Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The Price of Blood"

Declan Hughes has worked for more than twenty years in the theater in Dublin as director and playwright. In 1984, he co-founded Rough Magic, Ireland's leading independent theater company. He has been writer in association with the Abbey Theatre and remains an artistic associate of Rough Magic. His novels include The Wrong Kind of Blood and The Color of Blood.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Price of Blood, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Price of Blood comes in the middle of a post-coital scene between PI Ed Loy and Miranda Hart, a woman caught up in the case he's working. Later in the book, Loy's friend's wife Carmel says to him:

"I see you, Ed Loy. The same fucked-up woman in one guise after another. The booze, the fights. You're so in love with your own pain, you need to keep the wound fresh and flowing to feel even half-alive."

Ed is simultaneously drawn to Miranda and wary of her because she bears such an uncanny resemblance to his ex. But, although she plunges him deeper into the nightmare she inhabits, she also acts as some kind of catharsis for his failed marriage: the ghost of his wife is exorcised, and the pain of the daughter they lost, if not cured, is finally given some relief. On page 67, the following sequence helps set that up:

We sat for a while like that, as if we'd known each other forever, until I began to wonder whether it was Miranda Hart I was embracing, or the ghost of my ex-wife. Maybe Miranda felt the chill; she leapt up and sat by the fire, where the embers were smouldering, and tried to poke and then to blow them back into life. There was red in the turf and she coaxed it into flame and put another couple of sods on top. When she turned around, the flames danced in the silver of her dress, and her dark eyes flashed red and I found that I couldn't breathe.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," she said. I nodded.

"Someone who hurt you very badly. Someone I remind you of, someone who maybe looks a little like me."

I nodded again, dumbstruck.

"And now, at last, you're beginning to get over her. That's all right," she said, smiling. "I wanted you too." Then her mouth set hard.

"Now, I think you'd better ask your questions, and go."

I hadn't touched my gin, and found I needed it badly. I felt like I'd been slapped, and for no good reason, and I didn't like it. Miranda Hart was the kind of woman who could sense your weakest spot and reach straight for it.

In order to get at the truth, Loy has to let his guard down, leaving himself wide open: it's an emotionally vulnerable way of leading with your chin. (He does the other kind as well, which is why he invariably has a welt on his cheek or a black eye well before page 69.)

Page 69, on the other hand, doesn't work so well out of context. But near the end of the page, as Loy is trying to establish whether Patrick Hutton, Miranda Hart's missing husband, was gay, there's a speech from Miranda that I think stands on its own:

"I bet you had a girlfriend when you were twenty-two twenty-three, you drank a lot together, or got high, whatever, you laughed and cried, you said you loved each other, you fucked a lot, but even at the time, you knew it probably wasn't forever. Maybe that's the way it was with Patrick and me. We should probably never have got married, I don't know why we did: to get away from my family, and his lack of one. Maybe that's the why. We were so young. And now ... you know, we could run into each other on the street, and we probably wouldn't know what to say. So for all I know, he could be anything..."

I think a lot of us have made a version of that speech at some time or other. What's more, some of us might even have been telling the truth...
Read more about Declan Hughes and his books at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue