Thursday, December 31, 2009

"The Other Lands"

David Anthony Durham is the award-winning author of the novels Gabriel's Story, Walk Through Darkness, Pride of Carthage and Acacia: The War With The Mein, and winner of the 2009 John W. Campbell Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Acacia: The Other Lands, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Other Lands opens with the end of one scene. Mena Akaran has been hunting “foulthings” – the mutated creatures unleashed by the corrupted sorcery the Santoth used at the end of Acacia: The War With The Mein. Each beast is its own particular monstrosity, and Mena has been having quite a time of finding and destroying them.

That’s the backdrop, but as page 69 begins she is wrestling with a different idea. Her lover, Melio, has made it clear he wants set up house with her as soon as all this monster slaying is over. Mena’s not sure what sort of mother she’ll make, or if such domestic bliss will ever be part of her future. Confusion over this lingers with her throughout the book, mostly because life keeps throwing things at her that require her warrior side. Here, she pushes the idea to the side and stays focused on the work at hand…
There was always work to be done. Or so it had felt for months now. Finally, though, it looked as if there might be an end in sight to this war against the foulthings. As far as she knew, there were only two left to face. One in Halaly, one across a large swath of hill region of northwestern Talay. Reports of the latter were scattered and unreliable. The word coming out of Halaly, however, was specific. And dire. It was to that once-powerful interior tribe that she pushed her band once the tenten creature had been vanquished.
The focus then shifts to her first night at the Halaly court of the chieftain Oubadal. Readers of the first book might remember that Aliver had found this man a conniving, hard-nosed power broker in the first book. That was then, though. Now his people are suffering and he needs help…
Oubadal let others tell the tale through a chorus of voices. At first, they said, the thing had been but a rumor. Two years ago fishermen on the western edge of the lake had started telling tales of large aquatic creatures that would appear to eat the fish they already had on their lines, sometimes shredding their kive nets to get the small, silvery fish. There had been many of them, they said, but as they grew larger and easier to spot – their back fins cresting the water when they attacked – their numbers began to drop.

Once they found a carcass washed ashore, a hideous thing longer than a man was tall, like a fish but none that they had seen before…
If you read on to the next page you’d learn that one of the creatures had grown enormous. It was dangerous, yes, but the real problem was that it was sucking the life out of the lake, threatening the Halaly with financial ruin. That’s the kind of mixture of the fantastic with real world possibilities that interests me. Yes, there is a monster, but the monster’s real harm comes from the way it’s upsetting the economic viability of the Halaly nation. It’s the tiny kive fish – and all the trade that comes from it – that creates their power. But with this monster devouring every living thing in the lake they’re on the edge of ruin.

Oh, and one other thing… That mention in the quote up above of one last foulthing in the hill region of Talay is the first mention of a being that’s comes to have a major effect on Mena and on the Known World.
Read an excerpt from The Other Lands, and learn more about the book and author at David Anthony Durham's website and blog.

The Other Lands is one of Amazon's top 10 Science Fiction & Fantasy books for 2009.

The Page 69 Test: Acacia (Acacia, Book 1).

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"The Disappeared"

M. R. Hall, a screenwriter, producer, and former criminal lawyer, is the author of The Coroner and The Disappeared. Educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Worcester College, Oxford, he lives in the U.K.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Disappeared and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Disappeared sees my heroine, coroner Jenny Cooper, being approached by two officers from the British Security Services. She’s about to embark on an investigation into the disappearance of two young Muslim students and her visitors give the impression they’d prefer her not to:
Jenny sat back in her chair and tried to see through the fog. She had the feeling this was an attempt to gag and control her from the outset, but the messengers seemed so benign she couldn’t be sure…
Throughout the year I took to write this novel, I wrestled with this aspect of the plot: just how far would or could the Security Services go to suppress a legitimate judicial inquiry into the disappearances of two young men suspected of having terrorist connections? I was worried about making these Establishment forces too sinister to be credible, but I’ve since been vindicated. Last month, November 2009, saw the enactment of a new law which enables our UK government to end or prevent a coroner’s inquest and replace it with a secret inquiry with no reporting of the evidence. This ends an 800 year-old right to a public inquest into a violent or unnatural death.

As a former lawyer I try to write thrillers about real and present injustices. I hope the fact that I deal with current politics and trends give my books an edge. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m always for the underdog: experience has taught me that the biggest criminals aren’t hoodlums, but educated men and women who wilfully choose to close their eyes to truth.

On the flipside, the good guys don’t always wear white hats; in fact, often it takes one black heart to recognise another. I explore this theme through the character of Alec McAvoy. Exploring him has confirmed something I always suspected was true: sometimes you have to be bad – I mean, really bad - to be good.
Browse inside The Disappeared, and learn more about the book and author at M.R. Hall's website.

Coinciding with the US publication of The Disappeared, BBC America have released an audio version of the first novel in the series, The Coroner. Click here for a taster.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Americans in Space"

Mary E. Mitchell is author of the novel, Starting Out Sideways, a 2007 Thomas Dunne Book from St. Martin's Press. New York Times best-selling author, Elizabeth Berg, said of this debut novel, "... there is a humanity exhumed in this book that makes you feel proud and hopeful about being a human on planet Earth. These days, that's a rare and wonderful thing."

Mitchell applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Americans in Space, and reported the following:

From Page 69:
“How are you, sweetie?” I ask.

She moved her hand away, stares at her perfect knees. “Okay,” she says, without conviction. Then she looks at me and says, “You want to know what I was thinking about? I was thinking about how I might like to be an anthropologist when I get out of school. But then I was thinking there are probably enough anthropologists in the world already, so why bother?”

“Don’t you think anthropologists are sort of like artists?” I ask.

“What do you mean?” A glimmer of hope lights her dull eyes.

“I mean that every artist or anthropologist interprets the world in their own unique way.”

I watch her legs swing lazily as she thinks about this. “Maybe,” she says.

“So if you decided to become an anthropologist, wouldn’t the world get to see something new, something seen only through Phoenix’s eyes?”

“Through Phoenix’s eyes,” she repeats. “That’s a nice song title.
When I opened my book and read page 69, I thought, Damn! This isn’t what the novel is about at all. For months I have been telling readers that Americans in Space is about loss, and about the long, excruciating road back from loss for a young widow and her unmoored family. The novel’s main character, Kate Cavanaugh, struggles mightily two years after the death of her beloved husband. She cannot reach her angry teenage daughter, who acts out in cyberspace and in tattoo parlors. She cannot get her four year old son to speak in full sentences, or relinquish the ketchup bottle he carries clutched to his heart. She cannot find happiness, despite the best efforts of resourceful friends, an eager love interest or colleagues at work. Her problems are enough to fill 291 pages of a novel, and yet, when I opened to page 69, I found nothing of these problems reflected there at all. Instead I found Kate, a guidance counselor, at her job at the Alan B. Shepard (first American in space!) High School. She is sitting in the school’s courtyard on a cold autumn morning with a very depressed, very beautiful young girl. Phoenix is a member of Kate’s weekly counseling group for mixed-up, troubled students called New Frontiers. My misfits, Kate lovingly calls them.

It is the one area of Kate’s life that seems to work, her weekly efforts with these deeply troubled children. Unlike with her own daughter, Kate feels she can bring comfort and meaning to these young people’s lives. They look up to her and trust her and try not to curse when they’re around her. She has a way of making them believe in themselves, even when they’re feeling most self-loathing or unsure. Phoenix, the girl in the courtyard, especially seems to need Kate’s support. Last year Phoenix swallowed a whole bottle of ibuprofen in a suicide attempt. This year she’s trying out for cheerleading. Kate finds Phoenix sitting in the courtyard, looking somber and confused, just the way Kate feels, the two of them just Americans in space. Maybe page 69 isn’t such a bad representation of this novel after all.
Read an excerpt from Americans in Space, and learn more about the book and author at Mary E. Mitchell's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart"

Jesse Bullington spent the bulk of his formative years in rural Pennsylvania, the Netherlands, and Tallahassee, Florida. He is a folklore enthusiast who holds a bachelor's degree in History and English Literature from Florida State University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, one of Amazon's top ten Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2009, and reported the following:
If this had been the Page 59 Test we would be looking at a much more representative passage, containing as it does the titular graverobbing twins who appear in almost every other chapter and an explicit reference to a beard. Even the Page 79 Test would be closer to a representative sampling, because while it is still nearing the end of Nicolette's tale the looming dread that was hinted at on page 69 has arrived in all its monstrous glory. Instead we have page 69, which starts off one of the novel's several side-stories, and these side-stories are expressly written in different styles than the rest of the novel, though they all play back into the main plot and themes of the work.

Said main plot concerns Hegel and Manfried Grossbart, a pair of honest (by their reckoning), pious (by their personal heresy), and utterly ruthless (by all accounts) brothers who set out from their home in plague-ravaged 14th century Germany to raid the tombs of Egypt. Their quest introduces them to as broad a cross-section of the medieval populace as I could feasibly squeeze into the plot, and occasionally certain individuals earned their own stories inside of the greater narrative. Nicolette here, for example.

These side-stories have many functions--recreating the feel of some of the contemporaneous literature that employed a story-within-a-story-format, playing up the fairy tale elements, revealing character motivations, world building, and much more. These side-stories also give the reader an occasional break from the Brothers Grossbart who, while arguably charming in their own twisted way, might overwhelm the reader if they were not given the occasional breather from the twins', ah, strong personalities. Oddly enough, while it is stylistically a bit removed from the main narrative and lacks any mention of the Brothers Grossbart, the chapter that page 69 is extracted from (“A Cautionary Yarn, Spun for Fathers and Daughters Alike”) is one of my favorites of the whole novel.

Page 69:
The sun had rested squarely over her father’s cabin when their sole pig had jerked forward, pulling the tether from her hands and rushing off into the forest. The first hour she spent chiding herself for not minding her charge better, the second for not minding her path better as she attempted to find a familiar marker. Her growing anxiety was given brief respite when she spotted the errant swine across a patch of frozen bog, but after her quarry again escaped into the underbrush Nicolette became distraught. Fear overrode her embarrassment, and she began calling out as dusk slunk through the branches.

When the sun fully departed and the forest came alive with noises she valiantly held in her tears. Her father had told her if she was old enough to wed she was too old to cry, and while no suitors had tramped along the muddy path to their cabin in pursuit of her hand, she maintained caring for a husband could be no more difficult or desirable than tending a pig or a father. Nevertheless, the girl sniffled as she groped her way between the cold bark pillars looming around her.

Then the glow in the distance, and Nicolette ran as fast as she could given the abundance of roots and trunks rearing out of the dark at her calloused feet. Approaching the crooked hut she slowed, relief becoming tinged with her earlier fear of the dark wood. Her father had cautioned her of charcoal burners— their filthy lifestyles, deceptive charms and rapacious hunger for pretty young girls. She paused at the door, uncertainty seizing up her arms and legs, when she felt the sudden and powerful sensation of being watched. She turned slowly, and saw nothing but night in an unfamiliar part of the vast forest.

A twig snapped in the blackness, and Nicolette was crying and banging on the door with both hands. The old woman let her in, slipped the board back into place, and brought the girl to her meager firepit. Minutes later the lass had calmed down, gotten the numbness out of her feet, and took in both surroundings and savior.
Learn more about the book and author at Jesse Bullington's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Where Armadillos Go to Die"

James Hime’s debut, The Night of the Dance, was a finalist for the Edgar Award for best first novel. Born in Arkansas, he lives in Dallas, Texas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his third and latest novel, Armadillos Go to Die, and reported the following:
I suppose it says something about that particular page in Where Armadillos Go to Die that, when I do a reading from the book, I start with that page. I do this in part because I think it is indeed representative of the book from the standpoint of writing style, my approach to character development and my use of humor. It also contains what my agent has declared to be his favorite sentence from my work:

“In Texas, speeding is a form of self-expression, like playing a musical instrument or creating a calligraphy scroll or knitting a sweater.”

This observation is prompted by the fact that one of my main characters is engaged in a search for something by the side of a busy, four-lane highway just outside Brenham, Texas. He’s a young, African-American private investigator who’s been asked to undertake this task by a client. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, exactly, since his client was none too clear on that score. He despairs somewhat of finding it in any event, as the Highway Department has let the roadside vegetation grow wild. As he casts this way and that amongst the weeds he wrestles with his besetting existential question:

What in the world is he doing with himself, trying to make a go of it as a PI in this dinky burg?

But at length he finds what he has been sent to look for, and when he does, well -- you’ll have to read the book to learn what happens next.
Read an excerpt from Where Armadillos Go to Die, and learn more about the book and author at James Hime's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Dancing for the Hangman"

Martin Edwards is a British crime writer, and the author of two series, set in Liverpool and the Lake District. At the CWA Daggers Awards 2008, he received the award for best short story of the year for "The Bookbinder's Apprentice." The eighth Liverpool book, Waterloo Sunset, and The Arsenic Labyrinth (shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year 2008), have both recently appeared in paperback. The fourth Lake District Mystery, The Serpent Pool, will be published in February 2010.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his 2008 novel Dancing for the Hangman, and reported the following:
In the annals of true crime, the case of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen is the stuff of legend. The discovery of human remains in the cellar of a suburban house in London, the home of a seemingly respectable professional man and his wife, a failed music hall singer who had devoted herself to charitable fund-raising, shocked and thrilled Edwardian England in equal measure. ‘Murder and mutiliation!’ screamed the newspapers. A Scotland Yard detective followed Crippen and his mistress (disguised as a boy) across the Atlantic, and the doctor’s trial at the Old Bailey provided an eager public with sensation after sensation.

The case may be famous, but Crippen’s motivation remains mysterious. ‘You can’t help liking the guy,’ admitted Raymond Chandler. Even the prosecution witnesses praised his good nature. In writing Dancing for the Hangman, and telling Crippen’s story largely through his eyes, in his voice, I kept to the established facts, but strove to use a novelist’s imagination to explain what otherwise seems impossible to understand.

On page 69, we find cracks appearing in the relationship between Crippen and his wife: ‘My heart sank. One thing about Cora; she would not be denied.’ The scene is representative, in that my take on the remarkable psychology of Crippen and those close to him is at the heart of novel. But I’ve offered a fresh twist to the story. Everyone knows Crippen’s fate. But Dancing for the Hangman develops into a story about a murder nobody knew or dreamed of.
Read more about Dancing for the Hangman at Martin Edwards’ website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Wormwood, Nevada"

David Oppegaard is the author of the Bram Stoker nominated The Suicide Collectors.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Wormwood, Nevada, and reported the following:
Wormwood, Nevada is about a meteorite landing in a small town and stirring up trouble. It’s also about young married couple, Tyler and Anna Mayfield, who have just moved to town and find their lives in a state of monumental upheaval. Not only does the thunderous arrival of the meteorite seem ominous, it becomes a touchstone for all sorts of strange speculation among the citizens of Wormwood.

From pg. 69:
“It’s from outer space. That’s strange.”

“That’s not what I mean. It has a…presence.”
Wormwood, Nevada deals with loneliness and boredom and the effect a strange event can have on a group of people with too much free time on their hands. Wormwood is geographically isolated in the middle of central Nevada, with its closest neighboring town over sixty-five miles away. Its citizens find themselves dealing with the meteorite’s surreal effects, both real and imagined, without much input from the outside world, and this leads to some strange behavior. On page 69, Tyler Mayfield still hasn’t realized how much the meteorite will affect his own life:
Anna chewed her food and stared at her husband. Tyler held up his hands and bugged out his eyes.

“What? I thought we were trying to brainstorm here.”

“You know,” Anna said, tapping her fork against the edge of her plate, “in horror movies, the smart-ass usually dies first.”
Learn more about the book and author at David Oppegaard's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Flesh Circus"

Lilith Saintcrow's books include The Dante Valentine Series, which was featured a couple of years ago at My Book, The Movie.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Flesh Circus, the 4th book in the Jill Kismet series, and reported the following:
"Drop the other shoe. And get me some more ammo. I've got a bad feeling about this."

Page 69 of Flesh Circus is the end of a chapter, right after the first big plot twist. Jill Kismet has just faced down two angry hellbreed and learned that someone is killing Cirque de Charnu performers — something that could end up being very bad for Jill's city. While she doesn't mind if hellbreed kill each other, she does take a very dim view of a great crowd of them exploding out into her helpless city and killing civilians.

I think page 69 is pretty representative of the book, and it's a great introduction to Jill. She's smartmouth, fast, and very lethal, and she uses bleak humor and big ammunition equally well. I enjoy her a great deal as a character, and I loved seeing her interact with a circus full of hellbreed.

Because really, circuses, even Cirque du Soleil, freak me out a little. I find them creepy. It's a good thing I didn't put any clowns in this book, because I think I might have slept even less while finishing it....
Learn more about the author and her work at Lilith Saintcrow's website.

The Page 99 Test: Night Shift, #1 in the Jill Kismet series.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2009

"The Good Son"

Russel D. McLean writes for Crime Spree Magazine, The Big Thrill, At Central Booking and Crime Scene Scotland. His short fiction has been published in crime magazines in both US and the UK.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the UK paperback edition of The Good Son, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of the UK version of The Good Son is an interesting one for the author. Out of context, I feel it is not hugely representative of the rest of the novel, but it does mark one of the very rare cases in the book of overlap between the author’s reality and the fiction of the novel, as well as signalling the narrative’s turning point.

It comes at the end of chapter 10, as our protagonist – Scottish private investigator J McNee – finds his investigations into the life of an apparent suicide lead to real murder. A woman who claims to be the dead man’s lover (and who also happens to be the wife of a prominent London gangster) has been found dead in an apartment and in possession of one of McNee’s cards. The case is getting serious, now, and McNee’s mild misgivings are turning into something close to fear.

Page 69 itself starts like this:

“My muscles contracted. Leaving me with fingers and toes curled into tight fists that refused to open.”

McNee is standing by the river Tay, contemplating what has just happened when this sensation overcomes him. Growing up, I used to suffer serious panic attacks. These would tend to come at times of severe stress. In my first couple of years at university, some people called me Tony Soprano given that the symptoms were very similar to the fictional mob-bosses own attacks. The Sopranos started in ’98, and I recognised Tony’s symptoms from episode one as those I had known for years. Only, I never saw anyone like Dr Melfi. My doctors had told me that the attacks were merely “growing pains”. As I got older, the attacks faded, something McNee also notes, which makes this episode particularly unexpected and crippling.

“I concentrated on the ice in my lungs. Forced myself to take each breath slowly and carefully. Ignoring the signals that my brain was sending, forcing myself to take in shallow gulps of oxygen.”

The attack underlines the powerlessness McNee feels by this point in the narrative. As an detective, he is the perpetual outsider, and this murder occurs before he understands the salient facts of his investigation. It throws his world off balance, adds an unexpected urgency which may be the cause of the attack.

Page 69 marks the point of no return for McNee. While this attack could be interpreted as a warning about the dark places this case may lead him, McNee chooses to move past it and sets down a path towards a cathartic and terrifying finale.
Learn more about the book and author at Russel McLean's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Plague Zone"

Jeff Carlson's first novel, high concept thriller Plague Year, is now in its fourth edition. Plague War, its sequel, was released in North America in July 2008 and became a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.

Carlson applied the Page 69 Test to Plague Zone, the third book in the trilogy, and reported the following:
If you were browsing through your book store and chanced upon page 69 of Plague Zone, you’d find yourself right smack in the middle of the apocalypse.

In a small village in the Rockies, nanotech researcher Ruth Goldman is locked inside her cabin after a new plague has ravaged her friends and townsmen. Outside is Cam Najarro, an ex-Army Ranger who almost became Ruth’s lover at one time. Page 69 opens as Cam and Ruth are arguing via radio headsets — but their argument is larger than the two of them. The other survivors scattered across the village are also listening.

Both of them are armed. All of the survivors are armed. They’ve been forced to kill several people, turning on each other, and now their best weapons are tension and mistrust.

Boom. Welcome to the nightmare:
it looked no different than the rest of their huts, except that this cabin had even fewer windows than most, just one in the small living room and another in Eric and Bobbi’s space. Ruth needed electricity at all hours, so they’d wired her room with more outlets than normal and left it with no openings to betray what was inside.

This hut was the secret heart of their village. Ruth actually slept in the front room, which lacked any privacy, but her bedroom was a clean lab partitioned with plastic sheeting. It was crude and inefficient -- and it worked. Eric had been her closest bodyguard, a role that once belonged to Cam. He hadn’t been inside for months. There was never a good excuse since they’d upgraded the electrical lines, and he’d promised himself to leave her alone for Allison’s sake. Even so, he remembered sharing a cool glass of tea with Ruth and Eric, sitting on the living room floor beside the other man but acutely aware of Ruth’s narrow bedroll and the open-faced cupboard she used to store her clothes, her toothbrush, a lipstick, a book. The tidy space had been full of the little personal things he never saw anymore.

“Is there anyone with you?” she asked.

Cam glanced over his shoulder, suddenly uncomfortable with where she was going. “It’s just me,” he said.

“Can you switch channels? I want to talk alone.”

“Greg?” he asked his headset, and the former Army Ranger sergeant said, “This is bullshit. You stay on the line.”

Other voices filled the frequency. “He’s right!” Owen shouted, as another man said, “We let you live here. We took you in when nobody else wanted anything to do with nanotech and now you’re going to hide something from--”

Cam shut off his radio, leaving the headset in place. Then he stepped closer to the cabin and rapped his knuckles against the wood. “Can you hear me? Ruth?”
I’d have to say Page 69 is a very good barometer for the book as a whole. The closely meshed relationships, the ever-growing paranoia and the promise of more action… these things are the meat and bread of storytelling.

I grew up reading books like this—big, scary thrillers chock full of weird science, gunfights, and a hint of romance. That’s why I write what I do, and I hope Plague Zone knocks the eyeballs right out of your head.
Read an excerpt from Plague Zone, and learn more about the book and author at Jeff Carlson's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Rizzo's War"

Lou Manfredo served in the Brooklyn criminal justice system for twenty-five years. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Brooklyn Noir.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Rizzo's War, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel, Rizzo's War, presents a bit of an enigma for me in so far as how representative it is in comparison to the entire work.

On one hand, some insight into Detective Sergeant Rizzo’s character is gained. We see him in true form during the onset of the culmination of an investigation he has so carefully engineered: An arrest is about to be made. Through dialogue, the reader gets a good glimpse of Joe Rizzo at his pragmatic best.

“One more thing,” Rizzo said. “I want everyone to hear this. This is my collar, me and my partner’s. But for tonight, Jake is running the show. We all look to him to make the calls. Everyone clear?”

They all nodded. Rizzo looked satisfied and turned to Simmond. “Okay, boss. What now?”

On the other hand, this particular scene has Rizzo and his new young partner, Detective Mike McQueen, in a rare interaction with a team of other cops. For the most part, Rizzo's War is a studied and authentic examination of the developing partnership of Rizzo and McQueen: They normally work alone, with Rizzo preferring the security of such an arrangement.

Much of page 69 consists of dialogue which is very reflective of actual exchanges among law enforcement personnel. The nature of the chatter moves from the nuts and bolts of the business at hand...

“Donzi may not be a pushover,” Rizzo said. “He’s got a couple of assaults in Queens and a few in Manhattan. Likes to use his hands.”

... to the tension easing banter of seasoned, hardened cops...

“Mongo like tough-guy,” he said in a monotone. “Mongo like fight.”

Rizzo glanced at McQueen and then spoke to Simmond.

“Maybe we’ll just let him deal with Donzi,” he said.

Simmond chuckled. “Just keep your hands away from his mouth.”

I’d like to think that after reading page 69 of Rizzo's War, a casual browser inclined toward police novels would be intrigued enough to read on. There are many pages similar in nature, and although much of the novel exists in the procedural characterization vein, those similar pages contain sufficient action to keep things moving at a steady pace.

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with page 69. Perhaps it is not perfectly representative of Rizzo's War, but then again, can any one page truly be? Can any single page reflect the layered complexities of an entire novel?

I truly doubt it, but I do know now that it’s a fascinating concept to grapple with.
Read an excerpt from Rizzo's War, and learn more about the novel at the Minotaur Books website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Faces of the Gone"

Brad Parks spent a dozen years as a reporter with the Washington Post and the [Newark, N.J.] Star-Ledger.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Faces of the Gone, and reported the following:
Character development. For the debut novelist, these can be two deathly words. Because you’ve got this character – your marvelous protagonist – and he’s perfect-yet-imperfect in just the right ways, with admirable traits and high-minded ideals and quirks and flaws all mixed into a wonderful, charming package. And you’re just sure he’s going to be the next Travis McGee/Jack Reacher/Myron Bolitar and that the whole world is going to love him, so you feel utterly compelled to fully introduce him... at a length of something approaching the Bible.

And, of course, it’s a trap. Because while you’re doing all that introducing, your story is going exactly nowhere. And readers, who don’t yet fully appreciate your obvious genius, will put the book back on the nightstand, turn off the light, and sleep soundly knowing they’ll never have to read another word of anything you write.

The trick, of course, is to develop your main character and move your plot forward at the same time. And that’s what I’m trying to do on page 69 of my debut, Faces of the Gone.

By this point in the story, we’ve met our intrepid narrator, Carter Ross, an investigative newspaper reporter for a big-city paper, the Newark Eagle-Examiner. We might even think we know him: He’s a white-bread-eating WASP from the suburbs with good diction, impeccable grooming habits and a penchant for pleated pants. He’s the guy you can bring home to mother.

But, at the end of the day, he’s still a newspaper reporter chasing a story. And one of the victims in the quadruple homicide he’s covering, a guy nicknamed Dee-Dub, is a former member of the Brick City Browns, a notorious local street gang. Carter thinks the Browns might know something about what went down.

So in this conversation with Tee Williams, one of Carter’s best sources in the ‘hood, we see for the first time that Carter, the nice white boy, isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He’ll do pretty much anything to get the story, including…
“The Browns are pretty old-school. If they had a beef with Dee-Dub, they

(Page 69)

would put him down nice and quiet, not make some big thing out of it.”

“Good point,” I said, shifting my weight and fixing my eyes on a blob of melted wax that had once been a candle.

“However,” Tee said, pointing one finger in a professorial manner, “they might know something about what happened, being that it involved a former member. You know what I’m saying?”

“For once, yes, I know what you’re saying,” I said. “You got any kind of in with the Browns?”

Tee looked thoughtful for a moment.

“Well, let me ask you something,” he said.


“That cat of yours. You got someone who will take care of it in the event of your untimely death? I don’t want no orphaned cats in this world.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, cracking a smile. “It’s dealt with in my will.”

Tee had me follow him back to his store. It shouldn’t have been hard to trail Tee’s mammoth truck, except he squeezed it through the tiniest holes in traffic. He and I had once had a debate about what made a “good” driver. To me, it was someone who didn’t get in accidents. To him, it was someone who could make a 15-minute trip in 10 by doing a Grand Slalom through three lanes of traffic, one of which was oncoming.

I could see he was talking on his cell phone, and by the time we pulled up in front of his store, he had already made some arrangements. I parked behind him and rolled down my window as he walked toward my car.

“Okay,” he said, “I got you an interview with the Browns.”


(Page 70)

“There’s just one condition.”


“At some point they’re going to offer you some weed,” Tee said. “I strongly suggest you smoke it.”

“And if I don’t?”

“They’ll think you’re a cop and they’ll shoot you.”

“Well, then, tell them to put on Marley and bring on Mary Jane!”
Read an excerpt from Faces of the Gone, and learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"But Not For Long"

Michelle Wildgen is a senior editor at Tin House. Her first novel, You’re Not You, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and one of People magazine’s Ten Best Books of 2006, is now in development for film by Hilary Swank and Denise DiNovi. Wildgen’s work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the New York Times, and literary journals including Prairie Schooner and TriQuarterly. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, But Not For Long, and reported the following:
Long after I’d decided it would be interesting to write about residential co-ops in Madison, I discovered that Madison does indeed have a good-sized community of co-housing and cooperative houses. Who knew? I had begun thinking about it simply because it sounded like a fiction writer’s dream—a breeding ground for conflict when people with a variety of personalities and backgrounds all choose to live together not just as roommates but as participants in a communal life and, to some extent, belief system.

Page 69 of But Not For Long is a snippet of a scene at a party in which the various community co-op residents welcome in the newest members. It’s largely devoted to telling about the co-op in which the main characters live, the Morrison Street co-op, which is devoted to sustainable eating, but also gives a brief run-down of the rest of the community: the Womyn’s Co-op, the Muslim co-op, the international student/vegan co-op, and the young druggy co-op hosting the party where the scene occurs. Hal, whose head we’re in, is sizing up the buffet table of hummus and olives, relieved to see that his own co-op still holds on to some of its individuality even as the whole community has begun to out-organic one another and name-drop the locales where their coffee and cheese came from.

Here’s a glimpse:
His co-op had been founded in 1970 by a group of poli-sci graduate students for the purpose of saving rent and pooling protest duties. Then it had floundered for several years, identity-wise, until somewhere in the mid-nineties the sustainable-foods moniker had taken hold, which was about the time Hal moved in. The Morrison Street Co-op didn’t have the same feminist political urgency and startling bursts of fecundity of the Womyn’s Co-op, the wary gravity of Muslims for Peace, or the youthful, tattooed zip of the Neon Daisies, whose graying drug connection remained allied to the house even as its members changed. The Two Lakes International Co-op in particular was enjoying a vogue at the moment — with the country at war, Two Lakes got to model a tiny vegan United Nations in a campus-area Victorian.
This page doesn’t display the most crucial parts of the novel, which would be the interactions between the characters as an extended black-out ratchets up the pressures on them, but it does offer a fair glimpse of the locale and the tone. I did research the real-life co-ops in Madison enough to get a sense of how some functioned and what was out there, but I didn’t draw much beyond generalities. I mainly just had fun inventing. The rest of the book has plenty of darkness and uncertainty that this page does not, but it’s also woven through with this same kind of subtle levity. Or that’s the intention, anyway. If a reader glancing at this page is taken by the idea of the co-ops and by the narrative tone, then hopefully she will keep going further into its world.
Read an excerpt from But Not For Long, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Wildgen's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Evening’s Empire"

Zachary Lazar graduated from Brown University and received the Iowa Writer's Workshop's James Michener/Copernicus Society Award. He lives in Southampton, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey, where he holds a 2009-2010 Hodder Fellowship at Princeton. He received a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Evening's Empire: The Story of My Father's Murder, his third book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book Evening’s Empire is mostly given over to a long quote from the New York Times. Understanding the meaning of this quote took me months of research. It was important to understand it, because it helped explain the circumstances of my father’s murder, which is my book’s subject. My father was murdered by hit men in Phoenix, Arizona in 1975. The man who hired them, through a chain of go-betweens, was my father’s former business partner, Ned Warren, Sr.

The Times article describes a letter from Senator Barry Goldwater used to promote a land development in Arizona called Chino Valley Ranchettes. Chino Valley is a region north of Phoenix. My father and his business partner, Ned Warren, had made a down payment on some land there, subdivided it, called it “Chino Meadows,” and were now retailing it to local buyers and overseas investors in Japan. Barry Goldwater’s letter was an important tool in gaining the trust of these buyers and investors.

The Goldwater letter is an almost word-for-word duplicate of a letter my father had drafted. My father and Warren had wanted Goldwater to sign off on this letter, which he did. The letter refers to “homesites in Chino Valley”—not specifically “Chino Meadows” or “Chino Valley Ranchettes.” As far as I can tell, there never was anything called “Chino Valley Ranchettes.” It is a mistake made by the New York Times. In any case, with the Goldwater letter in hand, Ned Warren went to Japan and pitched still another subdivision called Chino Grande Ranchettes. Chino Valley, Chino Meadows, Chino Grande. Perhaps it’s no wonder that even the New York Times could not keep the names straight.

Chino Meadows was a viable subdivision. One could install roads and utilities and build houses there. Chino Grande was uninhabitable land full of cliffs and jagged rocks.

I would have simplified this if I could have. Janet Maslin of the New York Times recently savaged my book because she couldn’t understand it. Fortunately there are smarter readers than Janet Maslin out there.

My father’s business partner, Ned Warren, was a lifelong con man. He stole millions of dollars from people all across the world during this time. How my father got entangled with someone like that is far more complicated than even this little episode of Chino Valley, Chino Meadows, Chino Grande.
Watch the Evening’s Empire video, and learn more about the book and author at Zachary Lazar's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Candle in the Storm"

Morgan Howell is the author of A Woman Worth Ten Coppers, the first book in the Shadowed Path trilogy, as well as the Queen of the Orcs trilogy: King’s Property, Clan Daughter, and Royal Destiny.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Candle in the Storm (The Shadowed Path Book 2), and reported the following:
Even in a fast-paced story, an author must sometimes pause to give the reader a glimpse of the terrain and hardships ahead. This is what’s happening on page sixty-nine. The tale concerns a man and a woman whose lives are devoted to Karm, the Goddess of Compassion. They are struggling against the Devourer, an entity with the powers of divinity but none of divinity’s benevolence. The man is Honus, and he’s a Sarf. As such, he’s been trained since infancy in the martial arts. A formidable warrior, Honus serves a holy person. That person is Yim. She was formerly his slave, but she has become his master.

On page sixty-nine, they are fleeing into a trackless wilderness after their first encounter with a deadly and implacable foe. Although an agent of the Devourer has sent Gatt, he’s a Sarf like Honus. Gatt has been convinced that slaying Yim will honor Karm, and he pursues this task with the inflexibility and single-mindedness of the righteous. The Devourer has bestowed upon him a supernatural knowledge of the landscape, and the Devourer’s agent has given him lethal venom to paint upon his sword blade.

Even as Yim flees, she fears that whatever path they take will end in death. She’s right. Their flight will conclude in battle. Someone will die, and that will be the novel’s first major twist.
Read chapter one of Candle in the Storm, and learn more about the book and author at Morgan Howell's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Charles Cumming is the author of the international bestselling thrillers A Spy By Nature and The Spanish Game.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Typhoon, a New York Times Notable Book of 2009, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, page 69 of Typhoon takes you right into the heart of the novel.

It’s the spring of 1997. The hero, Joe Lennox, a young MI6 officer operating under deep cover, is interviewing Professor Wang Kaixuan, a liberal academic who has just swum across a narrow stretch of water from mainland China to Hong Kong. Wang claims to be in possession of highly sensitive information about the government in Beijing. Joe’s job is to find out if he is a bona fide defector or just an agent provocateur sent by Chinese Intelligence.

Joe and Wang are talking in a tiny safe house in Kowloon. It’s the middle of the night. Gradually, Wang has revealed that appalling human rights abuses are being perpetrated against the Uighur population in Xinjiang province. Wang has explained that the Uighurs are a Turkic-Muslim people, native to the vast desert region of north-west China, whose culture and living standards have been systematically eroded by the Communist party for decades. He tells Joe:
“The Uighur people are tired of racial abuse, tired of discrimination from the state, tired of sending their children to schools where they are obliged to write sitting on the floor because of a lack of desks and chairs. Unemployment is running so high among Uighurs that the sons and daughters of proud Muslims have been obliged to turn to crime, even to prostitution, in order to provide for their families.”
As the interview progresses, Wang tells Joe that a riot has taken place in the town of Yining, a demonstration which was ruthlessly put down by the Han Chinese authorities:
“The police beat them with sticks, they used tear gas, they attacked them with dogs. Those with cameras or recording equipment who attempted to witness what was happening had these items confiscated… We estimate that four hundred people were killed, thousands more arrested. The jails became so full that prisoners were taken to a sports stadium on the outskirts of the city, where they were obliged to live for days without shelter in the snow. The police hosed them with water cannons to make their situation worse. Some froze as a result. Many lost hands and fingers through frostbite.”
This section of the book is based on eye-witness testimony assembled by Amnesty International. In my novel, Joe realises that he has been made privy to a major incident which has gone unreported in the West, a massacre to compare with the horrors of Tianenman Square.

However, Wang is soon spirited away by the CIA to run a covert operation, codenamed TYPHOON, aimed at destabilising China and creating an American-sponsored independence movement in Xinjiang. It is another eight years before Joe lays eyes on Wang again – only to discover that he is a key player in an appalling terrorist outrage which is planned for downtown Shanghai.
Read an excerpt from Typhoon, and learn more about the book and author at Charles Cumming's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue