter.

“If that is happening, I am running away. I am not making problems for you, Eve Diamond.”

Your very existence is a problem for me.

“Well let me show you a back way out of this property. If anything happens, God forbid, you use it.”

This time, we donned slickers with hoods. He wriggled out of his casing and followed me down the back stairs into the double lot that my landlady cultivated like a wild and savage garden. The grass was knee high in spots and brushed against my bare shins in a clammy embrace. We....

I love the idea of a page 69 test and what you’ve done with it. In the case of Prisoner of Memory, I do think page 69 gives readers a good flavor of the book. Much of this page is in dialogue, some of it humorous, which is always fun to write and read. On this page, my reporter sleuth Eve Diamond is talking to a mysterious and dubious Russian “cousin” who has landed on her doorstep, claiming kinship and asking for help and a place to spend the night. The excerpt also includes a reference to the Russia Mafia, whose henchmen may be trying to track Eve down -- never a good thing. And page 69 of Prisoner of Memory also brings up something out of Eve’s past -- a Russian relative that Eve’s now-deceased parents never spoke about but who may end up being a clue to solving the book’s central mystery. “Your very existence is a problem for me,” Eve tells Mischa on page 69. How does all this come together in the novel? How do the strands play out? Is Mischa a bona-fide Russian cousin of Eve’s, a con-man trying to gain her confidence and financial help, an emissary from the Russian mob or something even more sinister and twisted? You’ll just have to read the book to find out!
Read an excerpt from Prisoner of Memory and learn more about Denise Hamilton and her books at her website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Bones to Ashes"

Bones to Ashes is the 10th book by Kathy Reichs in the best-selling series featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. The character is the inspiration for the TV show Bones on FOX.

Reichs applied the "Page 99 Test" to Bones to Ashes, and reported the following:
From page 69:

By three, Grissom's "victim" lay fully exposed. The snout was broad, the cranium rugged. Caudal vertebrae snaked between hind legs seemingly too short for the torso.

"Long tail."

"Some kind of pit bull mix."

"Maybe shepherd."

The testosterone set seemed inordinately interested in the dog's heritage. I couldn't have cared less. I was sweaty, itchy, and desperate to shed my Tyvek coveralls. Designed to protect wearers from blood, chemicals, and toxic liquids, the things reduced air circulation and were hotter than hell.

"Whatever his breed, the guy was a player." Pasteur held up the ziplock containing the dog's penis bone. Chenevier raised a palm. Pasteur high-fived it.

Already the jokes had begun. I was glad I hadn't told them that the os baculum is sometimes called a hillbilly toothpick. Or that best in show goes to the walrus, whose males occasionally reach thirty inches. It was going to be bad enough as it was.

During graduate school a fellow student had studied the os baculum of rhesus monkeys. Her name was Jeannie. Now professors and respected researchers, my old classmates still tease her about "Jeannie's penies."

By two, the dog's bones had been packaged and placed in the coroner van. Probably unnecessary, but better to err on the side of caution.

By six, Ryan and I had taken the entire ten-foot square down twenty-four inches. Nothing had turned up in the pit or the screen. Chenevier had resurveyed the barn and surrounding field, and found no indications of additional subsurface disturbance.

Several adolescent girls have gone missing with very few clues left behind. A con doing time behind bars claims to know where one of the bodies is buried. Temperance's forensic anthropological skills are called upon, along with those of her sometimes detective beau Ryan, to find the bones. They scour the specified area and find the bones of a dog instead. Disheartened, but a bit relieved, Temperance heads back into town with a colleague who alerts her of more bones found near where her childhood friend, Evangeline, went missing. Page 69 is where Temperance starts to make important realizations about the links between the different cold cases that she is working on. She becomes haunted by her sinking suspicions that her friend Evangeline's bones have been found and that her disappearance is connected with the other girls.
Read an excerpt from Bones to Ashes and learn more about the author and her books.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"The Art Thief"

Noah Charney holds degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and Cambridge University. He is the founding director of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), the first international think tank on art crime.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Art Thief, and reported the following:
From page 69:

"Sir, I think you should see this. We may have a situation."

The fourth-floor computer terminus was the security nerve center of the National Gallery of Modern Art, in London, a half mile from the Christie's auction rooms. The room was ringed with computers and closed-circuit television screens. Two security personnel sat in black-suited surveillance, including Jillian Avery, who now called to her supervisor.

"There's a disturbance in the basement, in the Utility Room. We've registered some movement, but the closed circuit isn't showing anyone. See?"

Over-night security coordinator Toby Cohen leaned over Avery's shoulder, as his eyes scanned her computer screen, and skipped across to the CC-TVs on the wall. The TV screen showed an empty Utility Room.

"Anything on the nature of the disturbance?"

"A door is reading as unlocked. The main door to the Utility Room. Must have swung open. That's all we've got." Avery clicked at her computer. "What should we do?"

"Radio to Stammers and Fox. Tell them to check it out."

Avery dialed into her computer, and connected to the security walkie-talkie. She spoke into a microphone.

"Control to Security Two. Control to Security Two. Do you copy? Control to Security Two. Do you copy? Control to…"

"What's going on? What's wrong with them?" Cohen approached the computer.

"They're not responding, Sir."

That's the excerpt from page 69 of The Art Thief, the opening of Chapter 9. It's an interesting selection, because it is pure thriller, whereas the book itself is more a work of literary puzzle plot fiction with a thriller lurking in the wings, rather than a thriller proper. Indeed, it was a bit tricky for the publishers to decide how to market my book. Its "thrilling" elements are more along the lines of a spy novel, rather than something action-based. But the intricacies of the plot are the driving force, piecing together the jigsaw of it. This section falls into one of the few genuine action/thriller slices of an otherwise more intellectual novel. But I am pleased with this section, as it certainly succeeds begging you to read on!
Read an excerpt from The Art Thief and learn more about the book and its author at Noah Charney's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"The Girl With Braided Hair"

Margaret Coel is the New York Times best-selling author of the acclaimed Wind River mystery series set among the Arapahos on Wyoming's Wind River Reservation and featuring Jesuit priest Father John O'Malley and Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest entry in the series, The Girl With Braided Hair, and reported the following:
I was struck by the way in which page 69 actually gets to the heart of what The Girl With Braided Hair is all about. Who knew? This is the page where Father John O'Malley turns to two Arapaho elders, Huge Bad Elk and Thomas Whiteman, for help in finding the identity of a young woman whose skeleton has just been found in a dry ravine.

Forensics says the skeleton is that of a twenty-year-old American Indian girl shot in the back of her head in the summer of 1973. The summer of AIM.

On page 69, the elders remember the turbulence of that period. There were demonstrations and protest marches throughout the West, geared to call attention to the discrimination against Indian people. Within months, AIM had occupied the BIA building in Washington, D.C., and had then gone on to take over the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation. By the summer, AIM activists, on the run from the FBI, had moved onto reservations across the West where they tried to take over the tribal governments and caused a lot of disruptions.

Huge captures the divisiveness of that time when he says: "Folks like us were working, raising kids back then. Hell, we didn't have time for demonstrations and marches. They had a big demonstration in Fort Washakie. I was real worried they'd take over the tribal offices, 'cause I had a job in accounting. How was I gonna get paid if I couldn't work?"

All of this is the background against which the story of Liz Plenty Horses, The Girl With Braided Hair, unfolds. Liz is part of AIM. She believes in AIM and holds onto it, as if it were her family, until AIM accuses of her being a snitch. The story moves back and forth in time between the summer of 1973, with Liz on the run for her life, and the present, with Father John and Vicky Holden trying to find out who she was and who killed her. And as they come closer to the truth, they realize that the killer is now hunting them.
Read an excerpt from The Girl With Braided Hair and learn more about the book and author at Margaret Coel's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2007

"The Kingdom of Bones"

Stephen Gallagher is a novelist, screenwriter, and director. His many novels include Nightmare, with Angel; Red, Red Robin; and The Spirit Box.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Kingdom of Bones, and reported the following:
As a teenager I had a fascination with old-time Penny Dreadfuls and turn-of-the-century thrill fiction. Tom Sayers was a leading character in one of those old story papers, The Marvel. Loosely – very loosely – based on an actual historical figure, the fictional Sayers was your classic Victorian hero. Clean-living, morally upright, and with a hero's enviable physical prowess.

These were the unsung narratives of the Age of the Great Storytellers. They gripped the masses, but they weren't made to travel. Haven't you ever bought the DVD set of a TV show you used to love, and realised with a twinge of sadness that what you're experiencing isn't pure joy, but rather that joy remembered?

It takes more than just the old material to recreate a form. My ambition with The Kingdom of Bones was to take the characters, settings and narrative pacing of those old stories, and to bring them to new life with the kind of themes and complex psychology that we look for in modern fiction.

Page 69 of the novel finds Police Superintendent Turner-Smith, "a formidable figure with a broad white moustache, a war wound and a walking-stick," in the back room of a public house. He's here to meet a man whom he believes to be Tom Sayers. The year is 1888 and the setting is the North West of England. Sayers is a former prize-fighter who's given up the ring, and now serves as the business manager to a small touring theatrical troupe.

Unbeknownst to Turner-Smith, the man across the table is an impostor. The real Tom Sayers is in the theater next door, watching his company perform. What's about to take place will deprive Sayers of his good name and his liberty, with consequences that will pretty much destroy any future he might have hoped for with the woman he loves.

Turner-Smith considered the man before him for a moment, and then decided that he could speak as one gentleman to another. They were more likely to have interests in common than in conflict.

“Take a look at this, please, Sayers,” he said, and placed before him one of the pasted-up sheets that suggested a link between paupers that had been mutilated without apparent motive, and the stage company’s progress around the country.

The other man read for a while, and then glanced up.

“Some of our less notable receptions.”

“The dates, Mister Sayers. Look at the dates.”

He read on for a while. Then he sat back in the attitude of a man conceding an argument that had already been won. “This is very revealing,” he said.

And Turner-Smith, who for the past minute had been given the opportunity for a closer study of his visitor, said, “Are you by any chance wearing greasepaint, Mister Sayers?”

The man threw the paper onto the table between them.

“Ah,” he said. “There you have me.”

Under the table, Turner-Smith reached out for his sword stick. He took care not to signal his intention. “Yet you are not listed on the playbills among the actors,” he said.

“Very true.” The man smiled. “I can see that you are too good a detective for me, superintendent.”

A few moments later, the man rose from the booth and walked out of the saloon. The four commercial travellers in the next booth were laughing so hard at a story that none of them noticed his departure. One took a draught from his mug and leaned back in his seat, only to splutter it out all over the table.

His fellows were slow to catch on. Their humour ebbed, where his had vanished in a flash.

“What the devil?” he said. “Something pronged me!”

And he turned in his seat to find out what it was.

Even though the story's main character is offstage in this scene, I should imagine that the page makes for a reasonable taster of the novel as a whole. I've always reckoned that the best way to test out a book is to pick a random paragraph or two; at the very least, they'll give you a sense of whether you connect with the author's voice. In this case I'd hope that page 69's combination of history, greasepaint and villainy will give any prospective reader a fair idea of what lies ahead.
Read more about The Kingdom of Bones at the publisher's website, and visit Stephen Gallagher's website and his blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"The Master of Verona"

David Blixt is a Shakespearean actor-turned-author. His first novel, The Master of Verona, combines Shakespeare’s Italian characters with the real people of Dante’s time.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
Page 69:

The Count glanced up and swallowed his heart. All along the walls of San Pietro, those same walls he had scaled that morning, hundreds of helmets glinted in the light of the setting sun. Enough of them bore the outlines of bows to show that they were archers. But they did not hold crossbows. They held bows of yew.

Somehow, beyond all possibility, the Scaliger’s army had come. Worse, he had armed his soldiers – against dictate of emperors, kings, knights, and church – with longbows. A violation of every code of chivalry, it was political suicide. It was also deadly.

Instead of indulging in outrage, the Count was doing the math. Those weapons could drive an arrow three times the distance of any crossbow. It wasn't an army the Greyhound had brought. It was death, in the form of a hail of arrows.

Below the rows of archers, the Scaliger howled a wordless cry that froze the blood. Ponzino actually shivered at the sound. For a moment he believed it was the dog that had made the noise, so feral it was. The Count saw Cangrande throw his helmet aside in a show of contempt. Still standing in the stirrups, he lifted his reins in his left hand and kicked his horse into a gallop. The spiked mace in his right hand was poised and ready to crush his enemies. Behind him, against all reason, his followers charged, screaming for blood.

In that moment San Bonifacio understood. It was not courage, nor reason, nor a grasp of tactics. It was not honor, nor chivalry. It was a streak of madness that defied reason, thought, life. It was a kind of immortality, perhaps the only kind a man owns. For this heartbeat of time the Greyhound was more than human. He was the Angel of Death, descended from the heavens to reap a fearful harvest.

Ponzino was horrified. “They can’t possibly…”

Already knowing the worst, the Count said, “They already have. Run!”

All around them men in every state of readiness – sober, drunk, valiant, cowardly – fell back before that charge. They’d witnessed their daring leaders run to them for protection, and had felt unsure. They’d watched the Flemings, darlings of the fierce Asdente, run as if the devil nipped their heels. They’d seen men armed with bows along the walls. Now this giant, this impossibly fearless, murderous man, rode at them like Mars on the field of war.

The Paduans broke. The massive army began disintegrating into clusters of terrified men. In their desperate flight they shed their booty, their weapons, their provisions and their armor. Into ditches or into the Bacchiglione it all went as the men scrambled back to preserve their lives.

The Count of San Bonifacio didn't hesitate. Tossing his family armor aside, he turned his horse about, kicking hard. Grabbing the reins of the Podestà's horse, he dragged the stunned commander with him. Ponzino ripped every seal of office from his body, wanting no sign to mark him as Cangrande’s enemy. For the first time that day, the Paduan commander did not think of his honor. He thought only of his life.

In many ways this is an excellent microcosm of the whole. Action, honor, war, and a smattering of grand ideas all in one page.

This scene comes at the tail end of chapter six, as the villain of the piece is trying to hold together the invasion of a contested city. Suddenly the Greyhound of Verona, Cangrande della Scala, arrives out of nowhere to do battle. The Paduans have no idea that Cangrande is bluffing – he arrived with less than one hundred men, to face a force of three thousand.

Amazingly, that isn’t invention, it’s fact. Cangrande’s life is worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy – which is what this novel truly is. I’m an action-oriented fellow, though my action scene have two rules: 1) they need to stem from the characters and their ambitions; and 2) they need to move the plot along.

So, two huge battles, a siege, two duels, a horse race, a fire, a chase, and a few murders. Yeah, I’d say page 69 is fairly representative…
Read an excerpt from The Master of Verona and learn more about the book at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2007

"Our American King"

David Lozell Martin's novels include the international bestsellers Lie to Me and Tap, Tap and the critically acclaimed The Crying Heart Tattoo, The Beginning of Sorrows, and Crazy Love. Of Facing Rushmore (2005), Martin's eleventh book, Elmore Leonard said, "What I like best about a David Martin suspense novel -- and it will grab you, I guarantee -- is that the man knows how to write."

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Our American King, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Our American King begins a pivotal chapter in the novel, describing the narrator, Mary, and her husband, John, walking into the District of Columbia from their home in a Northern Virginia suburban neighborhood where they had been starving to death. Most of their neighbors had already dead — all this in the aftermath of a national calamity that has left people to survive or die on their own with no law, no order, and no operating government. Americans live in fear of marauders whom John and Mary call Patagonians.

On Memorial Bridge we encounter the first people of the District. They’ve been propped in sitting and leaning positions along the concrete railings and sidewalks of the bridge. When we see that many are missing hands, missing arms, we know it was Patagonians that made these killings. A few of the bodies have been decapitated and propped into sitting positions on benches, holding their heads in their laps. Thus we are welcomed to the nation’s capital, by a boulevard of atrocities.

This passage from page 69 shows the horror of what the calamity has done to America. Today, we assume the stability of the United States as an unalterable given, that our country is somehow immune to the vagaries of history. Page 69 of Our American King is harshly written in an effort to shake the reader out of this assumption about the immutability of the United States — to make the reader think and wonder, oh my God, could that really happen here?
Read an excerpt from Our American King and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue