Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Occupational Hazards"

Jonathan Segura is the deputy reviews editor of Publishers Weekly and holds a master's degree in fiction writing from Columbia University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Occupational Hazards, and reported the following:
Occupational Hazards is a newsroom noir set in Omaha, Neb., about a guy named Bernard Cockburn. He’s a reporter at a low-rent alterna-weekly, arguably an alcoholic, an awful boyfriend to a less than ideal girlfriend and, I like to think, sorta funny. He gets in over his head at work with a story that starts out lame and then goes big. And his girlfriend gets knocked up, which he isn’t very happy about. Things pile on from there.

On Page 69, Burn’s making a date with a source, and then he’s plunged into the wretched blitz of closing an issue. He’s also doing some research on the lame story, which, by this point, is becoming less lame. It’s fairly representative of the book in terms of tone and velocity, but there isn’t this much italics throughout. It’s not, overall, an italics sorta book.

“Won’t take long. Grab a coffee after work or something.”

He rapidly clicks his tongue a few times. “You know Trudy’s? It’s on—”


“Right. Will that work? Say 5:30?”

“On it.”

Kid brings me my coffee and I give him the releases. “Make these not suck. Briefly. Then find me whatever you can over at city hall about the Baron Square project. Memos of understanding – mayor’s office, third floor; they got a sweetheart tax deal, so check with the finance department – fifth floor; whatever planning has – eleventh floor.”

Then the ringing begins. The phone. Not my ears. Seth calling back. No, the mayor does not feel this is a good ordinance; it will cost the taxpayers way more than it is worth. No, no, the city law department has not addressed the grievance yet. All right. Call me if you need anything. Write ‘em up. Short, sweet, punchy. Make a call for Leroy, whatever. Learn: part of the downtown historic district so no Mickey-D’s. Owner’s up on his taxes. Hit something like paydirt with my planning guy—NüCorp’s in preliminary talks to renovate it. Planning dept. loves NüCorp. Everyone loves Nücorp. Take the old, make it new. Higher valuations, more yuppie pads, more jobs. Fuck them. Hi, Bernard, what’s your e-mail? For the mugshot? Okay, okay… dot-com, got it. Coffee. Boy, rewrite that crime stats piece, it’s too sassy. Sassy. Fuck you, sassy. Cigarette. Donna’s still trying to quit. Bernard, press conference today at three. Yeah, the union’s going to respond to the mayor’s veto of the staffing ordinance. Great, we’ll see you then? Paragraphs, bang clatter bang and my fingers are sore as hell.
Read an excerpt from Occupational Hazards, and learn more about the author and his work at Jonathan Segura's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"The Foreigner"

Francie Lin is a former editor at The Threepenny Review.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Foreigner, and reported the following:
Whoops, page 69 of The Foreigner is the divider page for Part Two. I can't say that skimming this page would necessarily make a reader want to read more of the book, but it's significant in that it does mark the moment where Emerson, the main character, who has all along been a bit lily-livered regarding his family responsibilities, finally takes his fate into his own hands and decides to pursue whatever secret his shady younger brother, Little P, is hiding. It's the point of no return, and from here on, Emerson is a different man, more evolved, more hard-nosed, even as he shrinks from knowing the truth about his family. The white space on the page could represent a break with the past; it could also signify the unwritten future.
Learn more about The Foreigner at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Love and Other Impossible Pursuits"

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Daughter's Keeper, and the Mommy-Track Mysteries. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of periodicals, including the New York Times, Elle Magazine, and the Guardian.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Love and Other Impossible Pursuits and reported the following:
My novel, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, tells the story of Emilia Greenleaf and her stepson William. When Emilia's newborn daughter dies of SIDS, the sight of any child brings her to tears. Wednesday afternoons with William -- an obsessive, know-it-all preschooler and his mother's mouthpiece -- are pushing her over the edge. Emilia is at a total loss. Doesn't anyone understand that self-pity is a full time job? The novel charts the course of this relationship as it unravels and then, ultimately, comes together, as each realizes that the other is their only road to happiness.

Page 69 tells a mini-story about Emilia's parents. They are divorced, having separated not long ago because of Emilia's father's infidelities and his frequenting of strip clubs and prostitutes. In this scene, a flashback, Emilia forces her mother to throw her father out. She then finds herself obsessively thinking about her father and his Russian prostitute. There is a line which I think perfectly encapsulates who Emilia is. She says, "I know I have a very active and vivid imagination, torqued and twisted by too much television, a steady diet of gothic novels, and an Electra complex worth of twenty year's on Freud's couch." Emilia is very self aware. She knows how narcissistic she is. She knows how damaging her grief is both to herself and to others, but she cannot manage to force herself to stop.

I think the page is also remarkably representative of my writing style, which is a combination of straightforward prose, and a kind of formality, twisted with dark humor. My descriptions tend to dwell on the odd detail -- like the way I describe Emilia's father's back as "skin loose and gray, pocked with brown birthmarks."

In all, I'd have to say that if you like this page, are intrigued by it, you'll probably enjoy the book. If it makes you uncomfortable, or if you just hate it, then that will define your experience of the rest of the novel, too.
Read an excerpt from Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"The Drifter's Wheel"

Phillip DePoy is the author of a number of mysteries, including the Shamus Award finalist Easy. He has published short fiction, poetry, and criticism in Story, The Southern Poetry Review, Xanadu, and Yankee, among other magazines. As a folklorist, he has worked with Joseph Campbell and John Burrison. Depoy is currently the director of the theatre program at Clayton State University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Drifter's Wheel, and reported the following:
The Drifter's Wheel is fifth in the Fever Devilin series. On page 69 we have a bullet, blood, cursing, handcuffs, and a man begging for his life. If readers who look at this page think there will be, on other pages, more guns, cursing, and blood, they will not be disappointed. They will also not understand the book. The antagonist, Boy Jackson, believes that he is hundreds of years old. He longs to be released from the wheel of birth and death so that he will never have to come back to this life. He asks us to suppose that when this life is done, we find ourselves wandering the corridors of Eternity. What is it that we should do, he wants to know, in order to avoid another time around the wheel? How can we be swept, instead, onward toward light, a place not made by human hands? The answer in some religions is simple. You just have to be willing to let go of life. You have to say good-bye and mean it. So there's the rub. If Boy Jackson keeps coming back, maybe he doesn't really want to go. As for myself, I'd start thinking about all the things I'd miss: poulet sauté a la Provincal; the second movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony; talking in bed with my wife. I believe I understand the way off the wheel of Time. I just won't do it--not yet. Despite bullets, blood, and begging, apparently, I am enjoying the ride. That's the book.
Learn more about The Drifter's Wheel and its author at Phillip DePoy's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Damage Control"

J. A. Jance is the New York Times bestselling author of the J. P. Beaumont series, the Joanna Brady series, three interrelated thrillers featuring the Walker family, and Edge of Evil.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Joanna Brady mystery, Damage Control, and reported the following:
I believe page 69 is representative of Damage Control. Joanna and her team are working at solving the crime, but clearly the people involved are just that--people. They're operating in a certain place (Arizona) and time of year (summer.) This is a woman working and making her way in a "man's" world.
Browse inside Damage Control, and learn more about the author and her work at J.A. Jance's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The Legal Limit"

Martin Clark’s first novel, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award. His second novel, Plain Heathen Mischief, prompted The Charlotte Observer to call him “a rising star in American Letters.”

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Legal Limit, and reported the following:
Thank you so much for your inquiry and offer to include my new book, The Legal Limit, on your “Page 69 Test” site. I understand it is a popular destination for readers, and I very much hoped that particular page of my book would mesh well with your theme, allowing me to do a bit more than just the normal synopsis and overview of my novel. Alas, no matter how much I twist and bend and try to stretch things, there is no connection that I can spot, and any attempt at a tie-in just seems feeble and contrived, completely forced: there is no mention of the New York Mets; no “Summer of Love;” no character born that year; and, sadly, far more than a mere 69 words. In the end, the novel is about a murder, a murder cover-up, what it is like to be put on trial when you really are innocent and whether the legal system should break the law to actually do justice, a topic I have a fair amount of experience with given that I am a circuit court judge. Despite this shortcoming, perhaps you could throw a little charity my way and still post a line or two from my page 69. I just went right to the middle of the page, immediately after a break: “At Allison Rand’s core was a patent invitation to sex, and there was nothing she could do about it, even if she’d wanted to: her eyes were green, honeyed embraces, slightly languid but permanently in on a very private joke, her hair blond, her smiles given more to satisfaction than mirth, her shape, from calves to breasts, overtly appealing…” So maybe next time. For sure I’ll try to work something in, maybe a Spiro Agnew mention.
Read an excerpt from The Legal Limit, and learn more about the book and author at Martin Clark's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Loose Girl"

Kerry Cohen received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon and an MA in counseling psychology from Pacific University. She is a practicing psychotherapist and the author of the young adult novel Easy.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, and reported the following:
Open Loose Girl to page 69, and the first sentence is, "The drug is sharp inside my nostril, and immediately I feel a course of lightning through my body." If the drug I was describing there was male attention or even sex, I'd say that was a perfect representative line. But the line is, obviously, about cocaine. Cocaine was one of the few real drugs I used in my life and in the book. I much preferred boys, who had the ability to make me feel just as good as any drug might have, and just as bad afterward.

The next section describes a phone call with my mother, who by this time in the book was living halfway across the country. I lived with my father still, in northern New Jersey, which is where I'd been living since she had left a few years earlier to pursue medical school:

A Sunday. Mom calls. She's been back in the States for a few years now, living in Chicago. I sit on the leather couch in the living room and pick at a hangnail. She tells me about seeing Tyler in her new dorm room, how she thinks Tyler's thriving there. Last time Tyler called she said she had a boyfriend. A boyfriend. My withdrawn, matronly sister. I told her I was happy for her, but really I was seething with jealousy. How can she have a boyfriend when I don't? What is so wrong with me?

This paragraph speaks to my constant preoccupation with boys, how I was sure boys held the answer, how I was convinced for a long time that I was simply unlovable, and this is why I couldn't get a boyfriend. By this time, I had spent tons of mind energy trying to find the key to getting loved by boys - the way I looked, the things I did. And here my sister, who seemed to me the opposite of anything a boy would want, had gotten a boyfriend with ease.

The last paragraph on the page holds a lengthy description of my father's living room, which portrays this place where I carried out my days as a teen. It reveals mostly the passive place my father took in domesticity and parenting - outdated photos of our family, a graveyard of electronics, tons of clutter. I write:

Since hiring an interior designer when he first bought the apartment (one whom Mom claimed he was sleeping with), he has allowed the place to go to hell. Dad pays a cleaning lady from Nigeria forty bucks to come once a week, and she does our laundry, dusts and vacuums, and cooks us meals that she seals in Tupperware and puts in the fridge. Without her, I guess, we would live like bachelors, eat cereal for dinner, let laundry pile up in the hallway.

In this way, page 69 of Loose Girl is representative of the lack of parenting and structure I had in my life. It reveals some of the environment in which I found myself as a teenage girl and why perhaps I kept my sights outside my home life when looking for comfort, love, and a sense of being seen.
Read an excerpt from Loose Girl, and learn more about the book and author at Kerry Cohen's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Mad About The Boy?"

Dolores Gordon-Smith is the author of A Fete Worse than Death, the first in the Jack Haldean mystery series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the sequel, Mad About The Boy?, and reported the following:
Page 69? That’s an interesting one. Does it say, “The murderer was arrghhhh!!! And the telephone went dead or…” Well, no, it doesn’t, actually.

Page 69 of Mad About The Boy? sees us well into the action. At the Silver Wedding Ball on what should have been an idyllic evening in Sussex in 1923, one of the guests apparently commits suicide, which made the party go a bit flat. It’s the afternoon after and Jack Haldean, the hero, is feeling a bit chewed-up. He heads for a bit of peace and quiet to one of his special places, the willow by river, where the willow leaves form a leafy tent where he can be alone and have a chance to put his thoughts in order.

A flash of blue in the spotted, rippling shade brought a stab of unexpected delight as he realised it was a kingfisher. Halcyon days. That’s what the Greeks called the time when the kingfisher flew. Halcyon? He smiled cynically and yawned. Being so damn tired didn’t help. He hadn’t been able to sleep last night.

The kingfisher flew unheeded, the languid drone of insects washed over his senses and the well-behaved river flowed placidly on. The pipe fell from his hand and he slumped, fast asleep.

When Jack wakes up, he hears voices on the other side of the willow leaves. One of the guests, a complete slimeball called Lord Lyvenden, is dallying with his mistress, Mrs Strachan.

Haldean drew back against the ridged bark of the tree. Bloody hell! If Lord Lyvenden absolutely had to carry out a senile intrigue, why on earth did he have to do it here? The worst of it was, he was completely stuck until Lyvenden decided to move.

“Now, now, Victor,” giggled Mrs Strachan with ghastly coquettishness, slapping Lyvenden playfully. “Don’t be greedy.”

Haldean dug his hands into the soft earth in frustration. Their voices on the other side of the curtain of willow were only too clear. If he tried to escape up the bank they’d be bound to see him.

“I’m always greedy for you, little woman,” said Lord Lyvenden with elephantine playfulness.

What Jack hears next sends his thoughts in the right direction – or so it at first appears.
Learn more about the book and author at Dolores Gordon-Smith's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 19, 2008

"Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse"

Victor Gischler is a former English professor and the author of Gun Monkeys, The Pistol Poets, Suicide Squeeze, and Shotgun Opera.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, and reported the following:
From page 69 of Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse:

They climbed up again, made their way forward to the end of the flatcar. He cocked the little machine gun, thumbed off the safety. One of the train guards hung limp and dead between the flatcar and the handcar, the back of his head wet and bloody from a large-caliber slug. They leapt over him and landed with a thud on the big handcar.

The stink of sweat slapped Mortimer in the face. The muscle guys pumped, hot, wet skin steaming in the freezing air. A shot caught one of them in the head, brain and skull and blood exploding red and gunky. He toppled over, hit the deck of the handcar with a meaty thump and rolled off.

The above selection is a pretty good indication of the sort of action found in my new novel Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse. Direct, visceral and cinematic. But the passage also hints at the satire. In Go-Go I’ve attempted to create a world that walks the tightrope between a legitimate action novel, and an over-the-top satire.

After the fall of civilization, our hero Mortimer Tate finds himself on The Muscle Express, a train not powered by a locomotive, but by a team of greased-up muscle men who have been given narcotic boosts so they can pump the handcar faster and longer.

Yeah. It’s that kind of book.

Mortimer and the train crew must repel an attack by bandits – which is where we find ourselves on page 69. Mortimer’s adventures become more dangerous and bizarre as the novel continues. A bawdy, irreverent, violent, strange novel.
Read an excerpt from Go-Go-Girls of the Apocalypse, and learn more about the book and author at Victor Gischler's Blogpocalypse.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"My Name Is Will"

Jess Winfield is a founding member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. He co-created the full-length show The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and became an international sensation. After leaving the RSC, Winfield spent ten years writing and producing award-winning cartoons for the Walt Disney Company.

He applied the Page 69 Test to My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare, his first novel, and reported the following:
I had heard of the "page 69 test" before starting to write My Name Is Will. I distinctly remember hitting that page in my first draft and, because I was calling it "a novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare," wanting it to evoke the titillative sexual numerology of the 69 test. So in the original manuscript, this was the climax of the scene where randy, 18-year-old William Shakespeare ascends a stage for the very first time during rehearsals with a homespun theatrical troupe and improvises an adaptation of Ovid's tale of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. (If Hermaphroditism isn't appropriate for a page 69, what is?). The young Bard calls upon a bystander -- Rosaline, the comely young cousin of one of his fellow actors -- to extemporize with him. She proves a knowledgeable and formidable scene partner, portraying Salmacis to William's Hermaphroditus:

Rosaline turned to William. "O most stately boy — or are you a god? If a god then surely, the god of love — if mortal, how blessed are your father and mother? How happy your brother? But," and she stalked toward William, predatory, like a fox toward the hare, "so much more blessed and happy was whoever had the good fortune to be your sister."

Here the audience exchanged uncomfortable glances.

"And even more..." teased Rosaline, and she reached out and slowly circled a fingertip lightly around William's left nipple.

"And even more blessed, she who nursed you..."

She let her finger trail down William's trunk toward his belt.

"...she who gave you suck. But how much more blessed she who becomes thy wife? Thy bedfellow? Say that will be I."

The last five words hung in the air for a perfect moment before William turned to the audience.

"She knows her Ovid well!"

Alas, many drafts and many vagaries of editing and printing later, you will no longer find that scene on p. 69. I had hoped the published version might feature a scene from the parallel narrative in the 1980s, about young, would-be Shakespeare scholar Willie Shakespeare Greenberg. But it depicts another crucial scene in the 1580s timeline, where an 11-year old William Shakespeare watches his illustrious relative, Edward Arden, square off with the Earl of Leicester at a pageant honoring Queen Elizabeth. Arden is the only noble present who refuses to honor his host, Leicester, by wearing his insignia:

It was rumored that Leicester was bedding Essex's wife while he was making war in Ireland. Amid the collective held breath, Arden [said to Leicester], "To wear the livery of one who would take advantage of the distant commission of a Queen's officer to gain private access to the officer's Lady would be to honor a whoremaster."

Leicester drew his sword and leapt forward enraged. "God's teeth, will you speak thus to me, even here?!"

Arden also drew, and it might have turned into an ugly pageant indeed.

It was Viscountess Montague who stepped in between them. "Good my lords, I pray you put your weapons by. Let not the majesty and pageantry of the day be marred by such intemperance. It is not meet, to try so private a grievance in so public a court. Forbear, forbear."

Leicester looked around at the festivities still going on outside their little circle, and, trembling in anger, sheathed his sword. "For that I would not stain the honor of the Queen, and as my Lady Magdalen is ever a voice of conscience, I shall stand down. But this slight, sir, is not slight, and will not unpunish'd go. Mark you."

It is this slight from Arden that brings the wrath of Elizabeth's Catholic priest-hunters on William's family, and sends him careening, first into poverty and oppression, and then to fame, fortune, and manhood. I'm happy to say that between these two page 69s (if you'll pardon the cheat) my novel and its themes -- love, tolerance, freedom of expression, the dangers of state religion, and the oneness of humanity across space, time, and gender -- are well-represented indeed.
Read excerpts from My Name Is Will, and learn more about the book and author at Jess Winfield's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Undiscovered Country"

Lin Enger is the MFA director at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. His short stories have been published in a number of journals, including Glimmer Train Stories, Great River Review, American Fiction, South Dakota Review, Wolf Head Quarterly, and Ascent. During the 1990s, he published five mystery novels, writing in collaboration with his brother, the novelist Leif Enger.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Undiscovered Country, and reported the following:
At the heart of Undiscovered Country is a psychological snarl involving four people. More than just four, but these four make up the tight core of the knot: Jesse Matson, the seventeen-year-old narrator; his mother Genevieve; his father Harold, who has died of a gunshot wound while hunting; and Jesse’s uncle Clay, who may or may not have been involved in his brother Harold’s death. All are residents of a small northern Minnesota town called Battlepoint—though of course Harold has moved on to another place.

The antecedents of the novel’s premise can be found in Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Genesis. It’s an old story—universal, to use the literary term—as most stories are if you boil them down far enough.

Anyway, on page 69 all four main characters are present. Jesse’s father is dead less than a week, and in this scene Jesse and his mother—both ruined by grief—have been trying to sort things out, figure out how to move on. Also, they’ve been talking about Clay, the uncle whom Jesse has good reason not to trust.

…Mom squeezed her eyes closed in a long blink, then she planted her hands on the tabletop, pushed herself to her feet and stood up straight, squaring her shoulders. I have to go to the bathroom, she said. I’ll be right back.

Dad helped him too much, I said. Way too much. He should’ve let Clay make it on his own.

She nodded, then moved toward the stairwell, her steps slow and calculated.

In fact, the only thing standing between Clay and self-obliteration—as far as I could tell—had been Dad, and if Mom couldn’t see that, she was blind. I remembered a Saturday morning not long before Marnie died of cancer. Dad and I were sanding the maple floors in our living room when Clay came tearing through the front door, his breathing frayed and tattered, hair flopped down over his forehead.

If somebody comes looking, I’m not here, he said, and crossed to the stairway that led to the second floor. He hadn’t even started climbing before a man burst into the house without knocking, his face swollen and red, eyes shining like diamond studs. He stood for a moment, silent, then magically transported himself across the bare sawdusty floor. Clay fought him off and escaped into the kitchen, the other guy holding tight to the ridiculously stretched cloth of Clay’s orange shirt. I must have followed them, because I can still see the man swinging at Clay’s head, missing outright and striking his fist on the sharp edge of a kitchen cabinet. Then stumbling to one knee and shaking out his hand.

I remember thinking, What am I doing here?
Read more about Undiscovered Country at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"The Aviary Gate"

Katie Hickman is the author of two best-selling history books, Courtesans and Daughters of Britannia, and two travel books, Travels with a Circus, which was shortlisted for the 1993 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon. Her first novel is The Quetzal Summer, for which she was listed for the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Aviary Gate, and reported the following:
Bizarrely, page 69 of my new novel The Aviary Gate is actually strangely representative. In fact, if I had to pick one page myself, it might well be this one.

It describes a scene from the point of view of the novel's heroine, a young English girl called Celia Lamprey, who at the end of the sixteenth century was thought to have been drowned in a shipwreck, but is then found to have survived and been taken into captivity, and then sold into the Ottoman Sultan's harem as a concubine. The scene which takes place on page 69 is the culmination of a long passage describing how Celia is prepared for her first encounter with the Sultan. She is bathed and depilated, perfumed and dressed, and then by accident (or is it an accident?) given a dose of opium. Previous to this, one of her attendants has given her a crash course in how to please the Sultan (a practical demonstration, carried out on a pear, but not leaving anything to Celia's terrified imagination) - just at the moment when the opium is beginning to kick in.

A scream of laughter, high-pitched and shrill, rose in Celia's throat, only to die, still-born, against her lips. At the same time she became aware that something strange was happening to the rest of her body. A feeling of warmth, quite different from the sense of prickling shame which had consumed her just moments before, enveloped her: a feeling of lassitude, warmth and physical ease. .... At that moment there was a banging - the sound of staves on wood - in the corridor outside. 'They're ready for you," Cariye Lala dried her lips sedately with a corner of cloth. 'Come: it's time.'

The novel is not in the least pornographic (although from page 69 you might well think it) but I hope it is sexy, and also true to life. Part of the joy of writing this novel was the lengthy researches I did into what life may really have been like for the women, all of whom were technically slaves, who entered this fabled place. I think in reality it was probably for more like a rather strict boarding school, or even bizarrely, a convent, than the lurid palace for naked dancers that is so often portrayed in nineteenth century paintings and the like. Read it and prepare to be surprised.

The rest of the novel is both a mystery story - there is an attempted poisoning on page 1 - and a love story. Will Celia Lamprey be re-united with her former lover, the English merchant Paul Pindar, who has been sent as part of an English diplomatic mission to renew trading rights with the Sultan? There is also a contemporary story, about a young woman academic, Elizabeth, who is researching captivity narratives and trying to piece together the ultimate fate of Celia Lamprey. One blogger has described the novel as being a love story between Elizabeth and Celia. I wonder if you'll agree?
Read an excerpt from The Aviary Gate, and watch a video of the author discussing the book.

Learn more about the author and her work at Katie Hickman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Stealing Athena"

Karen Essex, an award-winning journalist and a screenwriter, is the author of Kleopatra, Pharaoh, and the international bestseller Leonardo’s Swans, which won Italy’s prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Stealing Athena, and reported the following:
From Page 69:

Everywhere, dozens of carts filled with rubble sat incongruously beside fluted white columns and stacks of tiles and other new materials.

Perikles turned to see that I had lagged behind. He noticed that I was shivering. “What is the matter? Are you cold?”

“Yes,” I replied, though it was the eerie feeling of being atop the Akropolis, where the great gods were worshipped, in the silent stillness of the night. “I feel as if the gods are here, watching us, as if we might be disturbing their peace.”

Perikles held out his arms for me, and I went to him. He put his arm around me, and I was grateful for the warmth and the protection. Surely the formidable Athena would not harm me if I was in the company of one who was building these mighty structure to honor her.

Pheidias took a torch from one of the slaves. “I shall show you what we intend, Aspasia, ad you will decide for yourself if our endeavor is worthy…

“Cities are always developments in progress. We build the new atop the old, but here I have integrated the ruins of the Akropolis into the new construction as much as possible so that our history—and the sacredness that lives in the very stones of the old temples—will be preserved.”

In writing a book about the journey of the Elgin Marbles—the controversial sculptures that Lord and Lady Elgin moved from Athens to the British Museum in the early 1800s—I knew that I needed to convey to the reader what the sculptures and the Parthenon, the great temple from which they were taken, meant to the ancient Greeks. But how to do this without making the reader slog through a Classical Studies lesson? One day it dawned on me—I would put the reader right there in the action, telling half the story from the point of view of Aspasia, the philosopher, courtesan, and mistress to the great Perikles, under whose leadership the Parthenon was constructed. I would then tell the other half of the story from the point of view of the formidable and fascinating Lady Elgin, whose brains, charm, and fortune were greatly instrumental in getting permission to take the ancient treasures in the first place. Thus we have one notorious woman, Aspasia, watch the construction of the Parthenon , while 2300 years later, we have another woman of infamy participate in its deconstruction.

Page 69 is representative in that its scene takes place late at night when Perikles, obsessed with his project, and Pheidias, the designer and sculptor who carried out Perikles’ ambitions, take Aspasia to the Akropolis to look at the nascent structure. But it only tells half the story! The journey of the sculptures continues two millennia later, and, as the Greeks are still trying to get their treasures back, carries on to this day.
Read excerpts from Stealing Athena, and learn more about the author and her work at Karen Essex's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"The Deceived"

Brett Battles is the author of The Cleaner.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Deceived, and reported the following:
The Deceived is the second book in my Jonathan Quinn series. Quinn works as a hire-by-the-job cleaner specializing mainly in the world of espionage. His focus is to remove bodies and make them disappear. In The Deceived he is hired to get rid of a body that has shown up at the Port of Los Angeles in a shipping container. The only thing is the body is a friend of his. He decides it's his responsibility to find out what happened and to break the news to his friend's girlfriend. But then he finds out she's missing.

Page 69 of The Deceived is mainly taken up with a conversation between Quinn and his main client Peter. Quinn has asked Peter if he could find out any news about Quinn's now dead friend, Markoff. Peter has used the opportunity to extract a promise from Quinn for future work. The underlining tension of the conversation is pretty indicative of the relationship between Quinn and Peter. At the end of the page there is also the first paragraph or so of the next scene, as Quinn goes to check out the last known address he has for Markoff's missing girlfriend.

Does this give the reader a good sense of The Deceived? To a certain extent, I guess. It's hard to put so much pressure on a single page. And this one certainly does not highlight any of the action that is throughout the book. At most it does what I mentioned above...give insight into the relationship between Quinn and Peter. But I think you'd be hard pressed to judge the full novel on this single set of 250 words.

Page 69:

had not been part of his plan. He frowned in self-annoyance as he walked back into the bedroom and picked up the phone.

"I'm back."

"You all right?" Peter asked.

"I'm fine," Quinn said. "You have something for me?"

"Something, yes. But not an answer."

Quinn nodded to himself. He'd figured as much. His request of Peter was to see if he could find out what Markoff had been up to. Since Markoff had once been CIA, it was possible Peter could pull a few strings and see if anyone at the agency knew anything about their former employee's recent activities. What he hadn't told Peter was that Markoff was dead. No sense setting that alarm off yet. "What did you get?"

"Word is no one's talked to Markoff in weeks. He just kind of disappeared. No one seems worried, though. He's retired. Maybe he went on a vacation."

Quinn frowned. "Disappeared and no one's knows where?"

"Maybe he has other friends he's told."

With the exception of Jenny, Quinn didn't think Markoff had any other friends outside of the business. "You think he's taken a freelance job?"

"Perhaps, but I couldn't turn anything up," Peter said. "What makes you think he's not sitting on a beach somewhere relaxing?"

"Okay," Quinn said, making no attempt to answer the question. "Thanks."

"Don't forget our deal," Peter said.

Quinn hung up.

The taxi followed the Potomac River north, staying on the Virginia side until the Key Bridge took them into Georgetown. The address Steiner had given Quinn for Jenny's D.C. home was on one of the numbered streets that ran north and south throughout the city. Quinn had the driver drop him off two blocks away on M Street.

The night was pleasant, no real need for a jacket, but Quinn wore
Read an excerpt from The Deceived, and learn more about the author and his books at Brett Battles' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Cleaner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 11, 2008

"The Dirty Secrets Club"

Meg Gardiner has practiced law and taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from Southern California, she now lives with her family in London.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Dirty Secrets Club, and reported the following:
The Dirty Secrets Club is a thriller with a psychological bent. In the book, San Francisco is spooked by a series of high profile murder-suicides. Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is called in by the SFPD to perform a psychological autopsy on prosecutor Callie Harding. Callie has sailed her BMW off a bridge, killing herself and three others. Jo must determine whether Callie's death was accident, suicide, or murder. And she must do so before the next A-lister goes down and takes innocent bystanders along.

The novel is fast-paced, with plenty of action. And Page 69 (in the hardcover U.S. edition) drops readers into the book's most procedural scene. It's the major scene that shows Jo doing the nitty-gritty of her job -- interviewing Callie's ex-husband. Jo is digging into Callie's background to find out whether she was suicidal. But as she talks to the grief stricken, angry ex about Callie's fears and fantasies, the interview goes very wrong, very fast. Things turn nasty, and edge toward violence.

She heard an inarticulate cry. She looked up and saw Harding punch the bookshelf with the flat of his hand. He fought a sob, mouth open. He was staring at the framed photo.

He swung an arm at the bookshelf and swept a row of books to the floor. She put her hands flat on the desk. He spun and hurled the photo across the room.

Jo ducked. It flew straight past her head and thwacked the wall like an ax.

"Hey," she said.

Harding swooped across the room and pulled the keyboard away from her. "Get out."

"Mr. Harding--"

"Now." He was coming around the desk.

She jumped to her feet before he could grab the chair or touch her. "Close enough."

He brought himself up short, a foot from her. A vein was throbbing in his temple.

"Please step back," she said.

The page gives a sense of Jo's stubbornness, her instinct for self preservation, and her feistiness. She thinks: Get right back in their face, and fast. Her attitude is that you can talk your way out of things, but not if you're flat on the deck. Experience has taught her that catastrophe can happen in the blink of an eye. Reacting immediately to the threat puts you halfway toward getting out alive. In a city rattled by earthquakes, with a psychopathic killer stalking the shadows, Jo had better be ready.
Read an excerpt from The Dirty Secrets Club, and learn more about the author and her work at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill"

N.M. Kelby, author of Whale Season, In the Company of Angels, Theater of the Stars, and the Campaign for the American Reader's entry on The Great Florida Novel, spent more than 20 years as a print and television journalist before she began writing novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, and reported the following:
69? 99? These questions are for skimmers.

Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill is surrealistic murder mystery written with a Federico Fellini sensibility and featuring a dose of “surf’s up” magic realism, a dead body, a little Buddhist philosophy, a Barry Manilow impersonator with a dog named Mandy, and Danni “Queen of Scream” Keene (the unflappable goddess of horror films), along with the last living relative of the real Macbeth, who happens to be a circus clown with ineffectual wings. It’s set in the sleepy retirement community of Laguna Key whose security guard, named Brian Wilson, can’t stop thinking that “East Coast girls are hip.”

How can you skim that? Here’s a sample for the 69 crowd.

Pg. 69:

“I killed him,” she says.

Apparently, today’s discussion, “Finding the Way Back to Mayberry RFD: The Joys of a Simple Life,” is just going to have to wait.

Plus, there are jokes––lots of them. Some are literary. Some are not.

I came to writing dark comedic work because life is a morbid adventure and everybody needs have some fun, even smart people.

I create wildly poetic prose for people who are still willing to believe in joy.

How can you skim that?
Read an excerpt from Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill, and learn more about the author and her work at N.M. Kleby's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"Finding Nouf"

Zoë Ferraris has an M.F.A. from Columbia University and received first prize for mystery fiction at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Finding Nouf, and reported the following:
Oh how I wish p. 69 had landed in the middle of a sex scene!

There’s not much sex in Finding Nouf, but an awful lot of sexual tension. The novel is set in Saudi Arabia. It’s about a devout Muslim man, Nayir Sharqi, who wants more than anything to find a wife, but who unfortunately lives in a gender-segregated society. He’s not allowed to talk to women – he doesn’t allow himself to do it, and his society is very restrictive. In fact, just a few months ago, 57 men were arrested in Mecca for the crime of “flirting.” They were hanging around a women’s shopping mall, playing loud music and dancing. For someone like Nayir, who won't even look a woman in the eye, you can imagine what a time he has meeting a woman.

But he gets his chance. When his best friend’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances, Nayir does something he would normally never do: he begins to pry into a woman’s life. And in this prying, he meets a sexy young lab technician, Katya, who wants to solve the crime for reasons of her own. Of course, her sexiness and boldness make Nayir deeply uncomfortable, but without her help, he wouldn’t be able to get any information about the dead girl, so he’s just going to have to sin for a while.

On p. 69, Nayir is in the desert, looking for the crime scene. With the help of an expert Bedouin tracker, they find something else: the victim's shoe. I put the shoe in there in a nod to Columbo, who seemed to have a fetish for feet. Columbo is a kind of hero to Nayir; he’s the simple man who gets the job done. And certainly, there’s nothing sexy or immodest about Peter Falk. By the end, however, Nayir can no longer ignore a painful contradiction -- that he lives in a culture that esteems marriage but segregates the sexes, and that if he wants to find a wife, he’s going to have to shed his modesty for a while and break some of those restrictive rules.
Read an excerpt from Finding Nouf, and learn more about the book and author at Zoë Ferraris' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

"Shining City"

Seth Greenland is the author of The Bones. An award-winning playwright, he has also written extensively for film and television.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Shining City, and reported the following:
Shining City is the story of what happens when Marcus Ripps, a middle class guy who is down on his luck, inherits a dry cleaner from his estranged brother that turns out to be a front for a high priced call girl ring. His mother-in-law needs medical care and has no insurance, his son has a bar mitzvah coming up, and his wife’s business is struggling, so Marcus does some on-the-fly moral calculations and decides to become a “family values pimp.”

By page 69, Marcus only knows that his brother has died and he has been summoned to a reading of the will. It is late at night and he has been sitting in his living room with his dog Bertrand Russell, drinking whiskey and remembering his sibling, Julian.

From page 69:

Marcus finished his drink and poured another. The house was muffled in sleep. Images of Julian kept coming. As Marcus matured, he tried to see his brother as a wild child, refusing to be constrained by the dictates of bourgeois society - someone who merely wanted to roam free. But he knew in his heart that this was a fancy excuse. Julian was a criminal, and although Marcus could tie it up in theoretical ribbons and bows, there was no avoiding it. He drained the remains of his second whiskey, put fresh water in Bertrand Russell’s dish and went to bed.

What we see in this passage is the bourgeois householder ruminating from a comfortable distance about his more boundary-pushing sibling. But it is one of the last quiet moments before he, too, is drawn in a wilder direction.
Watch the video trailer for Shining City, and learn more about the author and his work at Seth Greenland's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 7, 2008


Roxana Robinson is the author of Cost, three earlier novels, and three short-story collections, as well as a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, the New York Times, Best American Short Stories, and Vogue, among other publications. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony.

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

After dinner, they all went out to the back porch. Julia put the chairs in a row, and they sat watching the sky for shooting stars.

At first they could see nothing. The night around them was opaque, a dense and uninflected black. It held them muffled and sightless. Slowly, their stares softened into gazes, and the nocturnal world emerged. The watchers became aware of the dark openness above the meadow, with the quiet shushing of the invisible water beyond, and gradually they could see the revelation of the starlit sky overhead, black, transparent, scattered with glitter, endlessly deep.

Anyone reading this page would get a strong sense of what the writing's like, and also they'd know how I feel about the landscape. They'd know that the scene takes place in summertime, because of those shooting stars that show up obligingly every August, when we're in the mood to watch them, and it's warm enough to do so.

What someone reading just this page wouldn't know is what the connections are between these people, how complicated and troubling they are. How dangerous it is to sit among your family, in the dark, even on the porch of an old farmhouse in Maine. What this page doesn't yet reveal is how dark this family's view will become, or how they will struggle toward some kind of shared vision. Watching for shooting stars is not a simple task! What they wouldn't know, from reading this page, would be the connections that exist, between this porch in Maine and the dingy, cluttered streets of Brooklyn, between a peaceful summer visit and a desperate kind of plummeting fall.

But if they went on reading they'd learn all this.
Read an excerpt from Cost, and learn more about the book and author at Roxana Robinson’s website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Exile Trust"

Vincent H. O’Neil's first novel, Murder in Exile, won the St. Martin’s Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Frank Cole/Exile mystery, Exile Trust, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, my new novel Exile Trust passes the Page 69 Test. Page 69 is quite indicative of the rest of the book, and a reader glancing over it might just become intrigued enough to read more.

Prior to Page 69, the main character Frank Cole has been playing host to his old friend Mark Ruben, a New York lawyer visiting him in his new home of Exile, Florida. Cole works as a fact checker for local insurance outfits, and Ruben has come to Florida to coordinate a legal case with a firm in Tallahassee.

The Exile Chief of Police, Denny Dannon, had asked Frank to help the town bank locate some safe deposit box-holders who had moved away without leaving a forwarding address. While Frank is on the job, an impostor tricks the safe deposit manager, Susan Wilmington, into giving him access to his "wife's" security box. When Frank tries to contact the true owner, he finds that she has recently died of a household accident in nearby Preston—and that her "husband" has been dead for years.

Just then a sultry DA named Vera Cienfuegos throws Frank off of the safe deposit job because of his checkered past. Frank is about to call Chief Dannon to complain when Mark suggests that Dannon's reputation might be in jeopardy:

I had such a high opinion of Dannon that such a thought had never entered my mind. It should have.

"And now somebody has complained about you to the DA. Chief Dannon basically hired you for this job, so that second complaint has put him on the hot seat just a little. Now that I've learned a little more about Vera's relationship to this town, I'm not certain she was overreacting by pushing you out the door. If I were you, I'd give the Chief a little room for a while."

I wasn't sure what Mark was suggesting, so I asked.

"You think I should drop the whole thing?"

"Oh, not at all. Somebody needs to figure out who that impostor was if your friend Susan is going to keep her job. We can do that, and steer clear of the bank, by continuing to ask questions about this thing out in Preston. We're just going to have to be careful about who we talk to, that's all."

"I noticed you included yourself in this little project."

"That's right. The firm up in Tallahassee is tying up some loose ends, so they asked me to stick around for a few more days. Besides, how am I going to keep you from antagonizing every lawyer in the state if I'm not standing right next to you?"

Page 69 touches on Frank's growing attachment to his adopted town, his natural impulse to help people in trouble, and the loyalty he gets from people like Mark. It's not a bad indication of what the book (and the series) is about.
Read an excerpt from Exile Trust, and learn more about the book and author at Vincent O'Neil's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 5, 2008

"The Timer Game"

Susan Arnout Smith is an award–winning playwright, scriptwriter, and novelist.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her thriller, The Timer Game, and reported the following:
This page 69 exercise is fascinating. The Timer Game is currently available in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and is being translated into Italian, German and two versions of Chinese.

The UK version is published by Harper Perennial in a creepy red and black cover with a jangly alarm clock; the version in the US and Canada is St. Martin’s Minotaur—a sleek blue and black cover with a woman’s face and part of a time face, and in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa The Timer Game is a digital high-tech cover in pixeled blue, black and red.

I don’t know what the covers are yet in Italy, Germany and Taiwan.

I bring this up, because each of those versions has a different page 69.

So first what I did, since I’m a writer and I know how to delay—was line up all the versions I presently have and open them all to page 69.

Ta dah.

Okay, so here’s the amazing thing: In the US and Canada, my character, Grace, is talking about mutual cell assimilation.

Which makes me sound a whole lot smarter than I actually am.

And in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, my main character’s little kid, Katie, is practicing a show and tell for school that involves two gerbils, one of which has checkerboard fur (nothing bad happened to any gerbils used in the creation of this novel) from an operation demonstrating...wait for it... breaking the immune barrier.

What, you thought I was going to say mutual cell assimilation?


The UK version touches on the end of the breaking the immune barrier scene (get those gerbils back in the cage now), a pay-off for The Timer Game (a pink balloon) and Grace trying to explain to her daughter how she almost got herself killed at work, shooting a schizophrenic who’s just sliced up three crime lab guys. An important conversation since chances are, some other little kid is going to be bringing the front page of the Union Tribune that’s got the whole bloody story in it for his show and tell.

So. Do these page 69’s represent the book? In a startling way, yes. The Timer Game has high tech science and bloody carnage, a little girl and a mom that’s trying to balance her lives and protect her daughter. It’s also got a really cool game in it, The Timer Game, that’s used diabolically—with a far bigger pay-off than a pink balloon—Katie’s life, if Grace plays well.
Read an excerpt from The Timer Game.

Learn more about the author and her work at The Timer Game website, Susan Arnout Smith's website, her blog, and MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Kathryn Casey is a former magazine reporter and the author of five highly acclaimed true-crime books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her newly released mystery, Singularity, and reported the following:
From Page 69:

“Sure, she’s guilty,” he said, using his fingers to comb back the errant fringe of hair falling over his forehead.

“You don’t believe that,” I said.

He paused, as if considering the possibility.

Hmmm. Well, yeah, the truth is, page 69 does go to the heart of my new novel, Singularity. How interesting.

The basics: Singularity begins a series for St. Martin’s Minotaur on Texas Ranger/profiler Sarah Armstrong, a single mom with a precocious twelve-year-old daughter, Maggie. As the book opens, Sarah’s husband, Bill, a fellow Texas Ranger, has died. With her family in turmoil, Sarah is pulled into the vortex of a sensational double-murder case, that of Houston multimillionaire Edward Travis Lucas III and his young, beautiful mistress, attorney Annmarie Knowles. Before long, Sarah becomes embroiled in controversy from every direction: within the rangers as she copes with departmental haggling, with investigators intent on fingering Lucas’s widow, and at home as she struggles to balance an intense investigation with her grieving daughter’s needs. Along the way, Sarah forms a partnership – and more – with FBI Agent David Garrity, as they traverse Texas in search of a serial killer no one else believes exists.

Now, back to page 69: It starts out with David Garrity and Sarah diagnosing the Lucas case, taking sides on who could be responsible and why. The “she” referenced in the first sentence (above, in the box) is Priscilla Lucas, the not-so-grieving widow. As the page begins David, to Sarah’s chagrin, mulls over the possibility that Priscilla is indeed behind the gruesome murders. As the dialogue on the page continues, readers wonder: What does David believe? Is he someone Sarah can count on?

Near the end of the page, the serial killer theory is debated. While David agrees that the bizarre crime scene suggests just such a ritualistic murder, he has doubts. Sometimes crime scenes aren’t what they suggest, he points out, and the profilers who diagnose them can be fallible. Who’s right? Is a serial killer afoot? Or does it all boil down to a fight over big Texas money?

Finally, the ultimate question: Will Sarah find a way to stop the killing before she becomes the next victim?
Learn more about Singularity and its author at Kathryn Casey's website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Buried Too Deep"

Jane Finnis is the author of three Aurelia Marcella mysteries, starting with Get Out or Die and A Bitter Chill.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest title in the series, Buried Too Deep, and reported the following:
I turned to page 69 of my book with some trepidation. Perhaps it included a major plot spoiler which I'd rather not quote, or consisted of two measly lines at the end of a chapter. But I'm in luck. The page is full, and quite representative of Buried Too Deep.

It's a historical mystery, and page 69 is about the first of several crimes that innkeeper Aurelia Marcella must solve. The scene is the ancient Roman Empire - specifically the province of Britannia, on the northern edge of civilisation. The year is 98 AD, which should be a time of peace and plenty for Aurelia; she is a Roman settler living on the road to York, and wants nothing more than to run a prosperous inn, and live at peace with her neighbours, both fellow-Romans and native Britons. But do they want to live at peace with her?

Aurelia is the narrator, and the main sleuth. This is unusual for a Roman-era mystery, but I wanted to look at life in the period from a woman's point of view. The Roman system gave women little legal or political power, yet Aurelia, like smart women throughout the ages, manages to live her life the way she wants to; conveniently, her twin brother Lucius is legal owner of the inn, and often around to help his sister.

On page 69 Aurelia and Lucius are investigating the death of a native British farmer. They have promised to avenge him, because…no, that would be a spoiler. They question two of his family, Divico and Esico, to get as much information as possible about the outlaws who attacked him, a band of raiders from Gaul who are plundering farmers and stirring up enmity between British tribesmen and Roman settlers. When they realise that the only witness to the attack, a shepherd boy, is alone in an outlying pasture, they fear he may be in danger; they are also afraid for their own sister, who lives nearby with her husband and small children. They are right to be afraid. Vicious feuding between landowners erupts into murder, and secrets from the past threaten present happiness. Aurelia faces her share of danger as she tries to unravel a tangle of deceit and half-truth.

From page 69:

“How many men?”

“Three. Strangers, long hair and beards, and weather-beaten looking. Spoke like foreigners. Gauls, they thought.”

“Belinus told me that the men intended to kill him, but some travellers on the highway scared them off.”

Divico scowled. “That's right. We thought he'd had a lucky escape. Only now…well, anyhow, he was in a bad way, his ribs bashed in and his leg cut, but he said he'd be all right if he just rested up a while. Illiana tried to watch over him through the night, but what with the baby and everything, well, it was too much for her. By morning he was worse, much worse, hot and feverish, talking nonsense, and his leg was still bleeding. So I asked one of the neighbours to take him down to your Greek doctor at Oak Bridges. I couldn't go myself, in case of more trouble here.”

“Where's the shepherd boy now?” Lucius asked Divico. “Could we talk to him?”

“With the sheep still. About a mile along the road, like I said.”

“He's on his own?”

Divico returned Lucius' sharp look. “Of course he's on his own. I can't spare an extra hand for shepherding, especially now.”

“That's not what he means, Divico.” Esico looked at Lucius. “You think Cattos may be in danger, don't you?”

“I'm afraid it's possible. If the attackers realise that Belinus is dead, so the lad is the only person who could recognise them again, they may come back for him.”

Divico's expression was close to panic. “By the Dagda, I never thought of that. I ought to go after him, make sure he's come to no harm. But how can I? I can't leave my sister, with things as they are.”

“Would you like us to check up on the boy?” I asked. “It's on our way. We can make sure he's all right, and let you know if he needs help.” I felt pleased that here at last was something practical we could do.
Read an excerpt from Buried Too Deep, and learn more about the author and her work at Jane Finnis' website and her blog, the Lady Killers.

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

--Marshal Zeringue