Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Fan Mail"

PD Martin is the author of four novels featuring Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the mass market edition of Fan Mail, now available in the US, and reported the following:
In Fan Mail, Sophie is working a case where fiction has become fatal. A popular crime writer is murdered and posed just like the crime scene in the dead author’s last book. Death is imitating art, but who’s pulling the strings?

Page 69 is a pretty good representation of the book, because it heralds the arrival of my main character, Aussie FBI profiler Sophie Anderson, at the crime scene. This is how p.69, and chapter 4, starts:

"There’s more than the usual crime-scene circus outside Black’s house. The road, sidewalk and nearby driveways are littered with cars and media vans. There’s always press, but not like this…"

However, you don’t get a sample of one of the things I enjoyed most about writing Fan Mail, and that’s the short snippets of the fictional authors’ works. This gave me a chance to write in a completely different style, voice and character, within the framework of a Sophie book. Which was a lot of fun!

Fan Mail is the third book featuring Sophie – an ex-police officer from Australia who now works for the FBI as a profiler. She also experiences nightmares and waking flashes about her cases that often come true.

I’d describe all my books – Body Count, The Murderers’ Club and Fan Mail – as fast-paced police/FBI procedurals with lots of forensic and criminal psychology details, plus an Aussie perspective on the US.
Read an excerpt from Fan Mail, and learn more about the book and author at P. D. Martin's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Murderers' Club.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Freda Warrington is the author of eighteen fantasy novels, including A Blackbird in Silver Darkness, A Taste of Blood Wine and Dracula the Undead.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel Elfland, and reported the following:
Elfland is a contemporary fantasy, the first of my ‘Aetherial Tales’ series for Tor. The title is tongue-in-cheek, because it isn’t strictly about Elfland as such! I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of glamorous creatures who appear human but aren’t; angels, demons, elves, vampires, demi-gods, what you will. My Aetherials (or Aelyr) evolved as my interpretation of such a race.

Their story, rooted in the everyday world, shows the entanglements of two contrasting households; Oakholme, a friendly, beamed house inhabited by a loving family, the Foxes, and Stonegate Manor, the forbidding mansion on the hill containing a broken family, the Wilders.

These particular Aetherials live in an English village where the Great Gates to the Otherworld are concealed. Although they pass for human, they have secrets… that they can wander into other realities, transform into different, disturbing forms… and that the sinister gatekeeper, Lawrence Wilder, has controversially barred the Great Gates, denying them access to their home realms.

At its heart, Elfland is a story about the anguish of unrequited love.

Against this background, Rosie Fox is growing to adulthood and trying to work out who she truly is. Flipping to page 69, I find Rosie, aged 14, at a pivotal moment indeed – trying to initiate tongue-tied conversation with a young god! In the previous chapter, attending a party at Stonegate Manor, she witnesses a secret gathering of Aetherials – including her parents – angrily confronting Lawrence Wilder about his barring of the Gates. While Lawrence defends himself, warning of dark, undefined menace, Rosie is captivated by his son, Jon. She’s fallen in love.

Some days later, as Rosie confides in school-friends, Jon and his brother Sam appear unexpectedly at the school…

Jonathan and Samuel Wilder were prowling across the quad, wary and predatory like two dark panthers unleashed from a cage. They were wearing the school uniform; black trousers and jacket, white shirt, black and silver striped tie. ‘I don’t believe it,’ she said.

Mel laughed. ‘Close your mouth, Ro, you’re drooling icicles.’

Rosie’s teeth began to hurt with the cold. She snapped her mouth shut and accidentally bit her tongue, causing her eyes to fill with water.

The bell sounded and chilled students began to stream towards the school building. Jon and Sam vanished in the flow for a moment. When they reappeared, Sam had moved off with a group of sixth form boys and Jon was on his own, walking straight towards her.

Her pulse quickened. Their eyes met, disengaged, met again. He paused as if not sure what to do. Mel poked her in the hip and the next thing she knew, she was on her feet in front of him.

His long hair was tied back and he looked more beautiful than she remembered; perfect face, dark long-lashed eyes, sensual mouth. Her heartbeat shook her whole body as he approached. She’d thought falling in love would be wonderful; no one had warned her it could be painfully mortifying. Her watering eyes made her nose run, while her mouth was glued shut.

Jon wore a slightly startled, do-I-know-you expression, which she hadn’t expected. This seemed a good moment for a chasm to open beneath her.

‘Hi, I’m Rosie.’

He gave a small frown. ‘Rosie…?’

‘We live down the hill from you.’ Her tongue felt clumsy. ‘We met at the party, do you remember?’

‘Er… yes, you’re really familiar,’ he said, still looking blank.

How could he not remember, when she’d obsessed about him ever since? Her fingers described a muzzle in front of her face. ‘In the fox mask.’

‘Oh yes, yes.’ Light dawned at last. ‘Rosie Fox. Course.’

‘That’s it,’ she laughed in relief. ‘My father knows yours… anyway… I really liked your poem.’

‘I didn’t write it. It was The Song of Amergin.’

‘Er, I know, I meant the way you performed it.’

‘Thanks.’ His gaze drifted away from her – scanning for Sam, she assumed. He wasn’t making this easy at all.

‘I thought you were at boarding school,’ she struggled on. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘Uh,’ Jon said, and looked at his feet. ‘We were. Dad decided to take us out and send us here instead.’

‘Oh,’ she said, and thought it extraordinary that Lawrence actually might have listened to her father’s throwaway advice. ‘Do you mind?’

‘I don’t know yet.’ The sweetness of his face and the fall of his hair were playing havoc with her insides. He caught her gaze with those melting brown eyes as if he wanted to confide something vital, and would if she could only win his trust.

‘What subjects do you like best?’

‘Um… English is okay, and biology… I’d better go.’ He started to turn from her, hands in pockets, head down. A sudden small flame of courage lit inside her and, on an impulse, she stepped after him.

‘Jon, could I ask you a favor?’

He stopped, met her eyes again with a wary frown. ‘I suppose so.’

‘Your brother Sam has something of mine.’


‘Ask him,’ she said more confidently. ‘He’ll know what it is. It’s not much, but it’s important to me. Could you get it from him, and bring it round to my house? Please? When you’ve got time.’

He looked perplexed, then gave a quick smile that lit up his face. Her heart sprang like an elated lamb. ‘Yes, okay. No problem. See you later.’

The story moves from adolescent angst to darker, more adult territory, but here we see Rosie on the threshold of womanhood – falling in love for the first time, but is it with the right person? Entangled in the mysteries surrounding Lawrence Wilder, she’s torn between being human and being Aetherial. As a result, she will make a disastrous choice that leads to tragedy…

In a sense, Elfland is a coming-of-age novel, about making mistakes by trying to do things that seem to be expected of you by other people, instead of being true to your authentic self. Almost nothing Rosie believes turns out to be true.

Anyway, if page 69 isn’t your cup of tea, just wait until you get to page 258!
Learn more about the author and her work at Freda Warrington's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 28, 2009


A celebrated speaker and teacher, Amber Kizer gives writing workshops for all ages.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new YA novel, Meridian, and reported the following:
Meridian is a girl who has been surrounded by death her entire life but has no idea why. Her mother has kept a huge secret from her. On her 16th birthday Meridian's world falls apart and she begins the journey to learn her truth, her destiny, and her ancestry as a Fenestra.

Fenestras are windows to the afterlife--they shepherd dying souls. Page 69 falls at the end of a chapter, is only a couple short paragraphs. Something quite pivotal is about to happen, but readers have to turn the page to find out. I think perhaps the only part of that page that is indicative of the rest of the story is the suspense and the compulsion to continue reading.

As to whether readers who only read page 69 would read the rest of the book--that's up to them! Reading is subjective and interactive with what readers bring to the table. However, I would hope that readers picking one page to judge would start with the first page of a story as it's intended--if I wanted readers to start the story at page 69 I would have cut out the first 68 pages of the book in the first place!
Read excerpts from Meridian, and learn more about the book and author at the Meridian website and Amber Kizer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico"

Sarah McCoy graduated from Virginia Tech with a BA in journalism and public relations and Old Dominion University with an MFA in creative writing fiction. She has taught writing at Old Dominion University and the University of Texas at El Paso.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Cue the finger-wagging: Page 69 of The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico catches the protagonist, 11-year-old Verdita, in the midst of shenanigans.

On page 69, Verdita’s Papi walks in while she and her young cousin are stealing sips out of the coquito punch bowl. (Coquito being a Puerto Rican Christmastime coconut rum libation.)

At first glance, I thought, “No, no, this isn’t representative of the book. It makes Verdita seem too naughty.” But upon a closer look, I retracted that statement.

This coquito scene is much more than a young girl disobeying her parents. It captures the essence of coming of age: pushing boundaries, making decisions, and facing their possible consequences. On the cusp of adulthood, didn’t we all do things we knew we shouldn’t? The forbidden is so seductive. It’s a human fundamental. Look at Adam and Eve. In that sense, it absolutely encapsulates one of the novel’s central themes and illustrates the intrinsic conflicts we face growing up.

This page also gives a sense of the types of characters I love to write. Dichotomies: people who are strong but weak, who love and hate, good and evil, both sides of the humanity coin. They ring most true to my head and heart.

Here’s a taste:

“Ay bendito!” She grabbed at her throat, her mouth turned down, and her nose flared. After a moment, she licked her lips. “It’s not bad.”

“Sí,” I said, and out popped a laugh. I covered my mouth and looked to the door. Still no Papi or Mamá. We took three more spoonfuls each; but then Tío Benny stopped singing, and I quickly licked the white off the back of the spoon and slid the plate over the bowl.

Papi came inside with Señor Lopez and some other barrio men.

“Don’t you want to hear the troubadours, Verdita?” He palmed a couple Schlitzes from the fridge and handed them around. The men popped open the tabs and sucked the fizz, their eyes glittering silver, their thumbs beating rhythms against the tin cans.

Papi went to the bowl of coquito. His hand was next to the serving spoon. He stood for a moment. I swallowed my heart and felt the thump-thump in the bony ridge of my throat. The heat of the coquito must have filled up my face. Sweat beaded above my lip and across my forehead.

He took off the plate, dipped his thumb in and sucked it.

“Venusa!” he called.

I closed my eyes. My eyeballs were hot under their lids. I had my defense ready....
Read an excerpt from The Time It Snowed In Puerto Rico, and learn more about the book and author at Sarah McCoy’s website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Inspector Ghote’s First Case"

H. R. F. Keating was the reviewer for the London Times for fifteen years and served as chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Society of Authors. He has been the longest-serving president of the Detection Club, next only to Agatha Christie. He twice won the CWA Gold Dagger, and in 1996, he was awarded the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger. He lives in London with his wife, the actor Sheila Mitchell, who regularly reads his titles as audio books.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Inspector Ghote's First Case, and reported the following:
Page 69 is, of course no more typical, to my mind, of the rest of Inspector Ghote’s First Case than page 68 or page 70. One page may contain many elements, as this does, of the way I try to convey character through dialogue and forward the story through descriptions of place and situation but it can only be a snapshot of the particular moment I have reached in the story. Like all the preceding 25 Ghote titles it is a detective novel with a strong plot line, but it is also a novel that builds a picture of India in the 1960s, post Raj and still young in its Independence and above all it is written about a young policeman on the threshold of his career. Although, since 1964, there has been a whole series about Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay CID this title takes him back to the beginning, to the day when he was still an Assistant Inspector and receives a letter informing him of his promotion to Inspector and appointment to the prestigious Detection of Crime Branch. As rapidly becomes apparent Ghote’s life is never straight forward and he is constantly being asked to make decisions that are fraught with difficulties. His home life with his heavily pregnant young wife, Protima, provides further complications when he sent out of Bombay to the hills of Mahableshwar. By and large P69 contains examples of the Indian English I use frequently and has touches of the old Raj life led by Dawkins Sahib as well as revealing some of Ghote’s anxieties, so it is certainly as typical as many another page of the book as a whole.
Read more about the author and the Inspector Ghote series at H. R. F. Keating's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"How It Ends"

Laura Wiess' books include Such a Pretty Girl and Leftovers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, How It Ends, and reported the following:
How It Ends explores how love begins, how it ends, how you never really know the dark secrets held in the hearts of those you love, and what happens when you finally do.

The story has two main characters: Hanna, a naïve, hopeful teen who is searching for happily-ever-after in a world that seems wide open and Helen, a beloved, terminally ill neighbor whose world is closing down and who has been lying to protect Hanna her whole life.

On Page 69, Hanna is talking to a friend about a guy she snap-judged on appearance (including the rude tattoo on his arm), and is stunned to discover how much more there is to him than meets the eye:

(I've borrowed the last paragraph from pg. 68 to put it into context.)

And then she said Jesse got it from some hole-in-the-wall place after his mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and almost died, because that was pretty much how he felt about the world.

"When was this?" I said.

"When we were in sixth grade, don't you remember?" Crystal said. "She left in the middle of the semester and took a year's leave of absence because she was so sick. Jesse was what, a freshman or a sophomore?"

"But she made it, right?" I said.

"Yeah, but he thought she was going to die and his dad was totally focused on her and Jesse just kind of got lost trying to deal with it. He started partying way too much and dropped out of school in junior year and got arrested for driving without a license but they went easy on him because of his circumstances-"

"You knew all this and you never told me?" I said.

"Why would you have cared?" she said, amused. "Everybody's got a story behind them, Hanna. You know that. You read."

"Well yeah, but that's fiction. This is like, real."

This is a startling discovery for Hanna - that people can be far more than what she sees - but she's young and doesn't yet realize that this applies to everyone, even Helen, who she loves and trusts implicitly but who she sees as an old, grandmotherly person, and not someone to harbor dark, unsettling secrets.

So while Page 69 is a decent representation of Hanna's voice and mindset it's not of Helen who, knowing she is dying and not wanting to leave Hanna with nothing but shattering lies and unanswered questions, begins her story this way:

"I would not willingly peel back the scar tissue protecting the deepest chambers of my heart and reveal the bruised hollows pooled with the blood of old wounds - the terror comes just thinking about it - but now, facing darkness, I am left with no choice. I love you, and because of that I am going to try and raise the dead."
Read an excerpt from How It Ends, and learn more about the book and author at the official Laura Wiess website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Devil's Trill"

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Devil's Trill, his debut novel, and reported the following:
"Why would any of them want to steal the violin?" This is the question Daniel Jacobus, the blind, cantankerous, put-out-to-pasture violinist poses on page 69 to Nathaniel Williams, his side-kick, corpulent, African American once-upon-a-time cellist but now art theft insurance investigator. This single question is the crux of the plot of Devil's Trill, and trying to find the answer not only jeopardizes their lifelong friendship, but gets Jacobus into life-threatening hot water. The damned violin, a unique 3/4 size Stradivarius, has bestowed a curse upon everyone who has ever owned it, starting with Matteo Cherubino, aka "Il Piccolino," the legendary, perhaps mythical 17th century midget violin virtuoso. After the violin is stolen from Carnegie Hall from under the noses of security guards and its Grimsley Violin Competition owners, Jacobus unwittingly becomes both primary suspect and reluctant sleuth. And when the theft is followed in short order by murder, the hot water reaches the boiling point. So much for the staid world of classical music!
Read an excerpt from Devil's Trill, and learn more about the book and author at Gerald Elias' website.

Hear Elias perform Tartini's Devil's Trill Sonata.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"In This Way I Was Saved"

Brian DeLeeuw is an editor at Tin House magazine and a contributor to the website He received his BA from Princeton University and his MFA from The New School. He now lives in New York City, where he was born and raised.

DeLeeuw applied the “Page 69 Test” to In This Way I Was Saved, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of In This Way I Was Saved is near the end of Part I of the novel, a section in which six year-old Luke Nightingale struggles with an increasingly menacing and assertive imaginary friend named Daniel, who is also the narrator of the novel. A few pages before this, Daniel has tricked Luke into committing a truly awful crime, and Daniel now imagines that he has gained the permanent upper-hand in their fight for control of Luke’s life. But not so fast: Luke’s mother Claire takes her son to see a child psychiatrist, and the tables turn once again:

After three more visits to Dr. Claymore and one month of the new pills—tiny sky-blue tablets, like chalky candy—I was banished to the inside of Luke’s skull. It wasn’t gradual, like my decomposition on Fire Island; it was like a trapdoor unlatched, brutal and abrupt.

The conflict between Luke and Daniel is this novel’s propulsive core; their relationship is a study in destructive codependence, which is complicated by the fact that Daniel may not exist separately from Luke at all, but may instead be an aspect of Luke’s fractured mind. Or maybe not: Daniel’s identity—imaginary friend or malevolent spirit?—is a mystery that Daniel himself is desperate to solve.

After Luke regains some control over Daniel by taking his new medication, he tries here on page 69 a number of methods for containing his troublesome shadow:

First, Luke packaged me in a taped-up cardboard box that sat in the corner of his new bedroom, but after a few days of struggle, I pushed my way out. Then he dragged me behind him wherever he went, my body bound in steel wire, a metal plate screwed over my mouth and a leash clipped to a collar around my neck, my head bumping along the ground as he walked. After the clip broke one day—sending me rolling across the sidewalk and out into the street, coming to a stop just short of the wheels of a city bus—he stuffed me into a narrow blue bottle, some apothecary antique his mother had bought to add character to his bookshelves. Wadded up like a dirty tissue, my face smashed into the mottled glass, I watched his comings and goings through a blue tint, as though submerged underwater, until the glass cracked and then splintered, spraying shards across the floor and freeing me to fall among them.

I think this passage is representative of the way in which the novel handles the interplay between reality and the imagination—the way in which real-world “public” events (such as the taking of Luke’s new medication) have their own separate meaning in Luke and Daniel’s private world (such as the various methods of containment described above). This kind of double meaning is threaded throughout the entire book and is, I hope, one of the unique aspects of the volatile, unstable world I have created for these two (or is it one?) strange characters.
Read an excerpt from In This Way I Was Saved, and learn more about the book and author at Brian DeLeeuw's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Big Machine"

Victor LaValle is the author of the short-story collection Slapboxing with Jesus and the novel The Ecstatic, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, Big Machine, and reported the following:
“Six months later I barely remembered a time when I didn’t dress in three-piece suits.”

Page 69 in my new novel, Big Machine, is actually the start of a chapter and the sentence above is the first line on the page. I’d say it was pretty representative of the book because the book is about change. Personal change, political change, moral and ethical transformation. A whole bunch of changes occur in and around the two main characters: Ricky Rice and Adele Henry. It’s also about some of the profound changes in present day American culture.

Ricky Rice, your humble narrator throughout most of the book, starts as an ex-heroin addict and petty criminal, a janitor at a bus station in Utica, New York. At work he receives a mysterious envelope with a note and a bus ticket. The ticket takes him to northeastern Vermont and there he joins a secret society called the Washburn Library. By page 69 he’s already been there for six months and he’s changed, both inside and out. The three piece-suit he’s wearing is a gift from the Library, but it’s become a kind of uniform too. He’s no longer that man who cleaned bus stations, but when he’s called up to meet his boss and given a very dangerous assignment he’s faced with a new concern: what kind of man would he like to become?
Read an excerpt from Big Machine and learn more about the book and author at Victor LaValle's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 21, 2009

"The Magicians"

Lev Grossman is Time magazine's book critic as well as one of its lead technology writers. The New York Times says he's “among this country's smartest and most reliable critics.”

He published his first novel, Warp, in 1997. His second novel, Codex, came out in 2004 and became an international bestseller.

Grossman applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, The Magicians, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds us in Chapter 5 of The Magicians, which is called “Snow.” So far the following things have happened. Our hero Quentin, who is 17 and very unhappy, has been invited to take the entrance exam at a very secret, very exclusive college for magicians -- real magicians, the kind who cast real spells. Being an exceptionally intelligent young man, he passes the exam and matriculates at the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.

He soon finds that the other 20 students in his class are, like him, very bright and rather eccentric. He also begins to realize that magic works a bit differently from how he expected. It’s a lot harder to do, and its purpose is a lot less clear. There’s no Voldemort to fight. So what’s magic for?

Now, towards the end of his first semester, he’s studying and practicing for his first final exam at Brakebills. It’s the night before the test, and he’s been up for days cramming with two other students, one of whom is a terribly shy girl named Alice. Quentin goes to take a midnight walk in the snow (it’s November, and Brakebills is in upstate New York) to clear his head. To his surprise, Alice asks if she can come with him.

They have an interesting conversation. Quentin discovers, among other things, that Alice wasn’t invited to Brakebills the way he was. She had to find her way in by herself, which you’re not supposed to be able to do -- the school is magically concealed from outsiders:

“They couldn’t believe it,” Alice says. “Nobody’s supposed to be able to find the House by themselves. They thought it was just an accident, but it’s so obvious there’s old magic here, tons of it. This whole place is wild with it -- if you look at it through the right spells, it lights up like a forest fire.

“They must have thought I was a homeless person. I had twigs in my hair. I’d been crying all night. Professor Van der Weghe felt sorry for me. She gave me coffee and let me take the entrance Exam all by myself. Fogg didn’t want to let me, but she made him.”

In some ways this is an atypical page -- it’s a quiet moment in the plot, of which there aren’t all that many. But in other ways it’s actually a very appropriate one to pull out. It’s one of Quentin’s growing-up moments, when he realizes that he’s not the only one who has problems, and that his problems are actually pretty insignificant compared to a lot of other people’s. He changes -- his world suddenly expands, in that way that only happens when you’ve been acting like kind of a self-centered asshole, and you suddenly realizes it, and you know all at once that you’re not going to do that anymore in the future, ever.
Read an excerpt from The Magicians, and learn more about the book and author at Lev Grossman's website and The Magicians website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Dead Write"

Like her Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series (Penguin/Obsidian) character, Claudia Rose, Sheila Lowe is a real-life court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in handwriting-related cases. She's a frequent guest in the media when there are interesting handwritings to comment on, such as a recent Dateline NBC, discussing the Clark Rockefeller case. She is also the author of the bestselling Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis, and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, as well as the award-winning Sheila Lowe's Handwriting Analyzer software.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Dead Write, the new Claudia Rose mystery, and reported the following:
I'd never heard of the Page 69 test, but turning to page 69 of Dead Write was an eye-opening exercise. There, revealed, was the truth about handwriting expert Claudia Rose's assignment in New York. It's an unsettling revelation that makes Claudia want to turn around and head back to the West Coast on the next flight out.

Her new client, Baroness Grusha Olinetsky, a high-priced matchmaker, has brought Claudia to the Big Apple, claiming that her previous handwriting expert made some serious mistakes. What Olinetsky failed to reveal was that those mistakes had led to the unfortunate deaths of several of her clients. On page 69, Claudia begins to uncover information that reveals the far more serious implications of those deaths. It suddenly becomes clear to her that there's a darker motive behind her client's urgent desire to get her on a plane.

Struggling with her own demons, which include dealing with the recent violent death of a friend (in Written in Blood), Claudia isn't interested in getting involved in another sinister situation. But then her personal life intrudes and changes her outlook.

Dead Write, page 69:

As she skimmed through photos that had been shot at a charity fund-raiser the year before, her gaze caught on another familiar figure at the black tie event: Grusha Olinetsky, recognizable, despite platinum blonde hair, rather than her current jet black, but twisted into the same French roll she still favored.

Pear-shaped diamonds dangled from her ears and glittered across her throat. A clingy gold lamé strapless gown showed off pale shoulders. Grusha's gloved arm was tucked possessively through Bernard's and his hand covered hers.

Claudia clicked the back button and paged through some of the other links without finding anything of interest. What she had discovered about Ryan Turner and Shellee Jones left her with the almost certain knowledge that she had been duped into coming here. She went and poured herself a glass of tap water from the bathroom faucet and downed a vitamin.

What game is Grusha playing with me?

It was a question Claudia intended to ask her client. But first, she would keep the appointments that Sonya had made for her with the club's doctors. She would glean whatever information she could arm herself with before the inevitable confrontation with Grusha Olinetsky.

Returning to the laptop, she tried one last search, this time on John Shaw, whose file was the last in the pile. But even with the additional demographics she entered, the name was too common to bring up anything useful.

Maybe no news is good news for him, she thought, contemplating the array of perplexing information she had accumulated so far:

Ten fancy leather file folders, three dead clients.
Read an excerpt from Dead Write, and learn more about the book and author at the Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series website.

My Book, The Movie: Sheila Lowe's Written in Blood and Poison Pen.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Best Served Cold"

Joe Abercrombie is the author of The First Law trilogy: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings. In 2008 he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell award for best new writer.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Best Served Cold, a standalone book set in the same world as The First Law trilogy, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Best Served Cold (in the US hardcover, anyway) features a very unpleasant revenge killing, in which a man is garrotted then has his head bashed in with a hammer. Ouch. Since Best Served Cold is the tale of a ruthless woman seeking revenge on the seven men who left her brother dead and her nearly dead, it is not entirely unrepresentative of the content. It’s quite a violent book.

Funnily enough, page 69 of the UK hardcover features a woman engaged in a battle of wits with a treacherous master poisoner while they trade amusing small talk. Since Best Served Cold is the tale of a rogue’s gallery of bizarre characters including a psychopath obsessed by numbers, the world’s least reliable drunkard, a poisoner’s apprentice who can’t stop eating, a hard-bitten female torturer, and a duke with a urine fetish, this is also not entirely unrepresentative of the content. It’s quite an amusing book.
Read an excerpt from Best Served Cold, and learn more about the author and his work at Joe Abercrombie's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Breathing Water"

Timothy Hallinan is the author of the acclaimed Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers and other books.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Breathing Water, the third Poke Rafferty novel, and reported the following:
Let's see the hand of everyone who doesn't believe in serendipity. Okay, you can leave the room, all of you. You fail the class in advance.

Page 69 of my new Bangkok thriller, Breathing Water, states for the first time in the book the position in which my protagonist, Poke Rafferty, will find himself for the remainder of the story, which is to say poised precariously between two immense grinding wheels that could turn him and his little family to processed flour without a moment's hesitation.

And how did he get there? He won, in a poker game, the right to write the biography of one of Bangkok's most mysterious billionaires, a dark-skinned (that's important) former peasant from Isaan, the country's impoverished Northeast region. Pan, the billionaire, is the poster child for conspicuous consumption – he's built the Garden of Eden on the grounds of his estate, for one thing – and he delights in using his money to smear questionable substances beneath the noses of Thailand's elite (light-skinned) governing class. Oh, and he's prevented several previous biographies from reaching the public; one of them was abandoned only after the printing press burned down.

The morning after Poke wins the the right to do the book, he finds a story about it in the newspaper. By 7 AM, his life and those of his wife and daughter have been threatened if he writes the book. By 10 AM, he's been kidnapped, hooded, and told by his captors that he and his wife and children will die if he doesn't write the book.

The kidnappers drop him off on a nameless little street in Bangkok's Indian section, and when he pulls the pillowcase off his head, he's alone with some very uncomfortable thoughts.

... and today, the displays of naked power.

The floor plan to his apartment. His bank account and cell phone numbers. The kind of power most foreigners never experience.

Rafferty knows Thailand well enough to be aware that people above a certain social and political level are virtually unaccountable .... These are the people, the “big people,” whom Rose despises, the people who attend dress balls with blood on their hands. There are not many of them, relatively speaking, but they have immense mass and they exert a kind of gravity that bends tens of thousands of lives into the orbit of their will.

Most foreigners pass through the gravitational Gordian knot of Bangkok unscathed, like long-haul comets for whom our solar system is just something else to shoulder their way past. Foreigners have no formal status here. They come and go. They dimple the surface of the city's space-time like water-striding insects, staying a few months at a time and then flitting elsewhere. They don't have enough mass to draw the gaze of the individuals around whom the orbits wheel.

But Rafferty is being gazed at. And he knows all the way to the pit of his stomach that it's the worst thing that can happen to him. If these people decide it is in their best interest, they can blow through him and his cobbled-together family like a cannonball through a handkerchief.

If he goes in one direction, Rose and Miaow are in danger. If he goes in the other direction, Rose and Miaow are in danger. And “in danger” is a euphemism.

He pushes himself free of the building on legs that feel as numb as prosthetics, and makes his way down the soi to the boulevard.

Where he stops, looking left, then right. Which way to go?

Both directions are wrong, but one must be less wrong than the other.

The book is based on the very real power struggle that is currently threatening to tear the Kingdom of Thailand apart. Rafferty will get out of this alive only with the help of Bangkok's poorest and least powerful inhabitants, including street children. His family's lives will depend on whether, at least in the short run, the small can bring down the great.
Read an excerpt from Breathing Water, and learn more about the book and author at Timothy Hallinan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Nail Through the Heart.

The Page 69 Test: The Fourth Watcher.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 17, 2009

"A Bad Day for Sorry"

Sophie Littlefield grew up in rural Missouri. Like her heroine, she enjoys quilting and sewing. She lives with her husband and two teenage children near San Francisco, California.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, and reported the following:
So much of my book has to do with the way women see themselves and each other – and with the way middle age can bring a determination to be true to oneself. I have this theory that self-acceptance just naturally leads to un-judgemental-ism, and I used my character, Stella Hardesty, as a vehicle to get that across.

Stella spent most of her first fifty years towing the line. She was a good housewife, a helpful neighbor, and she worked hard to play nice and do what society expected of her – even when that meant sublimating her own opinions and desires, and even when that meant keeping quiet about her husband’s physical and verbal abuse.

One day she kills the son of a bitch. This act, which goes unpunished by the law, unleashes a whole unstoppable torrent of won’t-back-down. With nothing left to lose, Stella sheds her timidity like a worn-out apron and never looks back.

Now she’s found herself unexpectedly in a position to help other women deal with their own abusers. She sets up a sideline business of beating, threatening, and intimidating these men until they’re “rehabilitated.” Her reputation spreads by word of mouth and she soon has all the clients she can handle. In dealing with these women, who come from every walk of life, Stella has to examine all the little judgments she’s been carrying around about other women – judgments that she’s picked up from half a century of societal pressure and media input and small-town gossip-mongering.

On page 69, she’s discovered that her young client, Chrissy Shaw, has not been entirely forthcoming about her personal life. Chrissy has failed to mention that she’s been seeing – in addition to several other suitors - an ex who may or may not be a suspect in the kidnapping of her baby.

Page 69:

“You’ve been seeing Pitt,” Stella said.

Chrissy shrugged. “Not regular or anything. Just, you know, sometimes.”

Stella heaved a sigh. “You know, back when you first came to talk to me, I told you that I had to know everything. Remember? Don’t leave anything out, I told you, because every detail counts, even the ones that might not seem important at the time. Well, I surely wish I wasn’t only finding out about Pitt now.”

“I’m sorry,” Chrissy said, staring down at her hands. “It’s just…I didn’t want you to think I was…”

She swallowed and Stella could see her eyelashes fluttering.

“…a slut,” she finished in a whisper.

Stella’s annoyance shrank up to see the girl so remorseful. “Oh, wait, I’m not trying to judge here. I don’t think that, I really don’t. Only it’s been suggested that, uh, Pitt was the one who hurt you.”

“Pitt?” The tremulous note in Chrissy’s voice gave way to a snort of disbelief. “Pitt ain’t but five foot three on a good day and a hunnert twenty. ‘Sides, he wouldn’t never hurt me. He’s crazy about me. We’d prob’ly still be married if I hadn’t taken up with his boss.”
Read an excerpt from A Bad Day for Sorry and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Sophie Littlefield's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"The Crack in the Lens"

Steve Hockensmith's novels include Holmes on the Range, On the Wrong Track, and The Black Dove. Holmes on the Range, the first novel featuring Big Red and Old Red, was a finalist for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Shamus and the Dilys Award.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Crack in the Lens, and reported the following:
Too bad this isn’t The Page 77 Test. Now there’s a page that’ll curl your literary toes. Oooooo, and page 189’s dynamite, too. And I sure hope pages 207 through 223 make it in front of the Nobel committee, you know what I’m saying? Ditto pages 8, 20, 43 through 47, 71, 73....

I’m pretty proud of the whole book, actually -- said book being, by the way, my newest “Holmes on the Range” mystery, The Crack in the Lens. In pages 1 through 68, we follow Sherlock Holmes-worshipping cowboy brothers Otto “Big Red” and Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer to San Marcos, Texas, where Gustav’s sweetheart, Adeline, was brutally murdered years before. The guys are determined to use their new “deducifying” skills (acquired in the previous three novels) to find the girl’s killer.

Complication #1: Adeline was a prostitute, and her former pimps don’t appreciate wannabe detectives nosing around. Complication #2: The county sheriff, Ike Rucker, is one of the pimps’ best customers. Complication #3: The town marshal, Milford Bales, hates Rucker and the pimps -- but, for mysterious reasons, hates Old Red even more.

On page 65, Sheriff Rucker drops in on the Amlingmeyers’ breakfast to give the boys a little not-so-friendly advice (of the “leave town” variety). He also helps himself to most of their food. Old Red’s a prickly little guy on the best of days, and what we see next is how prickly he can be on his worst. As the conversation reaches its head, Old Red loses his.

“I knew that gal myself [Rucker is saying as we begin reading], and it’s a shame what happened to her, but you know what she was. It’s a rough business, and people get hurt. That’s just the way of it, and you’d best accept that.”

Old Red’s lips squeezed tight but his jaw was working, almost squirming beneath the skin. He looked like a man trying to figure out what kind of bug just flew into his mouth. He finally washed the sour expression away with a long slurp of coffee.

Rucker’s coffee.

“So,” he said, slamming the mug down hard in front of the sheriff, “you ‘knew’ Adeline, did you? You usin’ that word Biblical-like? Cuz obviously it ain’t just ranch-hands who turn to [the local pimps] for their fun.”

Rucker had been polishing off the last of my potatoes when Old Red got going, and now he froze mid-chew.

“And tell me, Sheriff,” my brother rolled on. “Them ‘people’ who ‘get hurt sometimes.’ Who would you be talkin’ about, exactly? Cuz if the son of a bitch who sliced Adeline up has done the same to anyone else since then, that’s blood on your hands. And another thing -- ”

Gustav was cut off by a nerve-shaking clatter -- Rucker tossing the fork he’d appropriated onto my plate.

“Listen here, you little shit.” Rucker snatched my napkin off my lap, wiped his mouth with it, then threw it back into my chest. “Do you have any idea why I sat down to talk things through with you all polite like this?”

“Because you were hungry?” I ventured.

Rucker kept his unblinking gaze on Gustav.

“Cuz we’re inside city limits,” my brother said.

“That’s right. Milford Bales’s badge trumps mine here in town. But out there?” The sheriff pointed a long finger to the east, then did the same to the north, west and south. “And there and there and there? That’s all me, and the law is what I say it is. Right is what I say it is. And wrong, too. So sittin’ here in San Marcos, I can only try to persuade you to see reason. But the second you cross the line...?”

And it’s on to page 70! On which, as you might guess, the sheriff does not promise to bake our heroes a cake.

I think all this passes the test because it doesn’t just show us a dramatic, high-conflict moment (while weaving in, as luck would have it, some context for the plot). It also ties nicely into the theme of the book. The title, The Crack in the Lens, references a quote from a Holmes story: Dr. Watson writes that the great detective saw love as nothing more than “a crack in one of his own high-power lenses.”

Well, Old Red’s lens is cracking up big-time here, so much so that he’s pissing off dangerous people like Sheriff Ike Rucker. Is he able to hold it together long enough to catch the killer? Readers will have to turn the page to find out...and hopefully, they will.
Read an excerpt from The Crack in the Lens, and visit Big Red's blog to learn more about Steve Hockensmith and his writing.

Author Interviews: Steve Hockensmith.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 14, 2009


Nic Brown's fiction has appeared in the Harvard Review, Glimmer Train, Epoch, The South Carolina Review, and Time Out Amsterdam.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Floodmarkers, his acclaimed first book, and reported the following:
I was recently honored with an invitation to speak at the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club. This filled me with certain level of apprehension, for several reasons. First, I've never been to a Rotary Club before. I'm a 32-year-old former rock drummer. Secondly, my book Floodmarkers contains a certain amount of transgressive behavior. There is foul language. There are naked people. It's contemporary fiction, you know, so this is all par for the course, but when it comes to Rotary, I didn't want to push boundaries. So I read from the story "Steak," the most conservative story in the book. It involves an older woman whose sudden and profound interactions with a lost pit bull allow her to engage with life in a way she hasn't in years. There isn't a foul word in the whole story. And in fact, page 69 might be the safest page in the whole book. It is as follows:

Evelyn was tenderizing a skirt steak on her chopping block. She hit it hard and loud. She’d pulled it from the freezer earlier that morning, when the electricity had first gone out. The refrigerator had begun to thaw, and the steak hadn’t been cheap. She didn’t remember exactly how long it had been there, but it couldn’t just sit out. She might as well have it for lunch.

The phone was still working, and Evelyn had it wedged between her shoulder and ear, the spiral yellow cord stretching taut across the room.

“He could have died,” she was saying. “He’s still in the hospital, you know. He still might.”

Ruthie Lingle was on the other end. She was a friend from Forbis and Dick Funeral Home. She worked there, in the business office. Evelyn knew her only from going there so often.

“This is going to sound silly,” Ruthie said. “But are you sure it was a seizure?”

“That’s what the, um.”


“Yes. What the EMT said.”

“And you found him. Can you believe? Of all people.”

“I don’t think of myself as a hero, really,” Evelyn said. She thudded the mallet into the meat and a piece of something shot up, into her left eye. She squeezed her eyes shut and set the mallet down, then just stood there with her eyes closed and her head thrown back.

“Did you really just say that?” Ruthie said.

“What? Yes. He’s still in the hospital, you know. Hasn’t been home yet. What a day.”

“Don’t think of yourself as a hero. I cannot believe you said that. What—”

It's my book, it's my writing, and this is a good page and, in fact, it was a great page for Rotary (who, incidentally, were wonderful to me and very engaging – not at all as stuffy as I had expected), but I wouldn't say it is representative of Floodmarkers because of the following reason: I felt very comfortable reading this page to Rotary. However, I would not feel very comfortable reading the whole book to Rotary.
Learn more about Floodmarkers and the author at Nic Brown's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"The Cavalier of the Apocalypse"

Susanne Alleyn was born in Munich, Germany, and grew up in western Massachusetts and New York City, earning a bachelor's of fine arts in theater from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She has been researching and writing about the French Revolution since her teens and is currently working on her fourth Aristide Ravel historical mystery.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, and reported the following:
The Cavalier of the Apocalypse is the third novel, but the first chronologically (taking place ten years before the other two), in my Aristide Ravel historical mystery series, set in Paris in the era of the French Revolution. Ravel, a down-on-his-luck writer, has unwillingly been drawn into hunting down the murderer of an unidentified man, who was found dead in a cemetery on a winter morning in 1786.

Page 69 is a low-key interlude, with no hint of the extremely bizarre details (some drawn from history) that crop up earlier and later in the novel. We are eavesdropping on Ravel and his employer/mentor, Inspector Brasseur, during their lunch break on the first day of the murder investigation.

A page or two back, Ravel and Brasseur interviewed a fashionable tailor, Monsieur Yvon, in order to discover how many of his wealthy customers might have owned a certain elegant striped silk waistcoat, an Yvon creation, now unfortunately blood-soaked and quite unwearable. Their next task, as Brasseur warns Ravel, is to learn which of those customers could be the corpse that’s now lying on a stone table in Paris’s morgue—a corpse with throat cut, tongue torn out, and a Masonic symbol slashed into its chest.

It doesn’t take them much longer to discover the dead man’s probable identity and question his family. Just as a very charming young lady volunteers to accompany Ravel to identify the body as that of her missing brother, however, someone gets to the morgue before them and disappears with the corpse. Oops.

Page 69:

It was nearing midday and Brasseur led Aristide to a modest eating-house a few streets to the north, away from the high-priced district surrounding the Palais-Royal, for a dish of pot-au-feu and a glass of rough red wine.

“What now?” Aristide asked, after wolfing down most of his portion of the stew. “I suppose we have to visit all these addresses.”

“Of course,” said Brasseur, crumbling the last of his slab of black bread into his bowl. “Only three of them; that’s nothing.”

“Is this your usual police work, then? Endless rounds of asking the same questions over and over?”

“I fear so,” Brasseur said pleasantly. “Consider yourself lucky; we might be working something tricky like a poisoning, in which case we’d be wearing out our shoes and our voices asking the same very dull questions of every apothecary in Paris, until we found the one who admitted to selling the stuff. But that’s the only way it gets done: patient, methodical investigation. Eventually, with common sense and enough shoe leather, you’ll find the answers you need.”

Aristide looked at the last few swallows of wine in his glass and decided against finishing it; he preferred the alertness that coffee brought, and the wine, in any case, was nearly undrinkable.
Brasseur, oblivious, tossed off the last of his own wine. “Are you done, then? Brace yourself, Ravel. One of these three on Yvon’s list is probably our corpse, and breaking the news to the family is never a pleasant job.”
Read the first chapters of The Cavalier of the Apocalypse, and learn more about the book and author at Susanne Alleyn's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Cavalier of the Apocalypse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Children of the Waters"

Carleen Brice was named 2008 “Breakout Author of the Year” by The African American Literary Awards Show for her debut novel Orange Mint and Honey, which was also a selection of the Essence Book Club. She is also the author of Walk Tall: Affirmations for People of Color, and Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey and edited the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Children of the Waters, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Children of the Waters is fairly representative of one of the themes of the book, which is the importance of family. This part of the book finds one of the protagonists, Billie, (whom Zenobia calls by her full name Wilhelmina) in a discussion with her mother Zenobia about Billie's significant other.

Since the book has two protagonists, Billie and her half-sister Trish, a page from a chapter that only features one of them is only partially representative. And the way the book is structured, each chapter alternates between Billie's and Trish's points of view, so Page 69 doesn't tell us much about Trish, but I think it's still fairly representative of the book. It's certainly representative of my writing style.

Zenobia proved that right away. "Wilhelmina, my love, what is going on?" she asked as soon as the spinach lasagna was served and the blessing given.

"I told you Nick had a gig tonight," Billie said to her plate, though she knew her mother hadn't believed her the first time she said it.

Why did she even try? She was a pitiful liar, and lying to her mother never got you anywhere anyway. Ask the city manager who was forced to resign after Zenobia discovered he was turning in fake time sheets for temporary employees who did no work and splitting the paychecks with them. The poor fool was lying right into the camera when she pulled out a time sheet he had signed for a worker who happened to have spent that week in jail on domestic violence charges, and, therefore, couldn't have worked. To add insult to injury? Zenobia and her cameraman had cornered him in a strip club parking lot during the workday.

Of course that was back in the day when Zenobia was on the evening news. Nowadays, she didn't do any investigative reporting.

If Zenobia was less refined, she would have sucked her teeth to show her disapproval, but instead she made a tiny ladylike noise in her throat. "I'm going to let that one go because you know I'm talking about more than this evening."
Read an excerpt from Children of the Waters, and learn more about the author and her work at Carleen Brice's website and her blogs, White Readers Meet Black Authors and The Pajama Gardener.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"The Dark Horse"

Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire mysteries include The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man’s Moccasins.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to the latest book in the series, The Dark Horse, and reported the following:
I think that page 69 is relatively representative of The Dark Horse, and a reader would be inclined to read on. The novel is something of a quintessential western and mystery in one with someone turning up dead in a small town (I think it’s about page six where Walt makes the observation that he should’ve taken into account the inherent difficulties of going undercover in a town of forty) and a stranger arrives and starts asking inconvenient questions. The Dark Horse is a novel about community, and what happens when community fails but it’s also a novel that concerns itself with the mythos of the American West and whether the dream is meant to be for all of us.

The scene on page 69 is actually one of my favorites in the novel; the scene where my sheriff protagonist is undercover in a motel room in a small town on the Powder River of northern Wyoming. The young woman he’s having a conversation with is a Guatemalan bartender from the adjacent bar who rented Walt the room at a discount price, since the toilet doesn’t work. He returns to the room that night to find someone in his bathroom, which turns out to be the illegal alien with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from a local community college, and proves to be more than a match for the sheriff.

I swallowed again, feeling the aspirins finally hit bottom. “Do I make you nervous?”

“No, but I don’t think you’re an insurance man.”

“What do you think I am?”

“A cop.”

I nodded. “How do you figure?”

She put the bottle of asprin on the bed and reached out to take my hat from my knee” When you’re a fugitive, you get a feeling for these things.” She examined the inside of the black fur felt: “7 3/4-Long oval. Ten X, H-Bar Hats, Billings.” The mahogany eyes, young, but deep stained with experience, looked back up at me. “If you’re federal, and I’m hoping you’re not, you flew into Montana and bought a hat so you could blend in—or you’re from the FBI field office in Billings or Cheyenne.”

I stared at her, the pain in my head resurging. “What, you taking a mail-order course in how to become a private investigator?”

“Almost two years of law enforcement classes at Sheridan College.” Both shoulders shrugged this time. “Ran out of money.” I sat there without saying anything. “You could be state, maybe an investigator from DCI, but they were already here.”

I nodded again. “You have a very active imagination.”

“Or you could be local, but I doubt it—the sheriffs around here couldn’t find their butts with GPS.”

As Sheriff Walt Longmire notes two pages later, “In town for eight hours, and already made by an associate degree.”
Read an excerpt from The Dark Horse, and learn more about the author and his work at Craig Johnson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Of Bees and Mist"

Erick Setiawan was born in 1975 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents and moved to the United States when he was sixteen. He is a graduate of Stanford University and currently lives in San Francisco.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Of Bees and Mist, his first novel, and reported the following:
I would say that page 69 is representative of the rest of the book in that it highlights the tumultuous relationship between the heroine, Meridia, and her father, Gabriel. Meridia grows up lonely and neglected, and for reasons that will remain a mystery until many years later, her father often behaves cruelly and spitefully toward her. When Meridia turns sixteen, she meets and falls in love with Daniel, the son of a jeweler. Page 69 opens with a matchmaker asking for Meridia’s hand on behalf of Daniel’s parents, but Gabriel quickly tosses him out of the house without ceremony. His reply to the matchmaker’s request? “Watch where you blow hot air. Next time, I won’t be so gentle.” This scene reveals both Gabriel’s short and violent temper, and also the powerful dominion he holds over Meridia. It’s telling that he doesn’t consult her before turning down the proposal, doesn’t think she’s mature enough to make her own decision. On subsequent pages, you’ll find Meridia battling her father for the sake of her happiness.

Page 69 also offers a glimpse of the multicultural setting of the book. I am a product of three different cultures: born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, and moved to America when I was sixteen. The book, consequently, is woven from these various cultural threads. In the fantastical town where Meridia lives, you’ll find Chinese traditions, Indonesian superstitions, and American ideology coexisting side by side. My description of the matchmaker on page 69 is my take on an old-fashioned Chinese matchmaker: “a red silk robe with wide sleeves, a golden sash across his chest, and a conical black hat that made him look like a messenger from the afterlife.” I’ll leave it to you to tease out the book’s other cultural influences.
Read an excerpt from Of Bees and Mist, and learn more about the book and Erick Setiawan at the official Of Bees and Mist website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Starvation Lake"

Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. An award winning journalist, Gruley shared in the Pulitzer Prize given to the Wall Street Journal in 2002 for coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He also wrote the prize-winning non-fiction book, Paper Losses: A Modern Epic of Greed and Betrayal at America’s Two Largest Newspaper Companies.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Starvation Lake, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Starvation Lake straddles two scenes. One is a flashback in which the protagonist, Gus Carpenter, describes a superstition peculiar to his old hockey coach, Jack Blackburn. The next scene, set in the present of the novel, involves a conversation between Gus and his young reporter, Joanie McCarthy, about the real story behind Blackburn’s death.

When I first read the page for this exercise, I thought, “This isn’t representative of the book at all.” But I wasn’t paying attention.

The Blackburn scene reveals a glimmer of the coach’s personality, the way he manipulated the boys who skated for the Hungry River Rats. While seemingly harmless in the context of this single paragraph, it’s a subtle foreshadowing of darker revelations to come.

The scene between Gus and Joanie encapsulates the central mystery of the book—what happened to Blackburn?—while hinting at the tension boiling within Gus over how hard to pursue the answer to that question. It also alludes to the town’s reluctance to confront unpleasant reality when Joanie tells Gus of the “fat guy at the diner” who proposes the ludicrous theory that hockey coaches from Detroit had Blackburn killed.

I think I missed the relevance on first read because the world I portray in Starvation Lake becomes clear only in brush strokes, one small one after another. Or at least that’s how I tried to paint it, so that the whole picture wouldn’t become clear until the end, or at least near the end.
Read an excerpt from Starvation Lake, and learn more about the book and author at Bryan Gruley's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue