Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Boneyard, and reported the following:
I feel that in some ways page 69 of my debut thriller The Tunnels was more representative of the book as a whole than its counterpart in Boneyard (the curse of writing a series, I suppose). Still, the scene in question introduces readers to my main character, FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones (think Clarisse Starling a decade into her career, but more jaded and socially awkward.) It also depicts Monica Lauer, my brassy blond homicide investigator from Vermont, at her finest. In another day and age she would be referred to as a “broad,” and she’s one of my all-time favorite characters: a brash single mother with a smart mouth and a fierce sense of justice.

In this scene Kelly and Monica are interviewing a suspect in his home:

Even by the standards of Williamstown the house was a stunner, tucked along a quiet lane surrounded by other mansions. Hard to picture a kid like Randy Jacobs at home here, Kelly thought to herself.

The investigative team has recently identified Randy’s remains, which along with four other bodies were found strewn across the border between Massachusetts and Vermont. My idea for the book stemmed from the jurisdictional issues a cold case like this creates, when no department wants to add to their homicide tally. There’s a great scene at the beginning of season two of The Wire where cops are pushing a body through the water from one side of a bridge to the other so they won’t have to deal with it. That kind of thing intrigues me, since the vast majority of cop shows depict something very different, police passionately devoted to solving a crime no matter the cost. I think we want to believe this is true, but with funding tied to homicide solve-rates, sadly it’s not always the case.

Sommers leaned against the sofa armrest without inviting them to sit down. She (Kelly) cast a glance at Monica, who stepped forward and plopped down on the nearest armchair. Sommers winced slightly as she curiously lifted a stone statue off the end table. “Whatcha got here?” She turned it over in her hand.

“Could you not…” He asked, attempting to retrieve it.

Monica examined it closely; it was a phallus with a mounted pair of wings. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day, huh?”

“It’s a Dionysian fertility symbol, and quite a valuable one.” He said, clearly miffed as he snatched it back.

“Whoa, easy.” Monica held both hands up. “I wasn’t going to break it.”

Don’t you just love her? I’m trying to figure out a way to bring Monica back in future books, but it’ll be tough unless I set something else in Vermont. Right now I’m writing a thriller with a more national scope, involving hate crimes, domestic militias, and terrorism, so unless Monica undergoes a radical transformation I’m not sure I’ll be able to work her in. Still, she’s a lot of fun in Boneyard.

What was most interesting for me in writing Boneyard was delving into the minds of my serial killers, who are engaged in a cat and mouse game with each other while simultaneously evading law enforcement. It all stemmed from a study I stumbled across regarding the true number of active serial killers operating in the United States at any given time. The estimate fluctuates wildly, and one researcher posited that if you took the number of people reported missing every year, deduct child custody cases and people who might have disappeared themselves, we’re still left with an astonishingly high statistic. This same researcher theorized that if a serial killer was smart enough to target people who wouldn’t be missed (aka the “missing missing”: prostitutes, illegal immigrants, anyone whose disappearance would likely go unreported), and took the time to dispose of their bodies where no one would find them, a killer could seize victims in a small area for a long period of time without attracting attention. Which is exactly what one of my killers did. He’s living in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts, a place where astonishing wealth rubs shoulders with grinding poverty, with a transient population that ranges from wealthy vacationers to Appalachian Trail hikers to deadheads in beat up VW vans. Unfortunately for my killer, someone with a grudge follows him, discovers his secret, and (being a little off himself) starts digging up the bodies so they’ll be found. That brings in Kelly, who is assigned to supervise an ad-hoc task force comprised of homicide investigators from different states who can’t stand each other. And the race is on…
View the video trail for Boneyard and listen to an excerpt.

Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Gagnon's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue