Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"The Adversary"

Michael Walters is the author of a series of crime thrillers set in modern-day Mongolia which focus on Nergui, a senor official at the Ministry of Security, and Doripalam, the head of the Mongolian Serious Crimes Team.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Adversary, the second book in the Nergui series, and reported the following:
The concept of the ‘Page 69 test’ is an intriguing one. I suppose any given page from a novel is likely to be atypical - whatever happens there probably doesn’t happen anywhere else in the book - but characteristic, in that most novels strive for a unity of tone and style. And the sixty-ninth page is a smart choice - far enough in to ensure that characters and plot-direction are becoming established, but not so far that we’re already accelerating towards the climax.

And that’s pretty much how I’d see page 69 of The Adversary. It’s not particularly typical, in that it seems, at least initially, to be a relatively low-key moment in what I hope is generally a fast-paced, incident-filled book. But it’s a pivotal scene, which brings two key characters together for the first time in the book and so kicks off one of the main plot-lines.

Page 69 largely comprises a dialogue between Nergui, the book’s (and my series’s) lead player, and Sarangarel, the widow of a small-time crook who, since her husband’s death in police custody, has reinvented herself as a successful lawyer and now judge. She has approached Nergui – who, as Head of the Serious Crime Squad, was responsible for her husband’s arrest many years before – because she has received anonymous threats. The dialogue between the two is neutral and guarded, with both feeling their way, suspicious of the other’s motives.

Reading the page in isolation, I’m intrigued by how much it sets the scene for what is to come. It establishes Sarangeral’s abilities and current status but leaves lingering questions about her uncertain past:

There was a sense that she was protesting too much. But that wasn’t so surprising, Nergui thought. She’d no doubt had to rehearse these arguments pretty frequently over the years. He couldn’t believe that her past hadn’t at some point returned to haunt her.

Nergui points out that ‘people can be unforgiving’ - a prescient comment given how the story then unfolds. And, towards the bottom of the page, we have a hint of something more between Nergui and Sarangeral:

”After – well, after it all happened, I didn’t know what to do. I was completely lost. There was a point where I thought that maybe you and I...” She trailed off, as though suddenly conscious that she might have said too much.

Nergui was watching her intently, his dark face giving nothing away. That had been part of it, she realised. She had never known for sure what he was thinking, could never get quite as close to him as she had needed.

So, yes, perhaps not a typical scene, but a significant one - a scene that plants a number of important seeds that, I hope, gradually grow and blossom as the book proceeds.
Read an excerpt from The Adversary and learn more about the book and author at Michael Walters's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue