Friday, October 31, 2008

"Bowling Across America"

Mike Walsh is one of the world’s leading authorities on the geographic nuances of rented footwear. A graduate of Miami University, he grew up in a family of six children in Upper Arlington, Ohio. He lives in Chicago within walking distance of four bowling alleys.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Bowling Across America: 50 States in Rented Shoes, and reported the following:
There are few pages in Bowling Across America that don't have to do with bowling, pertinent details of the geography at hand, or some effort at poignancy via the inspiring story of someone I encountered during the trip. Page 69 is one of those pages. It is entirely a throw-away opening to a chapter on Pennsylvania that I use to set up tension that arises later in pages 70-71. In fact, due to clever page design, 69 is only 1/2 the page long, as a "handwritten" chart/illustration that it sets up was too big to fit in the space remaining on 69.

But, the page does include the book's sole mention of Burt Reynolds, and, thankfully, the only paraphrasing of the Deliverance line, "He sure got a pretty mouth!"
Learn more about the book and author at the Bowling Across America website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Veil of Lies"

Jeri Westerson is a journalist, first time novelist, and noted blogger on things mysterious and medieval.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Veil of Lies, and reported the following:
So here I am doing the page 69 test, and I see on said page of Veil of Lies, a variety of things.

First off, it's probably a good idea to tell you a little about Veil of Lies. It has a subtitle: A Medieval Noir. Enigmatic? I hope so. Veil of Lies is a medieval mystery, but features a hard-boiled detective. This gives it a unique spin, making it a little darker and edgier than your average medieval mystery. My protagonist, Crispin Guest, is a disgraced and down-on-his-luck knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London, who's hired by a wealthy and reclusive merchant to spy on his wife whom he suspects of infidelity. When Crispin witnesses her tryst and reports back to the merchant, he makes the unpleasant discovery of the merchant's murder in a locked room, throwing Crispin into involvement in murder, international intrigue, a beautiful femme fatale, and a mysterious religious relic at the heart of these crimes.

On page 69, we can see the cunning Crispin at work, as well as his cutpurse cum servant, Jack Tucker, an eleven-year-old waif who has insinuated himself into Crispin's life. Crispin asks Jack to borrow the merchant's bookkeeping ledgers, even as the dead merchant is lying in state in the same room. Crispin is puzzled by the locked room scenario: how the man could have been murdered inside the room when the window showed no signs of entry. The wheels in his acute mind begin to turn and he starts to investigate the possibilities.

It's difficult to determine if someone would be intrigued enough by the exchange on this one page to read on. One would hope so. It offers a sense of the time period, giving little snippets of details that Crispin sees around him, details that do not surprise a man of his time. But it also offers a sliver of insight into both main characters' deportment, how they think and react to a given situation.

A sample:

...He moved past an alcove and found a door. He knocked first, but without waiting for a reply, tried to open it. Locked. He glanced back at Jack, wondering if he should send him to get a key when he decided not to waste the time. He unbuttoned his coat and he crouched and used his dagger and the sharp aiglet of his shirt's lace to pick the lock. It snapped opened and Jack, straining to watch from his post by the solar, smiled.

It's a good example of their relationship, something like father and son, mentor and protégé that is central to Crispin's having been thrust into this predicament of losing his place in society in the first place: his own mentor/protégé relationship with the duke of Lancaster is the reason he committed treason eight years ago.

But that is for another page.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeri Westerson's website, her "Getting Medieval" blog, and the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir blog.

Westerson wrote about Crispin Guest's place among fictional detectives for The Rap Sheet.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 27, 2008

"The Body in the Record Room"

Joe Barone was raised on the grounds of a state mental hospital in the 1950's. He is a retired ordained minister who lives in Missouri.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new mystery novel The Body in the Record Room, and reported the following:
Can a state hospital mental patient who thinks he is the cowboy hero Roy Rogers resolve a decades-old murder in the town of Sunrise? Set in the 1950's, The Body in the Record Room is the story of Roy Rogers, his friend Harry, and Harry's dog Bullet. Roy finds a body in the hospital record room, and that leads him to investigate a murder that happened in the town of Sunrise 20 years ago.

Page 69 reflects something of the humor and humanity in the book. That page opens a chapter. The hospital superintendent, the little man, is coming across the ward. The chapter opening is told, as is the whole book, in Roy's voice:

I wasn't surprised when I saw the little man coming across the ward. I even braced myself for what he would probably have to say. But it didn't happen that way.

"You and Harry cause a lot of trouble," he said with a smile.

I just stood there.

"You don't have to tell me where you all were keeping the little dog. Dr. Jane has said she'll take it now. That way, she'll have a pet. She can get its shots and all, and after a while Harry can go down and visit Bullet–That's his name, right?– any time he wants to."

"She's a nice lady," I said.

"Of course she's a nice lady. She even disinfected the little emergency room herself. Do you know how hard it is to disinfect a place like that?"

The book contrasts a terrible crime (life-changing child abuse) with the humanity of people such as the book's Roy Rogers, Harry, Dr. Jane and the little man. It shows how an initial evil can lead to several murders. It also shows how the examples of great heroes (the real Roy Rogers and Dale Evans) change people's lives.
Learn more about the book and author at Joe Barone's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 25, 2008

"All the Windwracked Stars"

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. She is the author of eight sf/f novels, including A Companion to Wolves with Sarah Monette.

Bear applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All the Windwracked Stars, and reported the following:
Page 69 of All the Windwracked Stars in its entirety is as follows:

The glass wall to the courtyard admitted natural light, three stories' worth. Much of the main room had always been open space, high and airy for the absent mill machines. Where it had not been, Muire had torn out the second and third floors, leaving only the support members—beams thick with the memory of such trees as no longer grew on Valdyrgard, notched into the red-brick walls—and a four hundred square foot section of the overseer's office, reached by an iron spiral stair, as her apartment.

For now, the whole space stood empty and full of morning light, the only motion her neighbor in the courtyard, his head down over his watering. She didn't garden, herself, and it seemed a kind of sin to let it go uncultivated.

Within the door, she paused and threw the locks. The evidence of her long tenure was everywhere in her studio. The slate floor was scarred, and splashed metal had congealed in gouges left by the feet of giant machines. She hung Nathr on her hook, stripped off the ruins of her cloak—fumbling one-handed—and left a trail of armor behind her as she staggered toward the shower. And if her neighbor happened to glance up and catch a glimpse of her sexlessly bony frame right now, she couldn't be bothered to care.

The water was hot, at least, the catch basin on the rooftop full after last night's downpour. The pressure dropped occasionally—Sig filling his watering can or rinsing his hands—but Muire didn't care, any more than she cared about the soap and water squelching unpleasantly between her skin and the inflatable cast.

The hot water was strength, at least temporary strength, and she took it, leaning against the wall of the shower, eyes closed, breathing.

This is page 2 of Chapter 5, and what's going on here is that Muire, the primary protagonist of the novel, has just gotten home after a very bad night and a visit to the emergency room. She's marshaling her resources to return for round two of the fight she just lost conclusively. It's an aftermath and an interlude scene, and while the book itself has rather more action than you'll see on this page, I think in a lot of ways it is representative of the book.

One of the core themes of AtWS is about the stubborn persistence of life, and Muire is demonstrating that here. Battered, defeated, nursing a broken arm, she's withdrawn to her place of safety--but she has no intention of staying there. She's gathering herself to go back out and do what she has to do, despite overwhelming odds.

This is a brief respite, in other words, one that cannot last, and the puttering of her unassuming neighbor in his post-apocalyptic urban garden is meant to provide a counterpoint to that. Muire fights, she risks her life for the greater good as she perceives it--and around her, the daily business of existence goes on. The vegetables have to be watered and weeded. If you lose a fight, even if you survive, afterwards you still have to wash the blood and broken glass out of your hair.
Read excerpts from All the Windwracked Stars, and learn more about the author and her work at Elizabeth Bear's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Final Exposure"

Steve Carlson has been a working actor and screenwriter for more than thirty years. In his varied career, he has been a series regular on General Hospital, Young and the Restless, and A New Day in Eden on Showtime. He has also guest-starred in hundreds of hours of television and starred or costarred in ten feature films. Steve has written feature films, television episodes, and books on working in acting. Last year he applied the Page 69 Test to his novel, Almost Graceland.

Now he has applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Final Exposure, and reported the following:
Most people want the world to be a little different, hopefully better, for their having lived. Sometimes murder comes along and snuffs out a life before those changes were made manifest.

That was the case in my mystery Final Exposure. David and Rebecca Collier were starting over. He was giving up being an attorney to be a writer and she was quitting the world of escrow to pursue her passion, photography. They had just purchased a little beach house and were as happy as two people could be.

... Until one day when a man came to the front door and shot Rebecca in the head.

David was also shot but would live… sort of.

David was devastated. Rebecca was his life. Who would want to kill her? Why? And why did someone still want David dead? Another attempt was made on his life before he even left the hospital. What did they think he knew?

Rebecca’s legacy never got left. She wasn’t given the time. David’s obsession with that fact took him into the world that got her killed. It was important. There had to be more of their love and lives than some old law cases and escrows.

For his own protection David was told to get out of town and lay low for a while. Page 69 picked up toward the end of this exile where David was realizing it wasn’t working. He needed to do something, to be involved.

“… he also made another promise; this one to himself but with all the depth and intensity he could muster. The killer of Rebecca would be caught. He would not get away with it. To have Rebecca dead and her killer walking around was unacceptable. That would not happen.”

David had no idea what he was walking into… as he found out, he realized his life would never be the same again.
Read more about the book and author at Steve Carlson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The Wettest County in the World"

Matt Bondurant received a B.A. and an M.A. in English at James Madison University and a Ph.D. at Florida State University where he was a Kingsbury Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, and New England Review, among others. His first novel, The Third Translation, was sold in fifteen countries.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Wettest County in the World, and reported the following:
I was hoping that page 69 might contain a grisly bit of knifing or perhaps a good punch in the face, but no such luck. Lucky for me page 69 offers a nice slice of the heart of the novel, particularly as it pertains to the central character, Jack. This page tries to describe the conflicting internal forces that drive a young man to do glorious and terrible things. It also describes the fearful awe that Jack holds for his older brother Howard, who seems to absorb all manner of punishment with silent, grim aplomb. Jack wanted nothing more than to be like Howard and his ilk, but now that he is part of their company he finds it cold and unsatisfying. He knows that he must seek out other worlds. Actually, this page is probably as good as any in the book if a reader wants a sense of what it is about and how it is written.

Pg. 69 excerpt:

Howard would add a good thick chestnut stump to the fire and stir the coals for the night and Jack would gaze up at the tree-mottled night sky, his face reddened by the sun and his eyes shining, and tell Howard what he was going to do once he got some money together, the new boots he would buy, the automobile, how he would blast out of the county and head west or maybe north, to the open country. When Jack drank he grew expansive and good natured, continually convinced of the infinite possibility of the world. He told vivid tales of fantastic dreams, of the spaces beneath the mountains he visited in his sleep. He laughed and gazed about at the faces of people around him and clumsily attempted to describe just what amazing creatures they all were. Afterwards people would lie in their racks at night staring at the dusty timbers of a ceiling and wonder just what that boy was all about anyway?

Aw hell, Jack would say, there ain’t no real way to say it.

Go on, Howard said.

Jack peeled off his boots and vigorously rubbed his blistered and raw feet.

Go on.

At the corn shucking Jack grit his teeth and passed the jar with Howard and kicked at stray corn husks in the barn while the others ate. Jack surveyed the greedy faces at the supper table, sopping their biscuits in souse meat drippings, dirt farmers who would never have a spot of good clothing on them, he thought how sad and ridiculous and hypocritical their life seemed and how unaware they were of it. It was a bitter sense of righteousness; standing now alongside those men against the wall, Jack felt strangely cold in their company. He somehow envisioned that the other side carried its own sun, its own source of heat. Instead it was as frozen and remote as the principles of machinery, as the first star of winter. And they were broke besides.

No ‘count.

He looked at Howard’s heavy, passive face, standing there in the barn, his throat working slowly. None of it mattered to him, Jack thought, Howard didn’t give a fig and never would.
Read an excerpt from The Wettest County in the World, and learn more about the author and his work at Matt Bondurant's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 20, 2008

"By Chance"

Martin Corrick is the author of the acclaimed debut novel, The Navigation Log. He holds an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and for much of his working life was a university lecturer, but he has also worked as a journalist and copywriter.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, By Chance, and reported the following:
One night in the winter of 2001 a man named Gary Hart was driving down a motorway in England. He fell asleep and his vehicle veered off the road, went through a gap in the roadside barrier and finished on a railway line. Hart was uninjured. He called the police, but was still talking on his phone when a fast passenger train hit his vehicle and then collided with an oncoming coal train. Ten people died and forty were seriously injured.

Gary Hart was put on trial. The popular press called him a murderer. Crowds gathered outside the court, screaming and spitting at the accused man as he passed. The judge said that Hart was the sole cause of the accident and must accept all the blame; he was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to five years in prison.

But Gary Hart had no harmful intent; he simply fell asleep at the wheel. Hands up if you have done the same, or come close to it. He fell asleep, which happens very often; but in this case a series of unlikely coincidences combined to make it a tragedy. It is an excellent example of the operation of what philosophers call 'moral luck': guilt and innocence, it seems, are frequently determined by chance.

Hence my novel. It concerns an ordinary man – a simple, innocent man – who yet commits a terrible act, a blameworthy act, after which his life takes an extraordinary and unpredictable turn. On page 69 the central character – his name is James Bolsover – is struggling to write a story. He is a technical writer, an engineer without experience in fiction, and he is writing a story because he is in despair. He has married a young and lovely woman, only to find that she is nervous and shy – afraid of sex, afraid of making love. Now he is trying to charm her, entice her, with a bedtime story, and thereby draw her into his arms. The story is a romance of a traditional kind – stolen in part from Romeo and Juliet – whose climax is about to be reached. Very soon we will discover whether Bolsover's plan will work, and how its outcome will affect the rest of his life.
Learn more about By Chance at the Random House website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Third Strike"

Zoë Sharp's professional writing career began in 2001 with Killer Instinct, the first Charlie Fox book. This novel was followed by Riot Act, Hard Knocks, and First Drop, which earned a nomination for a Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel. Road Kill and Second Shot are the fifth and sixth titles in the series.

Sharp applied the Page 69 Test to her new Charlie Fox novel, Third Strike, and reported the following, beginning with page 69:

“Take the next lane coming up on the right,” I said. “The house is about a mile and a half further down, on the right.”

The instructions were probably unnecessary. Sean had been to my parents’ place on at least three occasions over the years, which meant he could have found it again blindfolded. He had that annoyingly uncanny sense of direction.

Now, I clutched for the center armrest as the Shogun swayed violently. “And can you please try and remember they still drive on the left over here? These roads are too narrow to go bowling down the middle at this speed.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Sean said mildly, not slackening his pace. “I’m just making best use of the visibility – hedging my bets.”

Hedge will be the operative word if you meet one of the locals towing a trailer with half a ton of horse in it,” I snapped.

“Calm down, Charlie,” Sean said, sounding irritatingly placid. “We need to decide how we’re going to handle this. We don’t know what – if anything – we’re walking into.”

“Simple,” I said, aware of a tightness in my chest that made it difficult to breathe. “We knock on the front door and, if there’s anyone I don’t recognize in the house with her, we kick the shit out of them and go home. Next?”

He pursed his lips as he stuck the unwieldy four-by-four into a narrow, blind left-hander, his movements deceptively slow when things seemed to be happening around him so fast.

“In essence, I like it,” he said lightly. “What it lacks in style it makes up for in dumb simplicity.” His voice hardened. “What makes you think you’ll get further than the threshold before they cut her throat?”

His choice of words was deliberate, I knew. It jolted me out of my focused little bubble of anger, made my hand stray automatically towards my own throat, to the fading scar that lay hidden beneath the high neck of my sweater.

When Marshal invited me to do the Page 69 or Page 99 test on the previous book in the Charlie Fox series, Second Shot, I was disconcerted to discover that neither page was, I felt, quite representative of the rest of the book. However, I’m delighted to report that Page 69 of Third Strike is much closer to the mark.

My former soldier-turned-bodyguard heroine, Charlie, has just landed back in the UK from New York, together with her partner, Sean, having rescued her highly respected – and respectable – consultant surgeon father from a police raid on a brothel in one of the seedier areas of Brooklyn. (Don’t ask – it’s a ‘you had to be there’ moment.) They suspect that her mother is in some kind of danger in the family home in Cheshire, and are hurrying there to find out what, and who, is responsible. Getting in will require a mix of guile and aggression that makes Charlie and Sean so good at their job. What follows was a fun scene to write and, I hope, a fun scene to read.
Read an excerpt from Third Strike, and learn more about the author and her work at Zoë Sharp's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"The Shiksa Syndrome"

Laurie Graff is the author of the novels You Have to Kiss a Lot of Frogs and Looking for Mr. Goodfrog.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Shiksa Syndrome, and reported the following:
New York publicist Aimee Albert knows a good spin. So when she and her gentile boyfriend break up on Christmas, she chooses to pursue a man of her own tribe. The hitch? A lot of Jewish men she likes, like shiksas - non Jewish women, often referred to as blonde beauties.

An accidental makeover turns Aimee into an accidental shiksa. When at a kosher wine tasting she’s mistaken as Not (Jewish) by an attractive Jewish guy she very much wants to date, she plays along. Enter Page 69.

Aimee’s personal life begins to wreak havoc, but the one constant is her job. She’s so good at it, EVP Jay Spiegel asks her to spearhead the product launch for KISS Copiers. Aimee’s plans are to keep the launch local – New York City. Booking concerns bring up talk of Los Angeles.

“Don’t worry, if it goes LA we’ll rent you a nice convertible,” Jay shouts from inside his office. “Maybe something red.”

I immediately grind to a halt and do an about face to where Jay Spiegel, Executive V.P. is engraved on a thin metal plaque on his office door. I barge in.

“The launch has to be in New York because you know I don’t drive,” I blurt out.

“Still?” His trim body collapses into his black leather chair. “Are you saying you have yet to handle this?”

Jay’s not insensitive. This ongoing problem always creates more when, event after event, travel accommodations are made for Aimee whose superstitious fears keep her from shifting forward.

“Aimee, Aimee, Aimee,” Jay looks at me. Disappointed.

Aimee disappoints everyone near and dear - especially herself - as the plot thickens and her lies spiral out of control until she finally finds her way. What begins on page 69, informs the climactic moment that takes place at the KISS product launch, and drives the story right down to the very last page.
Read an excerpt from The Shiksa Syndrome, and learn more about the author and her work at Laurie Graff's website and The Shiksa Syndrome on MySpace.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Todd Hasak-Lowy received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from UC Berkeley, where he studied Hebrew, Arabic, and English literature. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Florida, where he teaches Hebrew language and literature. He is the author of The Task of This Translator, a collection of stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Captives, and reported the following:
Captives is a novel about a man who suddenly finds himself on a perilous professional/political/spiritual/familial/moral/facial-hair journey, a good chunk of which takes place in his very own house. As such, one could do worse than p. 69.

The protagonist, Daniel Bloom—a successful screenwriter who is finally and quickly coming undone thanks to the implications of a new project—enters his son’s room in order to try out (per the reckless and/or brilliant advice of his new rabbi) lowering himself to his knees and bringing his forehead to the floor. (p. 67: “You ever see a Muslim pray? On your knees. Good. Lower your forehead to the floor. Good. Submit, that’s what Islam means. Submission. A moment of humility. Now think whatever else you feel like thinking. Be aware of the new thoughts that come to you in this position. Too many Jews pray without their bodies. It’s hopeless.”) Daniel’s decision to assume this position in his son’s room provides the narrator with the chance to note how Daniel worries and/or senses that he and his only child are growing apart (which, of course, complements the looming disaster that is his marriage). But then this:

Daniel enters the room, sweeps aside a pair of sweat pants and an Indians’ baseball cap with his foot, crouches to the floor, briefly goes to all fours, and then gently touches what some might call his third eye to the soft, welcoming carpet covering his son’s floor. And then, quite instantly, he feels, if not good, then better, yes, somehow better.

Without giving too much away, what soon follows is arguably the most optimistic, painless (for the protagonist) moment in the entire novel. Daniel may have actually stumbled on something that makes his very existence in this world tolerable (the recent intolerability of this existence more or less setting the plot in motion some fifty-three pages earlier). Here’s what he experiences:

Daniel attempts to feel, not so much name, just feel whatever it is that he feels when bent and bowed low. He is not sad, but he notes immediately how suddenly unobstructed the path to his sadness has become. Likewise his tension, his rage, his fear, his absolute sense of helplessness. Motionless and nearly curled up, Daniel sees himself, his emotional topography, laid out naked before him. No feature of its worrisome terrain surprises him, indeed his ability in this moment to face it, to simply survey his vast, raw inner landscape without judgment, without recoiling, without turning and rushing toward the pleasant, the easy, the acceptable brings with it enormous relief.

End of page. Of course, the solution, if there is one, to the problem called Daniel Bloom won’t prove so easy for him to find, and not only because a novel that finds it denouement on p. 69 isn’t much of a novel. P. 69 is a time-out for Daniel, but only a very brief one, as eventually this, too, will be consumed by his merciless disquiet. Thankfully, perhaps, his rabbi still has more advice, which, if I must come down on the matter, is both reckless and brilliant.
Read an excerpt from Captives and learn more about the book at the publisher's website. Visit Todd Hasak-Lowy's faculty webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Company of Liars"

Karen Maitland has traveled and worked in many parts of the world, from the Arctic Circle to Africa, before finally settling in the medieval city of Lincoln in England. Her British debut novel, The White Room, was short-listed for the Authors’ Club of Great Britain Best First Novel Award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Company of Liars, and reported the following:
Company of Liars is set in 1348, the year the Black Death entered Britain. A group of strangers are thrown together as they flee across England, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the plague. The travelers – an Italian minstrel and his apprentice, a painter and his pregnant wife, a conjurer, a one-armed storyteller and a silent albino child – are led on their journey by Camelot, the narrator of the story, a scarred old peddler who trades in fake holy relics. Each of company has a story to tell. But no one is who they appear to be. As one by one, they are forced to reveal the truth about themselves, they realize with horror that they are being pursued by something even more deadly than the plague.

On page 69, the travelers have found themselves caught up in a bizarre ancient custom known as ‘The Cripples Wedding’. This scene is based on historical fact. People believed that if they married the two most wretched people in their village together in a graveyard at the community’s expense, it would save the village from the Black Death. The practice was widespread in Medieval Europe, and the last recorded case I’ve found took place in Krakow, in Poland, in the19th Century.

Camelot has just witnessed the humiliating spectacle in which the bride, who is blind and eaten-up with arthritis, is forced to consummate the marriage in the graveyard in front of all the villagers. Though Camelot likes to portray himself as cynical, he feels great compassion for the woman. He tries to comfort her in the only way he can, by giving her the ‘relic’ of a saint.

Page 69 also conceals an important clue to something which will happen much later in the novel, for unknown to Camelot, that apparently harmless ‘relic’ will come back to haunt him and will be used against him with devastating results.

Extract from Page 69:

So what if she had no choice in her bridegroom? In that, she was no different from any highborn lady in the land, even a merchant’s daughter. For if land, trade or money is entailed, then marriage is simply a business transaction to be negotiated by the parents. Many a bride on her wedding night has passed from girl to woman with her eyes tightly shut and her teeth clenched, praying it will soon be over. No, all things considered, you could argue that the crippled bride had been treated no worse than any royal princess. But then, the flames of a fire are not made less painful by the knowledge that others are burning with you.

I took out of my scrip a little wisp of stiff coarse hair bound up with a white thread and placed it in her lap. She touched it tentatively, a puzzled expression on her face.

“A wedding gift for you, a relic. A few hairs from St Uncumber’s beard. You know of St Uncumber?”

She slowly shook her head.

“Her real name was Wilgefortis. She was a princess of Portugal whose father tried to force her to marry the King of Sicily, but she’d taken a vow to remain a virgin, so she prayed that the Blessed Virgin would make her unattractive to her betrothed. Her prayers were answered with a beard that sprouted on her face. The King of Sicily withdrew in horror when he saw it and immediately called off the wedding. But the princess didn’t have to live long with her beard. Her father, in a rage, had her crucified. Now women pray to her to be unencumbered from their husbands or any burden they bear. You could use this to pray for that too… if you wished.”

As I turned to go, she pressed her two hands tightly against the relic, the tears coursing once more down her hollow cheeks. A wisp of hair is not much to pin your hopes upon, but sometimes a wisp is all the hope you can give and it can be enough.

Read an excerpt from Company of Liars and listen to the Company of Liars podcast.

Learn more about the author and her work at Karen Maitland's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Man of the House"

Ad Hudler is the author of All This Belongs To Me, Southern Living, and the best-selling Househusband.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Man of the House, the largely autobiographical sequel to Househusband, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds our protagonist Linc Menner (the stay-at-home dad who is largely based on my life) stumbling upon his wife and their contractor in a secret meeting. But it’s not a tryst, as Linc suspects. Nope, his wife, Jo, has grown so tired of Linc’s complaining about their house being torn up for renovation that she has left her busy CEO job for an hour and taken it upon herself to sweet-talk the contractor into speeding things up.

It has been a horrible two months for the Menners: their home is under systemic renovation while they live there, and, as new Floridians, they are coping best as they can with the stress created by a very active hurricane season. (Again, hugely autobiographical here; we live in southwest Florida.)

Page 69:

“Why are you looking at the blueprints,” he asks.

“We’re getting ready to move into the kitchen,” Rod says. “I was showing her what comes next.”

“Are the cabinets in yet?” Linc asks.

“Yep. Got ‘em in today.”

“Cool. Are the countertops finished?”

“Yep. In fact, I don’t see why we can’t get you back into that kitchen in ten days or so.”

“Oh, man you don’t know how happy this makes me,” Linc says.

Though it’s only a half-page long, page 69 does represent my dialogue-heavy, humorous style of fiction-writing. Most of my books are very play-like, very cinematic because of this, and have attracted Hollywood producers and directors’ attention. (Nothing final signed yet, but I’m hopeful!)

I feel this snippet of dialogue on page 69 also does a good job of capturing the personality of Linc. We get the feeling he is expressive and informal, and it should come as no surprise to the reader that he was raised in southern California.
Read an excerpt from Man of the House, and learn more about the author and his work at Ad Hudler's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Toros & Torsos"

Craig McDonald's debut novel, Head Games, was selected as a 2008 Edgar® nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Toros & Torsos, and reported the following:
My historical crime fiction novel Toros & Torsos, which also functions as a kind of noir love story, turns on recent scholarship arguing the murder of Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia, was influenced by surrealist imagery.

I took the basic concept set forth by three nonfiction authors, and extended it forward and backward in time, pulling together other crimes and atrocities tied to the surrealist art movement to forge a mythic, grand conspiracy involving the surrealists.

One of the pieces of surrealist art that prompted the original Dahlia theorists is a photograph by Man Ray called “Minotaure.” The pose of the nude woman in the photo is eerily similar to the position of Elizabeth Short’s body when she was found on January 15, 1947. The photo crop at the model’s waist was replicated by Short’s cadaver in the sense that her torso was severed at the same point as Man Ray framed his image.

On page 69 of Toros &Torsos, the novel’s protagonist, crime fiction novelist Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives,” is visiting the Hemingway house on the run up to the infamous 1935 Florida Key’s storm that remains the most powerful tropical disturbance to strike the U.S.

Hector has brought along Rachel Harper, a woman who will cast a long shadow across the rest of Hector’s life. Hector, Rachel and Ernest and Pauline Hemingway are splitting a bottle of absinthe. Earlier in the day, the body of a woman has been found gutted and stuffed with machine parts, suggesting another painting by surrealist Rene Magritte.

Rachel, fresh from Paris, describes Man Ray’s photo, prefiguring Elizabeth Short’s murder later in the novel and setting up the basic premise that will drive the rest of the tale:

Her voice a little raw from the liquor, she said, “It’s a nude woman’s torso, taken against a field of black. It’s the expanse of her body between her navel and shoulders. No head is visible — it’s cloaked completely in darkest shadow. Her arms are raised, like this.” Rachel raised her own arms over her head. “Like horns — the horns of the Minotaur, you know? The model’s breasts are the eyes of the bull, and the concave portion of her belly — the model is very skinny — is in heavy shadow, evoking the mouth and muzzle. Man Ray, using crops and shadows, has made this naked woman’s body suggest the head of the Minotaur.”
Read an excerpt from Toros & Torsos, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"The Ayatollah Begs to Differ"

Hooman Majd was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1957, and educated in the West. He has written about Iran for GQ, the New York Times, The New Yorker, and the New York Observer, and was executive vice president at Island Records and head of film and music at Palm Pictures. He is a contributing editor at Interview magazine.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, and reported the following:
“….A middle-class family, religious but educated and wise to the ways of the world, if only through their television screen, they were far more concerned with the more mundane aspects of life, even though they stubbornly continued to live in a house that should have long ago given way to a modern apartment building, with perhaps a nice penthouse for them, the owners of the land underneath….”

So begins page 69 of my book, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. If it reads like fiction, rather than a policy book or an analysis of modern Iranian politics, that was my intention. Iran continues to be a mysterious place in the eyes of most Westerners, and few people know exactly who these Iranians, who are supposed to our enemies, are. As an Iranian-American writer with a love for both countries and cultures, I’ve long wanted to give Westerners a glimpse into the lives of Iranians; show who they are, and show how they became who they are. Although my book includes portraits of leading political players and my experiences with them, it is not a political book, and my hope is that the reader will be able to draw his or her own conclusions about a country and a people (and their motivations) that we seem to know so little about.

Page 69 is at the beginning of the chapter “If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Qom,” an account of my visits to one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam, the Vatican of Shiism, if you will. But Qom is not just mullahs and mosques; ordinary people, albeit perhaps more religious than average, live there, and their lives involve the mundane, the dramatic, and, in the case of the family I describe on page 69, heavy drug use. Opium, that is, long the drug of choice in Iran.

The page might be considered representative of the book in that it combines personal experience and observation with historical perspective, in my attempt to explain Iran and its people to Westerners. Iran is a country often misunderstood; Iranians even more so, and hopefully readers will find that Iran is far a more nuanced country than it is normally portrayed to be.

Excerpt from page 69:

….A noise from the yard signaled the arrival of other guests; an older man and his toothless young companion carrying a heavily crumpled plastic bag pushed aside the sheet and entered the room. Grateful that I wasn’t to be the sole source of amusement, I stood up as introductions were made and as the young daughter quickly fled to the safety of other rooms where strange, meaning non-familial, men are not allowed. The men shuffled in, the younger one saying his hellos and nodding while the older man gestured, apologizing for the lack of vocal chords, I understood. Although they had been removed recently in an operation, our host told me, the man seemed quite nonchalant about it and even accepted a cigarette proffered by his companion. He sat down on the carpet, lit his cigarette, and began to prepare for what I knew was to be the afternoon activity and part of the reason for the lifestyle of the family: smoking shir’e….
Read an excerpt from The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, and learn more about the book and author at Hooman Majd's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"One Nation, Under God"

Keir Graff is the author of the novels Cold Lessons, under the pseudonym Michael McCulloch, and My Fellow Americans.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, One Nation, Under God, and reported the following:
One Nation, Under God, according to the book flap, is about what you do "when following your faith means breaking the law"--and I agree with that because I wrote it. Naturally, I hoped that page 69 would happen to contain both the definitive exegesis of my thesis and a cliffhanger action scene that all but taunts the reader to turn the page.

It doesn't.

Page 69, in fact, opens in the mosh pit at a death-metal show, describes the crowd, and then chronicles the struggle of Seth Stevens and Ben Badgeley, two born-again Christians, to order Cokes without rum in them.

At first I was disappointed by the page's contents, but later I changed my mind: if you're not curious about the way an all-ages show at an Elks Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma fits into a novel about faith and politics, then you've read more books than I have.

Inspired, I opened the launch party by reading page 69. The crowd was very enthusiastic--I think they liked it better than the other two passages I read, even though the other two passages had more shapely dramatic arcs.

Although maybe they liked it better because it was shorter.

Page 69:

They loped around in a circle like short-track speed skaters, not crashing into anybody.

The band onstage was grinding out machine-gun power chords. Their singer had the death-metal vocal style down, a guttural bark that even the members of Crucifer had jokingly called 'Cookie Monster'. The comparison was valid but not totally accurate. It was possible, for example, to understand what Cookie Monster was saying.

The crowd was full of people wearing band T-shirts and motorcycle boots, with colorful tattoos and diverse hairstyles. A few of them, fans of black metal, had put on corpse paint: white faces with black eyes and lips. When he had been in the scene, Seth Stevens had thought that wearing corpse paint was the height of commitment. Now it struck him as being the metal fan's equivalent of painting his chest for a football game.

It being Tulsa, the crowd was mixed. There weren't enough metalheads to fill the room. They were joined by punks, skaters, stoners, and indie rockers. Given the scarcity of shows, if each group waited for their specific taste in music to arrive, they wouldn't get out much. There were even a few highschool jocks standing in one corner. Every few minutes they made devil horns or pretended to head-bang, just in case anyone made the mistake of thinking that they were there in a non-ironic capacity.

Against the back wall there was a small service bar staffed by two lady Elks. Their frowns showed that they didn't approve of the goings-on but they looked determined to get their beer money anyway. Signs on the walls declared that drinkers would be carded and identified with green bracelets. There were, however, lots of young-looking, bare-wristed beer drinkers.

Seth Stevens nudged Ben Badgeley to get his attention and they went over to the bar and ordered Cokes. The bartender poured them rum-and-Cokes and charged them accordingly. It took shouting and eventually pantomime to get the error corrected.

They leaned against the back wall and watched. Ben Badgeley had never been to a metal show before. He looked frightened. Seth Stevens wondered whether he wasn't drinking a rum-and-Coke after all. The whole scene--loud, thumping
Learn more about the book and author at Keir Graff's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Hell Bent"

William G. Tapply is a contributing editor to Field & Stream and the author of numerous books on fishing and wildlife, as well as more than twenty books of crime fiction.

He applied the Page 69 Test--and the Page 99 Test--to his latest novel, Hell Bent, and reported the following:
I'm not at all sure of the validity of the p. 69 (or is it p. 99?) test. I understand -- just pick a random page and see how it sounds. It's a way to judge the writing, but it's a questionable way to judge the story. It could easily fall in the middle of a sub-plot, couldn't it?

I applied the test to my new novel, Hell Bent: A Brady Coyne Novel (which is the 24th in this series that began back in 1984, and still fun to write -- and, people tell me, to read). Page 69 is a short page, the last one in a chapter, just a few lines. Trust me, it doesn't reveal much. Hell Bent fails the p. 69 test -- or the test fails the book.

But page 99 happens to fall smack in the middle of the first big plot point of the story. Here Brady is having evening with his old girlfriend, Alexandria Shaw, perhaps rekindling their old spark, when Alex gets a call from her sister-in-law, Claudia. Claudia is worried about her husband, Alex's brother (and Brady's new client), Gus, who is recently back from Iraq and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Gus has threatened suicide in the past. Now Claudia has received an email from him. "I don't think I can do this anymore," Gus wrote. And he's not answering his phone.

Chalk one up for the p. 99 test.

Here's page 99 from Hell Bent:

“I don’t think I can do this anymore? That’s what he said?”

Alex nodded.

“And Claudia thinks . . .”

“She’s afraid. Of what Gus might do. I am, too. It sounds like, you know . . .”

I nodded. “When did he send the email?”

“She didn’t say. It was waiting for her when she checked her emails after supper tonight.”

“When was that?”

“Around six-thirty.”

I looked at my watch. It was a little before ten. “She’s been trying to reach him since then?”

Alex nodded. “No answer.”

“There’s a million explanations for that,” I said. “He’s out, his phone’s turned off, the battery’s run down, he just doesn’t want to talk to Claudia –“

“Except for that email,” said Alex.

“It could mean a lot of things,” I said. I didn’t want to tell her that Gus was talking about starting his life over in Bali. That was a privileged conversation. “Try calling him,” I said. “Maybe he’s just screening Claudia.”

Alex nodded. She picked up her phone, pressed some numbers, then put it to her ear. After a minute she shook her head. “He’s screening me, too, then.”

I took out my cell phone. “His phone won’t recognize mine. What’s his number?”

Alex recited it, and I dialed it. It rang five or six times before the telephone company’s recording invited me to leave a message. I declined the invitation.

I looked at Alex and shook my head. “What do you want to do?”
Read an excerpt from Hell Bent, and learn more about the book and author at William G. Tapply's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"First to Kill"

First to Kill is Andrew Peterson's debut thriller.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
From Page 69:

This is Special Agent Bruce Henning.” Handshakes were made all around, and it was agreed to use first names. As they walked toward the sedan, Nathan evaluated his escorts. Holly Simpson was small and compact, but her demeanor said otherwise. She had a firm handshake and an aura of confidence surrounding her. Her black hair was shoulder length, not too long, not too short. It was… Just right. When her hazel eyes had looked his face over, they hadn’t reacted to the scars. Henning, on the other hand, had stared way too long, and Nathan got the distinct impression he resented outsiders being involved in bureau business. An understandable attitude, but too damned bad. The guy was medium height and build with perfect, blow dried sandy hair. Not a friggin’ strand out of place. There was intensity in his dark eyes and something else, harder to pinpoint… Nathan didn’t like him.

“I’m very sorry about your man up at the compound,” Nathan offered to Holly.

“I appreciate that,” she said.

“What exactly are you authorized to do with the Bridgestones’ cousins?” Henning asked.

Nathan stopped walking and faced the man. Henning’s statement and tone was clearly designed to put him on the defensive. Not on my watch and not from the likes of you. This was no time to show even the slightest hint of weakness or hesitation. Nathan leaned forward slightly and locked eyes.

“We’re authorized to torture them, Bruce. Do you have a problem with that?”

Henning stared for a few seconds. “There’s no evidence they had anything to do with Freedom’s Echo. They’re just a couple of hay seeds.”

“Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.”

“Look,” Holly said, “the bureau owes you for firing that warning shot up at the compound. You saved a dozen lives, but you need to understand we’re uncomfortable with this kind of thing. The FBI doesn’t condone it. It’s a serious breach of ethics for us.”

I'd have to say this page is representative of the book. It's written in my main character's POV. He doesn't really like the FBI's involvement, but it's unavoidable. He's a little irritated and tired in this scene and the narrative voice reflects that.

I would say yes, a reader would be inclined to keep reading to find out what Nathan is going to do that bothers the FBI so much.
Read the first chapter of First to Kill, and learn more about the book and author at Andrew Peterson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 3, 2008

"A Song for You"

Betsy Thornton, who works for the Cochise County Attorney’s Victim Witness Program as a victim compensation advocate and a victim advocate, is the author of the Chloe Newcombe Mystery series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest novel in the series, A Song for You, and reported the following:
A Song for You is a mystery about Annie Glenn, a young woman who sang with a rock band Point of No Return and who was murdered some 16 years before the book begins. I was a victim advocate for fifteen years and have always been interested in the long term effect on the people closest to the victim of a violent crime-- in this case Annie's daughter Rachel who was ten at the time and Annie's boyfriend Kurt, who was charged and found not guilty of her murder. When the book begins Rachel is in her twenties and still dealing emotionally with the murder of her mother while Kurt is struggling too, both trying to find their way back to who they were before the murder.

On page sixty-nine Rachel is remembering having to testify at the trial:

…hardly remembered actually testifying as though it were someone else on the stand and she was in the audience watching. When she got to the part about finding her mother, one of the jurors, a middle-aged woman, started crying softly.

"Rachel," asked Mr. Rasmussen, "do you know a man named Kurt Dickens?"


"And who was he in relation to your mom?"

"Her boyfriend."

"And is he here in the courtroom?"


"Want to point him out."

Kurt was sitting over to the right in her line of sight, next to his lawyer. Mr. Cooper. His blond hair was much shorter than it used to be and he was wearing a white shirt, red tie and a tan sports jacket. The sleeves of the jacket weren't quite long enough. The last time she saw him before her mother's death was when the three of them took a hike into Dixie Canyon to look at the waterfalls made by the monsoons. He'd been funny that day, funny haha.

It was so sad remembering that funny haha day that she could hardly bear it. She pointed to him without really looking at his face.

"We need you to speak out loud for the recorder. What's he wearing, Rachel?"

"A tan jacket, white shirt and a red tie."

"Now Rachel do you remember at some time Kurt Dickens lending your mother his gun?"

She had tried so hard to remember but a memory it wouldn't come. She tried now but it still wouldn't. "No," she said.

"You have no memory of that at all?"
Read an excerpt from A Song for You, and learn more about the author and her work at Betsy Thornton's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Screenwriter David Fuller spent eight years researching Sweetsmoke, his first novel, and along the way discovered that he had ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War.

Here is his take on the Page 69 Test applied to the novel:
I have applied the page 69 test to Sweetsmoke, the story of Cassius, a slave on a tobacco plantation in Civil War Virginia, 1862. Cassius goes after the murderer of a freed black woman, a woman who once saved his life and later taught him to read. Although it has a mystery at its core, it is first and foremost historical fiction, delving deeply into Cassius’s journey into knowledge, and hopefully, freedom. Page 69 is a fair example of that.

Page 69 echoes the opening of the novel, which begins with two ten year-old boys about to fight one another, one black and a slave, the other white and the master’s grandson. Cassius watches as the tension of the moment hurls him back in memory, twenty years to when he himself was ten and faced the father of this white boy. It was the moment when Cassius learned that he was not free, that his actions had fierce consequences and his punishment was to be quick and permanent as he was sent to the fields two years early for unknowingly stepping out of line. Because of that, Cassius now knows precisely what will happen to Andrew, the young black slave, if he swings and hits the white boy.

On page 69, Cassius and Andrew walk together to the Big To-Do, an important function in which slaves from multiple plantations are allowed to get together and cut loose. It’s a simple moment, a man walking along a country road with a boy, a breath in the storytelling that comes between Cassius’s important discovery the night before that the woman who was murdered was a secret spy for the Union, and Cassius’s impending return to her home to meet her contact. All stories need these breaths, a chance to build tension as well as to expand and illuminate character. Walking along the road, Cassius quizzes Andrew about his new circumstances.

Note: In Sweetsmoke, the dialogue of slaves is rendered without quotation marks. Freed blacks and whites, however, do have quotation marks. This is not a bow to post-modern literature, but a way to illuminate on the page that slaves have no voice in their society. It also illustrates key moments when whites speak bluntly and carelessly in front of their slaves, as if the slave is not there. This lack of quotation marks for slaves plays out with a certain irony, as Cassius’s voice is the most powerful in the novel.

They walked to Edensong, the Jarvis plantation. Clouds moved in and blocked the sun and a cool wind picked up.

You got new pants, said Cassius.

Andrew nodded.

Cassius did not wish to press Andrew, but he knew that sometimes a young man needed to be prompted so that he understood he was being offered an opportunity to speak frankly.

New hat. New shoes, said Cassius.

Andrew turned his face to Cassius, and for a moment appeared older than his ten years as he searched Cassius’s expression for hidden meaning.

I work the fields now, said Andrew.

How’s that going?

Andrew shrugged, but a momentary wince around his eyes betrayed him. Cassius suspected Andrew had received a warning from his father Abram to withhold his complaints. It was likely that Andrew’s middle brother Sammy tormented him as Sammy himself had been tormented by his older brother Joseph when he had started in the fields.

Was your age when I went to the fields, said Cassius.

I thought you was a carpenter.

Didn’t start out that way. Had some trouble with the young master.

Oh. Charles? I mean, Master Charles?

No. Different young master.

This reference to the ‘different young master,’ so casually dropped into the conversation, disguises a deep dislike that Cassius harbors for Jacob Howard, Charles’s father.
Read an excerpt from Sweetsmoke, and learn more about the book and author at David Fuller's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"The Professors' Wives' Club"

Joanne Rendell was born and raised in the UK. After completing a PhD in English Literature, she moved to the States to be with her husband, a professor at NYU. She now lives in a student dorm in New York City with her family.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Professors' Wives' Club, and reported the following:
The Professors’ Wives’ Club tells the story of four women doing battle with a ruthless dean at the fictitious Manhattan University. The power-hungry dean is all set to bulldoze a beautiful faculty garden. What he hasn’t bargained for is the guts and will of four professors’ wives who are determined to halt his demolition plans and save the garden which has become their meeting place and refuge.

One of the four women, Mary, is a professor at the university like her husband. She’s an acclaimed novelist and teaches creative writing. On p. 69 we find her in class with her students. She is a competent and beloved instructor, yet this class has been awkward to teach. One of her students has written a short story about domestic abuse and what no one knows is that Mary herself has often felt the rage of her husband’s fist against her skin. Her husband is Jack Havemeyer, the dean who plans to destroy the garden.

The class has been a struggle, but when one of her students suggests that victim’s of abuse should just leave, Mary gets fired up.

“Leaving is tough,” Mary continued, looking around at the class. “Finding a new job, a new place to live, a new community. It all takes time and” – she blinked for a second – “courage.”

As Mary says these words, she remembers that she has all her plans in place to leave her husband. She has a new job in California lined up and air tickets hidden in her underwear drawer. This thought gives her the confidence to go on with the class.

“Mary cleared her throat and began, ‘If you all look back at the story, you’ll see that Chrissie does capture these difficulties and contradictions, and her depictions of the abuse is, in fact, very believable. For instance, if we turn to page three…’”
Learn more about the book and author at Joanne Rendell's website, blog, and MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue