Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Eve: A Novel of the First Woman"

Elissa Elliott is a former high school teacher and a contributing writer for Books & Culture.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Eve: A Novel of the First Woman, and reported the following:
Eve: A Novel of the First Woman is a reimagining of one of the world's oldest tales, about that fateful summer leading up to Cain killing Abel. It's told in Eve's voice and three of her daughters' voices. Based on extensive historical, archaeological, and religious research, it's a work of literary fiction meant to provoke questions and encourage discussion. Oh, and to tell a reader-worthy story.

Eve's daughters are radically different and lend their own insight into what's happening with the family dynamics. Naava is the self-absorbed fourteen-year-old, longing to leave what she knows, to go to the burgeoning city nearby. Aya is the crippled eleven-year-old, longing for a cure, disdainful of her family's tension. Dara is the six-year-old twin who sees the most of the city, since she is hired out by Eve to help the city woman take care of their children.

Page 69 is in Aya's voice. She has just killed a snake, which she equates as Lucifer, and her mother, horrified, tells her that she must learn her limits. Aya takes a day off from her cooking responsibilities to go into the hills with her older brother Abel and Dara's twin Jacan who are in charge of the flocks of goats and sheep. She has a mild crush on Abel, because she thinks he's the kindest of the family, and perhaps he doesn't write her off like the others do.

Abel's black goats and brindled sheep stood out against the white sandstone, which had been bleached by the sun and broken into bits by the wind and rain. The air was cooler and windier up here in the flinty hills, where Abel and Jacan brought their flocks. Not as much powdery choking dust as on the plains. The goats found the straggly clumps of wormwood and juniper and sparrow-wort and began grazing them back to rounded cushions.

Abel was kind. I fell behind several times, and he pretended to adjust his pack or tighten his sandals. He was always finished by the time I caught up with him. "It's beautiful up here," I said. I experienced an abrupt feeling of gratitude and a sudden keenness for camaraderie, and I smiled at him.

He said nothing but nodded and offered me a mouthful of water from his waterskin. I saw it was leaking, just a little. "Mother will make you a new one, you know."

"There's no need," he said. "Jacan and I are fine."

"Why don't you like Mother?" I asked.

He jumped a little and choked on his swallowing. He looked at me. "Not like Mother? What gave you that idea?"

"You're her favorite, you know." I put my good leg on a large rock and hoisted myself up to better survey the view of white sand, stretched out like a tired dog behind me. There, a ribbon of water; there, our house and vineyards and fields; and there, to the north, the strangers' walled complex, growing as steadily as Cain's amber barley and wheat fields.

Suddenly Abel was distant, aloof. "Aya, I don't believe Mother has a chosen favorite. And if she does, that is not of my doing."

I pointed to a cloud of dust approaching. "Someone's coming," I said.
Read an excerpt from Eve, and learn more about the book and author at Elissa Elliott's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 30, 2009

"A Face at the Window"

Sarah Graves, who lives in Eastport, Maine, where her mystery novels are set, is the author of the "Home Repair Is Homicide" books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Face at the Window, and reported the following:
On page 69 of A Face at the Window, a couple of creeps have kidnapped a toddler and her babysitter, and taken them into the woods. The rest of the book, in a setting as harshly beautiful as it is unforgiving, pits the babysitter against her captors and her rescuers against the plot’s evil mastermind, who is using the plucky toddler as bait.

Here, from a bit farther on in the book, is the babysitter’s assessment of her situation:

It hit her, then, that this was happening to her and there was nothing she could do about it. To stop it, or make it happen any differently.

Or at some other time... Any time but now. That it was real, and that she, Helen Nevelson, was really and truly about to die.

Suddenly the world seemed so precious and good to her, she thought she must surely get another chance just for knowing it so certainly. That it was good to be alive...

As if from a long distance and in slow motion she heard the trigger move, metal sliding against metal. Then came the spring-loaded creak of the hammer and the cylinder’s oiled whisper...

In the sky, early stars hung around a round, white moon even as the last blood-red shreds of the dying day hung stubbornly on.

Through her tears, Helen gazed lovingly at them.

A Face at the Window is either a cozy with a thriller under the hood, or a thriller with a cozy heroine at the wheel. Saying any more than that spoils several surprises, so I won’t.
Read an excerpt from A Face at the Window, and learn more about the book and author at the official Sarah Graves website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"The Vampire Tapestry"

Suzy McKee Charnas is the author of over a dozen works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, including the Holdfast series from Tor Books and the Sorcery Hall series of books for young adults. She is the winner of the Hugo Award (for her short story "Boobs") and has won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award twice.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her acclaimed novel, The Vampire Tapestry, and reported the following:
From Page 69:

Roger was going away for the weekend, leaving Mark to look after the vampire. You had to keep Roger from taking advantage. He did it without thinking, really, he just sort of forgot about your interests in the pursuit of his own.

"Look, Roger," Mark said, "I'll take care of the place for you -- water the plants and do some cleaning up and all that, like before, to pay you back for letting me stay here. But you're away a lot partying and checking out the shops, and that means I'm stuck with ... him, in there. That's a big responsibility."

Roger was packing a rainbow sweater in nubbleknit acrylic he had borrowed from the uptown store for the weekend. "You can always go home," he said. Mark waited. Roger sighed.

"Okay, okay, Five dollars a week."


"Bloodsucker!" Roger said. "All right, ten." So simple, no tearing your guts up over everything like at home. "Listen, there's a special reason why I'm going up to Boston. I want to consult with a few friends about this vampire. There must be ways to get incredibly rich on this thing."

With Roger gone, Mark settled down to the paper for Carol Kelly. Looking for a book of poetry criticism in the living room, he was distracted by a remnant from Roger's fling with super-exotica, The Two-Duck Pleasure Book: Balkan Folk Wisdom, by R. Unpronounceable. Beguiled into browsing for enlightening dirty bits ("... method of contraception is for the woman to get up after intercourse, squat on the floor, and inserting her index finger... " Yuucchh), he spent a fascinating half hour.

Then he pulled out a book on Lapland and found ...

Author's comment:

Will Mark spring the injured vampire, Edward Weyland, from the improvised cell that Uncle Roger has locked him up in? What greedy scheme for exploiting Weyland's unique nature will amoral, feckless Roger bring back from Boston? And who will show up in Roger's absence, with even more alarming intentions? What will Professor Weyland, a very good teacher indeed, teach young Mark; Does his lesson plan include death?

Lapland? Wha' -- ?!

The fun of writing this book lay in starting with questions and then working out answers through Weyland's unpredictable, perilous, and seductive encounters with his "inferior" (but indispensible) prey. I like not knowing where my story will end up: it must keep me entertained for a year or more of writing if it's to entertain you for a weekend of reading.

I set out to create an anti-Romantic vampire, a natural creature who is not and never has been human; but when you let the characters run the story, they end up running it where they choose. See chapter three, which is X-rated and -- simultaneously -- weirdly Romantic after all, on levels deep and strange.

As with Mark and his uncle, I patterned most of these characters on people I knew; with Weyland's help I even managed, in this book, to give my stepfather what he deserved. A writer's revenge is secret, but sweet.

Weyland himself, neither ghost or revenant but supreme predator, is of course my own oldest, coldest, most cunning, able, and sexy self -- and, I hope, yours, dear reader, for the time it takes you to read his story.
Read an excerpt from The Vampire Tapestry, and learn more about the author and her work at Suzy McKee Charnas' journal and website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Lost River"

David Fulmer is the author of, among other works, the acclaimed Storyville mysteries featuring Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr. The first volume of the series, Chasing the Devil's Tail, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Mystery/Thriller Book Prize and the winner of the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Lost River, the new Storyville mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 opens Chapter Six and takes us deeper into the mind of William Brown, who was introduced in Chapter Three. He is a key figure in the bloody drama that's beginning to play out. I'm not giving anything away by revealing that he's the murderer of several of the victims. But it's also clear that he's not acting on his own volition, but is a puppet. The mystery is which party is pulling the strings and then why.

I've been flattered by several readers' comments on how I'm able to get into the heads of seriously crazy people. I appreciate that. And Brown isn't the only one in this book. In fact, three people with serious mental problems are connected, though none of them ever meets the other two.

All of them exhibit habits of people disconnected from reality. Mr. Brown takes it to the most extreme end and commits his crimes in an almost ritualistic fashion. He is beset by demons, inside and outside his head, and he can't identify any of them. He is an actor who is working out scenes in a vicious play, directed by an unseen hand. Since the homicides he commits are what set the entire narrative in motion, this is as good a page as any to drop in.

Chapter Six

William Brown paced the floor of his room, left and right, up and
down, at severe but exact angles, a hundred times over. He wanted to go but couldn't leave, not until he received his orders. So he walked until he swore he could look down and see where his soles had worn a ditch in the hard wood.

Then he found himself at the washstand, staring into a mirror so
cracked and tinted that he could barely make out his features, barely beholding a pale, smallish man with an oval head shaved clean. His eyes were too large, his nose too long, and his lips jutted like a Mississippi carp's. He knew if he kept staring into the dirty glass, all these features would grow larger and larger still, until he one of the grotesque ogre in the carnival parade.

Some moments passed before he realized that he was holding his
straight razor in his right hand. He opened it long enough to gaze upon the glinting edge of the blade, so delicate and hideous and that it made his gut twist. The razor clattered to the floor at the sound of a cream-white envelope being pushed under the door. William hadn't heard anyone approach and he didn't move a muscle until he was sure no one was lurking outside.

He edged to the door and bent down to pick up the envelope. Sliding
a yellowed fingernail along the fold, he opened it to find a single sheet of paper and a gold coin, which he rubbed as he read through the half-dozen words written in a tight hand: a name, an address, a time.

He laid envelope and paper aside. Kneeling to the floor, he lifted a
short board and retrieved from between the joists a Liberty .22 seven-shot that was small enough to fit within the span of his hand. Once he had replaced the board, he stood up and dropped the pistol into a coat pocket. He donned his derby hat and stepped to the door.

Downstairs, exited the back door of the hotel into the alley and
began his journey beneath the earth to the bright lights of Basin Street.
Read an excerpt from Lost River, and learn more about the author and his work at David Fulmer's website.

My Book, The Movie: David Fulmer's "Storyville" books.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Rock Bottom"

Michael Shilling earned his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan where he now teaches in the English Department. His short stories have appeared in The Sun, Fugue, and Other Voices.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Rock Bottom, and reported the following:
Rock Bottom is about the last day of the last tour of Blood Orphans, an LA four-piece band much longer on looks than talent. Well, they do have a talent for screwing up everything. The book takes place in Amsterdam, where they are marooned, waiting to play their final show to no one except the laughing ghosts of their failure. Will they submit to the cruel career logic of the end of the line, or find a way back into the show-biz sunshine?

Page 69 concerns the back-story of Darlo Cox, the drummer, who is beautiful, arrogant, and the nerve center of the band. Darlo's dad is a pornographer of much repute, and his mother, who has long left them for cleaner living in the midwest, has recently begun correspondence with her son after a decade of silence:

His mother’s latest letter included a promise of airfare to lovely greater Des Moines, where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day.

“Why would you want to?” the old man asked, sipping a Virgin Mary.

“Obviously she wants to get to know me.”

Père Cox swirled his tomato juice and looked as if he was actually thinking before he talked. He only looked that way when he was choosing box shots.

“Your mother never forgave us for the lifestyle we chose. She says I chose it, but she knows that it was a joint decision. She liked to swing. She liked other guys and me at the same —”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about,” Darlo said, because that’s what they said on TV. Indignation seemed like a thing worth trying. “I know that you guys used to —”

“— fuck other people. Your mother led the charge. Off- camera, she wrote the book on double penetration. She’s just Linda Lovelacing it.” Darlo heard fracture in his father’s voice, actual hurt, a knife piercing hard ground. “Really, Darlo, you don’t know the half of her world- class denial. And now she’s gonna save you from de old debbil David.”

“I just want to meet her.”

“You spent nine months inside her. Wasn’t that enough?”

Darlo tabled the issue. He stuck with the drums.

“When you’re ready,” she wrote, “come see us.”

Darlo’s first band was called Salvage Yard. Four guys from Hollywood High. One of them was Darlo’s drug dealer, a poor man’s Beastie Boy named Jesse. He lived in a French Normandie mansion near Darlo. Jesse’s stepfather, a British film executive at Universal, had built in the basement a nice little sixty-four-track, all-digital recording studio for himself, complete with isolation booths, a six figure bank of compressors, and a two-hundred-gallon exotic fish tank.

This page of the book does a nice job displaying the prose rhythm of the chapters from Darlo's close-omniscient POV, as well as illustrating the emotional and day-to-day raunch in which Darlo has grown up, been formed by, and must constantly navigate.

The chapters of Rock Bottom rotate between third person narration from the perspectives of five main characters -- the four dudes in the band and their coke-headed, charismatic female manager. Much of Rock Bottom is comedic, but the chapters that concern Darlo are a bit more serious. The other members of the band are: Bobby, a bass player with crippling eczema; Shane, a Christian rocker who forsook his beliefs to play in a secular band concerned only with worldly pleasures; and Adam, a brilliant musician and the band door-mat. The manager, Joey, is a would-be Brian Epstein who has no idea what she's doing. Like Darlo, each of them spends this final day reckoning with their role in the mess that is Blood Orphans, and getting into Dutch-framed misadventures that slowly but surely intersect.
Read an excerpt from Rock Bottom, and learn more about the book and author at the Rock Bottom website and Michael Shilling's blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Stray Dog Winter"

David Francis is an Australian lawyer and former international equestrian who lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of the acclaimed novel The Great Inland Sea, which was published in seven countries. He has taught creative writing at University of California Los Angeles/Occidental College and in the Masters of Professional Writing program at University of Southern California.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Stray Dog Winter, and reported the following:
While Stray Dog Winter is essentially a literary suspense novel, it is underpinned by an unusual family/love story. And, while I’ve been avoiding this “Page 69” business for weeks (for fear of what it might reveal), it actually captures a pivotal moment in Darcy Bright’s childhood. Just prior to it, Darcy’s riding in his father’s kombi when they pass a young man walking along the road. Darcy knows him, the Mormon missionary with whom he’s had a strange erotic encounter, an experience that electrifies Darcy in ways he doesn’t understand. Darcy is ten years old. When his father stops the kombi and offers the missionary a ride, Darcy finds himself between them, his knee against the missionary’s pants, a “ripply feeling spreading over him.”

“Are you married?” Darcy’s father asked. A truck ran past and the kombi shuddered. “We thought you’d have lots of wives,” he said, “didn’t we, son?” Darcy stared straight ahead, concentrating on the white line, the touch of the missionary’s leg.

“I met your wife,” the missionary said cautiously. “She didn’t seem well.”

Darcy’s father stopped the van and leaned over past Darcy, opened the passenger door. “I can take care of my family,” he said. The missionary seemed shocked, stepped down to the roadside, mumbling something about trying to help. Then Page 69 begins with:

“Then keep away from my boy,” said Darcy’s father. He jumped the kombi forward before the door was barely closed. Darcy didn’t dare watch out the side mirror to see the missionary getting smaller in the dust. “He probably just wanted dinner,” said Darcy.

His father pulled into the driveway and parked. “I think I know what he wanted,” he said. He got out and slammed the door and Darcy sat there, still as the sun through the windscreen, to see if the missionary would walk past the end of the drive. Instead, he saw his father with a stick. With it, he propped open the bonnet of the Austin and unhitched the battery, removed the stick and let the bonnet crash down. He threw the battery in the incinerator. He’d taken out the Austin’s heart.”

The Austin is Darcy’s dead grandmothers car. Darcy is allowed to drive it around the garden, but after the missionary first appeared he drove out onto the road to see where the missionary went. The Austin ran aground in the scrub on Baden Powell Drive, and the missionary came to his rescue.

In the two short paragraphs on Page 69, Darcy realizes his father knows what transpired, and, as the Austin’s battery is summarily removed, he knows that everything will be different.

Stray Dog Winter opens in 1984, with Darcy in his early twenties, traveling by train into a Soviet winter to meet up with his mysterious half-sister Fin – she’s on a fellowship to paint the industrial landscapes of Moscow. Darcy, haunted by their childhood, finds himself inexorably drawn to her, and into political and sexual encounters that ramify in ways he could never have imagined.
Read an excerpt from Stray Dog Winter, and learn more about the author and his work at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Believe Me"

Nina Killham is the author of three novels, How to Cook a Tart, Mounting Desire, and Believe Me.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Believe Me and reported the following:
The idea for Believe Me cropped up when I wasn't sure what to teach my children about religion. My husband is a mouthy Atheist and I'm a lapsed Catholic. And I began to wonder what are the consequences of bringing up children without religion? So Nic, the character, was born. He is 13 years old and his mother, Lucy, an astronomy professor and card carrying Atheist, has brought him up to be highly rational and scientific. Then one day she discovers he's been sneaking off to Bible class where Dele, an African Baptist minister, has been introducing him to the joys of Evangelism.

On page 69 Nic is thinking about his new best friend, Kevin, whose mother introduced Nic to the bible class. Nic is quite enthralled by Kevin (Kevin is cool and confident, Nic is...not) and is relating how Kevin has a MySpace page but his mother doesn't know:

He's totally undercover. He signs on when he's at the library, when his mom thinks he's working on his Abe-Lincoln-Was-a-Cool-Dude project. His first link is to Tila Tequila. I think Mrs. Porter would fall down dead if she knew. Though I don't see what the big deal is. Jesus was heavily into Mary Madgalene and if she lived today you can be sure she'd be linked to MySpace. Every self-respecting hooker is. No offense of anything. I'm just saying.

The second paragraph relates to Nic's relationship with his father who has taken a job in another city and doesn't live with Nic and his mother. One of Nic's main goals in the book is to get his family back under the same roof. He discovers his father is on MySpace too:

I found my dad's page. There he was: Shaman360. It's got all this Gaia stuff on it. He talks about what a great dad he is. He posted a picture of the two of us fishing in Glacier Park. I'm holding a bass and he's putting his hands apart wider like it's the biggest fish ever landed. Funnee, dad. Oh, so funnee! It looks like he's advertising for a girlfriend.

The rest of the page has Nic at a party where he awkwardly hooks up with a girl:

I had a girlfriend once. For about forty-five minutes. It was at Adam Clark's Halloween party last year. She was dressed as a bunch of grapes. She had on a light green leotard with light green balloons stuck to it. She kept running around yelling, "I'm Chardonnay! Get it? Get it? I'm wine. Chardonnay!" Her name is Kay. She was really drunk by the time I ran into her outside the bathroom and she just grabbed my shoulders and hung on. We kind of stumbled around like that for the rest of the party. Every time I went to kiss her she took a slug from her bottle. She kept telling me how she thought I was so cool even if nobody else did. Then her friends came and dragged her away. The next week she wouldn't look at me in Social Studies class. Acted like there was no way in hell she'd let a lowlife like me stick his tongue down her throat.

So though this page doesn't really represent what the book is about (in a nutshell, the current debate about science and religion) it does represent a pretty clear view of what this particular boy is concerned with: his friends, his father, and girls. I was nervous attempting to write from a 13 year old boy's point of view but Nic just started talking in my head. And the further along I got I realized that actually, deep down, we adults are all still 13-year-olds at heart.
Learn more about the book and author at Nina Killham's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Six Seconds"

Rick Mofina is the acclaimed author of the award-winning Reed-Sydowski series (If Angels Fall, Cold Fear, Blood of Others, No Way Back and Be Mine) and the new internationally-acclaimed Jason Wade series (The Dying Hour, Every Fear and A Perfect Grave.)

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Six Seconds, and reported the following:
Six Seconds is my ninth novel and my first standalone. A global thriller, it's the story of how a California mother's anguished search for her abducted son, and a haunted Mountie's investigation into the strange deaths of an American reporter and his family in the Canadian Rockies, lead them to uncover a global plot to assassinate a world leader on U.S. soil – using the California boy as the weapon.

On Page 69, the cop, Daniel Graham, a Corporal with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, helps Jackson Tarver, a grieving grandfather from metro D.C., collect the bodies of his grandchildren and daughter-in-law. The body of Tarver's son Ray has not been located and the search continues in Alberta's Rockies. This point of the book outlines the problem Graham faces - was the tragedy a wilderness accident, or was it something else? Moreover, it deepens the mystery and compels the reader to ride shotgun with Graham in his pursuit of the truth - wherever it may lead.

Six Seconds - Page 69:

In the morning, Graham rose early and drove Jackson Tarver two hours west to Banff, then deep into the Faust region to where it happened. Jackson Tarver tossed roses into the river where his grandchildren, daughter-in-law and, most likely, his son had died.

That afternoon, Graham accompanied him to the airport and badged his way through to the gate where they watched three casket-shaped containers roll along the luggage conveyor and into the cargo hold of Tarver's plane.

Before he boarded, Tarver took Graham's hand and shook it.

"I heard what you did, how you risked your life trying to save Emily. Thank you."

"No thanks necessary."

"I hope that you'll find my son, so that he can come home with his family." Tarver's grip was like that of a man fighting to keep from breaking into pieces. "Please."

"I'll do my best."

Graham stayed at the window watching Tarver's jet roll slowly from the terminal, turbines whining, running lights strobing, until his cell phone rang.

"Graham, it's Fitzwald."

"Fitz, did you find the laptop?"

"No laptop, but I did find something you should see."
Read an excerpt from the novel and watch the video trailer.

Visit Rick Mofina's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2009

"The School of Essential Ingredients"

Erica Bauermeister is the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14, and has taught literature and creative writing at the University of Washington.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The School of Essential Ingredients, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students and their teacher in a cooking school set in a restaurant kitchen. One of the underlying themes of the novel is that ordinary, everyday things such as food have more influence upon us than we might at first realize. Baking a cake can be a lesson on marriage. The scent of fried sage can open a memory vault; making tortillas can instill confidence.

The book is a novel in stories – each student has their own chapter. What I find intriguing about this structure is the way connections form between the stories, the way the reader can see details and understand things about the characters that they may never know about each other. Page 69, from Carl’s story, seems on the surface to be a description of ordinary domestic life, a flashback to the early years of his marriage to Helen after they have moved from California to the rainy Pacific Northwest.

“Helen found ways to sneak summer into the dark months of the year, canning and freezing the fruit off their trees in July and August and using it extravagantly throughout the winter – apple chutney with the Thanksgiving turkey, raspberry sauce across the top of a December pound cake, blueberries in January pancakes. And she always claimed that the shorter winter days with their long stretches of cool, gray light were conducive to writing.” Carl has given her a desk for this purpose, which fits in a nook at the top of the stairs. “Helen always said, though, that she was a sprinter when it came to writing, composing in quick snatches at the kitchen table, in bed – although after the children arrived, the snatches of times occasionally were marathon distances apart.”

Ordinary details. Everyday things. And yet, it is in small moments perhaps more than large ones that marriages fail or succeed. “It all depends,” as Lillian the teacher says to a young student named Chloe, “on what happens when you do pay attention.”
Read an excerpt from The School of Essential Ingredients, and learn more about the book and author at Erica Bauermeister's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Taking Aim at the President"

Geri Spieler is an investigative journalist and award-winning speaker. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes. She has a strong professional relationship with her subject, Sara Jane Moore, who she has visited and interviewed in prison for the last thirty years.

Spieler applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford, and reported the following:
A stable childhood in West Virginia, two attentive parents and plenty of siblings are not what most would consider the makings of a would-be presidential assassin. To the shock of the entire United States, Sara Jane Moore emerged from these seemingly normal beginnings and catapulted herself to the forefront of the public eye when her shot came within six inches of killing President Gerald Ford in 1975.

Sara Jane's assassination attempt failed, but an aura of secrecy still follows in her wake. What led this woman to shun the many opportunities for a typical, sheltered existence as a housewife and mother and opt instead for notoriety? Sara Jane was only 40 feet away when the FBI had arrested her and confiscated her gun only a day prior to the shooting.

I received a letter from Sara Jane Moore asking to meet with her at the prison. My relationship with Sara Jane spanned three decades.

In my book, Taking Aim At The President, I follow Sara Jane's life from her small town childhood to her release from prison in December 2007. Along the way, she entered and dropped out of the military, was married five times, abandoned three children, and was a double agent who infiltrated the political radical community and at the same time was an FBI informant.

My Page 69 is a half a page of text. It is the beginning of Chapter 5, San Francisco's Radical Underground. It is just a slice of the book and would not give the reader any insight to the rest of the story. It is not representative of the scope of the book. If the reader read only this page they would consider it a history of the Symbionese Liberation Army and the architecture Vacaville prison.

The halls of Vacaville prison extend in opposite directions; so far out that it seems infinite. Inmates are housed in cells within the immense complex and form communities with their brothers to better cope with the vastness of the institution.

This chapter forms the background for the stage where Sara Jane enters the life of radical politics. It all began with the birth of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

A significant part of the book deals with the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, her father Randolph and the food giveaway program, People in Need (PIN) the SLA demanded the Hearsts create before they would release Patricia.

The origins of the SLA are little known to most people. The members were largely former UC Berkeley students. The students formed an outside visitation program called the Black Cultural Association (BCA). It was designed to help specifically Black male offenders learn new skills.

BCA had thirty volunteer tutors, mostly from the University of California at Berkeley, who went to the prison to conduct educational programs in math, reading and writing, art, history, political science, black sociology, and African heritage.

Some of the more well known members of the SLA were Emily Harris and Patricia Soltysik who were studying at UC Berkeley on state scholarships. Berkeley radical Wendy Yoshimura was hiding out at Berkeley from a previous bomb charge. William “Willy” Wolfe was the son of an anesthesiologist. He attended prep schools and was a National Merit Scholarship finalist.

Inmate Donald DeFreeze, a BCA member, eventually left Vacaville for Soledad, escaped and became the leader of the SLA. He recruited the visiting college volunteers and they became the army known as the SLA.
Read an excerpt from Taking Aim at the President, and learn more about the book and author at Geri Spieler's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"The Suicide Collectors"

David Oppegaard holds a B.A. in English Literature from St. Olaf College and an M.F.A. in Writing from Hamline University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Suicide Collectors, his first published novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Suicide Collectors begins with Norman, the book’s protagonist, and his traveling companions, Pops and Zero, hiding from a motorcycle gang that has swooped in to surprise them at a Kansas rest stop. Humanity has been decimated by a plague of suicide called the Despair for five years, and there are no longer laws, much less a police force to enforce those laws. Eventually, the bikers leave, unable to spot their prey hiding in the truck stop’s woods:

After a few long minutes of shouting the bikers started circling the parking lot again. The bikers gunner their engines and took off. Norman breathed deeply as the gang roared into the distance, most likely rocketing west again down Interstate 70. He pushed himself off the ground and helped Pops to his feet. Zero joined them.

“They’re searching for you guys, aren’t they?”

“Probably,” Norman said.

“So what should we do?”

“Hope like hell they don’t find us.”

Pops nodded. “I concur.”

Page 69 shows the multiple layers of tension that pervade The Suicide Collectors. You see our small band of characters hunted, and hiding, as well as the wild desperation that pervades the entire book. Ninety percent of humanity has already taken its own life, and the Last Ten Percent struggle on, hunted not only by each other, but by the loneliness and grief that follows them like a dark cloud. The reader keeps turning the page not only to see what will happen, but how the characters will summon the will to continue.

That night a series of plaintive, high-pitched howls sounded in the distance as they camped out in the truck. Zero sprawled out in the truck’s cab, deeply asleep, while Pops and Norman tossed and turned in the truck’s bed.
Read more about The Suicide Collectors at the publisher's website and at David Oppegaard's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"The Plunder Room"

John Jeter is a former editor and reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, San Antonio Express-News and St. Petersburg Times, with a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He is also co-owner and founder of The Handlebar, an award-winning concert venue in Greenville, South Carolina.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Plunder Room, his debut novel, and reported the following:
I heard about Page 69 Test from Joshilyn Jackson and a few other big names during several writers workshops. And, yes, the litmus test works really well. A similar one: At the Algonkian Novel Workshop with Michael Neff, he refers to Scene 12; he has plotted each scene of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and Scene 12 is the scene when McMurphy learns that he’s screwed and will likely lose his gamble against The Combine – what we in the newspaper biz call the Nut Graf, usually the third paragraph: “what we’re doing in this story.”

This passage is from Page 69 of The Plunder Room: it’s my Scene 12 and speaks volumes:

“No need to apologize for anything in this house, General.” I paraphrase a Faulkner quote to fit the moment, “In the South, the past is not dead, it’s not even the past.”

“Well, I joined the Army to get out of the fields and the mills and see the world. Your grandfather was in the Cavalry then, and we, the troops of color, were horse soldiers. That was shorthand for grooming the officers’ mounts and mucking out the stalls.” His chuckle returns. “Funny thing about the colonel, who was still a captain then, he treated us like men, even though, like I said, in civilian white society we weren’t people.”

Listening to the general is like watching PBS tape a documentary. I can’t move. I can’t move half of me anyway, but now the top half is transfixed.

“I owe my confidence, in those early years, to him. That’s why I’m here.”

Volusia stands up to leave, her coffee cup rattling on the fine china saucer. “Ollie,” she says in her big, gregarious voice, “you shouldn’t stay away ’til we all dead.”

He apologizes and puts his hand on her forearm, then pecks her on the cheek. “You’re still as beautiful...” He stops and a blush tinges his leathery face.

“I remember when he bought this house, he was so proud,” General Barrows looks around. “Bought the place for twenty-six-five, if memory serves. I imagine he paid that off years ago.”
View the video trailer and read more about The Plunder Room at the publisher's website and John Jeter's blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Beat the Reaper"

Josh Bazell has a BA in writing from Brown University and a MD from Columbia University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Beat the Reaper, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Beat the Reaper is a disquisition on the the way the American Mafia has traditionally made money, and how different that is from popular perceptions. I wouldn't call it highly representative of the book as a whole (in fact, how the hell did that get in there? don't I have copy editors?) but my visceral dislike for romanticized presentations of the Mafia, and fascination with the underlying truth, were some of the reasons I felt I could make a mob book interesting. Page 69 also has a line that I like but that some people felt should be cut, in which I call Waste Management "a multinational corporation so scary it made the mafia look like little girls in those competitions JonBenet Ramsey used to enter." On that score page 69 is completely representational of the book as a whole.
Read or listen to an excerpt and learn more about the book and author at the Beat the Reaper website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Cracked Up to Be"

Courtney Summers lives and writes young adult novels in Canada.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Cracked Up to Be, and reported the following:
Page 69:

"I'm supposed to be thinking of ideas?" I ask back. "I wonder if Norton knows how dumb this assignment is. Do you think he does? Think he's just fucking with us?"

"I don't know, maybe. So why did you run away from home?"

"Okay, Jake?" I stop; he stops. "I'm going to tell you something and I want you to listen carefully and then every time you want to ask me a personal question, you can just refer back to this answer. Are you ready?"

He nods and his hair falls into his eyes. He brushes it away.

"I'm really fucked up," I tell him. "And I don't like people."

"Got it," he says. "But why?"


Cracked Up to Be is a YA novel about a popular girl with a really terrible secret who goes to great lengths not to be popular anymore just so she can keep it. Her self-destructive attempts to alienate everyone around her sends her spiralling out of control and her friends and family are determined to figure out what's going on. I was relieved to see this reflected on page 69 when I did the test (phew!), although it might give the impression of a more lighthearted book than Cracked Up to Be actually is. In this opening bit, the main character, Parker, is fielding questions from the new guy in town, Jake, who is fascinated by and wants to know why Parker acts like she does. Does he get a straight answer from her at this point? Of course not--it's only page 69!
Read an excerpt from Cracked Up to Be, and learn more about the author and her work at Courtney Summers' website and blog.

View the video trailer for Cracked Up to Be.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"The Levee"

Malcolm Shuman is the author of over a dozen mystery novels.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, The Levee: A Novel of Baton Rouge, and reported the following:
The Levee is a story of Louisiana boys coming of age in 1959, one of the last years of America's innocence. It is about friendship, betrayal and how something that happened over forty years before still haunts the protagonist.

Colin Douglas, a successful writer of true crime books, is having bad dreams, which started when he watched a condemned killer die. Now Colin finds his sleep shattered by memories of a murder that occurred when he was in high school and used to camp on the levee with his friends. The story unfolds largely through Colin’s memories as he returns to his hometown to discover the truth.

The victim of the 1959 crime was the sensual young Spanish teacher at the boys’ school. Colin and his friends Toby, Blaize and Stan are convinced from the first that Rufus Sikes, the overseer of ruined Windsong Plantation, is the murderer but as information leaks out about the investigation it appears that the police have someone else in mind--Stan’s father, the doctor, who was having an affair with the victim. Soon the police actually arrest Stan’s father and the boys now set about to prove the doctor is innocent. But, with Toby constantly adding fuel to the fire, suspicions begin to cloud Colin’s relationship with Stan. Doubt augments suspicion and soon Colin doesn’t know what to believe. In the end, the boys sneak onto Windsong to find the truth.

Page 69, oddly enough, is pivotal in unraveling the entire plot. As Blanche St. Martin talks to Colin about her “sensitive” son, Blaize, she establishes that Blaize is special and that Colin’s friendship with Blaize is particularly valued. It would give away too much to go further, but it would not be too much to say that the entire story orbits this theme.
Read more about The Levee at the publisher's website and visit Malcolm Shuman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Looking Good Dead"

Peter James has worked as a screenwriter and a producer of numerous films, including the The Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. His novels include the award winning Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, which Judith Cutler calls "predictably deeply researched, elegantly written, fiendishly plotted and impossible to put down."

There are now four novels in the series: Dead Simple, Looking Good Dead, Not Dead Enough, and Dead Man's Footsteps.

James applied the Page 69 Test to Looking Good Dead and reported the following:
Below is Page 69, the first page of Chapter 11 of Looking Good Dead in my original manuscript.

Looking Good Dead tells the story of Tom Bryce, a happily married man who commutes daily from Brighton where he lives, to his office in London. One night, travelling home, he finds a CD left behind by the man in the seat next to him. Being a decent guy, when he gets home Tom loads the CD into his computer to see if it will give him a name and address to return it to. Instead, he gets driven to a web site in which he witnesses the brutal murder of a beautiful young woman.

At first he thinks perhaps it was just a movie – maybe a trailer for a horror movie. But then two days later, the remains of that woman are found in a field outside Brighton. And the nightmare for Tom and his family has just begun. He is warned that if he goes to the police and tells them what he saw, the same thing will happen to his wife and to his two young children.

Here on page 69 is part of the scene in which the woman’s body is being examined by the police.


Shortly after half past four in the afternoon, at the end of three hours of painstaking scrutiny, the dismembered remains of the young woman beneath the awning, in the rain-lashed field of rape, had come close to yielding as much as they were going to out here, the Home Office pathologist decided.

He completed the primitive but effective technique of pressing sellotape against every inch of her flesh in the hope of trapping more fibres, tweezered off a few fibres that had lodged in her pubic hair, carefully bagging each of them, then ran his eye once more, over the body parts, and the ground immediately around them, concentrating fiercely, checking just one more time for anything he might have missed.

Grace would have preferred the pathologist to go straight to the mortuary and perform the post-mortem this evening, which was normal practice. But Theobald informed him, apologetically, he was already committed to a PM in Hampshire for a suspicious yachting death.

In an ideal world, all post-mortems on murder victims would be carried out in situ, as there was such a risk in moving them of losing some vital clue, perhaps invisible to the naked eye. But a muddy, wind-blown, rain-swept field did not constitute an ideal world. Bodies were seldom found in places that were post-mortem friendly. Some pathologists preferred to spend a minimal amount of time at the crime scene, and return to the relatively pleasant working environment of the mortuary. But Dr Frazer Theobald was not one of them. He could be at a scene late into the night, indeed all through the night, if necessary, before declaring himself satisfied that the remains were ready to be removed to the mortuary.

Grace looked at his watch. His mind was partly on his date tomorrow night. It would be good to get off before the shops shut today. He knew it was wrong to be thinking this way, but for years his sister, and everyone else, had been telling him to get a life. For the first time since Sandy had gone he had met a woman that he really was interested in. But he was worried that his wardrobe was crap, and he needed some new summer clothes. Then he tried to put his date out of his mind and concentrate on his work.

The young woman’s head had still not yet been found. Roy Grace had called in a POLSA, a Police Search Advisor, and several police vans had already arrived filled with constables, many of them Specials, and begun a line search of the area. The driving rain was hampering visibility, and the helicopter droned low overhead, covering a slightly wider area. Only the police Alsatians, bounding away in the distance, seemed unphased by the elements. To the local farmer’s chagrin, a sixty-deep line of policemen, wearing fluorescent jackets in an even brighter yellow than the crop, were systematically trampling over every square inch of his field.

Grace had spent much of the time on his phone, organizing the search, arranging a workspace for the team he would be assembling, in the Major Incident Suite, obtaining an incident code name from the Sussex Police Computer, and listening to reports on the profiles of a handful of young women who had been reported missing in the past few days. There was only one missing person report,
Read the first two chapters of Looking Good Dead and learn more about the author and his work at the official Peter James website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Thomas Perry is the author of the Jane Whitefield series as well as the bestselling novels Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He is the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel, and he won an Edgar Award for The Butcher’s Boy.

He applied the Page 69 Test and the Page 99 Test to his new novel, Runner, and reported the following:
I think the Marshall McLuhan and Ford Madox Ford tests are always pretty reliable. For my new book, Runner, page 69 and page 99 are both part of one sequence, in which Jane Whitefield is taking her new client away from the people who are pursuing her. On page 69, Jane has just eluded a roadblock by taking a wide turn to clip one of the pursuers, and then played chicken with one of the chase cars, which veered off the road to avoid a collision. The scared client, a pregnant girl, complains:

Christine was breathing heavily, as though she had run a race. There were tears running from her widened eyes. "I can't believe you did that."

"I didn't chase them. They chased us."

"You know what I mean."

"They're hired hands. That means they're willing to kill us for money. It doesn't mean they're willing to die for money."

"You bet our lives on that? And my baby's life, too. You weren't just trying to get past. You wanted to force that car off the road."

Jane turned to look at her in curiosity. "Of course." Then she returned her eyes to the road and kept driving.

The passage gives a pretty good introduction to Jane and how she thinks and acts. She saves people who have good reason to believe they'll die if she doesn't. To save a client, Jane will do literally anything, and she's mildly surprised when one of them doesn't immediately understand the gravity of his predicament.

The second half of p. 69 gives the painful impressions of Carl McGinnis, the man Jane injured with her car, as he slowly senses how badly he's hurt, and realizes his colleagues are thinking about leaving him beside the road instead of taking him to a hospital.

Page 99 is the beginning of a scene in which Jane gives the girl her first lesson on fading into crowds in public places to keep from being spotted.

I think the McLuhan and Ford tests work for Runner. If a reader sampled those two pages and didn't find himself getting curious, then he'd probably be wise to look for another book.
Learn more about Runner at the publisher's website and at Thomas Perry's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Nose Down, Eyes Up"

Merrill Markoe is the author of three books of humorous essays and the novels It’s My F---ing Birthday, What the Dogs Have Taught Me, and Walking in Circles Before Lying Down. She has also co-authored, with Andy Prieboy, the novel The Psycho Ex Game. And she has won multiple Emmy awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Nose Down, Eyes Up, and reported the following:
Once I finish writing a book, and it is published, I am sometimes afraid to open it for fear that I will see things that still need rewriting because now it's too late. I might panic or get depressed.

So it was with some trepidation that I turned to Page 69 in Nose Down, Eyes Up. I was kind of relieved to discover that, because it’s the first page of Chapter 6, it was only a half page long.

The book is written in the first person voice of Gil, a handyman who, at 47, thinks of himself as the world’s oldest 22 year old man. Gil is the house sitter and care-taker of big estate for a living. As the chapter begins, he has just been evicted temporarily so the people who own the place can take an extended vacation.

I spent the time packing everything I had at the Bremner house into two large suitcases and a couple of rucksacks. There were also eight sad medium size cardboard boxes which I pushed together onto a shelf at the back of the Bremners garage. Eight boxes full of what looked like the unsold items from a weird yard sale: ratty towels, deflated footballs, old Mad Magazines. Cuff links my mother had given me. When did she imagine I wore those kinds of shirts? Seemed like those eight boxes had followed me everywhere. Every move I made in my life looked like this.

By reading the page, I think you get a sense of the narrator as a guy who has lived his life wary of commitment to anything. A lot of the plot revolves around that. But you would be given no clue about the largest part of what drives the humor in the book: That there are a lot of talking dogs. Gil has four dogs with whom he is so involved that he has full blown conversations with them. The alpha dog, Jimmy, is kind of Tony Robbins figure to the others in that he gives them tips about increasing their personal power through manipulative techniques. A few pages later, Jimmy will be shocked to learn that he was adopted and Gil is not his real father. This propels a series of events that cause Gil to get re-involved with his ex-wife. Many complications ensue. So, by only reading page 69 you would get a very inadequate view of the landscape of the book. Though it might save you some money if you were looking for an excuse not to buy it.
Learn more about the book and author at Merrill Markoe's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Losing Everything"

David Lozell Martin's novels include Our American King (2007), the international bestsellers Lie to Me and Tap, and the critically acclaimed The Crying Heart Tattoo, The Beginning of Sorrows, and Crazy Love. Of Facing Rushmore (2005), Martin's eleventh book, Elmore Leonard said, "What I like best about a David Martin suspense novel -- and it will grab you, I guarantee -- is that the man knows how to write."

He applied the Page 69 Test to Losing Everything, his latest title--and first book of nonfiction--and reported the following:
The primary dynamic between the two groups is that the External Reality Team considers the guys in the Back Row as illogical, ruled by their emotions, and crippled by tics, phobias, and hang-ups. The main charge that the Guys in the Back Row levy against External Reality Team members is that they simply do not get it. They’re in control, they blithely go through life one day after the next, but they aren’t in touch with what we really want, really need, what really makes us tick.

--from page 69 of Losing Everything

Page 69 of my memoir, Losing Everything, outlines the dynamic between ego and id, which I defined in my life as the External Reality Team and the Guys in the Back Row, two groups that I imagined in my head, vying for influence and control. This dynamic has been at the center of my life’s dramas—between passionately desiring to be a writer and logically needing to work at traditional jobs to support a family, between an inherited crippling shyness and the expansive bonhomie that came from gin, between the slide into insanity and the fear of becoming as insane as my mother was. So, yes, someone could read page 69 of Losing Everything and get a good sense of the entire book. Whether or not this page would encourage someone to read the whole book depends on what’s going on in that person’s own mind: have you been caught between the pulls of your passions and your obligations, between your impulses and your sense of control, between what you’ve always wanted to do with your life and how your life has in fact turned out? If you answer yes, Losing Everything might offer some helpful insights.
Learn more about Losing Everything at the publisher's website, and read Dwight Garner's review in the New York Times.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Never Tell A Lie"

Hallie Ephron is an award-winning mystery reviewer for the Boston Globe. She is the author of 1001 Books for Every Mood and Writing and Selling Your Mystery, which was nominated for both an Edgar and an Anthony award.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Never Tell a Lie, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Never Tell a Lie begins:

Glass swan head. The police had taken that with them.

Ivy Rose’s is taking a mental inventory of the items the police have just confiscated after searching her house for clues in the disappearance of Melinda White. Melinda was last seen a few days ago at Ivy’s yard sale. The glass swan head is a broken piece of a green Depression-glass dish that Ivy gave Melinda just before she disappeared.

Pregnant and within weeks of her due date, Ivy is still clinging to her husband David’s assurances that nothing happened when he took Melinda inside to show her around the house. He gave her a tour, then ushered her out the front door.

Now he apologizes and tells Ivy, “I should have told you earlier.”

Told me what? Ivy wonders, afraid to ask.

“The thing is, I didn't see Melinda leave,” he admits.

Ivy wants to believe David, to agree with his speculation that Melinda must have let herself out while David was getting her a glass of water. But that glass swan head isn’t the only troubling piece of evidence that the police found.

Page 69. It’s a moment in the book when Ivy discovers that her husband has lied to her. Is it an innocent lie or something more sinister? David has been the love of her life since high school, the one person to whom she’d trust her life and the new life within her. Now she begins to wonder how well she really knows him.
Browse inside Never Tell A Lie, and learn more about the novel and author at Hallie Ephron's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Bad Traffic"

Simon Lewis was born in Wales and grew up in Scotland. He is the author of the Rough Guides to China, Beijing, and Shanghai, and the backpacker novel Go, which he wrote in a village in the Himalayas. He spends half his time in Brixton, London, and the rest in Asia, mostly China and Japan.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the American edition of his crime thriller Bad Traffic and reported the following:
On page 69 of Bad Traffic, Ding Ming, a newly arrived illegal immigrant, encounters Black Fort, the human trafficker who has brought him and his wife to England - for a price.

To this naive peasant, the thuggish gangster represents the world that he wants in on. He admires the man's style: 'How cool he was, with artfully dishevelled hair, a gold earring, jade necklace, bomber jacket, black jeans. When Ding Ming had money he'd dress exactly like that. He couldn't get taller and paler, and he doubted he could ever achieve that self-assurance, but at least he could buy the look.'

Black Fort speaks the English of a native speaker, which again causes awe and admiration. Ding Ming too can speak some English - he trained as a teacher. This represents a threat to the traffickers, as it makes him less malleable than his companions. And it will make him vital to the brutal anti-hero of the book, the policeman Jian, who speaks no English at all; shortly he will kidnap Ding Ming, and force the poor man to help in his quest to kill Black Fort.

The heroes of the book are Chinese men trapped in life and death struggles in the alien landscape of rural England. Understanding very little, they must constantly make judgements based on superficial impressions and limited information. In this case, typically, Ding Ming is mistaken: Black Fort, it rapidly transpires, is no friend to be admired, but a enemy and abuser.
Read an excerpt from Bad Traffic, and learn more about the book and author at Simon Lewis' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Chasing Smoke"

Bill Cameron's debut mystery is Lost Dog; his stories have appeared in Portland Noir, Killer Year, and elsewhere.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Chasing Smoke, and reported the following:
Chasing Smoke is the story of a cancer-riddled cop probing the deaths of four disparate men with whom he shares a grim link: his oncologist. The story follows Skin Kadash not only through the investigation but also through his struggle with the loss of the job that has defined him for so many years and with his impending mortality.

As with so many writers, my goal is to make every word count, but inevitably some words count more than others. For all I knew, Page 69 would turn out to be a kind of bridge, necessary to story development but not necessarily an exciting moment or reflective of the themes and tensions of the novel overall.

To my pleasure, page 69 serves as an almost perfect capsule view of the major issues of the book. It illuminates Skin Kadash's developing status as police outsider after twenty-five years on the job, and provides a window into the frustration and mounting recklessness this change draws out of him. We see the mounting tension between Skin and his partner, Susan Mulvaney as his investigation veers away from standard procedure.

Ultimately, the story is as much about Skin and how his cancer diagnosis transforms him as about the investigation itself. Yet the investigation serves as a stimulus for many of these changes. This moment, as he contends with both a witness and his own partner is a microcosm of Chasing Smoke as a whole.

“It was closer to forty-five minutes,” Claire Rule says, directing herself to Susan. “In fact, he left here a few moments after you and your other colleague.” Susan glances at me, her expression restrained. We both know bullshit when we hear it, but Susan doesn’t offer any challenge. “Is there any way Mister Brandauer can be reached?”

“He doesn’t answer his phone during meetings, and given the nature of his business this afternoon, he may not check messages until the end of the day.”

A high-octane business man not checking his messages, no matter how many meetings he had, is about as plausible as the steel-grilled Claire Rule picking me up at a titty bar. Susan has to know that, but she only says, “I see.” She hands the woman her card. “Please ask him to give me a call as soon as he can. It should only take a moment.”

Claire takes the card by the corner, gripping it with the manicured nails of her thumb and forefinger as though accepting a snotty tissue. “I can’t say when he’ll get back to you. He’s a very busy man.”

I expect Susan to slap that notion down right quick, to let Claire Rule know that a police investigation isn’t something you respond to on a whim between your gold-plated dump and tee-time. But Susan doesn’t say anything. I stare at her for a second, waiting, then turn back to Claire and smack my badge wallet against the desktop. “Lady, tell you what? How about you trot on into the back and haul Mister Brandauer and his buddy Jimmy Zirk out here. Or take us back to them. I don’t care which. Let’s just stop with the bullshit.”

Susan goes stiff beside me. Claire’s eyes lock onto mine. She’s a pro, I’ll give her that much. I can only guess that she’s seething beneath her unruffled exterior. “Sir, I’m afraid you are mistaken. Mister Brandauer is not here, and I have no knowledge of this other person.”

“Save it. We know better—”
Read an excerpt from Chasing Smoke and view the video trailer.

Visit Bill Cameron's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue