Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Cold Plague"

Daniel Kalla is the international bestselling author of Pandemic, Resistance, Rage Therapy, and Blood Lies. He works as an emergency-room physician in Vancouver, British Columbia.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Cold Plague, and reported the following:
Cold Plague is a thriller that delves into the very real scientific phenomena of massive lakes in the Antarctic and prions, those deadly proteins responsible for illnesses such as mad cow disease. With the return of Dr. Noah Haldane (the hero from Pandemic), Cold Plague marks my first sequel.

In the story, pristine water is discovered miles under Antarctic ice. A few months later a cluster of new cases of Mad Cow disease explodes in a rural France. Dr. Noah Haldane and his WHO team are urgently summoned to investigate. He recognizes the deadliness of a new prion that kills with the speed of a virus, but he suspects factors other than nature might have ignited its spread among people and animals in France. Facing a spate of disappearances and unexplained deaths, he uncovers a billion-dollar conspiracy (involving bottled water) that stretches from Moscow to Beverly Hills, and from the North to the South Pole. But he has to stay alive long enough to sound the alarm.

I’ve applied the page 69 test to Cold Plague. The scene occurs at the end of chapter nine in a skyscraper in St. Petersburg. Dr. Claude Fontaine, the scientist who successfully built the first well into Lake Vishnov is reporting to Yulia Radvogin, the oil tycoon who funded his expedition. He and his partner, Martine deGroot, are trying to explain to Radvogin that the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties (the multinational governing body of the Antarctic) will not allow her access to off-shore oil drilling in the Antarctic, despite her financial contributions to the ground-breaking research. Yulia is incensed, but they are going to try to calm her with an alternate proposal…

From Page 69…

“I told them that environmental preservation and economic development are not mutually exclusive,” Fontaine said. “I argued that with the price of crude oil hitting record highs in the past twenty-four months and the global supply running low, that time was ripe for oil exploration carried out safely away from the continental shelf.” He clasped his hand together. “Science and commerce, working side by side to a mutually beneficial end.”


Fontaine cleared his throat. “They didn’t see it that way.”

Radvogin’s eyes froze over. “And my well?”

“I explained that Radvogin Industries would be far less able to maintain and offer international research access to the Vishnov site without the economic incentive of oil exploration in the area.”

“And?” she asked in a throaty whisper.

“Yulia, they will not amend the treaty.” He met her stare. “Even for you.”

Milahen stopped jotting notes on his pad. Beria stopped tapping the table. A few long moments of silence passed. “Two years ago,” Radvogin said as she quietly stared up at the ceiling. “You sat at this very table and you promised me that if I supported your research, Radvogin Industries would be allowed access to that oil.”

“I said I would do everything I could, I never promised—”

The sharp slap of Radvogin’s palm against the mahogany table silenced Fontaine in mid-sentence. “Leave the legal technicalities to Anatoly!” she barked, thumbing at her open-mouthed lawyer. “You gave me your word, Claude.”

Radvogin glared at him, and Fontaine felt the eyes of her bodyguards burning into his back.

As he opened his mouth to respond, Martine deGroot leaned forward in her chair. “Yulia,” she said, surprising Fontaine with the use of her first name. “May I say something?” “What?” Radvogin snapped.

“In every setback there is opportunity,” deGroot said.

Radvogin didn’t reply, but her face blanched and her lip quivered with rage.

DeGroot smiled confidently. “Forget the oil, Yulia,” she said as if dismissing a glass of spilled milk.

Forget it?” Radvogin pushed herself halfway up from her seat. “You want me to forget tens of millions of dollars worth of my own money?”

DeGroot’s smile grew wider, and she nodded. Fontaine welled with affection for the woman. Her steely poise was perfect.

“Why would I ever do that?” Radvogin hissed.

DeGroot let Radvogin’s loaded question hang in the air for a few moment before answering. “Because, Yulia.” She laughed. “Your well is sitting on something far more valuable than oil.”
Read an excerpt from Cold Plague, and learn more about the novel and author at Dan Kalla's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Child 44"

Tom Rob Smith is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel, Child 44.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book and reported the following:
“Even though it had been his place of work for the past five years, Leo had never felt comfortable in the Lubyanka, the headquarters of the MGB.”

Page 69 is the reader’s first glimpse of the Lubyanka, the infamous secret police headquarters located in the heart of Moscow, close to the Kremlin. I was determined from the outset of writing not to sidetrack into lengthy descriptions of buildings. Child 44 is not a guidebook nor is it a history yet elements from both were needed in order to slice open an unfamiliar world. The problem was how to do that without either slowing the pace or creating distance between the reader and the location. The world needed to feel present and active, not tagged and observed.

In the preceding pages the main character, Leo Demidov – a zealous MGB officer, has been engaged in a brutal chase for fugitive Anatoly Brodsky. Anatoly had been hiding in a remote rural village, in a friend’s farm. During the police search Leo’s deputy savagely executes Anatoly’s friend for collaborating with a suspect. Leo is shaken by the experience. Returning to the Lubyanka, he evaluates the building:

“…to his mind there was something about the building itself which made people uneasy, as though fear had been factored into the design. He accepted his theory was non-sense insofar as he knew nothing of the architect’s intention.”

Leo’s newly sprung anxiety regarding his profession offered an opportunity for him to regard his place of work with fresh eyes, in so doing collapsing the space between the reader and the character – in effect, we were all looking at the building for the first time.

He questions whether there is something intrinsically unsettling about the building or whether the unease it triggers stems from the way in which the building had been used. It is a question he cannot answer since, as he admits, he knew nothing of the architect’s intention. So, why does he even ask it? Because this questioning prefigures Leo’s crisis of faith in a much larger structure – the State. Is Soviet Communism intrinsically flawed, or has it been corrupted? In the end, does that distinction even matter –

“Perhaps the Lubyanka hadn’t been constructed with fear in mind, but fear had taken over all the same, fear had made this former insurance office its own, its home.”
Read an excerpt from Child 44, 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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld"

Dan Elish is the author of the novels Nine Wives and The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, as well as several books for young adults and children including the award-winning Born Too Short, Confessions of an 8th Grade Basket Case, The Worldwide Dessert Contest, Jason and the Baseball Bear, and The Great Squirrel Uprising.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld and reported the following:
Oh, God – page 69!?! Why not page 1 where Justin Hearnfeld is introduced (charmingly) to the reader? Or page 119 where Justin, chaperoning his school prom, sets out to play a somewhat puerile prank on one of his students? In fact, why not practically any other page?

Those were my immediate thoughts upon sitting down to write this piece. But then I got thinking. True, page 69 of The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld is no literary masterpiece. It is one of those transitional pages in a novel where the writer has to get the character from point A to point B. However, upon careful re-reading, I came to see that page 69 was actually a pretty good place for a first time reader to be dropped into this story.

Five chapters into the novel, Justin has already been through the wringer. A 23 year old probable virgin (for an explanation please read the prologue), he has taken a job teaching English at The Clarke School for Boys, the private school he attended as a student and hated. While visiting a bio lab in chapter one, Justin accidentally ignites a fetal pig by unconsciously rubbing his crotch against the bunsen burner while fantasizing about his colleague, the beautiful Beverly Kinney. After that, Justin walks Beverly home from school, vividly imagining the romantic fireworks to come (“The bed would shake with a force so powerful that entire squads of police in riot gear would be summoned by terrified neighbors.” page 49), only to discover that he is actually walking the girl of his dreams to her boyfriend’s apartment. As we pick up the action at page 69, Justin has given a sterling performance as a member of the improv troupe, The Toxic Crayons – a performance marred by Beverly’s absence. Now at the advice of his best friend, Justin is hurrying home to call Sadie Black, a teacher at a local girl’s private school to ask her to be his date at the aforementioned school prom.

Page 69 opens chapter six. On his way into his apartment building - Justin still lives at home with his mom and sexually active younger sister – he stops to chat with Mike the doorman. I now refer to the text:

Justin was tempted to tell him about the entire day, skimming over the more depressing episode with the flaming pig and tragic walk to Beverly’s “apartment,” focusing on his triumphant performance with the Toxic Crayons. But a quick glance at the small clock on the doorman’s desk stopped him. It was later than he thought – ten-thirty; still riding the fumes of David’s pep talk, he was determined to get in that phone call to Sadie before it was too late.

And so Justin bounds upstairs to place the call. Of course, it isn’t quite that easy. After all, the chapter in question is entitled “Of Chocolate Sauce and Mini-Monkeys.” But I’ll leave it to you to read what happens next.
Read an excerpt from The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, and learn more about the author and his work at Dan Elish's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 25, 2008


Michael Allen Dymmoch has served as President and Secretary of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and as newsletter editor for the Chicagoland Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Her books include Death In West Wheeling and White Tiger.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, M.I.A., and reported the following:
Page 69 of M.I.A. reads:

“When he left, we had a clear field. I guess Billy wanted her more. He asked her first.”

“Why do you s’pose my ma never told me any of this?”

“Was she happy with Mickey?”

“Well, ye-ah.”

Steve shrugged. “Then why bring up the past?”

“How come you and my ma didn’t keep in touch?”

“A couple reasons. It was too painful for me to make the effort, for one. And I think Mickey was uncomfortable having me around ’cause he knew how I feel about Rhiann.”


“You never get over your first love, kid. Even if it’s unrequited.”

This page may be a little confusing to those who haven't read pages 1 through 68 and who, therefore, don't know who the speaker is (Jimmy), or the people he's referring to--

Rhianne (Jimmy's mother),

Billy (Jimmy's birth father, Rhiann's first husband),

Mickey (Jimmy's stepfather, Rhiann's second husband), and

Steve (one of Rhiann's suitors in high school).

--but it's fairly representative of the novel.

M.I.A. is a complicated tale of family, of old friends, and of how the failings and mistakes of one generation screw up the next. It's also a love story.
Read an excerpt from M.I.A., and learn more about the author and her work at Michael Allen Dymmoch's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Sally Gunning's latest novel is Bound.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
A reader coming upon page 69 of Bound will discover a fifteen year-old runaway indentured servant named Alice Cole, who has just been taken in by Lyddie Berry, the widow from my previous historical novel, The Widow’s War. On page 69 Alice is re-learning how to spin, and as the spinning and weaving of cloth is one of the main metaphors that, if you’ll excuse the expression, weaves through the novel, I’d have to consider this particular passage well representative of the whole. Threads of different strengths bind Alice to the people and events of her past, present, future, and she must learn which threads should be strengthened and which cut. As she learns she goes backward, forward, backward, forward, making good decisions and bad, mimicking the working of the wheel:

She tested the wheel, rocking it back and forth to take its motion, and began. It took her some time to recapture the rhythm: three steps back and spin the wheel clockwise to twist the fleece into yarn, three steps forward and spin the wheel the other way to wind the yarn off the spindle; three steps back again to wind the yarn onto the bobbin. Backward, forward, backward. Backward, forward, backward. Alice’s fingers needed some time to adapt to the restriction in the palm, her aching shoulder wouldn’t rotate as fast as she’d have liked, and she walked many unneeded steps, but soon enough the roll of fleece began to draw down and the yarn to build up on the bobbin.

Alice’s courage, hopes, and fears, are also represented in this passage. She’s been physically abused by her previous master and must figure out how to work the wheel while protecting a badly burned hand; this she is determined to do in hopes of finding employment in the widow’s home. A gentleman boarder, Eben Freeman, sits nearby, and Alice keeps a careful eye on him, attempting to learn what he might think of her -- whether he might be a danger to her -- the men in Alice’s past have not been kind. Page 69 wraps up with a little eavesdropping on Alice’s part, as the widow and Freeman sit below talking while she climbs the stairs to her borrowed bed, and here again, we find another metaphor for the book as a whole. An indentured servant’s life is lived in total dependence on others; what they think, how they act, determines the quality of the servant’s life. Alice has taken a bold leap and set off to attempt to better her own life, but still she must hover on the stairs and listen, as her safety still depends on the natures of others. Alice’s task is to discover her own strengths, and page 69 foreshadows this as well.
Read an excerpt from Bound, and learn more about the author and her work at Sally Gunning's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"What Burns Within"

Sandra Ruttan is the author of Suspicious Circumstances. She is also an editor with Spinetingler Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Pulp Pusher, Crimespree Magazine and Out of the Gutter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, What Burns Within, and reported the following:
Readers opening to page 69 would probably go to page 68, because there’s a section break half way down where a new scene starts.

Tain coughed. “How can you stand working these fires? This air is toxic.”

“Bit like kissing a smoker.”

“You mean licking an ashtray.”

Ashlyn wrinkled her nose at him. “Spare me the details, Tain.”

“I don’t know how they can stand it.”

“Doubt it bothers the smokers at all.”

He glared at her. “I meant the firefighters.”

“That’s what they have a breathing apparatus for. And that’s why they try to keep civilians back.”

They watched as a firefighter climbed a ladder to the building and tried to take out a window. As the pane gave way, smoke shot out, and then the firefighter disappeared inside the building.

“Give me a good old- fashioned criminal with a gun or a machete any day,” Tain said.

Ashlyn tried to suppress her desire to laugh and failed. Finally she managed to sputter out one word: “Wimp.”

“Call it heightened self- preservation. You have to be wired wrong to want to run into a building that’s engulfed in flames.”

“And it’s perfectly normal to chase wanted criminals down dark alleys, knowing they have a weapon and aren’t afraid to use it?”

He shrugged. “It’s still better odds. So what do you do when you get called to these? Besides provide the entertainment.”

She felt her eyebrow arch as she folded her arms and glared at him. Even under the streaks of soot on his face she could tell his cheeks paled.

“Well, let’s just put it this way, Ashlyn. The boys seem to like having you around.”

She almost smiled as she rolled her eyes. “Jealous?”

“Why? You sleeping with one of them?”

Her retort caught in her throat, and she coughed. “Even if I was, it would be none of your business.” Her gaze fell on a group of men standing by the pumper truck. They quickly averted their eyes when they saw her looking at them.

“There isn’t much I can do while they’re fighting the fire, obviously. They actually have teams that come in after the fire is out and do a complete evaluation, check for accelerants, survey the area for evidence. The insurance companies swarm over the area too, hoping they can find ways to mitigate their liability. I get a stack of reports to go through, look for witnesses, and once it’s confirmed as an arson, I sift through the evidence and hopefully come up with a lead.”

“If the bulk of your work happens after the fact, why do you come to the scene?”

“You really don’t get it, do you?”

“What? You want to distract these upstanding fellows from their work?”

Ashlyn fought the urge to smack him. “No. A high percentage of arsonists are firefighters.”

“I always thought that was a myth.”


“Isn’t it like saying that a high percentage of criminals are police officers?” Tain shrugged. “Okay, we both know that some police officers are crooked. We both know it firsthand. It just seemed like a simplistic way of excusing the fact that there’s a low closure rate for arson cases.”

“That’s because arsonists are exceptionally difficult to profile. I mean, there’s your standard insurance fraud. That’s usually easy enough to prove, or at least certify in your mind, even if you don’t have the evidence for a solid case. Particularly if the person torches the place themselves. They have a better chance of getting away with it if they hire a professional to do the job, but then, if they hire someone, they risk leaving a trail. It’s never foolproof.

“These cases, though, you have to try to figure out what’s motivating this guy, why he chooses these buildings. There might not even be a reason. It could be just as simple as spotting an empty building and having the stuff he needs on hand.”

Page 69 reflects the tone well. The banter between Ashlyn and Tain is woven in with the serious conversations about their investigations. My ex-husband is a firefighter, and off-colour jokes are a common coping mechanism emergency services professionals use when dealing with stressful cases. I wanted to reflect that reality through the characters in this book.

The shots exchanged hint at the history between Ashlyn and Tain, the undercurrent of tension that bubbles and threatens to erupt as they cope with the reality of working together again. They also hint at the fact that Ashlyn and Tain are finding the cases tough, and looking for a way to cope.

When I wrote What Burns Within, one of the things that struck me was how much I like Ashlyn. I’ve always enjoyed writing male protagonists, and both Craig Nolan (the third protagonist in this series) and Tain have given great material to work with because they’re complex and I find them intriguing. My female characters have been more challenging for me to relate to, because I was a tomboy, but Ashlyn is an intriguing mix of tough and vulnerable. She’s intelligent and has great instincts, and she’s also a woman who holds her own in a career field still largely dominated by men. Ashlyn wrestles with her own emotions, almost seeing them as a weakness, and tries to control them. I think it’s hard for women to know how to allow their feminine attributes to work for them in career fields that have been traditionally dominated by men, but when Ashlyn interacts with children in the book she uses her natural strengths to help with the investigation.

This is important, as are the slightly sexist jabs Tain makes, because unhealthy attitudes towards sexuality – in particular towards women – are at the core of the investigations. That’s the canvas the book is written on. Ashlyn’s balancing act serves as a microcosm for the larger issues at the heart of the crimes, although it should be noted that I don’t try to hit the reader over the head with the connections or get on a soap box. The themes are the undercurrent, the backdrop this fast-paced procedural thriller is set against.
Learn more about Sandra Ruttan and What Burns Within at her website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The God of War"

Marisa Silver is the author of Babe in Paradise, a collection of stories that was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and the novel No Direction Home.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The God of War, and reported the following:
It’s a seemingly inconsequential bit of dialogue on page 69: Ares, the book’s twelve-year old protagonist is leaving the trailer he shares with his mother and brother by the shores of the Salton Sea to go out for a bike ride. His mother, Laurel, tells him that whenever he leaves, she waits for him to return. Ares is incredulous.

“You just sit here?”

“No. But everything I do? In my mind, I’m doing it while I’m waiting for you to come home…Come here,” she said, holding her arms out. Malcolm slid off her lap.

She waited for me, but I couldn’t make my body move to her as it had done hundreds of times before. “I’m just going to ride my bike, Mom. Don’t make such a big deal about everything.”

Not the stuff of big drama, to be sure, but, as it turns out this dialogue reaches right into the heart of the book. Ares is on the cusp of adolescence and is trying desperately to break free of the feelings of dependency and need he has for his mother. In addition, his younger brother Malcolm is mentally impaired, and, as Laurel, a free spirit with a bias against societal norms, has chosen to deny the implications of Malcolm’s condition, it falls to Ares to care for and protect his brother in the larger world. So Ares wants not only to separate from his mother, but also to shed the responsibility for his brother. Those twin desires fill Ares with a guilt that he can only escape by immersing himself in a world of violence and sex that he discovers through the son of a teacher at his school. The result of the battle Ares wages for his own identity has a lethal outcome, the repercussions of which shape his adult life and the life of his family.

At the end of the page, Laurel tells Ares to take Malcolm with him on his bike ride. Ares explodes.

“Jesus! Can’t I ever do anything by myself?”

“Excuse me?”

“I just want to go for a ride.”

“And I just want someone to give me a million dollars. But that’s not going to happen. At least not tonight.” She smiled at me, and I knew I had lost.

The “war” of the book’s title is waged on this page as well as nearly every page of the book. It is a battle that Ares will win and lose at the same time.
Read an excerpt from The God of War, and learn more about the author and her work at Marisa Silver's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 18, 2008

"The White Tiger"

Aravind Adiga was born in India and raised partly in Australia. He attended Columbia and Oxford universities. A former correspondent for Time magazine, he has also been published in the Financial Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The White Tiger, and reported the following:
" India--or at least, in the Darkness--the rich don't have drivers, cooks, barbers and tailors. They simply have servants."

There are two issues at stake in The White Tiger. The first is the relationship between masters and servants, which is the very heart of India's social structure. It is an extraordinary machine, this social structure: every morning millions of men and women get up at dawn, pack themselves into crowded and dirty buses, and travel for hours to get to the houses of their employers, where they cook, clean, mop and do much more--for a pittance, often for no more than $60 a month. Their masters, who have benefitted from India's outsourcing boom and growing economy, now live lavish lives, enjoying luxuries that the servants can't dream of. Why is it, that despite this phenomenal contrast, India is still such a safe country, with so little crime? What, in other words, prevents the servants from stealing from, and killing, their masters? Every page of this book reflects on the complex tangle of social, erotic, religious, and political bonds that tie master and servant together in India--and the violence that can be unleashed when this bond unravels.

The other issue is how we capture the voice of the servants--the people at the bottom of India's social order, who so rarely get to speak, in their authentic voices, in literature. The book attempts to capture the voice of one of the servants--without any false sentimentality or condescension. Do servants feel pity for one another's fate? Sure they do, sometimes--but equally true is that they are often insanely jealous of one another. Here is the narrator, a driver, observing another driver, a competitor within his master's household:

"There was one thing I was not allowed to do, and that was to touch the Honda City: Ram Persad alone had the right to drive it and clean it. In the evenings I'd watch him wash the sleek exterior of the car with a soft cloth. And I'd burn with envy."
Read an excerpt from The White Tiger, 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

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"The Book of Dahlia"

Elisa Albert is the author of the novel, The Book of Dahlia, and the short story collection, How This Night is Different.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Book of Dahlia and reported the following:
Dahlia Finger is a classic fuck up. She’s a really easy girl to judge, disapprove of, and dislike. She doesn’t root for herself, so why would you root for her? Dahlia is 29 years old and has yet to become the person she should be: happy, self-sufficient, evolved, content, productive, fulfilled, for starters.

So life sucks, and she sucks, and everything sucks. And insult to injury: she’s just been struck by the lightening bolt of a terminal illness diagnosis. A quarter-life crisis on crack, if you will. Dramatic stuff, to be sure.

So what if she’s going to die? She could get hit by a bus tomorrow and die. She could outlive anyone, everyone. The old, old man on that bench at the mall is totally going to bite it before Dahlia does, and look at him there, licking his rapidly melting ice cream cone with such revelry.

One was much more typically ‘upset’ when it was happening to somebody else. ...How do you ever approach anybody else’s travesty? Your own, though: with your own you could have some fun.

So, what does this kind of crazy-dramatic turn mean for someone who, to begin with, is really fucked up? Does imminent death confer instant nobility and a regal bearing? Might being covered in a cosmic pile of poo make Dahlia a better person? Or will she remain the disconnected, apathetic, destroyed girl she was in the first place? How do we continue to be quintessentially ourselves even as life hands us those proverbial lemons? What are our options, beyond making the proverbial lemonade? What if we don’t have a juicer or cup?

It’s decidedly bizarre, when the Worst Thing happens and you find yourself still conscious, still breathing. She was still blinking, still swallowing, still scratching the itch on her neck, still reminding herself to sit up straighter, still wondering what was for lunch, still coveting the pretty earrings on the girl who had made her latte weeks earlier. Oh, but she was going to die. Still, what was for lunch?

Page 69, conveniently enough, seems to me a great representative sample of The Book of Dahlia. By page 69 Dahlia has begun to try to wrap her mind around her new reality, and has begun to deal - or, more to the point, not deal - with it.
Read an excerpt from The Book of Dahlia, and learn more about the author and her work at Elisa Albert's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"The Conversion"

Joseph Olshan is an award-winning American writer. His first novel, Clara's Heart, won the Times/Jonathan Cape Young Writers' Competition and went on to be made into a feature film starring Whoopi Goldberg. His other novels include Nightswimmer and Vanitas, as well as The Waterline, A Warmer Season, The Sound of Heaven and In Clara's Hands, a sequel to Clara's Heart.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Conversion, and reported the following:
P. 69 of The Conversion describes my narrator's being related to the famous Jewish/Italian author, Giorgio Bassani, the author of the celebrated novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (which was made into the famous film starring Dominique Sanda) about a privileged, wealthy Jewish family living in the town of Ferrara, Italy during WW II and who eventually are deported to the concentration camps. This reference is made because my narrator is at present staying in a villa owned by famous Italian novelist, the daughter of anti-fascists who allowed a Jewish family to hide in a subterranean maze of rooms until the Nazis, who were occupying the upper floors of the same building, began to suspect their presence. The Jewish family then moved to another hiding place in a convent and promptly converted to Catholicism to further evade the Nazis. This "conversion" is one of the many conversions described in my novel. It is also the subject and title of a novel by the famous Italian writer who has invited the narrator to come and live at her villa in the wake of his lover’s untimely death.
Read an excerpt from The Conversion, and learn more about the author and his work at Joseph Olshan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Painter from Shanghai"

Jennifer Cody Epstein has written for Self, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune. She has published short fiction in several journals and was a finalist in a Glimmer Train fiction contest.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Painter from Shanghai, and reported the following:
In the following months, Yuliang seeks safety in small tasks, little rituals. She forges armor out of routine. At the Hall, the “leaves” sleep at two or three and are roused promptly at seven. They take turns perching on the chamber pot’s chipped rim, behind the screen that screens nothing but their bodies. They wash up with water from a pitcher on the bureau, rub and re-bind their sore feet. They put on their “chore” clothes. Yuliang saves the cheongsam Wu gave her for the dirtiest work floor-scrubbing, or collecting chamber pots for the night-soil man. She thrills at each rip and slop, revels in the spreading stains. As the skirt unravels, she pictures it as her uncle’s frayed spirit, disintegrating.

After eating, the girls sweep the courtyard. Yuliang attacks bottle shards and crumpled call-cards. As winter approaches, gentle lines of snow fill in the space between stones, creating an illusion of checkered smoothness. Yuliang sweeps the snow out, along with the used matches that look like twisted and burnt little bones. Though she’s not supposed to, she sweeps these and other trash into the gutter. She defiantly hopes it will cause a small flood when spring comes.

The afternoons are devoted to more formal training, which Yuliang and Suyin receive in the spare pantry. They’re taught things like music, deportment. “Love.” The music teacher has a face that droops like warming wax....


Page 69 in The Painter from Shanghai gives us one of our first glimpses of the Hall of Eternal Splendor, the brothel into which fourteen-year-old Pan Yuliang has just been sold by her uncle. Though she doesn’t know it yet, it’s a world destined to indelibly shape Yuliang’s self, sexuality and her complex relationship with the vast and ancient land of her birth. It’s therefore key in her transformation into the extraordinary Western-style artist she’ll become — one who will defy traditional Confucian strictures to create the lush, Cezannesque self-portraits — many of them nude — for which she’ll gain both acclaim and notoriety. Over the next four years she will experience degradations that at this point she could never imagine — but also unexpected moments of comfort and solace in the form of Jingling, an elegant, older courtesan who will take Yuliang under her wing. She will meet the man who will ultimately rescue her from the Hall, making her his concubine in the roaring Shanghai of the late ‘teens, and later sending her to study amid the Bohemian splendor of Paris before her return to a nation torn by civil war. Ultimately, he will be part of the most wrenching choice of Pan Yuliang’s life — between love, and her great love of art.
Learn more about the novel and author at Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Sleeping With Ward Cleaver"

Jenny Gardiner's work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and on NPR’s Day to Day.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, and reported the following:
I was pleasantly surprised to realize that page 69 draws attention to some of the conflict in my protagonist Claire Doolittle's life. She's a woman approaching mid-life who married a man she'd once considered "Mr. Right," but who now more closely resembles Mr. Always Right. She's plunged into the fog of motherhood, overwhelmed with her life, and her chosen life partner is more of an adversary than partner, more inclined to chastise her for her shortcomings than praise her for her successes.

As she begins to question whether her life even remotely meets her expectations, her former fiance, Todd Sterodnik, begins an email correspondence with her in the hopes of wooing her back with promises of what would have been. On page 69, Claire is pondering an early email exchange with him, wondering about how life would have turned out with Todd, who'd unexpected left her and abruptly married another woman (who then rebounded with a Promise-Keeper after he dumped her as well).

Not only is Claire conflicted about her once-perfect yet now crumbling marriage, but she's also struggling to keep her head above water as mother to five children while holding down a part-time job. For a woman whose organizational skills were limited to matching her bra and panties each morning prior to becoming a mother, life is way out of control. Now, it seems a day doesn’t pass without at least one child forgetting their lunch box. Life is all about have-to's and drudgery, and the Claire-she-used-to-be has disappeared in the mundane mix. The good news is Claire has a wickedly funny sense of humor that carries her through the strife in her world and helps her to re-examine what is most important to her.

From page 69:

I look at my watch. I’m already ten minutes late leaving the house and I have that lunch box stop to make. I want to reply while it’s fresh in my head and no one’s here to bother me, but I have to run.

As I back the car out of the driveway, I ponder that odd question. Do I miss him? Do I miss him? God, no. Not really. Do I miss the promise of what we once had? Sure. How could I not? The road not taken is a tempting one to peer down. You never see the potholes or detours on that road. It’s just a clear, straight, smooth stretch of pavement that goes endlessly into the sunshine-flooded horizon.

If I’d have ended up as Mrs. Todd Sterodnik, would I now be alone with a passel of kids, fighting Todd for child support payments? Or worse, yet, would I be homeschooling those kids on some ranch in Wyoming, re-married to a Promise Keeper named Jedediah or Ezekial?

Or would I have used my feminine wiles to keep Todd from ever wanting to leave me, trapping him in a web of sexual nirvana from which he could not escape? Well, hardly likely, considering I haven’t even done that with my actual husband, let alone my “what-if” one.

After dropping Lindsay’s lunchbox off, I head to the office. I stop at a traffic light and the elderly man sitting at the bus stop nearby leers and winks at me, catching me off-guard.

Christ, there was a time in my life when I turned heads. When men--boys, even--would actually walk by and gawk at me. Then, all of a sudden, one day, I realized I was virtually invisible to the other sex.

No longer do men gaze longingly at me. Instead, I’m left with decrepit old men at bus stops being the last of my dying fan club. Maybe I should wink at him and sensuously run my tongue along my upper lip, appreciative that at least someone is looking at me.

Clearly I’ve sunk to a new low.

I smile courteously and move on when the light turns green. After contending with the remaining dregs of rush-hour traffic, I pull into my parking spot, race to the elevator, and arrive at work precisely twenty-two minutes late. Shit.
Read an excerpt from Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, and learn more about the author and her work at Jenny Gardiner's website and The Debutante Ball group blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Jay Bonansinga is the author of several acclaimed suspense novels, as well as a number of original screenplays currently in development in Hollywood.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Shattered, and reported the following:
Shattered is my latest novel featuring my durable, continuing character, FBI profiler Ulysses Grove. I have to confess, after cooking up four Grove books, the man has spontaneously broken the bonds of my meager imagination and taken on a will of his own. I always look forward to see what the hell he’s going to do or say. In Shattered, Grove encounters a psychopath with a very unique, very disturbing agenda – an agenda that ultimately targets Grove’s own family.

Now for page 69: In this fascinating, albeit arbitrary, exercise -- analyzing a single page in order to draw tip-of-the-iceberg extrapolations -- I was pleasantly surprised to find something interesting afoot. The killer is in the process of entering a maximum-security prison in order to set in motion a diabolical series of events. (A quick aside: Years ago, I had an editor who said, “Jay, I really need something ‘major’ to be happening by page 100.” I must have learned the lesson well.) By the time the reader reaches page 69 in Shattered, they should be locked into this weird, evil Rube-Goldberg plot. Or at least that’s the hope. Plus, my prime directive of triangulating sensory description – as inculcated upon me by one of our masters, David Morrell – is fully in effect: “…a moldy-smelling foyer painted baby-vomit green…” Not bad for a suburban brat from Peoria who learned to write by reading EC comics.
Read an excerpt from Shattered, and learn more about the author and his work at Jay Bonansinga's website.

Watch the video for Shattered.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Last Last Chance"

Fiona Maazel is a writer and freelance editor. Her work has appeared in Bomb, The Boston Book Review, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Mississippi Review, Pierogi Press,, Tin House, The Village Voice, and The Yale Review.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Last Last Chance, her first novel, and reported the following:
Should I be wondering why 69 is the page watershed? I guess Marshall McLuhan, whom, I gather, came up with the idea, had some thoughts about reciprocity — like by page 69, a novel should have established between itself and reader an aesthetic and emotional rapport that is, as they say in the brothels, mutually loving. At the very least, mutually dismantling. My page 69? The narrator is at a twelve-step meeting, whose organizing ethos she does not quite trust:

There is talk of practicing these principles in all our affairs. There is talk of needing each other to stay clean. People around here tend to deploy the same phrases, which seems fascist after a while. Fascist in the way an orthodoxy will ply the language with bromides the rest of us are expected to use in lieu of original thought. Probably it’s not as evil as all that, but I do wonder at the numbing effect of using a prefab expression instead of coming up with your own.

I feel mildly embarrassed to be writing about my own characters, but then I suppose this, too, is part of the dismantling experience, always to be disclosing, undressing, and sharing of the stuff that makes us humane and ridiculous. Despite her reservations and frequent retreats into protest, this narrator (Lucy) is trying to recover from some fairly insurmountable problems. She’s a drug addict, her mom’s a drug addict, her dad’s a suicide and her adolescent sister is, well, disturbed. Also, there’s an immortal strain of plague savaging the country, which has given people good cause to think everyone might die real soon. And Lucy, she’s just trying to get better in this mess. And so are her peers:

From the back comes Allan, who runs a chop shop. Since I’ve known him, he’s had nine kids, then seven, then four, and now it’s down to one. Not that they died, but that his lying tends to improve in degrees. Today his son has stage-four colon cancer, which means he probably had a biopsy that hasn’t come back from the lab. Allan is saying that Let go, Let God is the best thing he’s ever been taught. Let God take my will.

So I guess page 69 is all about people offering up their stories and trying to use story as a means to recover. Somewhat pretentiously, I think that’s in large measure what Last Last Chance is about: the sharing of experiences and narrative that maybe helps people to hang in there.
Learn more about Last Last Chance and its author at Fiona Maazel's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Girls in Trucks"

Katie Crouch's debut novel, Girls in Trucks, is "a little bit autobiographical, but not too much."

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
On page 69 of Girls in Trucks, Sarah Walters, the protagonist, is cutting out of a debutante tea to go drink beer with her best friend and a couple of farmer boys. She's fifteen years old and "the South's last virgin," although this issue is about to be resolved after a long ride to the beach.

"Charlotte sings to the R.E.M. song on the radio and the wind is warm and is there any happier place than in a carful of kids driving toward the water with the windows open? Nope Camellias. I think not."

I love that this scene fell on page 69, because as a teenager, I thought there was nowhere sexier to be than the back seat of a car filled with people. We spent a lot of time during my high school years driving to parties out in the country, and I remember how my whole body would sing when I was able to wedge myself into a car next to a boy I liked.

Now, of course, my desire triggers have changed. If you squeeze me into a crowded car today, I get antsy. It's not all about your knee touching mine anymore; I need you to turn on my brain.

Sarah Walters' perspective, of course, also changes throughout the book, although not in the same specific ways I have. She becomes hardened throughout the novel as she grows older and moves in and out of different relationships. In this scene, though, she's still green and full of hope, and she's in love with the simplicity of moment she's having. It's a very joyful scene. Totally page-69 worthy.
Read an excerpt from Girls in Trucks, and learn more about the author and her work at Katie Crouch's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 4, 2008

"Easy Innocence"

Libby Fischer Hellmann has edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthology, Chicago Blues, and published over a dozen short stories. Her four novels featuring Chicago video producer and amateur sleuth Ellie Foreman have won numerous awards.

Her fifth novel, Easy Innocence, featuring newly-minted PI Georgia Davis, is a spin-off from the Ellie Foreman series. It grew out of Hellmann's experience with her own daughter, and what she imagined as "every mother's nightmare."

She applied the Page 69 Test to Easy Innocence and reported the following:
From Page 69:

“So what else did this – Davis woman ask?” Lauren said.

Claire picked at her jacket, although there was no lint in sight. “She wanted to know who took Sara away.”

“What did you tell her?”

“The truth.” When Lauren winced, she added, “I had to. The cops already know anyway.”

“Of course. You’re right. What else?”

Claire shrugged.

Heather gave a theatrical sigh. “Claire, I’m sure you can be more specific. Think.”

“Well...” Claire looked from Heather to Lauren, drawing out the moment. “I told her about Sara sticking her nose into everyone’s business.”

Heather rolled her eyes.

“You know, all the stuff we talked about. Like how Sara had to know what everyone was doing.”

Lauren didn’t reply.

“What’s wrong?” Claire asked, her tone defensive. “The police know that too.”

“Did you tell her about the blindfold?” Heather asked.

Claire nodded. “And the bucket. How grody it was, and how bad it smelled.”

“What else?” Lauren asked.

“I said the Seniors may have wanted to teach her a lesson, but nobody wanted her to get hurt. I told her the crazy guy definitely did it.” She looked back at Lauren as if for approval.

“Did she ask who the Seniors were?” Lauren asked.

Claire nodded.

“What names did you give her?”

“Annie Chernow, Judy Bobalik, Monica Ramsey…” Claire recited.

“You told her Monica Ramsey was there?”

Easy Innocence was a departure for me in many ways. It introduces a new protagonist, Georgia Davis, formerly a cop and now a PI. It’s a darker, more disturbing book than I’ve written previously. It focuses on high school girls and the lengths they go to in order to be accepted by their peers.

There are several twists in the story, which are revealed much like the layers of an onion, but this passage actually delves into the heart of the plot. It’s a hurried conversation between Lauren Walcher, one of the major characters in the book, and her friends during a break from classes. Lauren is trying to prise out what Georgia may have learned about Sara Long, her friend who was murdered during a hazing incident a few days earlier.

Lauren is worried – and she ought to be – because she and Sara have been hiding a whopper of a secret. Still, despite her fear, she and Heather can’t quite suppress the arrogance and certainty that so many girls from affluent families display. In fact, their sense of entitlement – of expecting the world will conform to their seventeen-year-old dreams and goals – is part of what drives the plot and eventually proves their undoing.
Read an excerpt from Easy Innocence, and learn more about the author and her work at Libby Fischer Hellmann's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Modern China: A Very Short Introduction"

Rana Mitter is University Lecturer in the History and Politics of Modern China and Fellow of St Cross College, University of Oxford.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Modern China: A Very Short Introduction, and reported the following:
Text from p. 69:

By June 1989, the numbers in the Square had dwindled only to thousands, but they showed no signs of moving. On the night of 3-4 June, the party acted, sending in tanks and armoured personnel carriers. The death toll has never been officially confirmed, but it seems likely to have been in the high hundreds of even more. Hundreds of people associated with the movement were arrested, imprisoned, or forced to flee to the west. It seemed to many that the hardliners had won, and that the chance for “science and democracy” had ended.

China since 1989

In retrospect, now that Tian’anmen Square is two decades in the past, the surprising thing is what did not happen. China did not, as many feared, plunge into civil war; it did not reverse the economic reforms; it did not close itself off to the outside world. For some three years, politics did indeed go into a deep freeze. The liberal trends that had fuelled the protests of the late 1980s were now regarded as “evil winds of bourgeois liberalism.” But in 1992, Deng, the man who had sent in the tanks, was now 88 years old. He must have known that his legacy was theatening to be similar to that of Gorbachev, a reformer perceived, at least in Chinese eyes, to have failed. That year, he undertook what was ironically called his “southern tour,” the Chinese term nanxun referring to the emperor visiting his furthest domains. By visiting Shenzhen, the boomtown on the border with Hong Kong (and appearing to local news reporters riding a golf buggy in a theme park), Deng indicated that the economic policies of reform were not going to be abandoned. He had made other important choices. Jiang Zemin, the mayor of Shanghai, had effectively dissolved demonstrations in Shanghai in a way that the authorities in Beijing had not. He was groomed as Deng’s successor, having been appointed general secretary of the Party in 1989.

This page describes a key moment in the development of modern China: important, as I argue, for what did not happen. The pages before this one describe the tragic events at Tian’anmen Square in 1989, which will be well-known to many readers. But what will be less well-known is the sequence of events that come in the 67 or so pages before that. How did China get to 1989, and what has happened since then? Did you know that the demonstrators of 1989 modelled themselves on an earlier generation of protesters who also gathered in central Beijing exactly seventy years earlier, on 4 May 1919? Do you know how the Japanese terror bombing of China’s cities during World War II helped to destroy faith in the government of the time and pave the way for Chairman Mao? If you continue beyond page 69, you’ll also find ways of understanding the astounding progress of China in the last two decades. Why didn’t the country fall apart after 1989, and how has the Communist party not just kept its grip but helped to create an image of China as the next global superpower? I also try and pose questions: is China a free country? Why is it crucial to the global economy? Will Chinese growth destroy the environment before China gets rich? How important is the legacy of Confucian thought, and why is it coming back to China today? What does the development of Taiwan tell us about what might happen on the mainland?

The book tries to paint a picture of a China that is both Chinese and modern – ideas that some think are contradictory, but have in fact been interwoven for more than a century. I thought it was very important to place contemporary developments in historical context: there are aspects of China in the early 21st century that are shaped by developments as far back as the Song dynasty of the 10th century or, more recently, the modernization of the 1930s that was cut short by war with Japan. It’s also a book about people – not just the famous figures such as Mao, but also the ordinary men and women who make up the powerhouse that we think of as “modern China.”
Read more about Modern China: A Very Short Introduction at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn more about Rana Mitter's research and publications at his Oxford webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue