Friday, May 15, 2009

"A Trace of Smoke"

Rebecca Cantrell majored in German, Creative Writing, and History at the Freie Universitaet of Berlin and Carnegie Mellon University.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to A Trace of Smoke, her first book, and reported the following:
I was shocked when I realized just how representative page 69 is of the rest of A Trace of Smoke. The novel is set in Berlin in 1931, the year that Germany was lost to the Nazis. Nazi Storm Troopers and Communists fight in the streets. Wealthy Jews and intellectuals think of fleeing. Desperate sexual and social outcasts cram Berlin’s famous nightclubs to wring out one last dance.

And Hannah Vogel lives alone and works as a crime reporter. On a routine assignment, she finds a picture of her brother’s dead body. But since she loaned their identity papers to escaping Jewish friends, she cannot identify him and demand an investigation.

So she tracks the killer herself. Her investigation leads her to flamboyant drag queens, Hitler’s right hand man, and a young boy who claims to be her son. Can she find the killer and save the boy?

On page 69 she is talking to one of her brother’s former lovers, a teenage Nazi, about an openly gay Nazi leader named Ernst Röhm (based on a real historical figure).

Here is page 69 of A Trace of Smoke:

Behind Wilhelm the musicians took a break, putting down their shiny instruments and waddling up to the bar like penguins.

“My father told me and he should know because he’s Röhm’s top lieutenant in Berlin.”

“Does it bother him that Röhm’s queer?”

Wilhelm laughed incredulously. “He worships Röhm. It’s fine for Röhm to do whatever he wants. It’s just not fine for me. Plus I don’t act manly enough.”

“What does that mean?”

“Ernst used to coach me on ways to act manly around my father.”

I winced. Ernst certainly had experience in that.

“He called it the Code of Manliness. You should know all about it. He said you made it up.”

“I did, to keep him safe from our father.”

“The tyrant.”

“Is that what Ernst called him?”

“That was the nicest thing Ernst called him.” Wilhelm laughed. “I’d have to apologize to say what he said in front of a lady.”

“That sounds like Ernst,” I said, smiling.

A tall, overweight man dressed in a badly tailored flapper dress with black fringe wobbled over to our table. He looked like a circus tent about to unravel. “Hi, darling,” he said, to Wilhelm. I remembered him from my previous visit to El Dorado. Lola.

Wilhelm pulled out a chair and watched the man with calculating eyes.

“Nice falsies,” the man said to me, through his garish coral lipstick. “You’re a convincing woman.”

“And you are a convincing man,” I said, “which I’m guessing was not your intention.”

He blushed and gave me a genuine smile. I smelled the floral odor of Vasenol body powder. “I’m sorry, esteemed lady,” he said. “My vision isn’t so good and I thought you were, well, you know.”

I laughed. “Hannah.” I stuck out my hand.

He took my hand in his moist hairy one. “I’m Lovely Lola.”

I think the readers skimming that page would be inclined to read on to find out what Hannah is doing there and what happens to Wilhelm, the teenage boy.
Read an excerpt from A Trace of Smoke, and learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Cantrell's website and blog. Watch the video trailer for A Trace of Smoke.

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

--Marshal Zeringue