Monday, June 30, 2008

"A Poisoned Mind"

Natasha Cooper is author of nine Trish Maguire crime novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest title in the series, A Poisoned Mind, and reported the following:
Page 69:

Trish got slowly to her feet, testing her reactions. She'd expected to be nervous and was glad to notice nothing out of the ordinary. You needed some apprehension to get the adrenaline flowing and keep your mind sharp.

She stepped out beside Robert, feeling her ribs expand with every breath she took. He knew better than to talk or offer advice just before a court appearance, and she was grateful for that.

Angie waited by the security guards as Greg fed their bags of documents through the scanner. They rattled towards her over the narrow metal rollers and she hauled them off one by one. Her black suit felt odd: tight around the stomach and yet much less heavy than her usual clothes. She felt exposed, too, with her legs out of trousers for the first time in years... There were no embarrassing bleeps or hold-ups. He was waved through and they made their way to Court 14.

The building was intimidatingly churchy, with high gothic arches in the main hall and a floor of inlaid coloured marble. But the court itself was a plain room, not nearly as large as the exterior suggested, with a slightly shabby red carpet, cream-painted walls and mid-brown wooden furniture. In a way it was a bit like a meeting room for hire in a not-very-expensive hotel...

This scene is set in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, at the start of the case that lies at the heart of my novel A Poisoned Mind.

My continuing character, Trish Maguire, is now a senior barrister in London. Angie is a farmer, whose land has been polluted - perhaps for generations to come - by a terrible explosion in some chemical waste tanks belonging to a multinational company. Her husband was killed in the explosion, and she is burning still with such anger that she has to get justice for her dead husband.

Trish has always liked fighting to protect the vulnerable and so she wishes she were acting for Angie. But she's not. She's for the multinational company. And Angie is fighting for herself as a litigant-in-person, dependent for moral support on Greg, an earnest member of a small pressure group campaigning against the destruction of the environment.

Naturally nothing is as it seems.

So page 69 is representative of one major part of the novel, but there is also the story of Jay, a friend of Trish's teenage half-brother, David. Jay comes from a troubled background, with an alcoholic mother and a violent elder brother, and he has form. Trish knows he is almost as dangerous as the explosive chemical waste, ready to blow up the instant someone threatens him, but she cares too much to abandon him to his hellish family and so she lives on tenterhooks, waiting for the disaster she fears....
Read an excerpt from A Poisoned Mind, and learn more about the author and her work at Natasha Cooper's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"A Patent Lie"

Paul Goldstein is the Lillick Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on intellectual property law. He is regularly included in The Best Lawyers in America and testifies before congressional committees and international government meetings on intellectual property issues.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Patent Lie, and reported the following:
Page 69 (below right, click to enlarge) is certainly representative of A Patent Lie in that it tells the reader something of what the book is about--a contested patent on a lifesaving AIDS therapy--and offers a sample of the novel's style, but it only hints at what the Washington Post book reviewer identified as "among the novel's pleasures"--"insights into lawyers and the games they play." (When McKee tells Seeley that if he had pushed back against the inventor, the client would have fired him, Seeley says, "You've got it backward, Boyd. You should have fired them. If you can't stand up to a client, you might as well turn in your bar card.") I should add that Seeley, the book's hero, is not without his own self-destructive tendencies--Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, wrote, "Scott Turow fans will welcome this complex protagonist."

Of course, a single page can't convey the larger action or pace of the book. According to a Booklist review, the novel "effectively combines suspense with rich characterization," and Publishers Weekly adds that this "outstanding sequel" to my earlier novel, Errors and Omissions, "masterfully portrays the intricate courtroom maneuvering and the ethical dilemmas of trial attorneys."

Make no mistake, though, the book is not just about lawyers like Seeley and McKee, but about, love and lies, family and faith, and the battle for control of a watershed drug that could, in the right hands, save the lives of millions.
Read an excerpt from A Patent Lie, and learn more about the book and author from the publisher and at Paul Goldstein's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 27, 2008

"The Score"

Faye Flam has been covering science for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1995. In June 2005, she started writing “Carnal Knowledge,” a weekly column about the science of sex. She has also written for New Scientist, Science, and The Economist. A graduate of California Institute of Technology, Flam was recently a Knight-Wallace journalism fellow at the University of Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Score: How The Quest For Sex Has Shaped The Modern Man, and reported the following:
I’m hoping the choice of 69 as a special page number reflects a lack of prudishness on the part of this blog’s readers, because my book, while not in any way pornographic, does contain “penis,” “vagina,” and “anal sex” all on page 69. I swear this is not something I planned. This page reflects one of the more important themes running through the book, and that’s the subversive nature of Darwinian evolution and the way sexual freedom and evolution link together in our current culture war.

The page in question falls near the beginning of my chapter on the penis – something one can’t really skip in a book that promises a natural history of the male sex. Man’s favorite organ beautifully exemplifies the concept of convergent evolution. Biologists who’ve studied penises say they evolved independently in perhaps four or five different animal lineages, just as wings emerged separately in birds, insects and bats. And evolution came up with a dazzling number of engineering feats to erect them, detailed earlier in the chapter.

My page 69 starts midway through my thoughts on why the penis led Leonardo da Vinci to one of his few notable errors. He drew the penis with two urethras – perhaps unable to fathom how God could design the thing with one tube for waste disposal and creation of new life. But most of page 69 is devoted to James Holsinger, a Kentucky physician who had been George Bush’s choice for surgeon general.

Almost immediately after his nomination, a quasi-scientific paper surfaced that Dr. Holsinger had written in 1991 for the United Methodist Church. Called “The psychopathology of male homosexuality,” its main point seemed to be that gay men shouldn’t have anal sex (he waffled about its advisability for straights).

In the paper, Holsinger justified his case with the following, “anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis.” Designed? By doing away with the need for a designer, evolution collapses the house of cards on which this type of moralistic thinking rests. In light of evolution, it’s harder to argue that you shouldn’t do this or that with your penis because God only intended it for procreation and urination. Darwinian thinking doesn’t necessarily give the owners of penises complete moral freedom to use them any which way, but it forces us to think more in terms of consent and avoidance of harm, rather than the dictates of those who think they know the mind of God.
Read an excerpt from The Score, and learn more about the book and author at Faye Flam's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Ancient Highway"

Bret Lott's books include the novels A Song I Knew by Heart, Jewel (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), The Hunt Club, Reed’s Beach, A Stranger’s House, and The Man Who Owned Vermont; and the story collections A Dream of Old Leaves, How to Get Home, and The Difference Between Women and Men; the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers; and the writing guide Before We Get Started.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Ancient Highway, and reported the following:
The novel Ancient Highway is the story of three generations of a family growing up and living and working at the outer fringes of the film industry in Hollywood, and is based on the lives of my grandfather, my mother, and my older brother. Because I am one for letting the story speak for itself, I’m going to cop out and simply give a chunk from the page. The scene takes place in 1947 in the family’s tiny apartment off Sunset, and is from ten-year-old Joan’s point of view. Her mother, Saralee, who suffers from what seem to be headaches, has come home early from work and is in bed; her father, bit actor Earl, who works as a busboy, should already have come home by now.

Her momma let one eye open, and Joan could see the work of it just to do that little: the wrinkles went even tighter, her momma took in a breath, the sharp grin on her face for how hard she squinted even sharper for a second, and her eye opened, finally.

Her momma looked first at the ceiling, then found Joan there beside her. She tried at a smile, Joan could see, but there was nothing to it for that squinting.

“Honey,” she whispered, “I didn’t mean—”

And the door to the apartment banged open in the other room, and Daddy shouted, “O daughter of mine, don’t panic! I’ve got a sack of hamburgers and some fries, so nobody panic for me being late! And Walter Brennan came in today! He told me they’re going to release The River is Red now that Howard Hughes has quit his bellyachin’, but it’s going to be called Red River for some reason I—”

He said all this before he’d even made it to the bedroom door, and now here he stood, his words just as suddenly gone, him in a blue and white striped shirt—a shirt Joan had never seen before—and gray slacks. He had a brown paper bag in one hand, the bottom of it wet through for the grease off the fries, the other hand on his hip, rolled up in that hand a magazine.

“Saralee,” he said, “you’re home a tad early,” and shook his head, turned from the door.

Sorry not to have more inside scoop for you, but I’d rather the words do their own work of establishing some of the conflict between the narcissistic father and his wife and daughter.
Read more about Ancient Highway and Bret Lott's other work at his Random House webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Award-winning journalist Andrew D. Blechman has been a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the Des Moines Register. His work has also appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, the New York Times, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. His first book, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird, was widely praised in the media and featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Leisureville—Adventures in America’s Retirement Utopias, and reported the following:
Leisureville is about the rising popularity of age-segregated housing, where one member of the household must be at least 55 or older and no children under 18 are allowed to live as residents, ever.

It’s a stealth phenomenon given that 12 million Americans are expected to live in age-segregated communities in the next decade or so, and that’s a very conservative estimate. I suspect age-segregation will be the default retirement choice for anyone choosing not to age in place in a so-called “traditional age-integrated community” (i.e. the rest of the planet).

In Leisureville, I profile the world’s largest age-segregated retirement community. It’s called The Villages and is located in Florida. It’s nearly twice the size of Manhattan, gated, and will soon be home to 110,000 people. Children are allowed to visit, but their guest passes time out much like international visas. Those who overstay their limited welcome are basically reduced to the status of human contraband.

Page 69 is an apt choice because it located right in the middle of the chapter on the history of age-segregation and how it passed Congress as a little known amendment to the Fair Housing Act. Suffice it to say that the senior and developers’ lobbies were a lot stronger than the young family lobby.

It’s understandable as to why today’s seniors might choose to live in such a community, however it’s important to point out that these communities are actually designed for middle-aged “active adults” who enjoy a childfree environment in which to recreate — The Villages has three dozen golf courses, countless pools and recreation centers, let alone two make-believe downtowns with faux historical markers designed by entertainment specialists as well as golden oldies pumped out of street lamps and fake rocks.

But my real concern here is segregation; it causes people to forget what they have in common. Case in point: the residents of Sun City in Arizona (50 years old and one of the very first age-segregated settlements in human history) defeated 17 school bond measures in 12 years. That’s a pretty clear message. Years later, the generational strife has turned inward: older retirees are fighting bitterly with younger retirees over the possibility of reinvesting in Sun City before it falls apart and turns into a necropolis.

The question we should really be asking ourselves is this: do we as a nation want to promote the proliferation of communities where birth certificates are scrutinized at points of entry? As Sun City—and Biosphere 2 for that matter—point out, nobody can live in a bubble. A complex society demands cooperation.
Read an excerpt from Leisureville, and learn more about book and author at Andrew D. Blechman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 23, 2008

"In the Woods"

Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her 2008 Edgar Award-winning novel, In the Woods, and reported the following:
I like this test a lot. At first I thought, ‘Dammit, that’s not a good page, I should’ve had the foresight to make sure that page 69 had good bits’ – but actually, now that I come to look at it, almost all the important elements of the book are in there.

In the Woods is somewhere between a psychological mystery and a police procedural, maybe a little of both. Twenty years ago, three children ran into a wood. Only one came out, and he had no memory of what had happened to the other two. Now Rob Ryan, the child who came back, is a detective on Dublin’s Murder squad, and the murder of another child draws him back to that wood and to his past.

One of the two most valuable things in Rob Ryan’s life is his job; the other is his deep, intense, platonic friendship with his partner, Cassie Maddox. Both of those show up on page 69. Rob and Cassie are giving their superintendent a first run-down on the new murder case, so the job is in there:

“Make it fast,” he said. “I’ve to be somewhere at eight.” His wife had left him the year before; since then the grapevine had picked up a series of awkward attempts at relationships, including one spectacularly unsuccessful blind date where the woman turned out to be an ex-hooker he had arrested regularly in his Vice days.

“Katharine Devlin, aged twelve,” I said.

“The ID’s definite, so?”

“Ninety-nine percent,” I said. “We’ll have one of the parents view the body when the morgue’s patched her up, but Katy Devlin was an identical twin, and the surviving twin looks exactly like our victim.”

“Leads, suspects?” he snapped. He had a sort of nice tie on, ready for his date, and he was wearing too much cologne; I couldn’t place it, but it smelled expensive. “I’m going to have to give a press conference tomorrow. Tell me you’ve got something.”

And so’s the friendship:

“First, there’s the family,” said Cassie. “You know the stats, sir: most murdered kids are killed by their parents.”

“And there’s something odd about that family, sir,” I said. This was my line; we had to get the point across, in case we ever needed a little leeway in investigating the Devlins, but if Cassie had said it O’Kelly would have gone off into a long snide boring routine about women’s intuition. We were good at O’Kelly by this time. Our counterpoint has been polished to the seamlessness of a Beach Boys harmony—we can sense exactly when to swap the roles of front man and backup, good cop and bad cop, when my cool detachment needs to strike a balancing note of gravitas against Cassie’s bright ease—and it is for use even against our own. “I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something up in that house.”

The only crucial element that doesn’t show up on this page is the old mystery of the two missing children, and how deeply it’s affected Ryan. He’s lived most of his life with the knowledge that the solution to this mystery is locked somewhere inside his mind, but he can’t grab hold of it. That knowledge – the knowledge that his mind isn’t a safe place, it’s treacherous and tricky and dangerous – has defined who he is; it’s left dark cracks straight across him, left him too damaged to be honest with himself, with the other characters, or with his readers. As he digs deeper into the modern murder case, old memories start to surface, and his mind begins to disintegrate under the pressure. By the end of the book, both of those crucial things that show up on page 69 – his job and his best friendship – are in danger.

This Page 69 thing is catching. I’m going to start doing it in bookshops.
Read a brief excerpt from In the Woods, and learn more about the novel and author at Tana French's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Christina Meldrum received her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies and political science from the University of Michigan. After working in grassroots development in Africa, she earned her law degree from Harvard Law School. She has worked for the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland, and as a litigator at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Madapple, her first novel, and reported the following:
“You’re the monsters,” I want to say. “You’re the freaks.” But even I don’t believe this.

This is a quote from page 69 of my novel, Madapple, which was released in May by Alfred A. Knopf. A crossover book intended for older teens and adults, Madapple is part literary mystery, part psychological thriller, part puzzle. Told alternately in terse trial transcripts and in the more atmospheric voice of sixteen-year old Aslaug, who is on trial for murder, Madapple seeks to draw the reader into a world where little is as it seems.

My hope for Madapple is that readers themselves will begin to question what is real: Who exactly are the monsters in the story? Who are the freaks? Is Aslaug herself a monster? At times it seems she may be. Her story is a fantastic one, difficult to believe. Her version of reality may well challenge the reader’s own expectations about what is possible. Divine intervention? Virgin births? Still, the facts at times seem to support Aslaug’s unlikely story.

Hence, the reader of Madapple becomes the jury, in a sense: the arbiter of what is possible and impossible, normal and abnormal; the arbiter of who is the monster, who is the freak. Hopefully, when the reader turns the last page—when he or she knows whether Aslaug is innocent or guilty—the impossible and possible will have melded some in the reader’s mind. Because, as Aslaug says, “[W]e are all mad apples.”
Read an excerpt from Madapple, and learn more about the book and author at Christina Meldrum's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Island of Lost Girls"

Jennifer McMahon is the author of Promise Not To Tell, Island of Lost Girls, and My Tiki Girl.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Island of Lost Girls and reported the following:
Island of Lost Girls opens with the protagonist, Rhonda, witnessing an abduction. She watches, unmoving, as someone in a rabbit costume takes a little girl from her car. Compelled by her guilt, she joins the investigation. She has to confront some of the mysteries of her own childhood, including what became of her best friend, Lizzy, who left for high school one morning and was never seen again. Lizzy’s brother, Peter, is quickly the number one suspect in the present day kidnapping, and, to complicate matters, is also the longtime object of Rhonda’s unrequited love.

On page 69, Rhonda has just discovered a key piece of evidence implicating Peter in the little girl’s kidnapping, and is more determined than ever to prove his innocence.

On the short walk back to the tables in the corner, Rhonda made up her mind not to tell Warren about seeing Laura Lee’s car in the scheduling book. Like it or not, the evidence was stacked against Peter and proving his innocence was going to be tricky. She needed more clues. Rhonda peeked into Pat’s office as she went by – empty. She stepped in and glanced at the clipboard on the wall next to the desk: the employee schedule. She flipped back to the week before and scanned the schedule for Thursday. Pat was working, along with someone named Carl. And Peter. Surely, if Peter drove off in Laura Lee’s car for any length to time, someone would have noticed. She couldn’t very well ask Pat, who would just see it as more evidence of Peter’s involvement (and possibly Rhonda’s too), so what she needed to do was find this Carl guy. She saw his name on the schedule later in the week. Perfect.

The writing on page 69 isn’t exactly poetic or lyrical; it’s a pretty nuts and bolts scene. It actually stands out to me because it’s rather mystery-ish, which isn’t typical of most of the rest of the book. It does show Rhonda throwing herself into her role of investigator, and demonstrates her fierce loyalty to Peter. She refuses to believe he could be involved in the kidnapping. As the story moves along, she begins to question this loyalty, and to wonder if the Peter she’s known all her life could have a darker side.
Read an excerpt from Island of Lost Girls, and learn more about the book and author at Jennifer McMahon's website and her MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Tell No Lies"

Julie Compton, a debut novelist, practiced law in St. Louis, Missouri, and most recently worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Tell No Lies, and reported the following:
Thanks to Marshal for inviting me to discuss Page 69 of my novel, Tell No Lies. I must admit, given the name of this blog, I was a little skeptical when he first approached me to participate – but hey, maybe that says more about me than him!

Tell No Lies is the story of family man and lawyer Jack Hilliard, an assistant DA who seems to have it all until he finds himself simultaneously seduced by a dream job and a tempting woman. Jack soon learns how easy it is to compromise his values and comfortable life for ambition and desire. When the object of Jack's obsession is charged with a heinous crime, and he's the only one who can prove her innocence, he's trapped between saving a friend and protecting his family and career.

Is Page 69 representative of the novel? Yes, I think so, as I'll explain below.

The first part of Page 69 is the tail end of a conversation between the main character, Jack, and the object of his obsession, Jenny. At the start of the novel, the two of them share an intimate but forbidden kiss in a parking garage, and their meeting on Page 69 is the first one since that fateful night. Each is trying to pretend the intimacy was meaningless and that they hold no attraction for one another. This scene is a snapshot of the sexual tension that exists between them and continues to intensify as the story unfolds.

The second part of Page 69 is the beginning of a scene between Jack and his boss, Earl. Earl is trying to convince Jack to run for District Attorney. Even though Jack has told Earl he's not interested (because of his opposition to capital punishment), he has nevertheless agreed to a meeting with party hacks who will help him should he decide to run. In this scene, Jack returns from his lunch with Jenny to find Earl in his office, ready to confront Jack with this inconsistency. The questions posed by Earl on this page are questions that go to the heart of Tell No Lies: "What could be going through his mind?" "What could he be thinking?" "How does he view the world?" Ultimately, it's my hope that the reader will ask these same questions about Jack and other characters as they make their way through the novel.
Read an excerpt from Tell No Lies, and learn more about the novel and author at Julie Compton's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything"

Janelle Brown, formerly a senior writer for Salon, is a freelance journalist who writes for the New York Times, Vogue, Wired, Elle, and Self, among other publications.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, and reported the following:
Thrillingly, page 69 is smack-dab in one of my favorite passages of the novel -- and among the most titillating.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is told from the viewpoint of three different characters - Janice, the mother whose husband has dumped her (for her tennis partner) on the day that his company's explosive IPO makes them rich; Margaret, her 28 year old daughter, whose failing feminist magazine has left her bankrupt; and Lizzie, her naive 14-year old daughter, whose quest for popularity is leading her down a very unfortunate path.

Page 69 falls in a Lizzie chapter, right when Lizzie is about to lose her virginity:

By the spring of her freshman year, it seemed like Lizzie had been dying to lose her virginity forever. She felt it hanging like a yoke around her neck. Girls in her class had been bragging about their sexual conquests for years: starting with Frenching and feel-ups in the sixth grade, moving on to blow jobs and fingering (a phrase she found both obscene and banal - some cross between an alien probe and playing the piano) by eighth, and then, once they reached high school, going "all the way." It happened like clockwork: There would be a party at somebody's house over the weekend - the parents having disappeared for a vacation in Hawaii, graciously enabling their children to roll a keg into the chaperone-free living room - and on Monday, girls would show up at school with squared shoulders and fresh familiarity with the male anatomy. ("Oh my God, his penis, like, curved!" "He -- so gross -- had hair on his back!") They dropped like flies all freshman year, judging by the conversation in the girls' locker room. Virginity flew out the window, blossoms of used condoms bloomed in wastepaper baskets all across town, sheets were furtively dumped in spin cycles with extra bleach before Mom and Dad's town car picked them up at the airport.

Lizzie wanted it so badly she was almost embarrassed. It wasn't like she believed that losing her virginity was somehow going to be a ticket to womanhood -- just like getting her period for the first time had been more of a messy pain in the ass than the entree to some feminine sisterhood that Margaret had promised. It was more that she wanted to be in the inner circle, to have those terms -- clitoris? smegma? pearl necklace? -- mean something to her, too. You either knew or you faked it, and she was tired of faking it, tired of nodding sagely while she listened in, uninvited, to another whispered tale of deflowering or requited lust, as if she could totally relate, when in fact she couldn't...

Needless to say, Lizzie goes on to make some very regrettable decisions.

Thematically, this resonates with the rest of the novel: About the desire for social success, the drive to be accepted and loved, the disconnect between parents and their children, and the dark underbelly of the mythically perfect suburbia.
Read an excerpt from All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Janelle Brown's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Mark Schorr, a psychotherapist for sixteen years in Portland, Oregon, is the author of eleven novels, including the Edgar-nominated Red Diamond, Private Eye.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Fixation, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Fixation is a conversation between the protagonist, Brian Hanson, and Louise Parker, the FBI agent he is developing a romantic relationship with. Their talk goes from flirtatious banter, to religious debate, to a plot point around the stalking that is bringing them closer and driving them apart.

Just who is stalking Louise is at the center of the novel. Is it Brian, who is not without his own psychological troubles, or someone with more malice in their heart?

I would hope that a reader choosing that page would get a sense of both characters’ strengths, and vulnerabilities, the constant struggle we all feel to assert our independence, and connect with others. Brian and Louise are not teens or young adults, they’re into middle age with all the scars that people accumulate along the way.

As a therapist, I have worked with stalkers, as well as victims. However, as I researched the book, the prevalence of stalking surprised me. Several female friends had had experiences, arising in unexpected circumstances: a classmate at law school; a casual date arranged through the church; a store’s regular customer.

What I like readers to walk away with is some factual knowledge—hopefully, after reading Fixation they will know enough about stalking that it will never happen to them.
Fixation is Schorr's second novel in the acclaimed Brian Hanson thriller series.

Read the Prologue and Chapter One from Fixation, and learn more about the book and author at Mark Schorr's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Happy Family"

Wendy Lee is a graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program. She worked for two years in China as a volunteer English teacher.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Happy Family, and reported the following:
Happy Family is the story of a young Chinese woman named Hua Wu who emigrates to New York, where she eventually becomes the nanny to the adopted Chinese daughter of an American couple. While her job grants her entrance into the privileged world of her employers, it also illuminates the distance between them, despite the fact that they all love the same child.

Page 69 is actually a huge turning point in the book. Hua has just run into a woman named Sally with whom she took her illegal trip from China to America. During the trip Hua, who is from the city and educated, had considered herself better off than Sally, who is from the countryside.

But, as Hua says, "Once we arrived, it was if passing through customs at the airport had completely erased our identities and our pasts. We were made the same, and we were on our own." Both Hua and Sally now work menial service jobs in Chinatown, Hua as a waitress and Sally as a masseuse.

The one bright spot for Hua is her friendship with the American couple and their daughter. Up to this point they have only met in a local park. But, at the bottom of page 69, the mother invites Hua to come babysit at their apartment in the West Village. Although surprised by the casualness of the request (she's stunned that Americans are so quick to invite strangers into their houses), Hua agrees. She has no idea that this is the first step into gaining entrance to a life that she thought was beyond her reach.

So, in the span of page 69, the novel's main character has gone from a state of despair to one full of hope and promise. Whether she can make the most of her new situation, though, remains to be seen.
Read an excerpt from Happy Family, and learn more about the book and author at Wendy Lee's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Sin in the Second City"

Karen Abbott has worked as a journalist on the staffs of Philadelphia magazine and Philadelphia Weekly, and has written for and other publications.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her widely acclaimed book, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul, and reported the following:
Sin in the Second City tells the true story of two sisters, Madams Minna and Ada Everleigh, who operated the world’s most famous brothel at the turn of the last century. The aristocratic (or so they said) Everleigh sisters welcomed literary luminaries, actors, and visiting royalty into their stately mansion, where 30 well-trained “butterflies” awaited their arrival. While other madams robbed clients and whipped their courtesans, the Everleighs tried to inject a bit of decorum and class into the world’s oldest profession, feeding their girls gourmet meals, sending them to an honest doctor, and even tutoring them in the poetry of Longfellow. But the Everleighs had many secrets and even more rivals, including jealous fellow madams and reformers who spread lurid tales of “white slavery.” This culture war rocked the nation and had repercussions all the way to the White House, even leading to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

I think page 69 is nicely representative because it details some of the ways the sisters tried to elevate the industry, which, ironically, is what led to their downfall; reformers seized upon the Club as the shining symbol of open and protected vice.

They came to see the ballroom, with its towering water fountain, parquet floor arranged in intricate mosaic patterns, and ceiling that dripped crystal chandeliers. They came to see the little oddities that made the Club like no place else in the world: gilded fishbowls, 18-carat gold spittoons that cost $650 each, and the Everleighs’ signature trinket—a fountain that, at regular intervals, fired a jet of perfume into the thickly incensed air.

They came to see the library, filled floor to ceiling with classics in literature and poetry and philosophy, and the art room, housing a few bona fide masterworks and a reproduction of Bernini’s famous “Apollo and Daphne,” which the sisters had failed to find in America. After learning that the original statue was at the Villa Borghese in Rome, Minna sent an artist to capture its image. She was haunted by how the exquisite nymph’s hands flowered into the branches of a laurel tree just as the god of light reaches for her. A gorgeous piece, but she mostly admired the statue for the questions it posed about clients: why did men who had everything worth having patronize the Everleigh Club? And what if the thing they desired most in this world simply vanished?
Read an excerpt from Sin in the Second City, and learn more about the book and author at Karen Abbott's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 9, 2008

"The Fourth Watcher"

Timothy Hallinan is the author of nine widely praised books, seven novels and a nonfiction work on Charles Dickens. Last year's A Nail Through the Heart introduced Bangkok-based rough-travel writer Poke Rafferty.

Hallinan applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Fourth Watcher, the second novel in the Bangkok series, and reported the following:
What I like about the Page 69 test is its total randomness. If' I'd been asked to pick a passage from The Fourth Watcher that was suggestive of the novel as a whole, not a single sentence on page 69 would have come to mind. So it's a very pleasant surprise to learn that this relatively obscure sequence is actually tied to practically everything that matters in the book.

The Fourth Watcher is a thriller set in Bangkok, but it's also a novel about family, and the differences in the way Thai and American culture view the family. At the beginning of the book, my hero, Poke Rafferty, is trying to shake three men who are trailing him; the exercise is part of a book he's writing. He fails to see the fourth watcher, who represents something very much more dangerous than a training exercise, and who is watching Poke under orders from the person Poke wants least in the world to come face-to-face with.

At this point, he's taken refuge from a torrential rain, having just seen an exquisite young woman whose face is somehow familiar to him. He'd ducked into a coffee shop, behind the counter of which is a girl of nine or ten who asks him where he comes from, whether he likes Thailand and whether he has any babies. When he says no, she says,

“Why? Why not have baby? No have baby, not happy.”

And, from a Thai perspective, she's absolutely right, although Poke's own family experience was much more complicated. He's chatting with her when:

... someone comes into sight through the window, shrouded in rain. A woman, her clothes pasted to her slender form. She does not keep her head down against the downpour but shields her eyes with a hand, obviously looking for something or someone. He watches idly for a moment, wondering why she hasn't ducked in to wait out the storm, and then, with a start, realizes who she is.

Who she is will change Rafferty's life forever, and will lead him into a forced and uneasy alliance – with an ambiguous and bittersweet outcome – with his long-estranged father.

So in its own way, it's all here, on random old page 69.
Read an excerpt from The Fourth Watcher, and learn more about the author and his work at Timothy Hallinan's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 7, 2008

"Killing Rommel"

Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, The Virtues of War, Tides of War, Last of the Amazons, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Afghan Campaign.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Killing Rommel, and reported the following:
I like this Page 69 test. In Killing Rommel, it's a little too early; the story (a behind-the-lines raid by British Special Forces whose aim is to knock off the Desert Fox) hasn't really kicked in yet. But I was surprised at how much of the story one can glean, just from a random page. On my page 69 are all three of the book's central characters; the setup for the central mission is clear; and a reader can really get a sense of the point of view and tone of voice. Here's a sample:

When a tank became disabled, its crew's standing orders were to destroy it so that it could
not be salvaged by the enemy. But it's no small chore to scupper a tank, even your own when it's sitting still. Half the time our lads simply made off with the breech blocks and code papers, then sluiced petrol into the engine box and tossed in a lighted match. Many didn't even do that. They just "ditched the bitch" and pissed off.

I think I'll use this Page 69 test from now on when people ask me to read their stuff. One page is all it takes!
Read an excerpt from Killing Rommel, and learn more about the book and author at Steven Pressfield's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Girl Factory"

Jim Krusoe has written five books of poems, a book of stories, Blood Lake, and a novel, Iceland, which was selected by the Los Angeles Times and the Austin Chronicle as one of the ten best fiction books of 2002, and was on the Washington Post list of notable fiction the same year.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Girl Factory, and reported the following:
Maybe page 69 is too representative, in a way, because it’s one of the turning points of Girl Factory, just after Jonathan’s boss, Spinner, has been beaten to death by two thugs—possibly the result of information that Jonathan gave them. (This is either death No. 3, 4, or 5 as a result of his trying to be helpful, but who’s counting?)

It’s a place where things stop for a moment, and the page begins by telling us that everything is OK, except for the six women submerged in acidophilus in the bottom of Mister Twisty’s Yogurt. At this point the responsibility for the six women’s well-being—if you can call it that—is shifted to Jonathan. The rest of page 69 briefly summarizes a memorial service for Spinner, which is a chance to bring several characters we already know together before the action resumes.

Would I read Girl Factory based solely on this page? I would probably find it a bit dizzying except for the part when Spinner’s widow asks Jonathan if he would consider Steve, a fellow merchant in Mister Twisty’s mall, “attractive” (except for the fact “he smells a lot like pet shop”).

That line, at least, would send me to the beginning of the novel to see what’s going on here.

The answer is—plenty.
Read an excerpt from Girl Factory, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"Promise of the Wolves"

Dorothy Hearst is the author of Promise of the Wolves, a BookSense Pick for June 2008.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
Promise of the Wolves is the first book in The Wolf Chronicles trilogy, which tells the story of how the wolf evolved into the dog--from the point of view of the wolf. The book is narrated by Kaala, a young wolf who grows up in the Wide Valley, where contact with humans is strictly forbidden. Kaala breaks this rule when she saves the life of a human child and discovers a long-hidden bond between the two species. Before long she and her young packmates are hunting and playing with humans--and changing the course of history.

I tried to weave together several threads in writing Promise of the Wolves: the story of the coevolution of humans and wolves, Kaala's discovery of her destiny, and the experience of life in a wolf pack through the eyes of a wolf. Page 69 captures this last element, as Kaala and her fellow pups watch the adult wolves prepare to steal a kill from a bear. You get a little bit of pack dynamics and a little bit of wolf behavior, and you also get to meet the ravens, who provide the smart-ass comic relief in the book.

Page 69 lets us in on an important day for the pups. It's the first time they've been allowed to leave the safety of their sheltered home to follow the adults on a hunt. It's also the last morning of Kaala's innocence--the last hours she thinks of herself as just another pup in the Swift River pack. Shortly after this scene, she sees her first humans. Her reaction to them shows her to be different from the other wolves in her pack, and will eventually set in motion the events of the rest of the book.
Read an excerpt from Promise of the Wolves, and learn more about the book and author at Dorothy Hearst's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 1, 2008

"Black Flies"

Shannon Burke is the author of Safelight and has been involved in various films, including work on the screenplays for the films Syriana and the upcoming film Blink. He has also worked as a paramedic in Harlem.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Black Flies, and reported the following:
When Marshal wrote me from the website I immediately grabbed a copy of my book and checked page 69 and was disappointed to find that it fell on what I considered to be a dull moment in the book. I’ll explain why.

Black Flies, my second novel, follows a group of paramedics in Harlem over the period of about a year. Pretty early on the reader sees that the characters are deteriorating in interesting ways and can guess that something bad is going to happen to them. It’s a short book with a jagged feel and concentrated scenes with a moral undertone. It’s almost entirely action, except a section starting a little before page 69 and going a little past it.

The scene that ends on page 69 is a theme related scene where the characters reflect on a question: “Can you be a good medic without caring if your patients live?” They all comment, but the last remark come from a withdrawn, burnt-out old timer named Rutkovsky who says, “Someone who really didn’t care wouldn’t talk about it so much.” That ends the scene. The next scene begins in the middle of page 69.

An arching stone stoop with the spackle-filled screw holes on top where the brass railing had been, a doorway propped open with a pizza box, and a nice-looking lobby with a marble floor and the fixtures overhead for a missing chandelier. Grouped old ladies sat behind a foldout desk in the lobby watching whoever went in and out of the building. As we walked in the crowd of jabbering, squawking community do-gooders were all waving and talking at once: “He just got a little thump…He don’t want no doctor…I told em not to call. I said it! He just walked away! He ain’t here!”

I raised my radio to cancel the job, but Rutkovsky motioned for me to hold off and started for the stairway. “He ain’t here. I told you,” one of the old ladies called out and Rutkovsky just nodded and kept going up the stairs, murmuring , “Gotta check the roof.”

The two of us started up the dim, marble-topped stairs, past the first, the second, and the third floor. I had no idea where we were going. As Rutkovsky turned at the last landing, he said, “I lived here. 1979. Nice view on top. Come on.”

On the roof Rutkovsky surveys the old neighborhood and softens. You can imagine him as a younger man. And that’s pretty much the extent of the scene. There’s no trauma, no fights or violence. Just Rutkovsky pointing out landmarks with the antennae of his radio and remembering the neighborhood as it had been fifteen years before. The scene that follows is a Memorial Day potluck at the station. So, there are three reflective scenes in a row, and that really worried me. Ideally, I think character progression comes organically within vibrant, action scenes. These three scenes, all in a row, felt like a lull to me. I tried reordering the scenes but this was the only logical progression. I tried taking the roof scene out but I missed this glimpse into Rutkovsky’s past. In the end, I left it as is, but with some uneasiness.

So, readers, you can tell me if you paused at this section, if it struck you as a lull, or if you enjoyed the time to relax and take a breath before the plot moved on.

Now, looking over this section, at least for the moment, I am glad I left it as it is.
Read an excerpt from Black Flies, and learn more about the author and his work at Shannon Burke's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue