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