Monday, November 30, 2009


India Edghill lives in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York. She is the author of the novels Wisdom's Daughter, which was a Romantic Times Nominee for Best Historical Fiction, and Queenmaker.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Delilah, and reported the following:
Page 69:
Even before we set our feet upon the dancing floor, the half-dozen Rising Moons who had been Chosen to Dance learned that all they had already been taught meant nothing now. We all gathered in the Dancing Court -- one of the oldest courtyards in the Great House of Atargatis -- eager to begin. The dancing floor was smooth-polished stone dark as deep night; the labyrinth pattern of the dance formed of yellow tiles inlaid into that shining black stone. So many feet had danced that intricate pathway in the long years since it had been laid down that the tiles glowed pale as lamplight.

Flute-players and drummers waited for us, as did Dark Moon Priestess Sharissit. Once she had been Lady of the Dance, the most sought-after of the Temple's dancers; now she served as Dance-Priestess and taught those Chosen to follow the same path she had done.

"So you are my new students." Sharissit regarded us intently, as if she would look into our hearts. "And like all the others I have taught, I suppose you think you already know how to dance?"

Silence; no one dared answer. I looked into the Dance-Priestess's eyes, and heard myself saying, "If we already knew how to dance, my lady Sharissit, we would not have been given into your care, that you might instruct us."

The Dance-Priestess studied me a moment. "A good answer -- and as you are so bold, I am certain you will be pleased to be chosen first to show me what you can do when the music calls."

Aylah's fingers brushed my hand and I sensed her rueful amusement. Now that it was too late, I wished I had remained silent, rather than trying to be clever; I only hoped I had not angered the Dance-Priestess.
Well, this is an interesting exercise.... I think page 69 is representative of the style and content of the rest of Delilah, which is a retelling (or, as they like to say these days, "reimaging") of the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. That tale has lasted at least 3,000 years, and it's got everything: a hero who does great deeds, lots of action and sex, and a slinky villainess. Or was she a villainess? Better writers than I have pointed out that from the Philistines' point of view, Delilah was a heroine, stopping the ravages of a hot-tempered warrior who slew Philistines at the drop of an ass's jawbone. The story of Samson and Delilah has been told and retold in songs, operas, poems, novels, miniseries, major motion pictures (the 1949 Cecil B. deMille Samson and Delilah, a movie which influenced me greatly), and even an episode of Pinky and the Brain. My Delilah is a devout priestess of her goddess Atargatis (and since I always wanted to be able to dance, I made Delilah a dancer); my Samson is a good-hearted man who can't understand that others don't possess his kindness and sweet nature. But the Israelites see Samson as their own leader, while the Philistines see him as a deadly threat, the woman they both love is sacrificed to political scheming, and Delilah and Samson are forced into deadly action. Will my page 69 lure in readers? I don't know -- but I hope so!
Read an excerpt from Delilah, and learn more about the book and author at India Edghill's website. Watch the Delilah video trailer.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The Hollow People"

Brian Keaney is a UK-based writer of fiction for children and young adults. He has written over one dozen novels and a number of plays.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Hollow People, the first book in The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus series, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Hollow People Bea, the female lead, is in trouble. Bea is the daughter of two doctors who work in an asylum for the criminally insane on the remote island of Tarnagar. It’s a small community where everyone knows everyone else, news spreads quickly, and gossip is rife.

The problem is this. Bea’s mother has heard that her daughter is having a relationship with a boy who works in the asylum kitchen. If this is true, it would be an absolute disgrace since rank and status is taken extremely seriously in this community.

As a matter of fact it is true. But it’s not the kind of relationship her mother suspects. This isn’t some schoolgirl crush. No, it’s worse, much worse. The kitchen boy, whose name is Dante, has told Bea a terrible secret – he still has dreams.

Tarnagar is a rigidly-controlled society. From the age of fourteen everyone is given a drug that makes them accept authority without question. They don’t rebel because they don’t even think about rebelling.

The drug works by removing people’s imaginations and one side-effect is that you no longer dream. So if Dante still has dreams, that can only mean one thing: the drug isn’t working on him. In a world of mental slavery, he is secretly free to think what he wants.

Why does this matter to Bea? Because in a few weeks time it will be her fourteenth birthday and she will have to start taking the drug. Her rebelliousness will turn to unquestioning obedience and her dreams will fade into distant memories, then disappear altogether.

Bea doesn’t want them to disappear because night after night she dreams of a ruined city, a place where she is happy, free and surrounded by people like herself, living among the ruins, thinking their own thoughts.

Each morning she awakes with a terrible sense of loss when she realises that none of what she dreamed is true. Except that Dante insists there really is a ruined city; he has proof and he intends to find it.

How can Bea explain any of this to her mother?
Read an excerpt from The Hollow People and view a video of Brian Keaney discussing the book.

My Book, The Movie: The Hollow People.

Learn more about the author and his work at Brian Keaney's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 27, 2009

"The Big Wake-Up"

Mark Coggins is the award-winning author of The Immortal Game, Vulture Capital, Candy from Strangers, and Runoff. The San Francisco Chronicle has labeled his work, "smart, stylish, sexy" and called his PI August Riordan "enjoyably jaded ... delicious."

Coggins applied the Page 69 Test to The Big Wake-Up, his new August Riordan novel, and reported the following:
The Big Wake-Up envisions an altered version of the bizarre history of the peripatetic remains of Argentina's most famous first lady, Eva Perón. Rather than resting in the Duarte family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, I posit that the body in La Recoleta is a duplicate and that Eva's specially embalmed corpse has been secretly buried in the San Francisco Bay Area under a false name. A mad scramble for possession of the body ensues, pitting contemporary Peronists — who wish to return the body to Argentina to further political ambitions — against ex-military leaders from the 1970s, who wish to destroy Evita once and for all.

San Francisco private eye August Riordan is sucked into the maelstrom when an Argentine family hires him to investigate a seemingly unrelated matter: the location of a dead relative whose body was transferred from a Milan cemetery to somewhere in the Bay Area.

Page 69 of the book falls on the first page of a chapter titled, “Love Poems of Máximo,” which is illustrated with this photo of Cupid I took at Marie Antoinette's estate, Le Petite Trianon, in Versailles. In the chapter, Riordan and Melina Rivero, the step-daughter of his client, are walking to the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco to meet Melina’s father and provide a update on the investigation.

They have recently discovered a clutch of letters that one Máximo Vilas wrote to Melina’s sister, Araceli, who died in a brutal shooting at the beginning of the book. Riordan has tangled with Maximo already, but does not know his full name and his role in the investigation, so he’s hopeful something in the letters will provide a clue.

As they walk, Melina examines the letters, which are written in Spanish, and, it develops, are rather crudely worded expressions of lust, not love. She is moved to remark, “Well, he is no Cyrano de Bergerac, that is for certain.”

The chapter title is an ironic reference to the quality of the letters, but their discovery ultimately gives Riordan his first hint that his client has misrepresented the true objective of the search.
Read an excerpt from The Big Wake-Up, and learn more about the book and author at Coggins' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Joel Shepherd was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1974. He has studied Film and Television, International Relations, has interned on Capitol Hill in Washington, and traveled widely in Asia. His first trilogy, the Cassandra Kresnov Series, consists of Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Sasha, the first book in the A Trial of Blood and Steel series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Sasha is an action scene. Our hero Sasha has smashed her way through the roof of a wooden training hall in a small town, to rescue the villagers intentionally locked inside from the fire that is taking hold. She was able to get in through the roof partly because she’s spent a lot of time in these old traditional training halls in the small towns of her land of Lenayin, and partly because being a woman of average size, she’s able to fit through the gaps more easily than the men.

The town’s name is Perys, and it is the first encounter Sasha’s northward-riding party has had with the flaring civil conflict between the northern provinces of Taneryn and Hadryn. The party is led by Sasha’s brother, Prince Damon, with instructions to keep the peace between the warring parties. The problem is that the central rule of a king in Lenayin is barely one hundred years old, and Lenayin’s regions have been fighting each other for more centuries than anyone can remember. So this peacekeeping mission is liable to run into some strife, being vastly outnumbered by warriors on either side. Prince Damon has not enough force to solve any dispute with arms, so he’s going to need to show guile and judgement. Damon’s princely qualities, however, are sometimes questioned in Lenayin, and some people wonder if he’s up to the job.

Sasha doesn’t make matters easier for him. Once a princess, Sasha now trains with her mentor Kessligh, the greatest warrior in Lenayin, and her loyalties lie on the side of the Goeren-yai, those who practise the traditional pagan beliefs of Lenayin. In the current conflict, that puts her on the side of Taneryn, whose leaders are all Goeren-yai, but the Great Lord of Taneryn is a great bear of a man named Krayliss, and he’s an arrogant and pig headed chauvinist. Deprived of decent leaders, many Goeren-yai are beginning to disdain the likes of Krayliss, and are looking instead at Sasha. But if Sasha sympathises with them too much, she’ll make an enemy of her own family, starting with her brother Damon...

Page 69 is I think fairly representative of the book in that it illustrates my intentions as an author -- to tell an entertaining tale with plenty of action, but whose primary events are driven by difficult decisions made by interesting people, who are forced to decide what they believe in, often at a painful cost.
Read an excerpt from Sasha and learn more about the land of Lenayin. Learn about the author and his work at Joel Shepherd's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"The Ragged End of Nowhere"

Roy Chaney has worked as a military journalist, photographer, newspaper editor, and as an investigator for the federal government.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Ragged End of Nowhere, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Ragged End of Nowhere finds the protagonist, Bodo Hagen, sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room. It is morning. He picks up the phone and places a call. To Paris, France.

Hagen has only recently returned to his hometown after an absence of ten years. He came back to bury his only brother, who was murdered out at Hoover Dam. It seems that his brother possessed a wooden artifact with a curious provenance that he called the Dead Man’s Hand. He was trying to sell it when he died.

Hagen sets out to find his brother’s killer. But first he has to learn what the Dead Man’s Hand is, where it is, and why certain people want it. Maybe badly enough to murder his brother for it.

The phone call to Paris is intended to establish the bona fides of a Frenchwoman who Hagen met the night before. She has only just arrived in Las Vegas herself. She claims to work for a firm based in Paris that buys and sells rare artifacts. She also claims have known his brother, and wonders if Hagen might know the whereabouts of the Dead Man’s Hand.

It is early evening in Paris.

A man answers the phone.

The man’s manner is gruff but his answers seem genuine. After a short conversation, Hagen decides that the story the Frenchwoman gave him might be less farfetched than it had sounded at first.

But that doesn’t mean Hagen can trust her.

Trust is in short supply in the Las Vegas that Hagen has come home to.

Although Page 69 of The Ragged End of Nowhere is a relatively quiet page, Hagen’s suspicions about the Frenchwoman describe exactly the problem that Hagen is faced with throughout the novel. Hagen is surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of people who all want the Dead Man’s Hand. And they want it on their terms. But no one is who they seem. And it is up to Hagen to unravel the complicated web of intrigues surrounding the mysterious relic, before his brother’s killer decides to get rid of Hagen too. It is this edgy give-and-take between the protagonist and a cast of lively and deadly characters that led Booklist to call The Ragged End of Nowhere “a wildly entertaining tale.”
Read an excerpt from The Ragged End of Nowhere, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

The Ragged End of Nowhere won the the 2008 Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut mystery set in the American Southwest.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Night of Demons"

Tony Richards sold his first short story at the age of twenty-one, and hasn't stopped selling fiction since. He has written SF, mystery, and mainstream tales, as well as dark fantasy, and has appeared in most major magazines and anthologies in the genre. His work has been praised by the likes of Ed Gorman, Ramsey Campbell, Graham Joyce, and the late Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes, and he has been nominated for both the Bram Stoker and British Fantasy Awards.

Dark Rain, Richards' first novel set in the fictional town of Raine’s Landing, Massachusetts, has appeared at The Page 69 Test and My Book, The Movie.

He applied the Page 69 Test to its sequel, Night of Demons, and reported the following:
“Jeff? It’s Lauren. I’ve found Hanlon. I’m in a place called …”

Then she tailed off, her expression growing puzzled.

“Jeff?” she asked, rather more loudly. “Hey? Can you hear me?”

The line apparently went dead. She peered at the phone, then tried re-dialing. And didn’t even get an answer, this time. I had been expecting that. She had no way of knowing it … but when you’re in this town, there is a real serious problem attached to communicating with the world beyond its borders.

“What the hell is going on?” She jabbed at the keypad a few more times. “It was working before.”

“We have trouble with reception,” I explained. “The woods.”

“The …?”

“We’re so deep in them. They mess up the signal sometimes.”

She squinted at me awkwardly, then stared out through her side window again.

“This really is an isolated place, huh? I couldn’t imagine living anywhere like this.”

“Oh,” I assured her, “it can get pretty interesting here from time to time.”

“What, you have a swap meet twice a year?”

Which should have annoyed me. But I was getting used to her attitude, and didn’t let it bother me. In spite of her appearance, she carried a hardness with her, like a shaft of steel inside a velvet coating. She had either been born with it, or it had formed. But there was no doubt that she needed it. I found it hard to even imagine what her job was like. All those gangsters. All those junkies. Jesus Christ, a city cop.

She’d obviously been places and done stuff I could only dream of. I was learning new things, the whole while she talked. And so the best course of action, I finally decided, was to simply go along with the flow of this, and hope she never found out how different a place the Landing really was.
Exactly like last year’s Dark Rain, my current novel -- Night of Demons -- is set in the fictional town of Raine’s Landing, Massachusetts. It looks, on the surface, like a perfectly ordinary New England community, a little larger than it ought to be perhaps, but that is all. As is so often the case in this type of fiction, though, outward appearances can be terribly deceptive.

The fact of the matter is, the place ceased to be a normal township way back at the end of the Sixteen Hundreds. Because the premise of both novels is that there were real live witches in that more famous Massachusetts town called Salem. Clever and prescient, they saw the trials of 1692 coming, and fled to Raine’s Landing instead. They married into the local population, choosing well-off families or families who would be wealthy later on. And by the present day, their descendants pretty much run the place, and the town is full of strange, dark magic.

Except there is one big snag. Isn’t there always? One of those original Salem witches -- Regan Farrow -- managed to annoy the townsfolk so much that they burned her at the stake. As the flames closed around her, she spat out a curse with her dying breath. “If I cannot leave, then none of you ever shall. And you shall dwell alone here.”

It’s known, appropriately, as Regan’s Curse, and has hung over the place for some three hundred years. No one born in Raine’s Landing has ever seen the outside world, although they can read about it, glimpse it on TV. As for visitors … supplies come in for sure, and trade is done. How could the town survive otherwise? But those who arrive in the Landing are immediately filled up with anxiety. Voices began ringing in their heads, urging them to leave again. They comply as quickly as they can, and forget about the place as soon as they’ve crossed its borders. But in Night of Demons, there are two exceptions.

The first is a serial killer called Cornelius Hanlon, who has fled Boston with the police on his tail. The man is so deranged the voices in his head mean nothing to him, and he enters the Landing with comparative ease. By Page 69, he has murdered the town’s oldest and most respected adept, and gotten hold of a magical device that, even though he doesn’t know it, will give him almost limitless power.

The second is Lieutenant Detective Lauren Brennan of Boston’s Homicide Division, who at the top of the page is trying to reach her office on her cell phone. She is so utterly determined to catch Hanlon she has crossed into the Landing too, the curse having little effect on her. She is in the car of Ross Devries, the hero of both novels, a former cop turned supernatural troubleshooter. As yet, she has not the first inkling of the nature of the place she has wound up in. And Ross is trying to make sure it stays that way.
Read an excerpt from Night of Demons, and learn more about the book and author at Tony Richards' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Heart’s Blood"

Juliet Marillier's historical fantasy novels are published internationally and have won a number of awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Heart’s Blood, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Heart’s Blood our narrator, the young scribe Caitrin, is working in the disordered library of her new employer Anluan, chieftain of Whistling Tor. Anluan is an ill-tempered, socially awkward man shunned and feared by local society. Caitrin is wary. Her first experience in this library involved a terrifying mirror, and she does not know what she may uncover. As she puts the materials in order, Caitrin finds a set of notebooks created by Anluan’s father, Irial:
Irial’s books were works of art. His botanical drawings were finely detailed and executed with both accuracy and charm. He’d used a crow quill sharpened to a point. It was quite plain the artist had loved what he did, unusual as such a pastime might be for someone in his position. It made me wonder what sort of leader Anluan’s father had been. Perhaps he, too, had failed to carry out the duties the folk of Whistling Tor expected of their regional chieftain. Tomas and Orna had been blunt about Anluan’s inadequacy in that regard. Perhaps his father had spent hours in the garden and in the library, pursuing what had obviously been an activity he enjoyed with a passion, and had neglected his district and his folk. Perhaps he had never taught Anluan how to be a chieftain.

Something caught my eye, and I turned the little book in my hands sideways. Irial had written his botanical notes in Irish, which made sense – this language would render his work accessible to a wider readership. But in the margin, in a script so small and fine that at first glance it seemed decoration, not writing, was an annotation in Latin. The most potent remedy known to man cannot bring her back. This is the hundred and twentieth day of tears.

A chill went down my spine. What was this? Another secret, something so private the writer had chosen to set it down in this odd, almost cryptic fashion? Whose loss had Irial mourned for so long?
Page 69 does give a good idea of the flavour of the novel, which is part historical romance, part ghost story. The passage is slowish, but I reckon a reader would want to turn the page and find out more. As Caitrin peels back layers of family history within Anluan’s crumbling old fortress, she discovers many dark secrets. At the same time she grapples with her own past, for she has come to Whistling Tor damaged, frightened and on the run. Heart’s Blood is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, and its theme is acceptance – learning to accept yourself with all your flaws, and learning to go beyond surface appearances to recognise the true strength of others.
Read an excerpt from Heart’s Blood, and learn more about the author and her work at Juliet Marillier's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"The Broken Teaglass"

Emily Arsenault has worked as a lexicographer, an English teacher, a children’s librarian, and a Peace Corps volunteer. She wrote The Broken Teaglass to pass the long, quiet evenings in her mud brick house while living in rural South Africa. She now lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Broken Teaglass and reported the following:
The Broken Teaglass is two books in one, each with its own narrator—the main narrator, Billy, and the occasional, elusive narrator of the book-within-the-book, also called The Broken Teaglass. Billy and his coworker Mona discover fragments of this book hidden within the citation files of the dictionary company where they work.

In the scene on page 69, the two young editors are reviewing a citation from the apparently fictitious book while drinking beer after work. The citation (half of which appears on p. 69) mentions a corpse and junkie slang, which Mona considers to be an odd, even humorous, juxtaposition. The conversation that follows the citation gives one a good sense of Billy’s and Mona’s relationship. They aren’t sure how seriously to take these ominous citations—or, for that matter, each other. Their banter here—and page 69 in general—is indeed representative of the book. While there is an element of mystery in The Broken Teaglass, at its core it’s a playful book that’s more about words and people than murder.

Page 69:
You said that junk slang was your favorite, and wanted to know if there was a chapter on junk. Then you asked if I’d finished that other book yet. No, I whispered. I was unraveling fast. Was it a trick question? What exactly had been in that article that I hadn’t had time to read? Was there something suspect near the corpse? Were you smiling, Red, because of something you knew?
Dolores Beekmim

The Broken Teaglass

Robinson Press

14 October 1985

I read it over a couple of times. Mona went to the refrigerator, got out a beer, and placed it quietly next to my hand.

“That’s yours,” she said. “You can drink it, if you’re so inclined.”

“I think that’s a good idea. Now that we’re dealing with a corpse and all.” I snapped open the can.

“I know.” Mona sounded pretty thrilled. “Isn’t it great?”

“Great? Well, I don’t know about great, but—”

“You know what I think is interesting about this one?”

I took a long sip.

“What?” I said.

“Don’t you find the mention of the corpse a little casual? I mean, it’s mentioned almost like an afterthought.”

“I wouldn’t say that—”

“Come on. Mixed up in some conversation about junkie slang? I think this is supposed to be amusing.”


“You know, like British humor.”
Read an excerpt from The Broken Teaglass, and learn more about the book and author at Emily Arsenault's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Burn Me Deadly"

Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He's been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for mustard and trolls.

Bledsoe's first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, is now available in paperback from Tor Books. He applied the Page 69 Test to its sequel, Burn Me Deadly, and reported the following:
Burn Me Deadly is my second novel about Eddie LaCrosse, a freelance “sword jockey” in a medieval fantasy world. He’s tough and cynical on the surface but not so much underneath. He has a tragic and violent past, some of it his own fault, and an ongoing relationship with a lady courier. He also has issues with horses. At the beginning of this novel, in a nod to Kiss Me Deadly, Eddie tries to save a young woman from mysterious thugs and ends up being left for dead beside her body. His attempt to find out who she was, and why she was killed, leads to complications both external and internal, and the last kind of showdown he ever expected to face.

Page 69 is the start of Chapter Five. Eddie has followed his lone clue (a glimpsed emblem on one of the bad guys’ boots) and learned about mysterious “dragon people” hunting for something in the forested hills outside town. He’s driven both personally and professionally: personally, because he had promised to help the woman who was killed, and professionally because he failed to do so. There’s also a bit of a spoiler on this page which I won’t describe.

The first two sentences:
Buddy had told the truth: the cut hit the canyon at a right angle, provided an easy ascent and led to a trail that ran along the cliff top. Smooth as it was, the damn horse still balked at it, and I’d have made faster progress had I let the nag ride me.
This is a fantasy novel, and works with a lot of the classic genre tropes. It’s also a mystery novel, down whose mean trails a man must go who is not himself mean, etc. But at heart it’s a story about a man trying to hold onto his belief in people despite the evidence to the contrary, and being rewarded in unexpected ways.

It also has sword fights, naked dancing girls and (maybe) fire-breathing dragons.
Read an excerpt from Burn Me Deadly, and learn more about the book and author at Alex Bledsoe's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 16, 2009


Eric Stone is the author of four Ray Sharp novels, including Living Room of the Dead, Grave Imports, and Flight of the Hornbill. Additionally, he wrote the non-fiction book Wrong Side of the Wall.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Shanghaied, the latest book in the Ray Sharp series, and reported the following:
On page 69, Ray Sharp is in a car with a Hong Kong cop who is a friend of his. The cop is about to quit the force and move to the Philippines. Ray’s just found the body of a Tibetan monk and is being taken in for questioning. The book takes place just after the handover of Hong Kong back to China in July 1997. The page doesn’t give much of an indication of the book as a whole, but it does give the reader something of a sense of how the setting of the book — geographic, social, cultural, economic and political — is woven into the story, as it is in all the Ray Sharp series.

Here’s the page. (It starts with Ray talking.)
“Practicing to drive in the Philippines? Does this thing have air con?”

“Maybe you’ll have better luck getting it to work than I have.”

“Okay, can we roll down the windows, open the vents, something?”

“You really want to let that air in here?” Cotterill motions out the window with his chin.

The air is foul. We’re on Nathan Road and I can hardly see the buildings by the harbor. It isn’t far. The prevailing winds whip right through the massive, mostly unregulated, industrial and agricultural hellhole that has become the Pearl River Delta to the north. They bring soot and smoke and toxic steam and pesticides and herbicides and even worse things that you can’t see, all of which hunker down over Hong Kong. It’s the fart of progress. And it’s a bad one.

“Do you mind if I put the fan on recirc?”

He shrugs. I fiddle with the controls. Nothing helps.

Cotterill rolls down the windows when we go through the cross harbor tunnel. There’s surprisingly little traffic and we can go fast enough to get some exhaust moving through the vehicle. Maybe it’s better for us than the other pollutants on the surface. Maybe.

Workers are scraping off all the “Royals” in front of “Hong Kong Police” on the headquarters building on Arsenal Street.

“They plan to replace it with “People’s,” something like that?”

“None a my concern, mate. I don’t give one wit for the wankers in Beijing, or Buckingham Palace, when it comes down to it. Why d’ya think I’m kiting off to the Philippines?”

“You Brits, no loyalty.”

“Loyal enough to my mates. Watch yourself in here. What with the new bosses and all, it could make someone’s career to bust a Yank for topping a Tibetan.”

“You think I did it?”
Read an excerpt from Shanghaied, and learn more about the book and author at Eric Stone's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"A Friend of the Family"

Lauren Grodstein is the author of the collection The Best of Animals and a novel, Reproduction is the Flaw of Love, which was both a Breakout Book selection from and a Borders Original Voices pick. Her work has been translated into German, Italian, and French. She teaches creative writing at Rutgers University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Friend of the Family, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Friend of the Family is actually a great page to read if you want to get a sense of the book as a whole. It takes place at a pivotal New Year’s Day party, when all six of the novel’s main characters are in the same house, and all of them interact with one another; I’m fairly certain this is the only time this set of circumstances happens throughout the book. The general situation is this: our narrator, Pete Dizinoff, his wife, Elaine, and their son, Alec, are celebrating the first day of 2006 at the annual new year’s party thrown by their dearest friends, Joe and Iris Stern. Laura Stern, Joe and Iris’s daughter, is ten years older than Alec. She’s just returned to her parents’ house after a decade of travel and emotional recovery following her prosecution for a heinous crime she committed when she was in high school. Alec Dizinoff, Pete’s son, hasn’t set eyes on Laura Stern since he was a third-grader. Now, at this party, he sees her and…

But that’s for page 74. On page 69, Pete reflects on his college crush on Iris Stern, Laura’s mother. It’s a crush he’s never really relinquished, and it helps fuel his desperation to keep his son away from Iris’s daughter.
At Pitt, after I’d introduced them, Iris would often shake her head at me and ask me how I’d let her get talked into this, this” meaning a long-standing love affair with Joe Stern.

“You should ask him,” I’d say, because I never had the courage to say, Well, Iris, because you wouldn’t have me.
Read an excerpt from A Friend of the Family, and learn more about the book and author at Lauren Grodstein’s website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 13, 2009


James Magruder's stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Bloom, Subtropics, and the anthology Boy Crazy. His writing has been supported by the Maryland State Arts Council, the New Harmony Project, The MacDowell Colony, where he was named a Thornton Wilder Fellow, the Ucross Foundation, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Jerome Foundation. He teaches dramaturgy at Swarthmore College and translation and adaptation at the Yale School of Drama, where he received his doctorate in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism.

Magruder applied the Page 69 Test to his novel Sugarless, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“I looked over my shoulder to catch the waves in Lake Michigan, silver squiggles miles below that I imagined I could see. I pretended to hear them too, crashing on the rocks and piers. I was sorry that I’d told Julia that I’d won third place. I hadn’t taken my trophy so Carl wouldn’t see it. I’d taken it so I could show it to my father, and he hadn’t asked.”
Page 69 of my debut novel, Sugarless, is uncharacteristically brief and uncharacteristically sober. Only a paragraph long, it’s the close of Chapter Three. Here the narrator, fifteen-year old Richard Lahrem, has finished dinner at the Pinnacle with his father and Julia, his stepmother-to-be, whom he’s met for the first time. The Pinnacle is a rotating restaurant on top of the Prudential Building in downtown Chicago—such foodways fantasies are very 1976.

Earlier that day, Richard has had a lovely surprise; he won third place at his very first forensics tournament, performing an eight-minute cutting from The Boys in the Band, the controversial gay play of the sixties.

Julia, a Southern belle whom Richard has done his best to charm over lobster thermidor, is quite different from Carl, Richard’s stepfather, a brutish psychologist who tests drunk drivers for the State of Illinois. During a meal bristling with Oedipal competition, Richard sees that his father is marrying “up.” The initial title for Sugarless was, in fact, Marrying Down, but then Jesus, sex, and speech team took over.

Julia has asked to see Richard’s trophy. He fibs and says it’s in his bedroom at home, when it’s actually twenty yards away in the coat-check. Rotating two miles an hour toward the medal, Richard realizes his true motive and—characteristically—tries to pretend his way out of it.

Eventually Richard meets Ned, a speech coach from another school, who becomes a third father—attractive, attentive, and dangerous.
Read an excerpt from Sugarless, and learn more about the author and his work at James Magruder's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Drawing in the Dust"

Zoë Klein received ordination from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in 1998. She has written articles for numerous publications including Harper’s Bazaar, Tikkun, and Torat Hayim, and has written chapters in a number of collections including The Women’s Torah Commentary and Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation. Rabbi Klein serves as the spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her novel Drawing in the Dust, and reported the following:
Out of curiosity, when I received this assignment, I decided to check page 69 of my copy of the Bible, and found chapter 43 in Genesis when the famine is severe and Joseph’s brothers are deciding whether to return to Egypt to procure food. A transitional page, however with sacred literature, no word is considered less significant than any other.

I turned to page 69 in my novel, Drawing in the Dust, and found a transitional moment. American archaeologist Page Brookstone is a bit world-weary. None of the ancient remnants she has unearthed during her twelve years of toiling at Israel’s storied battlegrounds of Megiddo has delivered the life-altering message she so craves. Which is why the story of Ibrahim and Aisha Barakat, a young Arab couple who implore Page to excavate the grounds beneath their house in Anatot, instantly intrigues her.

The Barakats claim the ghosts of two lovers haunt their home, overwhelming everyone who enters with love and desire. Page investigates the site, where she is seduced by an undeniable force, but runs from it.

On page 69, Ibrahim calls Page in her hotel in Jerusalem, and is telling her that he had begun jackhammering through his living room floor himself, when the jackhammer plummeted down two stories. On this page he describes the room he’s discovered and she realizes that it must be a cistern.

Eventually, Page, who is caught in a forbidden romance of her own, will make a miraculous discovery in this place – the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah locked in an eternal embrace with a mysterious woman named Anatiya. Buried with the entwined skeletons is a collection of Anatiya’s scrolls, whose mystical words challenge centuries-old interpretations of the prophet’s story and create a worldwide fervor that threatens to silence the truth about the lovers forever.
Browse inside Drawing in the Dust, and learn more about the book and author at Zoë Klein's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Dave Zeltserman's first novel, Fast Lane, received widespread praise, with Ken Bruen calling it "the most entertaining debut since Jim Thompson." Zeltserman's second crime novel, Bad Thoughts, was published in 2007 and praised as a "compellingly clever wheels-within-wheels thriller" (Booklist). His Small Crimes made NPR's list of the top 5 crime and mystery novels of 2008; Maureen Corrigan called it "a thing of sordid beauty."

Zeltserman applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Pariah, and reported the following:
Once part of the holy triumvirate ruling the South Boston mob, Kyle Nevin is set up by his boss, Red Mahoney, which leads him to a court case and a stretch in the slammer. Newly released, and reduced to sleeping on his brother's couch, Kyle's hungry--for revenge, status and easy money.

On page 69 Kyle is sitting in a diner having breakfast with his brother, Danny:
The waitress came back carrying a pot of coffee. As she poured me a cup, she kept peering at me through her painted-on lone ranger mask. “How do I know you?” she finally asked.

Danny had been fidgeting while she poured the coffee. I knew he was anxious to get more details about the job I had in mind. Pushing a hand through his hair and at the same time showing a smart-alecky grin, he told her, “’Cause he’s a celebrity. Don’cha read the papers? That’s my brother. Big bad Kyle Nevin.”

A glint of life broke the sullen dullness masking her eyes as she placed the name. “You’re that gangster?” she asked.
While this page isn't representative of how violent and explosive and subversive Pariah is, it does show Kyle subtly working on corrupting Danny as he tries to lead his younger brother from the straight life that he has fallen into and is happy in, and into joining him on a horrific crime. It also shows glimpses of the dynamics between the two brothers. But the book takes several hard left turns and goes into areas which the reader would probably have no idea about from this page. And from this page the reader wouldn't have any idea what a destructive force of nature Kyle Nevin ends up being.
Listen to Dave Zeltserman read from Pariah or read an excerpt. Learn more about the author and his work at Dave Zeltserman's website and blog.

Read the Washington Post review of Pariah.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 9, 2009

"The Last Will of Moira Leahy"

Therese Walsh is a cofounder of the blog She lives in upstate New York, with her husband, two children, a cat, and a bouncy Jack Russell named Kismet.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Will of Moira Leahy, her first novel, and reported the following:
Deep down, though she’d loathe admitting it—especially to herself—Maeve Leahy misses her old life. She misses her identical twin, she misses her music, she misses her former dreams of travel and fame. She lives a busy and isolated life now as a workaholic professor, but every once in a while something tweaks at her memories and she just can’t help her response. We see this on page 69, as she first interacts with some of her students in the hall of the foreign languages department, and then is made to notice pictures of exotic locales by her father there.
“Hello,” I called back. Jordan Somers and—wouldn’t you know—Ned Baker stood beside a list of final grades. Jordan should be pleased with his standing, though Ned, the troublemaker, might not be. Still, he didn’t look upset; he smiled at my dad and me.

“Going away for break, Doc?” Ned asked, glancing with fleeting interest at the keris in my father’s hand.

“Not me. You?”

“Going to Cancun.” He howled the last like wolf-song, his cheeks flushed and hair a curtain over his eyes. Ian came strongly to mind.

“And you, Jordan?” I said. “Big plans?”

“Cancun, too. We’re going to”—he paused, looked meaningfully at Ned—“practice our Spanish.” They laughed, smacked hands and headed down the hall. “See ya!”

“Have fun,” I said as we passed one another.

“Seem like nice boys,” my father said.

“Do they? I think their practice starts and ends with Dos Equis, but maybe I’m wrong.”


“It’s a beer, Dad.”

“Right, right. I think I’ve heard of it,” he said. Dad was a Moosehead man, through and through.

I stalled to paw through my bag. I refused to believe I’d left my keys in the car, that I was that far gone.

“Nice posters,” he said. “Sure sets the atmosphere.”

I continued rummaging blindly as I looked up at the artwork and photos in the hall. A woman pinned clothes on a line from a high window; boys stood barelegged in a fountain; a mandolin player’s likeness covered brick somewhere in Vieux Lille. Sometimes these scenes made me itch with longing for all my old dreams, but only one piece bothered me consistently: a sepia print of a woman cowered over a desk as owls and bats swooped low behind her. The desk bore the words El sueño de la razón produce monstrous (The sleep of reason brings forth monsters). I’d removed the picture once, but Will Holmes, the chair of my department and a closet philosopher, insisted it remain. I’d stood my ground. “The woman seems tortured.”

“It’s a masterpiece,” he’d said. “And that’s not a woman.”

I stared at what looked to me like a skirt and bare woman’s legs as he speculated…

(p. 70)

...over the work's meaning. "What if dreams and reason aren't so different and monsters ride the line between the worlds?"

It might've made for fascinating debate, but I'd never be in the mood to discuss dream monsters or the line between the worlds. It still looked like a woman to me.
The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a cross-genre novel—women’s fiction with elements of psychological suspense, mystery, family saga, romance and mythical realism. It would be difficult to find a single page that captures the full flavor of the story, but page 69 isn’t bad. The brief interaction between Maeve and her students later links in with the mystery plot; and her disturbed reflection on El sueño de la razón produce monstrous gives us a glimpse of this woman’s underground, her subconscious.

Now if you’d asked me about page 165…
Read an excerpt from The Last Will of Moira Leahy, and learn more about the book and author at Therese Walsh's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Stuff to Spy For"

Don Bruns is a musician, songwriter, advertising executive, and award-winning novelist. His "Stuff" series includes Stuff to Die For and Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the latest book in the series, Stuff to Spy For, and reported the following:
I just read page 69, from Stuff to Spy For. It's a defining page. Skip and James (24 year old lifelong friends) are talking about going into the spy business. Skip is a little less than enthusiastic, but on page 69 they are discussing a financially lucrative offer, and Skip remembers his love for the Hardy Boys, James Bond, and all the spy gadgets. It won't take another page for Skip to say yes. A terrible decision, but funny none the less.

"Spy stuff, Skip. And we can use the truck. People will think it's a service truck, but we can stock it with the spy stuff."

"You're crazy. Do you remember the Bond movie where Q was showing Bond some missiles that shot from the headlights on his car?"

"Come on man. You're talking to the king of movie quotes. Q looks at Bond and says, 'Need I remind you, 007, you're licensed to kill, not break traffic laws.'" His British accent was almost perfect.

"I'm telling you, James, this is not a good idea."

Would I buy the book based on page 69? Would I read on? I would.
Learn more about the book and author at Don Bruns' website.

The Page 99 Test: Stuff to Die For.

My Book, The Movie: Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Wyatt’s Revenge"

A board-certified trial lawyer, H. Terrell Griffin practiced law in Orlando for thirty-eight years. He is the author of Murder Key, Longboat Blues, Blood Island, and the newly released Wyatt’s Revenge.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Wyatt’s Revenge and reported the following:
Wyatt’s Revenge is the story of a good man, a retired trial lawyer named Matt Royal, who lives on an island off the Southwest coast of Florida. When his best friend, history professor Laurence Wyatt is murdered, Royal sets out to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice, one way or the other. Can a man deeply invested in the law and the legal system find it in himself to wreak his own vengeance when the system to which he has devoted his life fails?

Page 69 is part of a conversation between the protagonist Royal and another history professor named Austin Dwyer. This is the beginning of the unraveling of the mystery of the death of Wyatt. Royal becomes aware that the murder may have its roots in an obscene political movement that was destroyed sixty years before. The question then is simply, why?

The trail leads Matt Royal and his buddies Jock Algren and Logan Hamilton to Germany where they find themselves hunted by shadowy figures who have sprung from the past, from a time when Europe was dominated by Nazis. As the tension builds and the mystery unfolds, the characters begin to see the outline of a conspiracy stretching back to World War II.

It becomes clear that the cabal that ordered Wyatt’s murder has much larger aims and political ambitions. The action shifts back to Florida and then to the Northeast as Matt Royal follows the evidence and wrestles with the moral dilemmas he faces as he tries to take Wyatt’s revenge on the murderers and bring the aging masterminds to justice.
Read more about the book and author at H. Terrell Griffin's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"The Owl Killers"

Karen Maitland has spent much of her life traveling, spending her early childhood in the sunshine of Malta and later journeying to the ice and snow of the Arctic and Greenland.

Her first novel, The White Room, a modern thriller about terrorism, is based on her experiences as a student in Belfast during "The Troubles." Her acclaimed Company of Liars was shortlisted for a Sue Feder Memorial Award for best historical mystery of 2008, one of the Macavity Awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new historical mystery, The Owl Killers, and reported the following:
England 1321, and the isolated village of Ulewic is ruled by the Owl Masters, members of an sinister ancient cult, who have created a world of fear and blackmail, in which neighbours betray neighbours and sin is punished with murder. When a group of religious women arrive determined to set up a beguinage, a “city of women”, on the edge of the village, the Owl Masters try to terrify the women into leaving. But both the village and the beguinage are harbouring secrets which could utterly destroy them.

Page 69 of The Owl Killers happens to be a Chapter Title Page and not a page of the actual story. But strangely it does reflect a key theme in the novel – the battle between Christian and pagan. In Medieval times they didn’t use numbers for dates, instead they named the days. So part of the chapter title on p.69 reads:

“May – Rood Day or Crossmas… also known as Avoiding Day, a day of ill fortune, a time to avoid getting married, travelling or counting money, because the evil spirits are determined to cause mischief.”

But you might say that no page in this book would be representative of the novel, because the story is narrated in five different voices by five of the key characters: Father Ulfrid the village priest, Pisspuddle a little village girl, and three of the beguines – the elderly Servant Martha, the tormented Beatrice and the teenage Agatha. As each of them struggle with their own separate problems, none of the five narrators realise that their lives are about to collide in a battle for life or death.

On the page before p. 69, Agatha, outcast daughter of the Lord of the Manor, has been taken into the beguinage following a terrible attack in the forest after she’d witness one of the horrifying rites of the Owl Masters.

Catherine came closer and glanced at me shyly. “I heard some of the beguines talking about the fire in the forest, about the… Owl Masters. Who are they?”

“No one knows who they are; that’s the point. Why else would they wear masks?” I shuddered, desperately trying not to see those feathered masks circling the fire.

“But why owls?”

“I don’t know! I suppose because owls bring ill-fortune and death to any house they alight on. And that’s what the Owl Masters do.”

“Pega says owls eat the souls of dead babies if they die unbaptised,” Catherine whispered…

…In the deep forest, beyond the safety of the courtyard walls, it would already be dark. The trees would be closing together, their branches blotting out the sky, like the walls of a cave. There was no escape, no way out of that living prison. No way of running from the brambles that dug their claws into my skirts, or the roots that wrapped themselves around my ankles, chaining me down in the suffocating reek of rotting leaves. And somewhere in the forest that creature would be watching for me to step outside the beguinage gate. I felt the rush of air from its wings on my face, the cold talons gripping my skin. The demon was waiting somewhere out there in darkness, waiting for me to come again.
Read an excerpt from The Owl Killers, and learn more about the author and her work at Karen Maitland's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 2, 2009

"The Shroud"

Junius Podrug was selected by the Harold Robbins Estate to carry on the ideas, uncompleted works, and tradition of Harold Robbins because he was both a friend of Robbins' and a writer whose books Robbins admired. He is the author of Harold Robbins' The Betrayers and The Decievers.

Podrug applied the Page 69 Test to their latest novel, The Shroud, and reported the following:
Curator for a museum owned by a billionaire, Maddy Dupre paid fifty million dollars for an artifact that turned out to have been looted from the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad. Getting it back to where it belongs costs her high paying job, a 5th Avenue penthouse, and black American Express card. That story was told in The Looters and The Shroud picks up with the once “A List” Maddy living in a roach infested Lower East Side walkup, fighting off bill collectors and a landlord who wants to collect his rent in bed.

An offer too good to be true comes along when Maddy gets a call from an art dealer who was supposed to be dead—and she hoped was burning in hell. He tells her to forget the past, “Mistakes were made and we suffered for it.”

We suffered? You mean I suffered, you son of a bitch. You’re still alive. Obviously you haven’t suffered enough.”

The offer is $20,000 cash just to fly to Dubai, the Persian Gulf sheikhdom that’s called Las Vegas on steroids. Money she needs like air to breathe. And her love for antiquities is stirred when the voice from the grave gives her a hint about what’s at stake: “It’s a couple thousand years old and was buried with Christ.”

Page 69 features a man and a woman in Dubai who are trying to get to the “dead” man. They know that Maddy’s being set up to front for him—and they are willing to let her take a bullet for him if it’ll get her out of the way.

Maddy discovers that the icon she’s been hired to track was bloodied by centuries of intrigue, war, and murder—not unlike what she goes through as she traces its history from Mesopotamia, Istanbul, Venice, and beyond. The title of the book only tells part of the story about the identity of the icon. While the plot is fiction, the history of the relic is extensively researched.

As a person who has been broke and has had the devil whisper in my ear, the two things I love most about Maddy are that she’s desperate enough to make a deal with the devil ... and clever enough to find a way to do the right thing when everything goes to hell.
Read more about The Shroud at Junius Podrug's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue