Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"The Cutting"

James Hayman spent more than twenty years as a senior creative director at one of New York’s largest advertising agencies.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel The Cutting, and reported the following:
The Cutting introduces readers to Detective Sergeant Michael McCabe, a former New York City homicide cop, who has moved with his young daughter to the supposedly safer confines of Portland, Maine. At least that’s what McCabe thought before he was called in to investigate the brutal murder of a sixteen-year-old girl who’s heart has been cut from her body with surgical precision.

On page sixty-nine McCabe is questioning Dr. Philip Spencer, a cardiac surgeon and head of the heart transplant program at nearby Cumberland Medical Center. He’s trying to find out if the murder might be part of an elaborate conspiracy to obtain and sell black market organs for illegal transplant procedures.

Spencer tries to convince McCabe that such a thing would simply not be possible.

Here’s what we learn on page sixty-nine:

...he (Spencer) said in a considered voice, “but who’s going to perform the transplant, and where? Any recognized transplant center would be crazy to even think about it. So would a qualified surgeon. The operation can’t be done by a surgeon acting alone, no matter how skilled or experienced, and it can’t be done on a kitchen table. When I transplant a heart, there are ten to twelve specialized people in the OR. All critical to the procedure. Plus a lot of sophisticated equipment. Most important is a heart- lung machine and a perfusionist to run it. The heart- lung machine circulates and oxygenates the patient’s blood and keeps him or her alive between the time the sick heart is removed and the healthy heart goes in and begins beating.”

“What else is required?”

“What else?” Spencer shrugged. “A diagnostic lab to perform preop and post- op tests. A well- stocked blood bank. A facility for postoperative recovery and one- on- one care for at least a few days. You need an array of monitors. You need someone to prescribe and administer antirejection drugs and to watch the patient for signs of infection due to a compromised immune system. You need to be able to follow a fairly rigid postoperative protocol. I just don’t see how some kind of
rogue surgeon could put all that together on his own.”

How long is a living heart viable after it’s harvested?”

“Not long. Four or five hours. Our heart in New Hampshire will be placed in an iced saline solution in an ordinary picnic cooler, put on a helicopter, and flown directly here. While that’s being done, we’ll remove our patient’s diseased heart and attach him to the heartlung machine until he receives his new heart. It’s all very tightly coordinated.” Four or five hours. Terri Mirabito estimated Katie’s time of death as forty-eight to seventy-two hours before Lacey found her in the scrap yard. Since her body was found around 8:00 p.m. Friday, a transplant would have to have taken place sometime between 8 00 p.m. Tuesday and 8:00 p.m.Wednesday. Twenty- four hours. A big window.

“How long does a transplant operation take?”

“Depends how complicated. Anywhere from four hours to a whole day.”

McCabe resisted the temptation to ask Spencer where he was between Tuesday night and Wednesday night. Or Thursday while the body was being dumped. He had no evidence whatsoever that
Read an excerpt from The Cutting, and learn more about the book and author at James Hayman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2009

"The Scenic Route"

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of two short story collections and six novels. She is a professor of fiction writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts and lives in New York City.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Scenic Route, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a digression; the narrator, Sylvia Landsman, is recounting the sorry mess her Aunt Thea and Uncle John made of their lives because they lacked conviction and practicality. It's a story within the story, and in that way, it is very essence of The Scenic Route; the twists and turns, the detours and digressions of back roads and stories both. All of the stories contained in the over-arching story are in some way or another connected. The "plot-line" to this novel, such as there is a plot-line-- Sylvia's affair with Henry, a man who is sweet, charming, weak, and sponging off his rich wife-- is mirrored in Aunt Thea and Uncle John's plight.

...they (Thea and John) lived off John's allowance, which was a good amount for a student, because as far as his parents knew, that's what John was: a young man completing his education at Dartmouth ... born into wealth (they) were now, relatively speaking, poor. Poor, but pinch-me happy to be together, to live out their artsy-fartsy dreams: writing and painting by day ... John and Thea-- young and in love and starry-eyed-- resided in the domicile of their artistic inventions where everything was possible, although not everything was considered. Such as: Thea got pregnant.... A baby costs money, more money than they had.... John would have to give up writing stories by day. He would have to get himself a job. Some wretched, meaningless job....(p.69)

The first line of The Scenic Route makes it clear that this affair has ended, and that the ending isn't a happy one. But the end, the destination, doesn't much matter. The reason for this novel is the exploration of the characters, and how they came to arrive at the end of the affair. The narrative voice is the driving (sorry!) force, and it's either going to carry you along, or not; voice, and the meditation on storytelling as a way to of making sense of life, storytelling as a means of existence. Were page 69 to be deleted, one could still follow the novel without getting lost; yet, without that page (and all the others similar in intent) there would be no there there. In a nutshell-- it's not germane, but it is necessary.
Browse inside The Scenic Route, and learn more about the book and author at Binnie Kirshenbaum's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Trust No One"

Gregg Hurwitz is the author of several critically acclaimed thrillers, most recently The Crime Writer which was a finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the ITW Best Novel of the Year award. In addition to his novels, Hurwitz has written screenplays for several major Hollywood studios and is currently writing for Marvel Comics.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, Trust No One, and reported the following:
Trust No One is really two interlaced thrillers. One tells the story of what happened to Nick Horrigan when he was a seventeen-year-old kid, and the other -- the main one -- shows what's happening to him now. The book opens with a bang, when he's dragged from bed by a SWAT team, hauled outside to a waiting Black Hawk, and told that a terrorist has seized control of a nuclear power plant and is threatening to blow it up...unless he can talk to Nick.

Nick has no idea who the hell this guy is.

Nick's a classic Hitchcockian Everyman, but as I alluded to earlier, he had something horrible happen when he was younger. Page 69 shows what happens after his beloved stepfather is murdered (and Nick left to feel responsible). Nick has just gotten into a fight with his mother, who stormed out of the house. The phone rings, and an ominous caller makes an indirect threat on his mother's life. He's told to part the front curtains, and when he does, he sees a dark sedan parked at the curb. "Come outside," the voice demands. P. 69 shows what happens when Nick walks out of his house in the night to that dark sedan, and it is the defining moment of his young life.

I hope the page is representative of a book with a lot of twists and turns -- and suspense. But even more than that, it catches a key moment in the story, where the entire plot hangs in the balance.
Read an excerpt from Trust No One and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Gregg Hurwitz's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 26, 2009

"The Pretend Wife"

Bridget Asher is the author of My Husband’s Sweethearts.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Pretend Wife, and reported the following:
The Pretend Wife is about a woman whose irrepressible college boyfriend, Elliot Hull, works his way back into her life. In fact, he has a proposition -- he wants Gwen to pretend to be his wife for the weekend, to appease his dying mother. With her husband's encouragement, she goes and, along the way, falls in love with his wise mother, his kind sister, her smart kids -- and, well, Elliot Hull himself.... The novel ruminates on love and marriage, compromise and betrayal, what's real and what's not, and also dips into Gwen's childhood and the death of her mother.

Page 69 of the novel is an important one. Gwen and Elliot are in college in the whirlwind of their relationship -- this is before Gwen slaps Elliot in a bar and everything falls apart. They're standing in the shallow end of the university pool. Elliot is asking her about her mother's death, trying to get her to talk about it, but she isn't ready. She starts crying. This is the problem -- Elliot loves her too much, wants too much from her. He doesn't dole out love in little packets as her husband now does. With him, love is an ocean. This scene glimpses that ocean ...
Read an excerpt from The Pretend Wife, and learn more about the book and author at Bridget Asher's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"The Year That Follows"

Scott Lasser's novels include Battle Creek and All I Could Get. His non-fiction has appeared in magazines ranging from Dealmaker (for which he wrote a regular book column) to The New Yorker.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, The Year That Follows, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of The Year That Follows? Yes, emphatically so. Of course, what writer would say otherwise? Wouldn’t I cut it if it weren’t essential? I’d like to think so.

One point of clarification: I had no input as to what actually ended up on page 69. Knopf did that.

The Year That Follows begins with Cat Miller traveling to New York on September 10th of 2001. She goes out to dinner with her brother Kyle, who tells her he thinks he’s fathered a child, as his ex-girlfriend just got back from 3 months maternity leave, and they broke up a year ago. The next day he goes off to work and is never heard from again. Cat goes in search of the lost child, knowing only the mother’s first name and having a picture of the woman.

Close to a year later Cat is still looking for the boy when her father asks her to come to California to mark the anniversary of her brother’s death. Sam is 80, a World War II veteran partially disabled from a kamikaze attack. On page 69 he is standing at the end of the pier in Santa Barbara, staring at the ocean on which he once fought a war, when he notices a soldier next to him. The kid, on leave from Afghanistan, is dressed in civilian clothes; Sam spies his dog tags pressing against the inside of his t-shirt. Though it’s been 57 years since he was injured, Sam still carries his tags in the front pocket of his pants. “They got him through the war, and he goes nowhere without them, though he doesn’t wear them around his neck. He’d be self-conscious about that.”

When Sam asks the soldier about his tags, the kid says they are “(a) reminder of the guys who are over there. Around here it would be easy, you know, to forget there’s a war on.”

Well, this is page 69 of a book that has 241, and this soldier will show up again. Sam is 80, but the war has never left him; he wakes every night having lived the kamikaze attack. And now he is trying to come to peace with the death of his son, who never went into the military but died from what he fears nightly. On page 71 he’ll give the solder one of his dog tags, saying, “It got me through, and it’ll get you through.”

For the first time in sixty years Sam has relinquished a dog tag, that little tin marker of his identity. But, then again, he’s about to do a lot of things differently.
Read an excerpt from The Year That Follows, and learn more about the author and his work at Scott Lasser's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Sworn to Silence"

Bestselling author Linda Castillo is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, the Holt Medallion and a nomination for the Rita.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Sworn to Silence, and reported the following:
Page 69 captures the tone of Sworn to Silence, but it isn’t representative of the book as a whole. This particular passage takes you into the troubled mind of an important secondary character, John Tomasetti, and reveals the very dark place he’s landed in his life.

... while John was squarely at the bottom of the barrel, he wasn’t so far gone that he could blow his brains out.

Not yet, anyway.

Sighing, he turned from the window and slid into the chair behind his desk. He thought about Nancy and Donna and Kelly, and shame for what he’d become cut him. The urge to pull out the photos was strong, but he resisted. Seeing their faces didn’t make him feel any better. He couldn’t remember them the way they’d been. When he thought of his wife and two little girls, he saw them the way they’d been on the dreadful night he’d found them...

Tomasetti is an integral character to the book, but Sworn to Silence is Kate’s story.

Kate Burkholder is a small town police chief who was born Amish. Facing a series of brutal murders, she finds herself torn between the two cultures. The values she learned as a child versus the lessons taught to her not only as an adult, but as a cop. Kate walks a fine line. Sometimes she crosses the line, but always with good reason.

Sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community of Painters Mill, Ohio. A young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Killer. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence, and for Katie, the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish.

Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate Burkholder is back. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate for Chief of Police. She’s certain she’s come to terms with her past—until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to name him, she would betray both her family and her Amish past—and expose a dark secret that could destroy her.
Read an excerpt from Sworn to Silence, and learn more about the book and author at Linda Castillo's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Black Water Rising"

Attica Locke is a writer who has worked in both film and television. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has written movie scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, and Jerry Bruckheimer films, as well as television pilots for HBO, Dreamworks, and Silver Pictures. She is currently at work on an HBO miniseries about the civil rights movement.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her acclaimed debut novel, Black Water Rising, and reported the following:
From page 69:

He’s not proud of his fears, but there they are, pinching at him from all sides like too tight shoes, restricting his movements, limiting his freedom. A shame, considering the real reason he marched so many years ago was to prove fear was dead, that it belonged to another time, to men like his father.

Jay sits at his desk, thinking about Jerome Porter.

The same image always comes to him, like a well-worn photograph in his mind, a snapshot of another time. It’s an image of his mother, eighteen, sitting in the front seat of her daddy’s pickup truck, Jay’s father, twenty-one and strong, behind the wheel. They were newlyweds, the way Jay always heard the story. His mother, Alma, was just starting to show. They were riding on a farm road that ran behind Jay’s grandmother’s place, a barbecue joint and green grocer, where his parents were both working the summer after they married. Jay’s father was driving his young wife home ’cause she wasn’t feeling too good on her feet.

There was another truck on the road that day, riding their bumper and honking the horn, two white men in the cab and a loaded rifle rack in the back window. This was Trinity County, 1949, a lawless place for men like Jerome Porter. The police were white. The sheriff and the mayor. And they made it known that the countryside belonged to them. There had been a rash of poultry theft that fall and winter, somebody (or bodies) sneaking onto people’s farms after dark, spiriting away valuable hens, sometimes going so far as to slit a guard dog’s throat in the process. Wasn’t no way to tell who it was, but white folks got it in their minds that it was niggers’ doing. They set up vigilante groups, guarding property with rifles and axes, questioning folks coming in and out of the grocery store, even harassing little boys coming out of the colored elementary school.

To be honest, I didn’t really see it at first. When I opened my book to page 69, I recognized the scene right away: Jay Porter, a black man and a criminal defense attorney in Houston, Texas, 1981, is seated at his desk, trying to decide whether or not to call the police about a murder he’s read about in the newspaper – a murder about which he may know more than he cares to. Near the top of the page, he talks about his fear of law enforcement. But the rest of the page is the start of a flashback about his father, going all the way back to a day in 1949 in Trinity County, East Texas. It doesn’t, at first glance, have anything to do with the main storyline, the murder that has Jay up at nights, fearing for his safety and that of his wife. But I was forgetting that the soul of this book lies in many ways with Jay’s father. Though page 69 is slightly different in tone and temperament from the rest of the book, it is in fact a snapshot of the psychology of the main character, Jay Porter. Because what happens on the next page defines Jay as much as anything else that comes before or after in the book.
Browse inside Black Water Rising, and learn more about the book and author at Attica Locke's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Wrongful Death"

Robert Dugoni is the New York Times bestselling author of The Jury Master and Damage Control.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his latest novel, Wrongful Death, and reported the following:
Wow, quite a task, and a bit scary, to ask a writer to look at a single page from his novel and decide whether it is indicative of the novel’s theme. It fits rather nicely with the writing mantra that every scene in a novel should move the story forward or be left on the cutting room floor. I must admit to some apprehension as I opened my latest novel, Wrongful Death, and began to read page 69. Then again, I’m probably obsessive compulsive and even this is a test I don’t want to fail.

So, at page 69, protagonist David Sloane, the attorney who does not lose, is in the midst of investigating a case he is beginning to believe he cannot possibly win. Sloane has been tasked with suing the U.S. Government and the U.S. Military in the death of Washington National Guardsman, James Ford. But to do this, Sloane must get past The Feres Doctrine, a huge legal hurdle that prevents soldiers, or the family of soldiers, from suing the government or the military for injuries or deaths incurred incident to the soldier’s service. The gray area of that law is, of course, incident to the soldier’s service. The term has been interpreted incredibly broadly, and Sloane realizes that to show that Ford’s death was not incident to his service he must first find out what happened on the infamous night that Ford died. This quest takes Sloane to a meeting with Ford’s commanding officer on that fateful mission, Captain Robert Kessler. Kessler himself lost the use of both his legs on that mission and is now working for Argus International, a chemical company that has just received a mass defense contract in Iraq and employs its own private military force to protect its employees. As Sloane enters Kessler’s office Kessler is in the midst of evaluating a training exercise being carried out by members of Argus International’s security team in a mock Iraqi village.

Evaluating then, page 69 mentions Sloane, the protagonist, Jenkins, his most noteworthy sidekick and Kessler, a central figure in the story. It also mentions Iraq and the fact that Argus International, also a central player in the novel, employs its own private military force. Enough, I think, for any reader to wonder, “What has David Sloane got himself into?”
Read an excerpt from Wrongful Death, and learn more about the book and author at Robert Dugoni's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 19, 2009

"The Tehran Conviction"

Tom Gabbay is the author of The Berlin Conspiracy and The Lisbon Crossing. He previously worked for NBC Entertainment as director of children's and comedy programs, and was creative director of the production partnership between NBC and ITV Television in the United Kingdom.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, The Tehran Conviction, and reported the following:
If you opened to page 69 of The Tehran Conviction, you might wonder why the main character, Jack Teller, feels the need for a quick dip in a cold tub after the sultry Leyla sneaks out of his hotel room in the middle of the night. But you wouldn’t get much else out of the six lines at the end of Chapter 9, so perhaps you’d turn to page 70, were you might wonder what on earth Jack’s Iranian driver is trying to say when he quotes one of his many pearls of wisdom …

“Marriage is like the uncut watermelon,” he said, catching my eye in the rearview mirror.

Jack has no idea what the adage means, either, but he’s been in Tehran six weeks now – long enough to become accustomed to talking across the culture gap. As an operative for the newly formed CIA, Jack’s task within Operation Ajax is to befriend Yari Fatemi, a high-ranking government official, and the invitation to a family wedding is the first sign that he’s breaking through the relentless wall of politeness that has characterized their relationship so far. It isn’t until several weeks later, when the two men have formed a bond, that Jack faces the choice of betraying his friend or his country.

Jack carries the decision he makes with him throughout his life until, one day, twenty-six years later, he is presented with an opportunity to redeem himself.
Browse inside The Tehran Conviction, and learn more about the author and his Jack Telller novels at Tom Gabbay's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lisbon Crossing.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Born and raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Anthony Neil Smith now lives on the frozen prairies of rural Minnesota, where he teaches at Southwest Minnesota State University. He's the author of Yellow Medicine, Psychosomatic, and The Drummer. He's also the editor of the online noir fiction zine Plots with Guns.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, Hogdoggin’, and reported the following:
Where Yellow Medicine was one bad man's story told to you in his own manipulative but charming voice, Hotdoggin’ expands the playing field, as Billy Lafitte, now an enforcer in a cultish biker club, is on the run all across Southwest Minnesota and South Dakota from quite a few people with separate agendas.

This page is a pivotal point for one of the characters, who's just experienced a tragic loss she blames Lafitte for, even though it was actually her and her boyfriend's fault.

After a confrontation that led to a car wreck, a fire, and the horrible death of Lafitte's former friend Deputy Nate, he faces down an angry Colleen. Lafitte tells her:

"I'm getting on that bike, if it still runs right, and getting myself out of here. If it doesn't run right, I'm going to commandeer the next vehicle that drives by. One of these options is better for you than the other, since I can't have you trying to arrest me while I'm waiting for a ride. Stop pretending to be hard and cry for your boyfriend." Lafitte nodded his head towards the fire, Nate's husk. "I don't care how bad you hate me, you'd better remember this is your fault. I was minding my own business, young lady."

She stews on that a moment or two, then tries to hold her gun on Lafitte. But in her grief, she just can't do it.

[Colleen's] voice breaking more. "It's not fair!"

Ignored her. He waited for the shot, and when it came he flinched but didn't worry. Without a doubt she'd shot it straight into the sky. Then she screamed, maybe some words in there, but mostly just ear shrieking that spread fast across the fields and scared birds out of trees.

He mounted the hog, cranked it. Looked up to see Colleen on her knees, face buried in her hands, the little gun hanging on her finger. It slipped off and fell into the grass and all you had left was her crying. It was hard crying, backed with fire and venom and if Lafitte were to wait another minute, the fire would get the better of her and she'd come up shooting.

While she missed her chance that time, she certainly changes as the novel goes on, becoming a major character. It was exciting to write that and realize what was happening. I didn't really know at first, but it dawned on me who Colleen really was and how she would react to this loss. Thrilling to watch a character defy your expectations.

I hope you'll check it out.
Learn more about Hogdoggin’ at Bleak House Books and at Anthony Neil Smith's website and MySpace page.

The Page 69 Test: Yellow Medicine.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Real Life & Liars"

Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. She has published short stories in the Cimarron Review, Literary Mama, Espresso Fiction, and elsewhere. She is also a freelance journalist writing primarily for The Grand Rapids Press, and co-editor for fiction at Literary Mama.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, and reported the following:
My page 69 is simple as could be. It reads: "Part 2 -- Celebration."

The three parts of my book are: Homecoming, Celebration, Departure, and together with the cover image of the open door, suitcases, and jacket tossed over the banister, speak of one pivotal weekend after which nothing can be the same again. Read in isolation, one might think "Celebration" denotes a happy time, but my use of it is ironic. It's an anniversary party, but the guests of honor are burdened with a secret and their grown kids' lives are falling apart around them.

Yet, in other ways, "Celebration" is apt enough. Fellow author Allison Winn Scotch called my book "a must-read for anyone who has ever been both grateful and driven mad by the people they love most: their family." Despite the travails of the Zielinskis, this book in a sense celebrates family as a source of support as well as heartache.

The book's epigraph quotes Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Real Life & Liars tells the story of one of these unique families, who might not be one of those boring happy clans, but nor are the Zielinskis a lost cause.
Browse inside Real Life & Liars, and learn more about the book and author at Kristina Riggle's website.

Writers Read: Kristina Riggle.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Haunting Bombay"

Shilpa Agarwal was born in Bombay and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is a graduate of Duke University and UCLA and has taught at both UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. As an unpublished novel, Haunting Bombay won the 2003 First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Haunting Bombay, her first novel, and reported the following:
Haunting Bombay is a literary ghost story that tells the tale of three generations of the wealthy Mittal family who have buried a tragic history and the ghosts of the past who rise up to haunt them. Set in 1960’s India, the story centers around young Pinky Mittal, a girl raised by her grandmother, an extended family, and a coterie of servants in an old colonial bungalow. One night, Pinky accidentally unleashes the ghost of a child who had drowned there years earlier. As the monsoons erupt over Bombay, the ghost plunges the bungalow into chaos and Pinky must find the courage to uncover the drowning's shocking truth.

Page 69 marks the start of a new chapter titled “Devilry” in which Pinky goes for a car ride with her cousins and encounter a group of hermaphrodites, a shadowy population in Indian society. The other character on this page is the driver Gulu, who is preparing the car for their excursion in accordance with his own superstitious beliefs.

Gulu began to pull the Ambassador out of the driveway after flicking water to freshen up a string of jasmine flowers he had placed around a miniature statue of Lord Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles, upon the front dashboard. He obtained these flowers from a vendor who passed by the gate at the crack of dawn, purchasing jasmine strings for the housemaids too and leaving them on the front verandah where later Parvati and Kuntal would leave a few coins in payment. He used to buy a solitary marigold blossom each day too. But that was long ago.

The marigold blossoms were daily gifts given by Gulu to the woman he secretly loved, the servant girl who cared for the dead child and who was blamed for the drowning and subsequently banished from the bungalow. Gulu had an opportunity to clear her name but never did, and this failure has haunted him ever since.

Page 69 does not necessarily reflect the suspenseful pacing of the novel, which unfurls from the luxurious heights of the bungalow in Malabar Hill to the labyrinthine depths of the city’s underworld in a mere thirteen days. But it evokes the story’s mystical tone and the intertwined themes of power and powerlessness, love and betrayal. And the chapter that begins on this page gives us a vital clue to the mystery of what happened on that tragic drowning day.
Watch the Haunting Bombay trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Shilpa Agarwal's website, blog, and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Where Petals Fall"

Shirley Wells lives in Lancashire, UK. Into the Shadows and A Darker Side, are the first two volumes in the Jill Kennedy and DCI Max Trentham series.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Where Petals Fall, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of the whole book? Well, yes and no. Where Petals Fall is the third in the ‘Jill and Max’ series and the crime-fighting duo - forensic psychologist Jill Kennedy and DCI Max Trentham - are investigating the murder of local businesswoman, Carol Blakely. As is usual in murder cases, close family members top the list of suspects, especially those who expect to inherit the deceased’s millions. On page 69, Jill and Max are with Vince Blakely, the victim’s husband.

(This excerpt includes the paragraph following on from page 69.)

A complete wall was shelved and full of books, floor to ceiling, and a quick glance at the titles told Jill that Carol had collected old books on gardening and flower arranging.

‘Your people spent hours in this room,’ Blakely reminded Max, ‘so I expect they’d have found anything if it was here.’

‘Yes, I’m sorry for this further intrusion, but we weren’t looking for anything specific at that point. I’m sure that you and your late wife’s family want her killer found as quickly as possible. This could give us a useful lead.’

A small unit housed a few music CDs and half a dozen DVDs, all romantic comedies. There were no old videos. Jill hadn’t expected to see any.

‘Are there more in the house?’ Max asked. ‘It may be that she bought you a gift-’

‘I have loads of old music videos,’ Blakely said. ‘You’re welcome to look, but I don’t remember her buying any of them. In any case, most of them are stuff I taped from the television.’

‘If you wouldn’t mind.’

They were taken to a second study at the other end of the hallway, this one used by Vince Blakely. Prints of classic sports cars adorned the walls and Max admired those while Jill looked at the rest of the room. It was used mostly for work. He had an office in Harrington, but he must work from home a lot. His desk was glass and chrome, with not a speck of dust on it. The cleaner he employed did a good job. A heavy glass ashtray sat on the desk, holding down yet more drawings.

A cabinet with smoked glass doors stood next to the desk and, much to Jill’s surprise, Blakely produced a small key from a bunch in his pocket.

‘You keep this locked?’ she asked.

‘Um, yes. Our - my cleaner’s a nosy old biddy and I wouldn’t want her seeing some of these. Oh, it’s only soft porn, the same as everyone has, but she’d feel duty bound to tell everyone she met.’

There was nothing of interest in his video collection or in his study. The soft porn looked to be exactly that, and it was on DVD anyway. The old videos were, as he’d said and as he took them into the lounge to demonstrate, concerts that he had taped from the television.

He hadn’t loved his wife, he hadn’t even liked her, and he wasn’t sorry she was dead. But that didn’t make him a killer.

So while page 69 is representative of their quest for the truth, it doesn’t hint at other problems in this case, the main one being that, five years earlier, four women were murdered in exactly the same way.

Thanks to Jill’s profiling, police had tried to arrest Eddie Marshall but, during a high-speed chase, Marshall had lost control of his car and driven over a cliff. His car was found; his body never was.

Now, Carol Blakely’s murder has brought with it an unwelcome sense of déjà vu and Jill and Max are forced to face the fact that, five years ago, they might have got it wrong.
Learn more about Where Petals Fall and its author at Shirley Wells' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 12, 2009

"The Family Man"

Elinor Lipman, according to Fay Weldon, "is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers.... Up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs..."

Lipman applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Family Man, and reported the following:
Hmm. I can't say I'd choose the 32 lines of p. 69 as my calling card. Yes, there's a good amount of dialogue, considered Lipmanesque; yes, we have my point-of-view character Henry Archer and Thalia, the step-daughter he's been reunited with, in a kitchen, eating, which is pretty much the action in most of my novels. But alas, I'd have liked a little more sparkle here. It's a bit too in medias res: there are references to past dialogue, such as "his Carousel-induced preoccupation," which need amplification. (His shrink recalls--on the excellent p. 32--"The reason we're back to Thalia after all these years is that scene where Billy Bigelow's ghost puts his arm around his daughter at his high school graduation and she feels his presence and holds her head up higher. Am I right?")

It does happen to hit the one passage in the book, a more somber than typical exchange, where the otherwise sunny and well-adjusted Thalia questions why her long-lost stepfather stayed long-lost. And it does sum up in one paragraph why Henry, to his deep regret, stayed away. May I apply and embrace the page 99 test? It's the end of Henry's first stellar date with Todd, whom I meant to be just a walk-on fix-up but who endeared himself to me so that he became a main character and a serious contributor to Henry's happy ending.

But back to p. 69: a little so-what-ish, a little out of context, nothing to induce laughter (though I'm never the best judge of what readers find funny; always a surprise). And a little bit of info-planting, which I always rail against when I teach. Must I run this shmegegge test in which I'm giving myself only a B-minus? N.B. I highly endorse my other 304 pages.
Read an excerpt from The Family Man, and learn more about the author and her work at Elinor Lipman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Atlas of Unknowns"

Tania James graduated from Harvard University in 2003 with a bachelors degree in Visual and Environmental Studies, with a focus in filmmaking. She received her Masters of Fine Arts in fiction from Columbia’s School of the Arts in 2006. Her work has been published in One Story magazine and the New York Times.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Atlas of Unknowns, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Atlas of Unknowns includes a gem of dialogue that, in actuality, fell from a stranger's mouth while I was riding the subway, pretending to read a magazine. I committed that line to memory and promptly inserted it into a scene of my book, wherein Anju, a seventeen year old Indian exchange student, enters a Duane Reade drug store and listens to the conversation between two cashiers:

“‘I know he’s old!’ Danita is telling Cheyenne. ‘But he got a nice house, no kids. I’m looking for a man with one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel. Nothing wrong with planning ahead.’”

This is Anju’s first time in New York City, and she is determined to absorb every detail, from the plastic namecards on the chests of Danita and Cheyenne, to their squarish nails, “spangled in mesmerizing purple and red illustrations.” But while Anju forges ahead in New York, her sister Linno is left behind in Kerala, India, and in this passage, Anju considers who Linno might be compelled to marry, out of necessity and family pressure. Maimed by a childhood accident, Linno might have to settle for a suitor of the banana peel variety as well.

Though Danita and Cheyenne aren’t particularly vital to the book, their discussion echoes the kinds of choices that Anju and Linno begin to make as they, too, plan ahead. Anju’s decisions grow increasingly reckless, while Linno reaches beyond the life she had presumed was destined for her. Each sister seeks a self-determined life, and at this point in the novel, those desires have just begun to take shape.

And to my muse from the subway: I hope you found the life and the man you were looking for.
Read an excerpt from Atlas of Unknowns, and learn more about the book and author at Tania James' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Prayers For Sale"

Sandra Dallas' novels include Tallgrass, The Chili Queen, and New Mercies. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Prayers For Sale, her eighth novel, and reported the following:
Hennie, a young Civil War widow, goes to Middle Swan, a mining town high in the Colorado Rockies, to marry Jake Comfort, a man she’s never met. Page 69 sets the tone for the book. Hennie’s life, with the death of her first husband and their child, has been difficult. And brutalized by the war, Jake is a flawed man. On page 69, Jake warns Hennie that marriage to him and life in a gold camp will not be easy. Hennie gets a glimpse of what the next 70 years of her life in Middle Swan will be like.

“War’s a terrible thing. I don’t intend to ever fight again.” His eyes glinted, and he turned away, pounding his fists into a jackpine. Hennie…stood quietly, waiting, until the darkness lifted from Jake. “I’ll not inflict my war on you,” he said.

“Mr. Comfort, I would not want a husband who closed himself off to me.”

“War’s not something to be shared.”

“War’s griefs are.”

“I said I’ll keep my dreams to myself…”

A day later, he warned Hennie, “A mining camp’s a hard place for a woman.”

“I’ve come from a hard place for a woman,” Hennie responded. “At least in a mining camp, there’s hope.”

On page 70, Jake proposes and they are married that day. "It was a fine marriage, as good a marriage as ever was, and Hennie never regretted coming to Colorado."
Read an excerpt from Prayers For Sale, and learn more about the book and author at Sandra Dallas' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 8, 2009

"The Way We Were"

Marcia Willett was the youngest of five girls. Her family was unconventional and musical, but Marcia chose to train as a ballet dancer. Unfortunately her body did not develop with the classical proportions demanded by the Royal Ballet, so she studied to be a ballet teacher. Her first husband was a naval officer in the submarine service, with whom she had a son, Charles, now married and a clergyman. Her second husband, Rodney, himself a writer and broadcaster, encouraged Marcia to write novels.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Way We Were, her tenth novel, and reported the following:
Let me start by saying that I hate talking about books that were written some time ago. I cannot speak for novelists in general but only for myself when I say that creative writing is achieved by living in ‘another world’ - a sort of parallel universe which you share with your characters. When the book is finished you let them go - usually with great sadness as you have lived together in a very intimate relationship for nearly a year - so as to be open to the next lot who are usually then knocking on the door. Having said that let me see what I can do.

The book is about the close friendship of two girls who have known each other from school. One, Julia, is happily married to a naval officer: the other, Tiggy, is mourning the death of her fiancé and carrying his child. She turns to her best friend: Julia is the only person she knows who will continue to love and support her (this being in 1975 when it was not done to give birth out of wedlock). When Tiggy dies in childbirth, Julia and her husband adopt the baby boy, Zach, but life is never simple and complications arise - there wouldn’t be a story otherwise, would there?

On page 69 we are in 2004. This page is not really representative of the book in that this is a jolly scene where Zach’s pregnant wife, Caroline, is moving into a house in Tavistock. Zach (in the navy like his adopted father) is at sea - naval men are always at sea when their wives are doing something tedious like moving house - and she is being helped by Julia and Pete, her husband.
Preview The Way We Were, and learn more about the author and her work at Marcia Willett's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Jim Krusoe is the author of the novels Girl Factory (Tin House Books) and Iceland; two collections of stories, Blood Lake and Abductions; as well as five books of poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. He teaches at Santa Monica College.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new book, Erased, and reported the following:
Fortuitously, coincidentally, or just plain repetitiously, page 69 starts with the words, “To sum up.” And here is the situation that is being summarized: Theodore has arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, where he’s searching (in a somewhat desultory fashion) for his dead mother, who has summoned him there by means of two mysterious postcards sent from beyond the grave. To his surprise, although Cleveland, “with its tree-lined streets and well-shaped concrete curbs,” has turned out to be a city of rare grace and beauty, he still is clueless as to what he’s supposed to do, exactly. In other words, he’s at an impasse.

Clearly, Theodore is on a quest, but even as blind and pokey as this one seems to be at the moment, as with all quests, we understand it must end somewhere. And though Theodore is at present confused eating rather more than he should, happily for him, in the very next pages he will meet a person who will serve as his guide. Her name is Uleene, and she is the last surviving member of a do-gooding women’s motorcycle club, Satan’s Samaritans. In the pages that follow she will lead him through a series of visits to some other remarkable women’s clubs in search of his mother, culminating in an afternoon at the All City Bowling League, where Theodore will be given a final test he must pass.
Read an excerpt from Erased, and learn more about the book at the Tin House website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 5, 2009

"The Burning Skies"

David J. Williams is a former programmer for the Homeworld videogame series and a graduate of the Clarion workshop.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Burning Skies, the sequel to his acclaimed debut novel The Mirrored Heavens, and reported the following:
Claire Haskell is a woman with a problem--she's a bioengineered weapon on the run from her own creators, and is trying to save the president of the United States from the mysterious terrorist group Autumn Rain. Page 69 is the moment where the president's bodyguards bring her to the room where they're trying to rendezvous with the president himself: a chamber in the city of New London at the "northern" end of the Europa Platform, a gigantic space station that's also the site of the secret conference between the superpowers. (See my website for some cool maps!)

This room is particularly significant for Claire because she's seen it in visions--she has a limited form of prescience that allows her a partial view on future (one reason why she's so dangerous), but due to factors she doesn't fully understand, she isn't able to see beyond it. So in a sense page 69 is a threshold beyond which Claire (and us) are into terra incognita: the president and Autumn Rain are on a collision course, and she's the one who's going to hold the balance of power in that contest. The future of the United States hangs in the offing, and the Rain could be inside the room already...
Read an excerpt to The Burning Skies, and learn more about the author and his work at the official website of David J. Williams.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"The Last War"

Ana Menéndez is the author of the novel Loving Che and the short story collection In Cuba I was a German Shepherd, which was a 2001 New York Times Notable Book of the Year and the title story of which won a Pushcart Prize.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Last War, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last War offers a mini-summary of not just the plot of the novel, but its underlying themes of deception, cruelty and self-delusion. The setting is Istanbul – itself a city of many-layered narratives. The main character “Flash” has received an anonymous letter alleging her husband’s infidelity with a Baghdad colleague named Nadia. Flash is discussing the story of the letter with Alexandra, an old acquaintance who has mysteriously reappeared in Istanbul. It’s on page 69 that we get the first hint that Flash, for all her precision as a photojournalist, is not being completely honest with herself. It’s also the first time we get to see a bit of Alexandra’s hidden menace. And that’s essentially what the novel is about: All the ways we are cruel to one another.

Page 69:

Alexandra was first of all a writer, and this was a fascinating story. She could not help but be hungry for the rest of it.

“It’s a pretty ordinary tale,” I said. “Nothing to it. Happens a thousand times a day.”

“Don’t say that, Flash. A thousand times a day – what does that mean when what you’re angry about is that it happened to you?”

Her eyes were turned down, in sympathy. But they shone, curious.

“I want to know who wrote it,” I said.

“Don’t you want to know if it’s true?”

“First I want to know who, then I’ll know if it’s true.”

Alexandra frowned and looked out the window. “Likeliest suspect is Nadia herself.”

I hadn’t considered this.

“Maybe,” I said after a moment. “But she’s too much of a do-gooder to deliberately inflict pain.”

Alexandra arched an eyebrow, but remained silent.

“Moralizers have no problem breaking the rules and sneaking around when they know they aren’t going to be caught,” I said. “They have all sorts of ways of justifying what they do to themselves – or forgetting it entirely. But most of them usually stop short of active malice.”

“So you know her, then.” Alexandra was grinning, but there was something old and hard behind her eyes. I shifted in my seat, unable to meet her eyes.

“Not really,” I said.
Browse inside The Last War, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Dead Men’s Dust"

Matt Hilton is an ex-police officer and security specialist, and also a highly graded martial arts coach.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Dead Men’s Dust, the first of the Joe Hunter thrillers, and reported the following:
In my debut novel – Dead Men’s Dust – we follow Joe Hunter, a retired counterterrorism soldier as he searches for his wayward half-brother across the breadth of the USA. Hunter becomes involved in a cat and mouse chase after his brother falls hostage of a serial killer with grandiose plans. The killer, Tubal Cain, named after the biblical inventor of cutting instruments, has a penchant for harvesting bones from his victims.

Applying the page 69 test to Dead Men’s Dust, I had to think on whether or not it was indicative of the rest of the book. At first I thought it wasn’t, but on second viewing I decided that, yes, it did epitomise the mind set of the villain and give the reader a hint of the depravity he is capable of. Although Hunter doesn’t appear here, we get a sense of the kind of man that he is going up against. We find Tubal Cain in Santa Monica, prowling the world famous pier as he engages in a diversionary game of chance, selecting victims of a game he likes to play: a game that involves a knife. Even from these short couple of passages, I believe we get a sense of Cain’s mind and what will follow as he realises that he too is being followed.

From page 69:

She moved through the crowd with the fluid confidence that the masses would open before her. Sure, she was beautiful, but she had that innate disdain for the lesser mortals around her. Cain wouldn’t hold that against her, she was a person after his own heart. He would have loved to teach her that there was at least one among the crowd who would not give way so easily. Trouble was, she was too high profile. More than one man gave her a lingering glance. Some women looked too. But their stares were of the green-eyed variety.

The attention she commanded, it wasn’t a good idea to approach her. Someone would notice and remember. Guaranteed. An older woman sitting on a deck chair was much more viable. He took two steps towards her and stopped. Something registered. A flash of taupe passing by. He blinked slowly. The colour taupe wasn’t something that would generally cause concern. Not unless you were as cautious as Tubal Cain.
Read an excerpt from Dead Men’s Dust, and learn more about the book and author at Matt Hilton's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Walking People"

Mary Beth Keane's short fiction has appeared in various newspapers and journals including the Chicago Tribune, The Antioch Review, The Baltimore Review, New York Stories, and The Recorder.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Walking People, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Walking People is actually a half page – the final paragraphs of Part I, and the moment that changes the course of these characters’ lives. Part I is set in the coastal village of Ballyroan, County Galway, Ireland in the year 1957. The Cahill family has been poaching salmon from the river that cuts through their field and selling the cured salmon to families in the nearest town. In the second half of Part I the Cahills learn that the man who owns the river rights has hired men from another part of the country to patrol the riverbank more aggressively. Ignoring the warnings, Big Tom Cahill goes out with his net at midnight with his three sons to help him and ends up dying during the confrontation that ensues. Page 69 describes what exactly happened to him in the confusion of the night. I choose to move the point-of-view forward in time so that we hear from Greta of the distant future and know that there IS a future for Greta, a future where she will be reflecting on all these events of her past. Because it is one of the most inherently sad scenes in the story, I wanted to be as frank and straightforward as possible.

It was a funny thing, in a way, that with all the shotguns that had been present that night – Jack’s, Padraic’s, and those of the two strangers, Big Tom had drowned in his own river. Grazed by a shot meant only to scare him, he stumbled and fell. The rush of the water carried him for about thirty feet, until his head became wedged between two rocks. Unaware that their father was in trouble, one of the boys – which one was a secret they decided not to tell – fired back at the strangers and missed, instead finding the chest of Mr. Grady, who was observing the capture of the poachers from a few yards away. In the spot where Big Tom died, the water was two feet deep.

The boys carried him home, laid him on his bed, pulled off his shirt, loosened his belt, touched and retouched his face with the backs of their hands. And this Greta felt sure she remembered firsthand: when they pulled off his boots the river poured out and ran to every corner of the room.

This short scene is emblematic of the Cahill family’s story from this point forward. Big Tom, unrepentant salmon poacher, drowns in the place he loved most. With his death, the Cahill family’s reliance on the river for survival must come to an end, and like so many who left Ballyroan before them they are eventually forced to face the fact that they cannot all survive in the home they’ve known for generations. The spectre of emigration, which has visited every other home in Ballyroan, finds a way into the Cahill home because of Big Tom’s death.
Read an excerpt from The Walking People, and learn more about the book and author at Mary Beth Keane's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 1, 2009

"A Sandhills Ballad"

Ladette Randolph is the author of the award-winning short story collection This Is Not the Tropics, and the editor of two anthologies: A Different Plain and The Big Empty. She is editor-in-chief of the literary journal Ploughshares and on the faculty at Emerson College in Boston. Prior to joining the staff at Ploughshares she was an acquiring editor and associate director at University of Nebraska Press, and before that, managing editor of Prairie Schooner. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, a Rona Jaffe grant, the Virginia Faulkner Award, a Best New American Voices citation and three Nebraska Book Awards.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, A Sandhills Ballad, and reported the following:
Excerpt (starting with the paragraph before p 69 and ending with the paragraph after):

“For a few seconds Ward seemed confused as to why she remained seated before he finally understood and bent to lift her into his arms. Her carried her gingerly on his bare feet through the new gramma grass to the muddy, algae-coated edge of the pond. He stepped into the water, slipping slightly as the mud gave way. The water crept up to his knees, and Mary shivered as the water lapped at her foot. Ward hesitated before moving deeper into the pond until the water came to his waist. He stopped and looked at Mary. She expected him to smile at the absurdity of what they were doing, but his face remained somber.

“Mary Needham,” he said then in the same formal voice he had used at the hospital, “do you take Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior?”

She hesitated only a second before blithely answering, “Sure.” She felt a strange urge to laugh but stopped herself.

Ward nodded. “Then upon the confession of your faith, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” With these words, Ward bent and lowered her beneath the water. She felt his feet slip slightly in the mud again before he steadied himself. Her head went under. The frigid water was a shock as it closed over her. She opened her eyes briefly and saw the sun wavering greenish through the murky water of the pond. Then she was coming up out of the cold and the murk into the full sun, and Ward was wrapping his arms around her. He was laughing as she cleared her nose. Her teeth chattered with the cold. All the while Ward held her tight against his warm chest. He was still laughing as he carried her out of the water. Once he had reached the shore he set her down and swaddled her in his jacket before he squeezed the excess water from her hair.

“We’d better get you home and warm you up,” he said then, still smiling. Through her dripping hair, Mary smiled, too, though she wondered what sort of pact she was making with the future. “I don’t know anything about being a preacher’s wife,” she said.

“Oh,” Ward laughed. “It won’t take you long to catch on to that. Until then we’ll take it one day at a time.”

When they entered the kitchen door later that afternoon, in addition to their disheveled appearance, the change must have been obvious on Ward’s face, for John glanced quickly from Ward to Mary, his sharp-eyed look lingering on Mary a few seconds before he turned away. He’d been watching her closely for months and now he seemed resigned, ready to give up on her. She wished she could tell him about the baptism, her sense that she had a future after all. She wished she could explain to him that it wasn’t how it looked.”

I had no idea what I would find on page 69, but it turns out to be a pivotal moment in the novel. A Sandhills Ballad is the story of a young ranch woman, Mary Rasmussen, who, when we first meet her, has lost the life and work she has loved. She lives in a remote part of the country, in the Sandhills of western Nebraska. At this critical point in her story, she doesn’t see options for her future outside the ranch work she can no longer do. Her family is loving but they don’t know how to help to her. When the only person who seems to be offering her a future turns out to be Ward Hamilton, the local minister-- a man she doesn’t love--she decides it’s the only way she can move forward and not be a burden on her family. Her father, John, is deeply distrustful of the minister and fears the folly of his daughter’s decision. In this scene, Ward has decided Mary needs to be re-baptized after he’s convinced her to marry him. The tone of the marriage is foreshadowed by Mary’s feeling of being submerged into the murky water of the cold pond. The rest of the novel is the story of how she finds her life, and love, again.
Learn more about the book and author at Ladette Randolph's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue