Sunday, November 30, 2008

"The Frailty of Flesh"

Described as “one of crime fiction's hot new voices” by Rick Mofina, Sandra Ruttan’s short stories have appeared in Out of the Gutter, Crimespree Magazine, Pulp Pusher, Demolition and The Cynic. She is the editor of Spinetingler Magazine.

Earlier this year she applied the Page 69 Test to her novel, What Burns Within.

Now she applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Frailty of Flesh, and reported the following:
I included this quote at the beginning of The Frailty of Flesh:

“Nothing softeneth the arrogance of our nature like a mixture of some frailties; it is by them we are best told that we must not strike too hard upon others, because we ourselves do so often deserve blows.”
* Sir George Savile, Advice to a Daughter

When we talk about the subject of a book we often mention the plot, but The Frailty of Flesh has layers that go beyond the crimes under investigation. As characters are confronted with frailties in others they come face to face with their own vulnerabilities, which can be an uncomfortable or even terrifying process. At its core it’s a book about our fears and doubts, about how our weaknesses can affect our ability to be rational and impartial, and contribute to mistakes that can rip our lives apart.

Page 69 shows Craig Nolan’s internal struggle over how to deal with a reporter who knows more about the case he’s reviewing than he does. Nolan’s afraid he’s being set up, afraid he’s going to learn something about his father that will change how he feels about him, and this begins to affect him personally. It’s a great scene for the Page 69 Test because it emphasizes the questions Nolan is struggling with, and we see how this exchange contributes to tension in other relationships and touches on the themes at the core of this book.

From what he could tell the hair tucked under her beret was a lighter shade of strawberry blonde and she had a few freckles on her cheeks, wide blue eyes, not a lot of make-up. He guessed she wasn’t much more than five feet tall, which added to the overall impression. She didn’t seem threatening.

But she was still a reporter, and Craig had had his share of run-ins in the aftermath of Lori’s death and his own shooting. He heard another vehicle pull up, the engine stop, the doors open. The longer he stood there the more people who would see him talking to a reporter, and the more likely Zidani would hear about it… “What do you want, Ms. Fenton?”

The smile slipped from her face, but she didn’t look angry. Instead, the corners of her eyes dropped just enough for her to look hurt. “Just let me talk. Hear what I have to say. If you still decide you don’t want to comment,” she held up her hands, “no problem. What have you got to lose? Let me buy you dinner.”

That was when he realized the footsteps had stopped. He looked up as Tain reached for Ashlyn’s arm, tilting his head toward the door. Ashlyn stood frozen for a moment, looking from Emma to Craig before letting Tain lead her inside.

“Look, I’ve already told you I didn’t even work this case. And I don’t know how you heard about the break-in, but that’s hardly front page news. A few dozen homes are broken into every day in the GVA.”

“But how many of those homes are owned by a ranking RCMP officer, who just happened to get promoted after closing a high-profile murder investigation, the same murder investigation that is now under review? Word is, Donny Lockridge plans to file a lawsuit against your father over his wrongful conviction-”

“Alleged wrongful conviction. He was put on trial and convicted by a jury. That wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t evidence to support it.”

She smiled. “See? We’re talking and you weren’t struck by lightning. It probably didn’t even hurt.”

Craig blew out a breath and ran his hand over his head, pushing his hair back before pointing at her. “Look, I’m sure you’re a nice person, don’t take it personally. But you’re jumping to conclusions without facts and printing such speculation would be irresponsible and unprofessional.”

“Which is why I’m here, talking to you, trying to find out what did happen. Don’t you want to know? Aren’t you curious?” She looked him in the eye. “Is there any part of you that doubts Donny Lockridge murdered Hope Harrington?”

“How can I answer that? I’ve hardly even had a chance to look at the files.”

Craig almost groaned when she smiled. “So, you admit you’re looking into this?”

He raised his hand to stop her. “I am reviewing the case only because I have been ordered to. It has nothing to do with my father, the break-in, you, Lockridge’s lawyer or anything else.”

Craig started to walk to the building, but she wasn’t deterred from following him. “Is that why you met with Lisa Harrington today?”

He grabbed the door and didn’t even acknowledge her question with a glance as he marched into the building, thankful that she had enough sense not to follow him any further.


“I’ll catch up in a minute.” Ashlyn pushed the door to the ladies room open and disappeared inside.

Tain paused. Should he wait, make sure she was okay? They’d had a long, hard day with little to show for their efforts, but he hadn’t seen her shoulders sag so low since they’d been working almost around the clock on the child abductions and murders. The “angel arsons”, as the press called them.

He continued down the hall, knowing how she’d react if he checked up on her. Still, he wondered about Craig and the woman outside. Ashlyn had never been the jealous type. Then again, as far as he knew, Craig had never given her reason to be.

Read an excerpt from The Frailty of Flesh, and learn more about the book and author at Sandra Ruttan's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Point No Point"

Mary Logue is an award-winning poet and mystery writer. Her books include Snatched, a middle-grade mystery she wrote with Pete Hautman; Poison Heart, her seventh crime novel; and Meticulous Attachment, her third book of poems. She has also published a young adult novel, Dancing with an Alien. Her non-fiction books include a biography of her grandmother, Halfway Home, and a book on Minnesota courthouses.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Point No Point, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel Point No Point features a scene of my main character, Claire Watkins, trapped in the bathroom in the sheriff's department of Pepin County where she is a deputy sheriff, taking a pregnancy test. She's in her mid-forties, not really wanting to have another child. She hasn't told her boyfriend Rich that his best friend has tried to commit suicide while in her custody, nor that she thinks she might be pregnant. To quote my own book from page 69: "Claire was trying to learn to not put things off. Otherwise they just became this huge glob of worry and weight on her shoulders and she walked around feeling them pressing her down all day long." Yup, Claire is having that kind of day. Wondering what mess sex might have gotten someone in to is really what this book is about. So, I guess I'd have to say that page 69 is quite representative of McLuhan's theory. And, of course, I won't tell you what the result of her test. You have to read the book.
Read more about Point No Point at the publisher's website.

Visit Mary Logue's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Jeffrey A. Carver's most recent novel, Eternity's End, was a finalist for the Nebula Award. He's written more than a dozen novels, including his critically acclaimed novelization of Battlestar Galactica.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Sunborn, and reported the following:
In Sunborn we follow a number of relationships that have been developing over several novels of The Chaos Chronicles—in particular, relationships between the human John Bandicut, his robots Napoleon and Copernicus, the quarx Charlie inhabiting his mind, and his alien companions Ik, Li-Jared, and Antares. At the moment, they are careening toward a collision with cosmic forces, as they have been dispatched to investigate trouble in the Orion Nebula—trouble that threatens the lives of sentient stars, and possibly nearby worlds, as well, including Earth itself.

On page 69 we find Bandicut and Antares, the humanoid Thespi third-female, enjoying a quiet moment together after the company's harrowing escape from a disintegrating space station. With their companions, they have boarded a spacecraft of unknown alien design, bound for the Starmaker (Orion) Nebula. The "halo" Delilah has shown them to their sleeping quarters.

"John Bandicut," Antares murmured at last, pressing her forehead to his neck, "I am frightened, a little."

"Just a little?"

"More than a little."

He took a deep breath. "Me too."

"But I am glad to be here with you, instead of alone..."

Antares stared up into space. Her forehead, framed by thick auburn hair, was drawn in thought. Her eyes shone, thin gold irises floating over ebony pupils. Her mouth crinkled in response to his smile. Her gaze shifted to meet his, and the furrows faded from her brow. "John Bandicut—do you remember, back on the world of the Neri, when we were—" rasp "—intimate?"

He chuckled. "Did you think I was likely to forget?"

She hiccupped a laugh. "No, not really. But I wondered... how are you feeling about it now?" She tapped his chest with her forefinger. "I don't know what sticks in your human mind and what doesn't."

"Well, that does...."

Indeed it does. Bandicut is still trying to make sense of his new place in the his mission to spare Earth from a comet (in Neptune Crossing) resulted in his being flung out of the solar system and into an alien civilization the likes of which he couldn't have imagined. He didn't lose just his home when he was exiled; he lost a newfound love, Julie Stone, whom he seems likely never to see again. He might have appreciated the refrain, "Love the one you're with..."

But sometimes that seems beside the point, as there are those intelligent stars out there that are dying, and some very strange beings about to join them in their quest.
Visit Jeffrey A. Carver's website and blog.

Get a free PDF of Sunborn and the books in the Chaos Chronicles that precede it at

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"The Wyrmling Horde"

David Farland has published over forty fantasy and science fiction novels for both adults and younger readers.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Wyrmling Horde, the seventh volume in the Runelords series, and reported the following:
Page 69 ends a chapter. The sentence which begins on page 68 reads:

Fleeds did not have great fortifications, but the women of Fleeds had great hearts. And they had loved and honored the Earth King and would respect his son.

Home [Rhinna] told herself, I'm going home.

With that, she flapped her wings, banked to her left, and soared up from under the bridge, into the open sky. Eagerly she flew to the west, into a setting sun that gleamed like a white pearl as it settled into an opalescent haze.

The Runelords series is a fantasy where lords can take attributes from their vassals. Have you ever wished that you could be as sexy as, say, Olga Kurylenko and strong as the Rock and as smart as Einstein? Well, in this series you can. Using magical branding irons called forcibles, the lords draw out such attributes. Of course once an attribute is given, the beautiful woman becomes a hag, the genius becomes a drooling idiot, and the strong man might fall down and die because his heart is too weak to keep beating.

And there are some catches to the magic. For example, the spell works only so long as both people are alive. Thus, if a lord dies, then the attribute will return to the person who gave it, but if the vassal dies, then the lord will lose the attribute altogether.

So the lord has a vested interest in keeping his vassals healthy, while the vassals may want their lord dead. Furthermore, enemies to a king might well find that the only way to weaken him is to kill those who have granted use of their attributes.

Into this vicious society is thrown a young conscientious objector named Gaborn Val Orden--a prince who hates the fact that the people who love and serve him the best must give so much of themselves. He is visiting a like-minded princess when her kingdom is overthrown by the evil Raj Ahten, a man who dreams of taking so many attributes from others that he will become godlike and invincible.

Confronted by this abomination, Gaborn struggles to overthrow Raj Ahten, but there is a catch: beneath the earth is an army of giant creatures called reavers, and they pose a very real threat to mankind.

So Gaborn finds himself in a deadly struggle to wrest power from Raj Ahten even as the world is confronted by a far greater threat.

For me, the story serves as something of a metaphor for our world. So many of us are caught up in making a daily living that we ignore the greater threats around us--things like global warming, impending financial meltdowns, and so on. Thus the George Bushes and Osama bin Laden's go at each other's throats while civilization swirls down the toilet.

Enough about the series. Let's get back to page 69.

On page 69 of The Wyrmling Horde, a young woman named Rhianna is wearing artificial wings. She has just tried to beg for help from Gaborn's old enemies. She's trying to get them to unite in order to face a larger threat, the wyrmling horde, but she fails, and so she flies off toward her ancestral home, hoping to find women who will be prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to become Runelords in an effort to stop the destruction.

SFRevu recently wrote, "David Farland has written a series that rivals the best of Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, and Orson Scott Card." Publishers Weekly said, "David Farland is a wizard at storytelling," while John Jarrold, the UK's foremost fantasy critic said of my work, "The world of fantasy has a new king."
Read an excerpt from The Wyrmling Horde, and learn more about the book and author at David Farland's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 24, 2008

"A Woman Worth Ten Coppers"

Morgan Howell is the author of the Queen of the Orcs trilogy: King’s Property, Clan Daughter, and Royal Destiny.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Woman Worth Ten Coppers, and reported the following:
Page sixty-nine of A Woman Worth Ten Coppers is one of the calmer parts in a book written to be a page-turner. But it is also a part concerned with the nature of holiness, a major theme of the novel.

Honus is a man whose life is dedicated to the goddess Karm. Yim is the young woman who becomes his slave. Honus has served one holy person all his life, but that man has just been slain. Admonished by his master never to bear his own burden, Honus buys Yim to carry his pack. He is unaware that she was enslaved while on a mission for Karm, and Yim intends to keep it that way.

Page sixty-nine concludes the chapter where Yim performs her first miracle. She and Honus are staying with a mad woman who believes that Yim is her murdered child. When Yim thinks everyone is asleep, she cures the old woman by raising the child’s spirit. Honus catches Yim returning to bed and nearly beats her for attempted thievery, accusing her of dishonoring Karm.

Yim hides her powers from Honus because she has been raised to do so. More significantly, she sees them only as gifts bestowed so she might fulfill her obligation to the goddess. Later, she confides to a friend “I’m not special, my task is.”

The old woman gives Yim the dress saved for her daughter’s wedding as a token of her appreciation and realization that her daughter will never return. She addresses Yim as “Karmamatus,” a term reserved for holy ones. However, Honus and the woman’s son can’t comprehend her reverence, and the dress quickly disintegrates. Yim is left nearly naked, weary from the night’s exertions, and in a sullen mood.

In writing Yim, I was inspired by the passage in Mark where Jesus cries from the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” At this moment, he seems neither confident nor divine, only a man in pain who is racked by despair and uncertainty. That is the moment in which Yim dwells. She may possibly be Karm’s incarnation, but she never sees herself as such. Always centered on her human side, Yim’s relationship with Karm is a combination of love and resentment. Fantasy heroines often wield swords or bolts of magic. I wanted to write of one whose strongest power is compassion.
Read an excerpt from A Woman Worth Ten Coppers, and learn more about the book and author at Morgan Howell's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"Hannah’s Dream"

Diane Hammond, the author of Going to Bend and Homesick Creek, is the recipient of an Oregon Arts Commission literary fellowship and served as a spokesperson for the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hannah’s Dream, and reported the following:
What to say about page 69 of Hannah’s Dream, especially because it’s actually a half-page and, moreover, the end of a chapter?

Because Hannah’s Dream has an ensemble cast rather than one main character, short of a party scene there’s no way that any single page, be it page 69 or page 269, can be representative of the book as a whole. It does, however, capture Truman, a late thirty-something single father, and Miles, a pot-bellied pig, passing a late night together. Truman mulls over his now ex-wife’s unreasonable expectations of both him and their young son Winslow, for whom the pig has been purchased—one of Truman’s few rash acts. Miles, the pig, is brand-new to Truman’s household, and though he knows nothing about pigs, Truman sits awake with him so that he won’t feel homesick or bereft.

There we have it, pig and man, a small island of light in an otherwise dark world.

In the pages of Hannah’s Dream, a book about an elephant and her aging keeper, many evenings are spent in the company of animals, especially by Sam Brown, Hannah’s keeper, and Hannah, the Asian elephant entrusted to his care by an eccentric Edwardian cross-dressing woman forty one years before. The bonds between Hannah and Sam are unbreakable. Because Hannah is the zoo’s sole elephant, and too large to bring home at night, Hannah, Sam and his wife Corinna spend many evenings watching TV together in the elephant barn. Similar human-to-animal bonds of love exist elsewhere in the book: between an artist and his three housecats; between Miles and Truman’s son Winslow. And throughout the book, borders of appropriate behavior are frequently blurred and, at times, ignored altogether.

In the end, in the worlds of Bladenham, Washington and the Max L. Biedelman Zoo, goodness is an attainable goal.
Browse inside Hannah’s Dream.

Learn more about the book and author at Diane Hammond's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 22, 2008

"Hold My Hand"

Serena Mackesy is a journalist and novelist. Her journalism includes features and travel writing, mostly for The Times; her Independent column was published as a novel, The Temp, which soared into the Sunday Times Top 10, and was followed by the critically acclaimed Virtue and Simply Heaven.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hold My Hand, and reported the following:
She feels, in the cabin-like kitchen, like a sailor lost at sea. It's warm enough in here, for she's turned the oven on full whack and left the door open, but she knows that going out into the corridor will be a different matter. The wind, stepping up a gear, howls against the walls like a wild animal. She's always been a city child: lived with her mum and dad in Peckham until she was grown-up, would probably have gone back there with Yasmin if she'd had the option. She's never been alone somewhere where the orange glow of streetlights and the occasional sound of passing footsteps couldn't give at least the illusion that someone was at hand. Out here, miles from anywhere… anything could happen and no-one would know.

Abruptly, she pushes her chair back. It's the tiredness talking, like Carol said. This has to be better than Streatham. There's nothing worse than being surrounded by people and knowing that no-one will help you. You're not to go down this road. You're still healthy, your daughter is beautiful and bright and loving and life is going to get better. It has to. Tomorrow we'll buy double-thick duvets and a couple of fan heaters and hot water bottles, and I'll get the kettle and the clothes and the TV from the car and we can start to make a little home here, at last. But tonight you must sleep.

Something clatters out in the yard, makes her jump. Don't be silly, she thinks. There's a wind. It's probably a branch or something, blown loose and bowling down the hill. And now there's rain rattling off the window like gravel thrown by a teenage lover. It doesn't mean anything. He's not followed you. He will have been at the office when you left. It's just nature, and you're in the middle of it.

She considers, for a moment, leaving the oven on overnight; turns it, reluctantly, off. No point in testing the fuse box; it obviously trips at the most minor of provocations.

Entering her bedroom is like stepping into a fridge: a month standing empty in early winter has left the whole house shivering with neglect. Pulling the curtains, she feels a blast of cold air from the window, creeping round the ancient casement. She remembers her father, one winter of her childhood before they could afford vinyl replacements, going round the house with clingfilm and sellotape sealing out the cold air. I'll get some tomorrow, she thinks, when we go to the supermarket. The list gets longer and longer.

Slightly to my surprise, p69 does reflect quite a lot of the themes of Hold My Hand. Bridget, the character portrayed here, has packed up her daughter and a small number of belongings and run away from London, debt and a stalkerish ex-husband to start over with a new name and a new home. She is caretaking Rospetroc House, a mansion on the edge of Cornwall's Bodmin Moor, and this is their first night, barricaded into the housekeeper's quarters, while the weather that the area's Summer visitors never see howls about the eaves. Bridget has lived under siege for a number of years, and tends to jump at her own shadow – but something is wrong at Rospetroc and she's soon going to find that she's leapt from frying pan to fire. The house is isolated and its electrical supply unreliable; and the family who own it are covering up a number of secrets about the place's history. Soon, Bridget will realise that not all the mysterious noises in the night can be written off to natural phenomena – and that what might seem at first glance like a place of safety can just as easily – for those who lived here in the past as well as for herself and her daughter – turn out to be a trap...
Read an excerpt from Hold My Hand, and learn more about the book and author at Serena Mackesy's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2008

"An Innocent Client"

Scott Pratt's debut novel is An Innocent Client.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
As a litmus test for a random reader, pg 69 of my debut novel, An Innocent Client, probably sucks. It's the end of a chapter and contains only a few paragraphs. The protagonist, Joe Dillard, is arriving home at night after dinner and sees movement on his front porch. He hears his German shepherd raising hell inside the house. He walks around to see who it is, and when his wife turns the light on from inside, he sees his sister, who has just been released from jail. She's wearing a T-shirt that says, "Do me, I'm Irish," and the book goes on from there.

An Innocent Client is about a criminal defense lawyer who's so sick of the profession he wants out. Before he gets out, however, he'd like to represent just one freaking client who's truly innocent. Like they say, you have to be careful what you wish for. The book is a powerful indictment of the American criminal justice system and a damned good read.

Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review the last week of September, and I have to say I'm proud of it.
Read an excerpt from An Innocent Client, and learn more about the book and author at Scott Pratt's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"Dark Rain"

Tony Richards is the author of five novels—the first was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award—plus many short stories and articles. His work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Cemetery Dance, Asimov's, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Weird Tales.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Dark Rain, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dark Rain -- my first full-length novel in over a decade, and hopefully the start of a whole series of them -- happens to be one of the most action-packed pages in the entire book. It falls right in the middle of the first action sequence, in fact. A vicious and hard-to-kill creature called the Dralleg -- the servant of an evil magician named Saruak -- has just materialized in the office of the book’s two heroes, Ross Devries and Cass Mallory. And they are desperately trying to fight it off, all weapons blazing.

If you like this kind of stuff, then it’s the perfect introduction. There is plenty more adventure and excitement in Dark Rain, culminating in a final battle on the rooftops above Union Square, and the book has variously been described as ‘fast and fun’ and ‘a one-sitting read.’

But if you’re of a more pensive nature, there’s no need to worry. What I’ve done in Dark Rain, you see, is create a whole new imaginary town, Raine’s Landing, Massachusetts. It might look normal on the surface, but is actually a very strange place indeed. Because way back in the Seventeen Hundreds, the real witches of Salem fled there to escape the trials. They married into the local population, and the place has been imbued with magic -- some of it of the dark kind -- ever since.

And so I introduce the reader to the town, its different neighborhoods, its rich districts and poor ones. And there are some carefully-drawn portraits of its inhabitants too, ranging from more rational ones like Judge Samuel Levin to bizarre characters who’ve been driven insane to varying degrees by their own magic -- Dr. Lehman Willets and the manic Woodard Raine.

There’s something to enjoy on every level, in other words. The next book in the series -- Night of Demons -- is due out next year.
Browse inside Dark Rain, and learn more about the book and author at Tony Richards' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Murder with All the Trimmings"

The Anthony and Agatha Award-winning Elaine Viets is the author of the bestselling Dead-End Job series and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the latest novel in the latter series, Murder with All the Trimmings, and reported the following:
The Page 69 test lit up like a Christmas tree for my new mystery, Murder with All the Trimmings. This is the fourth book in the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series. Josie feels like Scrooge after slogging through the malls as a professional shopper. But her friend, Alyce, loves the holidays. Here’s how page 69 starts:

Every year, Alyce waited for Christmas with a child’s delight. She decked the halls, the walls, and the lawn. She unpacked her mother’s antique ornaments and brought out her own Christmas china. Mistletoe hung in the doorway. Artfully arranged holly, pinecones, and poinsettias brightened tables. Swags of evergreen draped the chair railings.

Alyce had every kind of ornament – except Doreen’s pornaments.

There really are pornaments – pornographic Christmas ornaments. If I say one is called “snow job,” you’ll get the idea.

Doreen is the former lover of Mike, the man Josie hopes to marry. Mike had his beer goggles on the night he fell into bed with Doreen. Josie has to mystery-shop Doreen’s wretched Christmas store or lose her job.

Worse, Josie’s own ex turns up on her doorstep. Josie thought Nate was safely stashed in a foreign prison. But here he is – drunk and bringing gifts of drug money for his darling daughter, Amelia.

Josie wanted to tell Amelia that she never married her child’s father, but she never found the right time in nine years. Now Daddy is literally on the doorstep. Josie fears Nate will grab their child and disappear into Canada. He’s no respecter of the law, and Amelia loves her rich, generous Daddy. He never makes her clean up her room.

Instead of shopping, Alyce uses her homemaking skills to celebrate the season on page 69:

Alyce’s house smelled like cinnamon for the entire month of December. She made cookies, fruitcakes, and pomander balls out of cloves, oranges, and green velvet ribbons. Christmas morning was a feast, with cranberry bread, spicy gingerbread logs, fruit stollen, shirred eggs with red and green peppers, and a spiral-sliced ham. Dinner included a crown roast and a flaming plum pudding. Just hearing about Alyce’s holiday plans made Josie feel like she’d walked into a Gourmet magazine spread.

Josie isn’t in a holiday mood: she’s short on cash and tangled in three murders. Why should she have it any easier than the rest of us? Thanks to fiction, I can give her story a (mostly) happy ending.
Read an excerpt from Murder with All the Trimmings, and learn more about the book and author at Elaine Viets' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Caravaggio's Angel"

Ruth Brandon is a historian, biographer and novelist. Her 2008 books are: Other People's Daughters (in America, Governess, the Lives and Times of the Real Jane Eyres), which is about governesses, a social history told through seven short lives; and Caravaggio's Angel, an art-historical thriller which is the first of a series featuring a new heroine, the canny and ambitious Reggie Lee.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Caravaggio's Angel and reported the following:
I wanted to write a crime story about a picture because pictures are both aesthetic objects surrounded by arty folk full of expertise and pretentiousness, and at the same time hard currency - which obviously creates all sorts of tensions. I also wanted to write about France, where I spend a lot of time – particularly about the way echoes of World War 2 are still inescapable, especially in the country, where everyone knows everyone else’s history.

I chose Caravaggio because his use of optics and predilection for beautiful young male models offered possibilities for all sorts of art-historical fun. The picture at the centre of the story, St Cecilia and the Angel, is invented, but it’s a composite of stuff from several existing Caravaggios.

On page 69 my heroine, Reggie Lee, who is curating a Caravaggio exhibition, is talking to the old French chatelaine, Juliette, who turns out to own a copy of the picture, and whose life story is the backbone of the book and the key to many of its puzzles. Reggie is a tough modern woman, determined to make her professional mark, but she and Juliette strike up an instant friendship, and the top of the page is about this sympathy, as Juliette remembers her naughty youth among the Surrealists and Reggie talks about her own Parisian grandmother. But then the focus shifts to the picture itself:

Caught in the double beam of natural sunlight and Caravaggio’s ineffable incandescence, the Angel seemed on the very point of movement. Most angels are androgynous creatures, but this one was unmistakably male and unequivocally sexy, with his beautiful black wings, shining brown curls, bruised lips and hooded brown eyes.‘What a beautiful young man,’ I said. ‘You know the painting of Bacchus? The one with the boy holding the glass of wine? I think this may be the same boy, a few years further on.’

Art and politics are deeply entwined, not just in my story, but in the world. It’s an explosive mix, and it’s at the core of Caravaggio’s Angel.
Read more about the book and author at Ruth Brandon's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"The Good Thief's Guide to Paris"

Chris Ewan’s debut novel, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, won the Long Barn Books First Novel Competition and was shortlisted for the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award for the best humorous crime novel published in the British Isles in 2007.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Good Thief's Guide to Paris, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris features a telephone conversation between my lead character, Charlie Howard (mystery writer and gentleman burglar), and his literary agent, Victoria. It’s mostly straight dialogue, with some light description. The scene is a gear change, of sorts, where Charlie and Victoria try to figure out just how big a mess Charlie has landed himself in this time.

Prior to this point, Charlie has shown a wannabe burglar how to break into an apartment in the Marais, only to be hired the following day to steal an oil painting from the exact same address. Of course, after breaking in for a second time, Charlie discovers that nothing is as it should be.

The scenes between Charlie and Victoria are important to the Good Thief books for a number of reasons. They let me pose questions about the plot, for one thing, and they also let me fool around with the ‘rules’ of mystery novels. But most important of all is the frisson between Charlie and Victoria – something that cranks up a notch a few pages later when Victoria decides that they should finally meet face-to-face.

I made a humming noise deep in my throat. “I found some personal documents in the apartment in the Marais,” I confessed. “The place belongs to a woman called Catherine Ames. She happens to keep an account at the same bank.”

“Wait – there’s only one branch?”

“No, it’s a multinational – the Banque Centrale. So it could just be happenstance.”

“Or it could be a clue.”

“Or even a red herring. Which would you prefer?”

Victoria took a deep breath. “I’m not altogether sure,” she said. “I like red herrings, if I’m honest, but I have to say they’re not your strongest suit. So I guess I’d plump for it being a clue. But if it does turn out to be coincidence, and your leads don’t pan out either, what are you going to do?”
Learn more about the author and his work at Chris Ewan's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Fools’ Experiments"

Edward M. Lerner is a writer of SF and technothrillers, most recently Fools’ Experiments.

Lerner gave Fools’ Experiments the Page 69 Test and reported the following:
Fools’ Experiments takes its title from a line of Charles Darwin. “I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.” Darwin was a rather bright guy, which begs -- at least of an SF author -- the question: What sort of experiments might a latter-day Darwin try, and why might those experiments prove worrisome?

Fools’ Experiments is a near-future technothriller of artificial life (evolving, rather then programming, software), and artificial intelligence, and hubris. Why hubris? Because evolution will happen quickly within a computer. If we breed our software rather than design it, we may achieve a revolution in a short time -- or the survivors may be left to wonder when humanity lost control. Leading me to, as the most succinct summary:

We are not alone, and it’s our own damn fault.

Page 69 of the novel sees Doug Carey, a one-armed computer engineer who aspires to develop better prosthetic limbs, brought down by a computer virus. Software in the limb’s controller needs periodic maintenance; networking the limb’s processors to a PC has allowed a virus entry. The virus disables his prosthetic at a most inopportune time.

Doug has been in mourning since the accident that killed his fiancée and cost him his arm. The page 69 incident creates a first connection between Doug and the woman who will eventually bring him back into the world.

The incident also foreshadows the ever-growing levels of havoc to be wreaked by malware. How much havoc? Prepare to feel nostalgic about any mere virus, worm, or Trojan horse.
Learn more about the author and his work (including his collaborations with SF master Larry Niven) at the Edward M. Lerner, Perpetrator of Science Fiction and Technothrillers website and at his blog, SF and Nonsense.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"The Fire"

Katherine Neville is the author of The Eight, The Magic Circle (a USA Today bestseller), and A Calculated Risk (a New York Times Notable Book). The Eight has been translated into more than thirty languages. In a national poll in Spain by the noted journal El País, The Eight was voted one of the top ten books of all time.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fire, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Fire begins with an astonishing scene and ends with a shocking revelation:

The year is 1822. The place is the scalding hot beach at Viarregio, Italy. Inflamed by the sun of the Dog Days beating down on him, the world-famous poet, Lord Byron is standing on the shore, watching as the body of his drowned friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley, is consumed by flames on a hastily-improvised funeral pyre set upon the sands--Byron is disgusted to see the corpse's brains bubbling and smoldering against an iron grille that holds the putrefied remains. A pillar of smoke rises to the skies where a seagull circles above.

First the death by water. Then the death by fire, thinks Byron.

As others look on, hypnotized by the ghastly scene and the fire, Byron muses over the time that he and his fellow poet Shelley have spent together in Europe, ever since both fled from England six years ago--and of how for six years they have been pursued by the deaths of others: deaths by disease, suicides and drownings of family members, ex-wives, beloved friends, even children. They were almost swallowed into a vortex of death.

But THIS death--the death of Percy Shelley, as Byron slowly realizes--could have been no accident.

On this page, Byron also replays in his mind the events of the day of his beloved friend's disappearance in his small boat, the Ariel, as Shelley sailed into the belly of an oncoming storm. There was only one thing that would have caused his friend to take such a risk, as Byron knows. Shelley was being pursued. By someone who was seeking an object of rare value aboard that ship.

But what they sought, as Byron knows better than anyone, had not been found. And Percy Shelley, "a man who had never believed in immortality," seems to have sent his friend Byron one last message from beyond the grave--if only Byron can decipher its encoded meaning.

Throughout the story of The Fire, we find fire itself, as an element of the plot, ever-present. In this scene, we begin to understand--through Byron's mind--how fire itself is connected with the chess set from The Eight known as the Montglane Service, which had once belonged to Charlemagne and had been buried for a thousand years. A chess set that, as it had long been prophesied, would one day set the world itself aflame.

In this pivotal scene, we also first realize that a critical piece of the chess set that we believed was on its way to Byron had somehow never arrived: the Black Queen--the key piece to the solution of the mystery-- has vanished en route. And along with the queen, the young people we thought were conveying the piece to him have also disappeared...

We have to turn the page to learn what happens next....
Read an excerpt from The Fire, and learn more about the author and her work at Katherine Neville's website. View the video trailer for The Fire.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 10, 2008

"The Victoria Vanishes"

Christopher Fowler is the acclaimed author of many novels, including the award-winning Full Dark House, and the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries, White Corridor, The Water Room, Seventy-Seven Clocks, and Ten Second Staircase.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery, The Victoria Vanishes, and reported the following:
Weirdly, I think the p69 test is very representative of the book - my detectives are so argumentative that their personalities create the story, and this little extract seems to perfectly catch Mr Bryant's impossible attitude toward his boss.

From page 69:

‘There’s no room here,’ Land snapped. ‘Look how much space you take up, boxes of musty old books you never read – ‘

‘They’re for reference.’

‘Smelly old suitcases full of outmoded laboratory instruments, endless unlabelled bottles of chemicals and I only have your word that they’re safe – ‘

‘I think you’ll find I never promised that.’

‘Half the stuff in the evidence room isn’t ours, and I’ve no idea where you got it from – ‘

‘I can’t remember why I borrowed safecracking equipment, if that’s what you mean, or what I used it on, but I promise to return it when I do. There’s plenty of room for us all here. So that’s settled.’ Bryant gave what he hoped was a pleasing grin, revealing his patently false teeth to an alarming degree, then exited.

Land dug in his drawer for the miniature bottles of Glenfiddich he kept there and was about to down one when the door flew open again. ‘Forgot to mention we’ve a suspicious death coming in, woman in her forties found in Bloomsbury last night. I say it’s our case, what I mean is I want us to handle it because I saw her alive. We’ve nothing urgent pending at the moment, have we?’

‘You can’t just decide to take the case anymore, Bryant, you need to talk to Renfield about it. What do you mean, you saw her alive?’

‘Haven’t bumped into Renfield yet, running late on his first day, not a very impressive start is it, John and I will get off to the morgue then, you can tell him for us, can’t you? And if you’re going to start drinking that stuff first thing in the morning, I reserve the right to start smoking my Old Sailor’s Full Strength Rough Cut Navy Shag in the office, just so you know. Pip pip.’

The slam of the door was Land’s cue to snap off the cap of his miniature and down it neat.
Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the book and author at Christopher Fowler's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"The Four Seasons"

Laurel Corona is the author of more than a dozen middle school books and is a professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Four Seasons, and reported the following:
Page 69. I am squinting without my reading glasses, going back and forth until I have it. Wouldn’t it be great if page 69 had “THIS’LL KNOCK YOUR SOCKS OFF!” written all over it? If it proved beyond a doubt that The Four Seasons was the must-read book of the season, or the year, or (dare I breathe?) forever and ever, amen?

But of course page 69 is nothing like that. It depicts a quiet moment in the dormitory ward of the Ospedale della Pieta, where my two main characters, Maddalena, roughly thirteen, and her sister Chiaretta, three years younger, have lived since being abandoned in infancy. Chiaretta is envious of Maddalena’s drawings of flowers and winged angels in her sketchbook, and she has just managed to save enough money to get her own identical leather-bound book. Maddalena uses her little-practiced handwriting to point out to Chiaretta that they could use the books to write to each other during the interminable hours of enforced silence in the Venetian cloister.

What do I think opening the book to page 69 would tell a prospective reader? That The Four Seasons is about the deep bonds of love and loyalty between two sisters. That despite the many constraints that are placed on introspective Maddalena and exuberant Chiaretta throughout the story, they both manage to live fully and individually. That as an author, I love using tiny details to bring clarity and life to people and situations:

“With the tip of her tongue showing between her teeth, Chiaretta wrote back. ‘You are the most’—she crossed out a word and tried to spell it again—‘maganifacint sister. Now I wont explod before I can tell you my sicrets.’”

Read on! Vivaldi is about to show up and change their lives forever.
Read an excerpt from The Four Seasons, and learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"The Cure for Grief"

Nellie Hermann attended Brown University, earning her B.A. in May of 2000. She received her M.F.A. from Columbia University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Cure for Grief, and reported the following:
The Cure for Grief focuses on Ruby Bronstein, the youngest and only girl in a family with four children; the book begins when she is nine and ends when she is twenty. Over the course of the book, a series of tragedies strike her close-knit family, but the story remains mostly about how Ruby incorporates her trauma and her grief into her life, trying to remain a “normal” adolescent as she tamps down around what makes her different. Her father is a holocaust survivor, and she uses his example as inspiration for her ultimate conclusion, hard won, that she must embrace life—along with her fears—in order to live.

On page 69, Ruby is fourteen and in Prague with her parents; they have come to go back to the concentration camp that her father was imprisoned in. Ruby describes her parents, and her conflicted feelings towards her father, whom she feels cannot understand her because of the difference in their backgrounds. I’m not sure page 69 is representative of the whole of The Cure for Grief because it is not particularly wrenching, as much of the book inarguably is. I do think though that the page is representative of the general style of the novel in that it gives us Ruby’s interior, a view of the Bronstein family through her eyes, and a glimpse of the sensitive young girl who is at the heart of the book.

Ruby had always had difficulty relating to [her father], but in the last few years, as she grew, it had gotten worse. None of her friends had fathers who came to “inspect” their rooms two or three times after they cleaned them, who insisted they be home every Friday night, who made them set the table though their brothers never had to, who would allow them only two hours of TV a week. None of her friends had fathers who never came to their sporting events but who attended all of their violin recitals; who would never let them out of Hebrew school, ever; who wouldn’t let them go to the mall on Saturdays. Her father had no idea what it was like to be her! Many pages of Ruby’s journal were covered with her furious scrawl, the words I HATE YOU ripped into the pages from pressing too hard. She’d always feel guilty afterward and try to cross it out, writing no I don’t in the margins just in case somebody ever read it.

She rarely felt this way about her mother, but Ruby was her mother’s baby; after three boys, she was the gift her mother had always wanted. And just by being an American, and by being a woman, and by having had two parents her whole life, Ruby’s mother was able to understand more about Ruby than her father ever could. Like her father, her mother had come a long way from home: she was Jewish now, whereas she had been raised Catholic; she had money now, whereas she had not when she was younger. As Ruby saw it, both her parents had come from nothing to something—her mother from a four-room apartment with five occupants and her father from a kibbutz with a house full of other young people (not to mention the concentration camp, or the Israeli army barracks)—they had come from other worlds where they had learned the value of the life they lived now in the land of suburbia, and the value of the life they gave to their children.
Read an excerpt from The Cure for Grief, and learn more about the author and her work at Nellie Hermann's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Mama Does Time"

Like the main character in her "Mace Bauer Mysteries," Deborah Sharp's family roots were set in Florida long before Walt Disney and Miami Vice came to define the state. She is a former, longtime reporter for USA Today.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Mama Does Time, and reported the following:
Mama Does Time is billed as the debut in my Florida-set "Mace Bauer Mystery'' series. My first novel, the publicity materials say.

Not true. It's my first published novel. Like a lot of reporters, I had a dusty, incomplete book in my desk forever. When I left USA Today, I finally finished it. And it reeked.

Point of view veered madly. The protagonist (a female reporter … how original!) was so prickly, even I hated her. And the manuscript was too short by 150 pages.

I tossed it, and started from scratch. I wound up with an offbeat mystery with a down-home edge: Think Agatha Christie meets TV's "My Name is Earl.''

With Mama, I took the time to develop the characters and their story, triumphing over the journalistic urge to reveal too much, too soon.

Mama's a much-married Southern gal with sherbet-colored pantsuits and a penchant for mischief. She gets in trouble for real when a body in her convertible ties her to murder. Unless daughter Mace can find the true culprit, Mama goes to prison—just like in a tacky country song.

Page 69 is not flat-out funny, like other parts of the book. But it's a good representation of character and story. With Mama in jail, the seemingly shady Sal has summoned Mace to a meeting. He's Mama's would-be husband No. 5. The page reveals the disdain the outdoorsy Mace feels for the posh developments spreading across her once-wild, native Florida. It also casts suspicion on the mysterious Sal, as Mace will face peril on a deserted road within two pages...

"... floodlights illuminated ornate pillars marking the entrance to the community. 'Himmarshee Haven,' they said in cursive script. 'Luxurious Country Living.' Talk about your oxymorons. Most of the country lives I know have very little luxury.

The Jeep bounced over a series of speed bumps as I made my way past Victorian-style homes with gingerbread trim and two-car garages. The driveways featured golf carts parked behind white picket fences. Not a double-wide trailer or swamp buggy in sight ...''

(Mace parks at the subdivision's nearly deserted golf course. Sal's showy car is nowhere to be seen, so she goes into the pro shop to wait. Inside, she kills time by buying pink, mint green, and baby blue golf socks for her pastel-crazy sister, Marty.)

"As I handed over my credit card, I asked the college-aged kid at the register whether he'd seen a gargantuan golfer with a heavy New York accent.

'Sure, Big Sal.' The kid sucked on a breath mint. I could smell cinnamon clear across the counter. 'He was in here about thirty, forty minutes ago. Then he got a call on his cell phone and high-tailed it outside. I heard the tires on his Cadillac squealing as he pulled out of the lot. Guess he was in a hurry to get somewhere.'

He pushed my receipt across the glass display case, which held dimpled golf balls and leather gloves. 'Sign that, would you? And I'll need to see some ID.'

I gave him my driver's license. He held it up and inspected it like he was a customs agent at the airport and I was smuggling (heroin) ..."
Listen to an excerpt from Mama Does Time, and learn more about the book and author at Deborah Sharp's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"The Dracula Dossier"

James Reese is the author of The Herculine Trilogy.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Dracula Dossier, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Dracula Dossier, the protagonist, Bram Stoker – yes, that Bram Stoker, author of Dracula – is midway through a letter to his good friend, the writer Thomas Henry Hall Caine. The two men have remained friends despite Caine’s status as the bestselling author of the day and Stoker’s abiding frustration at failing to publish anything of note. (Ironic that Stoker lives on today – not to mention his Count – while Caine is forgotten.)

The novel mirrors Dracula in structure: letters, journals, newspaper clippings, etc. And in this early letter Stoker is addressing the ennui, the domestic doldrums that will soon lead him to accept an invitation to a meeting of a secret, occult society, the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Alas, domestic life has come to seem naught but a circle of anger and apology, a circle set to turning, day in and day out, by the silence of all that is left unsaid. It verily leeches the life-blood from me…

Not the first allusion to blood in The Dracula Dossier, and not the last. In fact, the whole premise of the novel is a bloody one, predicated upon these What ifs?

What if Stoker did indeed accept the invitation of a friend (none other than Wm. Butler Yeats, in this case) and agreed to attend a meeting of the Golden Dawn?

What if, at this meeting – featuring certain rites and rituals of ancient Egypt – something went horribly wrong?

And what if all this led to Stoker’s becoming involved with one Francis Tumblety, formerly a close friend of Hall Caine’s and today’s primary suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders?

The Dracula Dossier supposes that the above actually happened – as indeed it could have – and further, that Stoker’s run-in with the Ripper became the basis of his immortal novel, written a few years later.

Page 69 also mentions another historical character in the book, Lady Jane Wilde, mother of Oscar, or As-car, as she puts it. Together with Caine and Lady Wilde, Stoker will set out after the Ripper.

There’s a whole lot of history in the novel, and the reader is led through some of it via footnotes (like the one on pp. 69) written by the fictional “Count de Ville,” finder of The Dracula Dossier; which – in good Gothic fashion – is Stoker’s “lost” journal of the year 1888.
Browse inside the Dracula Dossier, and learn more about the author and his work at James Reese's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue