Saturday, February 27, 2010

"The Espressologist"

Kristina Springer has a Bachelor of Arts in English Education from Illinois State University and a Master of Arts in Writing from DePaul University. The Espressologist, her first novel, was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the fall of 2009.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
Pg 69 gives you an idea of where Jane's head is at. Jane is really crushing hard on this frat boy, Will. And he isn't exactly reciprocating. While Jane is awesome at matchmaking other people based on their coffee drinks, she struggles with matchmaking herself. Everyday at the same time Will comes into her coffeeshop with his friends to get a drink. She always makes sure she's the one serving them and tries to get Will to notice her as more than just his barista. Here's a snippet:
Just then the door opens and in walks my frat boys. "Oh my gosh, is it after five already?"

Sara nods. "Yeah, it's five-twenty."

Ugh. No time to fix my hair or check my makeup. I turn my head and try to subtly sniff my shirt. Did I put on my wildflower body spray this morning? Can't remember. I squirt a tiny bit of vanilla syrup into my palm and dab a bit behind each ear. Yeah, it seems little gross, and quite frankly sticky, but it is here and fast, and, well, now I smell delicious.
Read an excerpt from The Espressologist.

Learn more about Kristina Springer and her books at her website and blog, and become a Facebook fan of The Espressologist.

Writers Read: Kristina Springer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Let It Ride"

John McFetridge lives in Toronto and works as a staff writer for the TV cop show The Bridge, airing on CBS this fall.

He is the author of the crime novels Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and the newly released Let It Ride [Canadian title: Swap].

He applied the Page 69 Test to Let It Ride and discovered the following:
We got lucky. Page 69 is quite representative of the book. It has two of the main characters, Get and JT, driving from Toronto to a small town up north to kill some members of another biker gang. Get is asking about how the bikers are organized in Canada because it isn’t anything like he’s seen in the US. The Canadian bikers have a different history, they didn’t start out as army vets, they were never very interested in ‘freedom’ or the open road. In Canada they pretty much started as drug dealers. JT is explaining that the Saints of Hell, of which he’s a member, united all the other biker gangs in Canada. They even had a ceremony that the police referred to as a “Patch Over,” where the symbols of the Saints of Hell were sewn on all their jackets, replacing whatever was there.
J.T. cut across three lanes of traffic to the 410, heading north. “That’s what the cops call it, we don’t say that.”

He smiled at Get, made him wonder who the “we” he was talking about was. “They had a fucking ceremony, actually brought in sewing machines.”

Get was starting to notice a lot of the traffic was black guys. Not black, like American black, but dark, darkskinned Pakis. Or something. He said, “Sewing machines?”

“Like my mom used to use.”

Get said his mother wasn’t much on sewing.

“And they actually took over all these other clubs, sewed Saints colours onto their jackets.”

“You have a jacket?”

J.T. said, oh yeah. “But I can’t wear it yet, till I get my patch. If I get voted in.”

Get said, if.

“And boots and leather pants, man. And a bike. Shit, when I got back from Afghan and I called up Chuckie — this was right after the big takeover when these guys were starting to look like they knew what they were doing — he brings me to a clubhouse, shows me around, says what kind of bike you ride?” J.T. was smiling at the memory. “I said, you know, a Harley, what else. I was driving the new Charger then, before the new Avenger came out.”

“You like Dodge?”

“I like horsepower.”

“But you didn’t have a bike?”

“I went and picked one up,” J.T. said, “after I saw the way they worked and saw some future in it. It’s too fucking loud and you can’t carry shit.”

Get was laughing. “Some fucking biker you are.”

J.T. was laughing, too, saying he was the new breed.

Then he said, “You know, they got a lot of crap in with the new patches, but some decent money-makers, too. But then, what really happened, this guy Richard Tremblay, the French guy you saw at the clubhouse, he came down to Toronto and like a week later the top guy in Montreal, guy they called Mon Oncle ‘cause he was like everybody’s favourite uncle, gets picked up. Right now he’s the only guy in a women’s prison, they built him a special wing.”
View the trailer for Let It Ride, and learn more about the author and his work at John McFetridge's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"The Girl Who Fell From the Sky"

Heidi W. Durrow has won the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Chapter One Fiction Contest. She has received grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the American Scandinavian Foundation, and the Lois Roth Endowment and a Fellowship for Emerging Writers from the Jerome Foundation. Her writing has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, the Literary Review, and others.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a coming-of-age story that’s part mystery and part love story. Chosen by Barbara Kingsolver for the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change, the novel centers on Rachel, the daughter of a Danish immigrant and a black G.I., who loses her family in a tragic accident that she survives. She goes to live with her African-American grandmother as she struggles to overcome her sorrow and make sense of a new racial identity in her new home where she is forced to choose: is she black or white?

The book is told from multiple perspectives including each of Rachel’s parents’, a neighbor boy who witnesses the accident, and of course Rachel herself.

When she first arrives at her grandmother’s, Rachel—whose story is the only one told in first-person present tense--thinks of herself as the “new girl.” And she finds that dealing with her feelings of loss and longing are often too much to bear. So she comes up with a way to process all those big difficult feelings: “When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me. It’s blue glass with a cork stopper. My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot. I put all of that inside the bottle.”

On Page 69, Rachel has been living with her grandmother for several months. It’s the end of the school year and she’s running in the big race for the school-wide “Olympics.” The scene, as described on Page 69, very much typifies Rachel’s struggle throughout the book. Here is Page 69 in its entirety:
“The medal ceremony is in the middle of the football field so everyone can see. I go to the center of the field. It is Carmen LaGuardia, the Student Class President, who gives me the blue ribbon and medal I will wear home that afternoon. I imagine how she will put the blue ribbon with the golden saucer-sized medallion around my neck. Gently, gently. Then smooth the front of my shirt with a long soft stroke. She will take my hand and raise it in victory and everyone will see that the beautiful Carmen LaGuardia is just like me. She is no longer one of the 15. And I will no longer count myself as one.

These are the first words she says to me: “Mmmmh, girl. You got them boys pantin with your titties all hanging out like that. Don’t try to steal my man with those.” Tamika is second place and bends at the waist laughing. She is still bent over when Carmen LaGuardia puts the smaller medallion around her neck and then gives her a high-five. I don’t cry. I have the blue bottle. I make resolutions. I turn twelve next month. It’s Day 223. I’m the new girl. I must be the new girl. I will fill myself with the color blue.”

Excerpt from The Girl Who Fell From the Sky (Algonquin Books) by Heidi W. Durrow
Read another excerpt from The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, and learn more about the book and author at Heidi W. Durrow's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"A Fortunate Age"

Joanna Smith Rakoff is the author of the novel A Fortunate Age, which was a New York Times Editors' Pick, a winner of the Elle Readers' Prize, a selection of Barnes and Noble's First Look Book Club, an IndieNext pick, and a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. As a journalist and critic, she's written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, the Boston Globe, Vogue, Time Out New York, O: The Oprah Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines. Her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, Kenyon Review, and other journals.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Fortunate Age, now available in paperback, and reported the following:
Though it’s loosely based on Mary McCarthy’s The Group, my novel, A Fortunate Age, owes much to big Victorian novels like Daniel Deronda, The Forsyte Saga, and anything by Dickens or Gaskell. Which means that the sixty-ninth page is, in a way, a rather tiny and specific fragment of a sprawling, complicated plot, involving a six different characters. On that page, one of my heroines, Beth Bernstein, is having a sort of miniature nervous breakdown. After four years in Milwaukee, she’s moved to New York, ostensibly to teach and finish some research for her dissertation—she’s a pop culture scholar, writing on Dark Shadows—but really to be close to her friends from college. Not knowing the city well—though she grew up in Westchester—she takes an apartment in Queens, only to find that her friends are all far away—in Brooklyn—and don’t relish the idea of traveling out to her neighborhood, which lacks the accoutrements necessary to ersatz bohemian life (coffee shops, bars, bistros).

At this exact moment (on page sixty-nine, that is), Beth is realizing that the life she thought awaited her in New York might not exist: A promised job, teaching at the New School, has dematerialized (through her own ineptitude). Her college boyfriend, Dave, is as much of a jerk as she remembered. Most distressingly, her friends seem to have grown in different and distressing directions. To add insult to injury, she’s discovered that Will Chase, the abrasively charismatic man she met at her friend Lil’s wedding a week earlier—and impetuously slept with—has a rather complicated history, which he’d somehow failed to explain to her over dinner (and before bed).

She is, in other words, furious, alone, and sad. And having trouble getting out of bed. On the previous pages, she’d forced herself to get dressed and take a walk around her barren new neighborhood. Despite her chronic asthma, she buys a pack of Lucky Strikes at the decrepit local candy store, though she’d made it through college without so much as picking up a cigarette. When she returns to her apartment, she has no idea what to do with the pack—or herself. Here’s what happens next:
Heart lurching, she clopped down the stairs again and strode out into the bright sun, and quickly walked two blocks south to the Twin Donut, where she bought a paper cup of watery coffee, a copy of the Times, and a chocolate cruller. Thus armed, she returned, again, to her building, smiling cheerily at the old ladies taking up their posts on the sidewalk as she pulled open the heavy glass door. This was what normal people did in the morning: Read the paper. Ate doughnuts. But she was not, she reminded herself, a normal person. She was alone. Jobless. Friendless. Abandoned. In Queens.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, she thought, running up the stairs, though she knew she shouldn’t, not without her inhaler in hand. Fuck Will. Fuck Dave. Fuck Emily for telling me all that about Will….Fuck Sadie for being so fucking judgmental. A thought rose, skittishly, to the surface of her brain, slowly taking shape as she sat down at the kitchen table, her breath coming in sharp, jagged bursts, and peeled the plastic wrap off her cigarette pack. She was, she thought, incapable of trusting her instincts. She’d disliked Will when she first began talking to him…but out of politeness she’s ignored her initial impression and given him a chance. And she’d been wrong, hadn’t she? Yes, he was a cad and an asshole….

But the weird thing was: the same held true for her other friends, her best friends. She’d been skeptical of them—each and every one—at first. Only Sadie had she loved from the start: her large green eyes, the thick French notebooks in which she’d jotted thoughtfully throughout Haskell’s Intro to Jewish Studies. Lil had struck her as gawky and overloquacious. Tal, quiet and remote. Emily, silly and way too cool. Dave she’d hated for the first year she knew him. During their two English classes together—101 (Approaches to Literature) and 200 (Introduction to Drama)—he was one of those guys who had to argue every point, thinking himself hilarious and brilliant. The worst of it was that others actually bought his act: he had a little following, who backed him up when he began harping on relativism and laughed at his acid jokes, tipping back on their chairs, knees against the seminar table.
Is this typical of the rest of the novel? Yes, certainly, in that it follows a character down a particular line of thought, circling closer and closer to the sources of her distress. But it’s atypical, too, in that the novel is episodic, alighting with different characters at different points. So if you were to instead open the novel at page 79, you’d find yourself with Beth’s friend Lil, bemoaning the fact that her husband, Tuck, has just lost his job at a much-hyped new magazine. If you turned to page 169, you’d find yourself with Beth again, shopping for a wedding dress with her mother in Scarsdale. And if you turned to 269, you’d find her friend Emily thinking about her crazy sister coming to live her. And so on and so forth.
Read an excerpt from A Fortunate Age, and learn more about the book and author at Joanna Smith Rakoff's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 22, 2010

"No Sleep till Wonderland"

Paul Tremblay is the author of The Little Sleep. He has won acclaim for his short fiction and received two nominations for the Bram Stoker Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, No Sleep till Wonderland, and reported the following:
No Sleep till Wonderland is the follow-up to The Little Sleep and features narcoleptic PI Mark Genevich, who is actually worse off than when we left him, with his business in the tank and his landlord-mother forcing him to attend group therapy sessions. Desperate for companionship, Mark befriends Gus, who is charismatic but someone he knows very little about. Gus asks Mark to protect another friend who is being stalked and all kinds of trouble follows.

On pg 69 (like with pg 69 of The Little Sleep) Mark is in his office talking with a police detective. It’s a rule of the PI genre that discussions with the police must occur on or by the 69th page.

Detective Owolewa claims he and Mark had already had a conversation earlier that morning. Mark doesn’t remember, of course. They discuss some of Mark’s narcolepsy symptoms and Detective Owolewa is surprisingly knowledgeable about the disease, having clearly done some homework. Owolewa asks Mark if he’s awake now. Mark responds with:

“I think so. Unless you’re another unpleasant dream. I could be Jacob Marley, and you could be the undigested bit of beef, the crumb of cheese.”

While Mark still falls asleep and has his dream interludes, No Sleep till Wonderland is much more based in reality than the previous novel. Mark’s difficult present is the theme: what’s missing from his life in terms of companionship, his strained relationship with his mother, and his daily struggle for independence and happiness. His judgment and trust of other people is constantly tested, and like most of us, he fails as often as he succeeds.

Toward the bottom of the page, Mark says, “Let’s get to it, Detective. Never keep a narcoleptic waiting, or is it don’t feed him after midnight? I get the rules mixed up.

Detective Owolewa gets to it, revealing that he found something in Mark’s possession that could result in his arrest.

Ever the optimist, Mark ends the page with:

I almost swallow my cigarette. I’m sure he notices.
Read an excerpt from No Sleep till Wonderland and watch the video.

Learn more about the author and his work at Paul Tremblay's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever"

Justin Taylor's fiction and nonfiction have been widely published in journals, magazines, and Web sites, including The Believer, The Nation, The New York Tyrant, the Brooklyn Rail, Flaunt, and NPR. A coeditor of The Agriculture Reader and a contributor to HTMLGIANT, Taylor lives in Brooklyn and is at work on his first novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book is the first page of the short story "Go Down Swinging." Since this book is a collection of stories (fifteen of them to be exact) a story-beginning seems like it should be suitably representative. You open the book and a story begins. That's pretty much how it's supposed to go, right? Here’s the first paragraph, which is presented as its own self-contained section:
David adjusts his stance so that the distance between his feet equals the span of his shoulders. That’s the way. He cranes his neck to one side, then the other, really stretching his muscles, loving the tiny pops of the vertebrae. He’s imagining: blue helmet, scuffed plastic, padding on the inside worn then; weird thereness of the cup in his underwear; the itchy unfirom. He’s holding a mop handle. He has the music turned way, way up. He’s taking practice swings.
Then there’s a space-break, then this:
Roger is a good-looking guy, and everyone says that’s the worst part. David sort of thinks that’s funny, that it says something about how people are, but what he really means is that he thinks he’s as good-looking as Roger is, though Roger is a runner, strong, toned, rides his bicycle to work and for pleasure.
Because of how the book is laid out, first pages of stories are about half-empty, so prose-wise that’s it for page 69. Not only are these two paragraphs not representative of the book as a whole, they’re downright misleading about this particular story. Judging from the lines quoted, you might reasonably expect a story about two jocks, and maybe a sports injury, but in fact it’s about some very earnest but easily side-tracked anarchists living in a punk rock flophouse. You find out over the next few pages that Roger hurt himself jumping off a roof while on LSD, and David’s “batting practice” has nothing to do with any desire to actually play baseball. Also, “Go Down Swinging” has a stripped-down delivery style that sets it somewhat apart from the rest of the stories, though it appears also in “Estrellas y Rascacielos.” Those are the only two linked stories in the book, and so I wrote them in a style that would be unique to them. On the other hand, almost all the stories in Everything Here are about younger people and their attempts to navigate—or circumvent—relationships, desires, obligations, and the rough, strange terrain of their own hearts. In that sense this is a highly representative story, though again I’m not sure that can be gathered from poor page 69 alone. If you buy the book, though, you get all the pages, and can see for yourself.
Read "Tennessee," a story from Everything Here, at Fifty-two Stories, and learn more about the book and author at Justin Taylor's website.

Writers Read: Justin Taylor.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"The Extra"

Michael Shea is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Nifft the Lean as well as other novels and many short stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Extra and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Extra we glimpse the global control which the CORPS now exert, and Curtis, one of our protags, secretly decides to take the one path to wealth this brave new world allows him: to become an Extra in the new film of one of the mightier Corps, Panoply Studios. He hides his decision from his beloved Auntie, and just tells her, "I'm goin' out early tomorrow, and try to scare up some work."
Read an excerpt from The Extra, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Shea's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"The Gray Man"

Mark Greaney has a degree in International Relations and Political Science and is pursuing his Masters in Intelligence Studies with a concentration in Criminal Intelligence. He's reputed to speak good Spanish and bad German.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Gray Man, his debut novel, and reported the following:
As it turns out, Page 69 is a pivot point in The Gray Man, a novel about a private assassin who battles third world hit squads as he races across Europe to rescue a kidnapped family.

Court Gentry is the Gray Man. A former operator in the CIA’s Special Activities Division, he now plies his trade as an ‘ethical’ killer for hire. Court works for Sir Donald Fitzroy, ex MI-5 chief and the handler of a stable of assassins.

The novel opens just as a Gray Man hit in Syria goes bad. Soon, Lloyd, an attorney for LaurentGroup, a corrupt Paris-based multinational corporation, pays a call on Sir Donald. The brother of Gentry’s latest victim has given Lloyd’s firm less than a week to find and terminate his brother’s killer, holding a lucrative Nigerian natural gas concession as incentive. Lloyd worked with Gentry in the CIA and knows what a tough customer he’s up against, and by page 69, when his first try to kill the wily hit man fails, he solicits Fitzroy’s help in tracking down the Gray Man-
“I need to know where Gentry is now, where he’s going, what he normally does when he goes into hiding.”

“When he goes into hiding, he simply vanishes. You can kiss your natural gas good-bye. The Gray Man will not turn up on anyone’s radar again for months.”

“Unacceptable. I need you to give me something about Gentry that I don’t already know. When he worked for us, he was a machine. No friends, no family that he gave a damn about. No lover stuck away for those long nights after a job. His SAD file is the most boring read imaginable. No vices, no weakness. He’s older now; surely he’s made associates of a personal nature, developed tendencies that will help us figure out his next step. I’m sure you can tell me something, no matter how trivial, that I can use to flush him out.”

Fitzroy smiled a little. He sensed the desperation in his young adversary.
When Fitzroy refuses lucrative security contracts in exchange for his assistance in the extermination of his employee, Lloyd removes the carrot and brandishes the stick. He has the venerable British spymaster’s son and grandchildren kidnapped in the Normandy region of France. Fitzroy then becomes complicit in the scheme to kill Court Gentry. Court has a soft spot for Fitzroy’s twin eight-year-old granddaughters, and he sets off to rescue them. Along the way he must run a gauntlet of hunter-killer teams hired by Lloyd, just to make it to the well-defended chateau that is his destination.

Page 69 is the moment when the stakes rise, Gentry’s one friend and confident becomes actively involved in his destruction, and the die is cast for the mayhem to come. Lloyd uses LaurentGroup’s vast security apparatus to hire 12 teams of killers from the intelligence arms of mostly third world nations. Libyans, Venezuelans, Indonesians, South Africans, Kazaks, and more; all race to Europe to take up positions along the Gray Man’s route. Court tries to make his way to his weapons cache, to a document forger, to his old CIA instructor, all to find help in his battle against the vast array of enemies, as the clock ticks down. Tired, wounded, and alone, the Gray Man must soldier on to the chateau, as the twins’ lives hang in the balance.
Read an excerpt from The Gray Man, and learn more about the book and author at Mark Greaney's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Wake Up Dead"

Roger Smith was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now lives in Cape Town, a city as violent as it is beautiful. Before turning to a life of crime, he was a screenwriter, producer and director. His debut thriller, Mixed Blood, is in development as a feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Smith applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Wake Up Dead, and reported the following:
South Africa is a society still divided by race, and increasingly, wealth. Predatory crimes like home invasions and carjackings bridge that divide, with violent collisions between the privileged suburbs and the ghettoes, incidents so commonplace that they often don’t even make the local news. What fascinates me is to look beyond the statistics, to get into the people who are flung together by these violent events, and the impact on their lives.

When Roxy Palmer – Wake Up Dead’s blonde American anti-heroine – and her South African arms dealer husband, Joe, are gunpointed and carjacked one night on the slopes of Cape Town’s spectacular Table Mountain, the ex-model uses the opportunity to do a bad, bad thing.

As she stands over her husband’s body and watches Disco and Godwynn, the two mixed-race carjackers, speed off in Joe’s convertible toward the Cape Flats – the crime-ridden ghetto far from tourist-mecca Cape Town – she’s sure she’ll never see them again.

Wrong. The cops track them down and get Roxy into a line-up. She recognizes the men, but pretends not to, to keep the heat off herself. Beautiful Disco and ugly Godwynn, though, see an opportunity for blackmail and they grab Roxy when she’s out jogging and bring her home with a gun to her head. On Page 69 she is alone with them in her house, the air heavy with threats of rape and murder.
Mr Handsome looked around. “Nice place you got here.” Like he was an invited guest.

The short man was up in her face. “Where’s your room?”

Roxy pointed up the stairs. He shoved her forward, and she led them up past the pink room, to her bedroom.

The troll said, “You got a girl?”

At first she thought he was asking if she had a child. Then she realized he was talking about a domestic worker. She shook her head. “She’s on vacation.”

The beautiful man laughed. “I can see that.”

The bedroom was a mess, the bed unmade, clothes strewn across the room. She had never been much for housework.

The short man grabbed a couple of pairs of tights that hung from the back of a chair and chucked them at his buddy. “Tie up her hands and feet.”

“I have to pee,” she said.

“Piss in your pants.”

“Please. Let me use the bathroom.”

Mr Handsome, walking over with the tights in his hand, smiled at her. “Let her take a piss, man. I watch her.” Something filthy in that smile.

“I take her,” said the squat man. “You start checking through the closets.”

He pushed her toward the en-suite bathroom. Stood in the doorway, watching her. Roxy knew he wasn’t going anywhere. She sat down on the toilet and pulled down the lycra pants. Doing her best to keep herself covered.
So, karma catches up with Roxy on Page 69, and the illusion of security afforded by her wealth and skin color evaporates. A perfect distillation of the theme of Wake Up Dead.
Watch the video for Wake Up Dead and read an excerpt from the novel.

Learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 15, 2010

"The Crossing Places"

Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Griffiths' husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archeologist, and her aunt, who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled Griffiths' head with the myths and legends of that area. The first Ruth Galloway novel, The Crossing Places, is new in US bookstores; the second, The Janus Stone, has just been released in the UK.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Crossing Places and reported the following:
On p69 of The Crossing Places, Ruth, my rather reclusive archaeologist heroine, is visited by her neighbour, Sammy, who invites her to a New Year’s Eve party. This is a slightly unusual scene as Ruth doesn’t get invited to many parties. However, as often happens, she actually has another invitation for the same night or, as she puts it ‘she has two invitations to refuse.’ In fact, she does end up going to Sammy’s party and this proves a very significant evening – both for her and for the plot. So maybe p69 is important after all.

In fact, looking again at the page, I see that it is more representative than I thought. Ruth’s summing up of Sammy, ‘highlighted hair, tanned skin, honed figure’, is typical, both of her dismissiveness and her insecurity. She thinks of Sammy’s family, ‘loud teenagers who played music and tramped over the Saltmarsh with surfboards.’ Ruth’s beloved Saltmarsh, a desolate but beautiful coastal landscape, is an important character in the book. Her attitude towards this inhospitable place does change, though, by the end of the book – as does her attitude to teenagers.
Finally, Sammy asks Ruth what she does.

‘I teach archaeology.’

‘Archaeology! Ed would love that. He never misses Time Team...’
Ruth’s job is who she is. She is an archaeologist, skilled at interpreting layers of time and memory. Ruth is called in by the police when a body is discovered on the Saltmash. The body turns out to be over two thousand years old but Ruth is soon drawn into a more recent case, that of a missing child. This investigation eventually makes Ruth re-evaluate everything. Her past is not what she thought it was, her friends, too, present new and sinister faces. Her relationship with brusque police inspector Harry Nelson threatens to challenge all her certainties. Worst of all, there is someone out there who knows about archaeology, ritual and death; someone who is determined to silence Ruth forever.
Read an excerpt from The Crossing Places, and learn more about the book and author at Elly Griffiths' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 13, 2010

"The Murderer’s Daughters"

Randy Susan Meyers spent eight years as assistant director of Common Purpose, a batterer intervention program where she worked with both batterers and domestic violence victims. Previously, she was director for the Mission Hill Community Centers where she worked with at-risk youth. She is the co-author of the nonfiction book Couples with Children. Her short fiction has been published in Perigee, Fog City Review, and Grub Street Free Press.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Murderer's Daughters, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Murderer’s Daughters follows Lulu and Merry, sisters who’ve witnessed their father kill their mother, from ages 10 and 6 to their forties. On p. 69, Lulu, now age 13, (the story is told in the sister’s rotating voices) has just been attacked by girls in the orphanage (where she and her sister live) and she is speaking with the social worker, Mrs. Cohen:
“You’re all lying. Kelli, Maureen, April, wait for me in the conference room.” Mrs. Cohen glared at them. “You too, Reetha.”

Conference room was the polite term for a dirty little punishment of a room without windows. There were no pictures, no lamps, and no rug, just a limp-cushioned sofa and three scratched plastic chairs.

Mrs. Cohen waited patiently until they left, then narrowed her eyes at me.

I couldn’t figure out if she was angry or upset.

“Why are you protecting them?” she asked.

“Because I live here.”

“They could have hurt you.”

“I could have hurt them. At least one of them.”

“That bothers me just as much. Maybe more.”

Was I supposed to bare my soul in the basement bathroom?

“I’m worried about you, Lulu. You can’t afford to lose what you have.”

“What do I have?”

Mrs. Cohen ran a hand over my forehead.


The word hit me more like a demand than a compliment. Her eyes got all soft, as though I were some sort of prize. I saw that she wanted to save me. “I’m worried about my sister,” I said. “I’m scared she’s going to kill herself.”


“Remember,” I told Merry a few days later. “You need to be extra-good today. Do that cute thing you do.”
What this section doesn’t capture is the POV of both sisters. The book flips between the two, and they react very differently. Lulu is always scheming to keep their lives safe and intact, and finding ways to keep the world at bay, while also resentful that her sister is her responsibility. Merry is always trying to stay safe by pleasing the world.

What this section does capture is this: whatever else is going on in their world, their connection is paramount. While this paradigm is the sisters’ salvation and strength, it can also be their Achilles heel.
Read an excerpt from The Murderer’s Daughters, and learn more about the book and author at Randy Susan Meyers' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Law & Disorder"

Mary Jane Maffini is the author of three mystery series and a number of short stories.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Law & Disorder, the latest Camilla MacPhee mystery, and reported the following:
People die in mysteries. That’s the attraction of the genre and one that helps the authors through the rougher patches of life, fictional and otherwise. Cut us off in traffic and you’ll find yourself dead on a page before you know it. Trust me. So I would have been disappointed if all was sweetness and light on page 69 of Law & Disorder, the sixth book in the Camilla MacPhee series. But no danger of that: Camilla, Ottawa lawyer, victims’ advocate and occasional pain in the butt, is having a cozy chat with a reporter friend about the recently deceased defense hack, Rollie Thorsten. By the end of the first paragraph it’s obvious that she’s not heartbroken and no one else is. When the chief suspect is introduced, along with his seemingly unshakeable alibi, really, I felt a little thrill.

After my initial worry that the page would fizzle like a damp firecracker, I cheered up when I hit the second paragraph. It gives a sense of Camilla’s personality and the relationships she has with people, a bit of banter and a glimpse of Alvin Ferguson, the world’s worst – or at least most challenging – office assistant, currently converting Camilla’s upstairs office into a guest room. Ray Deveau is the man in Camilla’s life and his daughters are arriving to participate in the Dragon Boat Races. Of course, it had been agreed that Alvin would not paint anything else – some residual annoyance over the Italian frescos in the previous book, The Dead Don’t Get Out Much. But veterans of the series will not be taken in by that.

Alvin isn’t much for beige. His argument is: “It needed brightening.”

I was proud of Camilla for her measured response: “Well, it’s certainly bright now. You know, I never would have considered Chinese Red myself.”

How calm is that? You’d hardly guess she was in the middle of investigating a gruesome murder while trying not to think of the arrival of two teenage girls who keep trying to sabotage her relationship.

Over all, I’m pleased, although I wish there could have been a lawyer joke like the one that Camilla received the day Rollie Thorsten landed in the Rideau River aerated by a pair of bullets:

How do you keep a lawyer from drowning?

Shoot him before he hits the water.

There’s not a joke in sight. But then, you can’t have everything.
Watch the video trailer for Law & Disorder, and learn more about the author and her work at Mary Jane Maffini's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Mary Jane Maffini & Daisy and Lily.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Boca Mournings"

Steven M. Forman is the author of Boca Knights, which was his first novel. He and his wife divide their time between Massachusetts and Boca Raton, Florida.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Boca Mournings, and reported the following:
Boca Mournings, the sequel to Boca Knights, is about the changes we all experience in life and the mourning period between the “old days”… and the “new ways.” Eddie Perlmutter, the protagonist from Boca Knights, mourns…”I’m not the man I used to be,” while the woman in his life assures him…”I like the man you are.”

Page 69 deals with a phase of Eddie’s metamorphosis from knockout puncher to strategist while never abandoning his principles or losing his sense of humor.

The end of Boca Knights takes place in front of the Palm Beach Courthouse in a clash between the forces of good and evil. The evil was Aryan Army, a white supremacist hate group. The good was represented by a makeshift militia of Boca Knights determined to fight for the right to live in peace. The issue that created the confrontation was the pending indictment of neo Nazi Randolph Buford, the eighteen year old son of Forest Buford, a virulent, violent white supremacist. Buford attacked two black women in the Boca Mall parking lot and was caught in the act by Eddie and taken into custody by the police. Boca Knights ended with no conclusion to the conflict.

In Boca Mournings we learn Buford was indicted and held in jail without bail pending his trial. While waiting for justice to be served Eddie determines that only three outcomes are possible with a trial. One… Buford could be found innocent and go free. Two…Buford could go to jail, become a hero for his cause and come out worse than he went in. And three…Buford could go to jail and get killed by fellow inmates. Eddie finds all three options unacceptable and, in his new capacity as a strategist, he develops an alternative plan. He spreads a false rumor that Buford is cooperating with the police in exchange for a shorter sentence. Aryan Army believes the rumor and is infuriated. Buford begins receiving death threats in prison. Eddie has created an untenable situation for the Buford family which makes them more likely to accept the bizarre alternative he wants to present to them. Buford’s mother asks for a meeting with Eddie to convince him to retract his false rumor.

On page 69 Eddie is at the Boca Police station ready to confront Buford’s parent’s request. He is talking to Frank Burke, chief of the Boca Police, who arranged the meeting.

Page 69-
“What’s up Chief?” I asked cheerfully.

He looked up at me tiredly.

“The Bufords will tell you,” Frank said as he got up. “They’re in the conference room. Mrs. Buford asked for this meeting. She’s a very distressed mother.”

I knew Randolph had a mother. I just never gave it any thought.

“What’s her problem besides living with Hitler and Eichman?”

“Threats to her son’s life seem to be bothering her,” he said. “Someone, I not saying who, spread a rumor that Randolph was cooperating with the prosecution against Aryan Army. His parents think you’re the source.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You tell me,” Burke said.

Frank and I were friends but my methods were a lot different than his.

“I have nothing to tell you except I think you should put the little storm trooper in isolation until his trial …for his own protection,” I said.

“He is in isolation,” Frank told me.

“Then this is an isolated incident,” I said. Frank didn’t laugh so I moved on. “What do Mr. and Mrs. Hitler want from me?”

“They want a retraction of the rumor,” Frank informed me.

Napoleon said, ‘Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.’”

Frank wasn’t amused. “Do you often quote Napoleon?”

“No, he gives me a complex.”
Eddie’s alternative plan to Buford’s mother sends the book spiraling off in an entirely new direction.
Read an excerpt from Boca Mournings, and learn more about the book and author at Steven M. Forman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 8, 2010


Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Spanning the 20th century, her new novel Roses takes place in a small East Texas town against the backdrop of the powerful timber and cotton industries, industries controlled by the scions of the town's founding families. Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick should have married but unwisely did not....

Meacham applied the Page 69 Test to Roses and reported the following:
Oddly--amazingly--Page 69 of Roses is a near enough summation of the novel's conflict. Mary is pitted against those she loves to preserve the family legacy of Somerset without realizing she is sacrificing her family to do so. Her brother Miles' dry statement to her: "Oh, I don't think you want to hear the consequences of that," pertains only to the moment at hand, but more broadly, it reflects Mary's flaw--her unwillingness to hear from anyone, not even herself, that her choices on behalf of Somerset will carry consequences she will someday bitterly regret.
Read an excerpt from Roses.

Learn more about Roses at the publisher's website, and visit the Roses Facebook fan page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Death by the Book"

Lenny Bartulin is a crime writer who lives in Sydney, Australia.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his first Jack Susko mystery, Death by the Book [Australian title: A Deadly Business], and reported the following:
Death by the Book follows second-hand book dealer Jack Susko as he becomes embroiled with a wealthy Sydney family and eventually finds himself in the middle of a whole load of trouble. Jack’s involvement is complicated by his growing attraction to Annabelle Kasprowicz, the daughter of the man who has employed him to locate some obscure poetry books. Page 69 is part of an important chapter in the novel, when Jack arrives at the Kasprowicz house to have dinner with Annabelle and his relationship with her takes a deeper, more intimate turn. But before they sit down to eat, a friend of Annabelle’s is there to greet him. Page 69 is part of their exchange as they wait for Annabelle to enter the scene. It’s a good representation of the style of the book, and particularly of Jack’s cynical, wisecracking tone. And for the purposes of the story, it’s an important scene as it gives Jack an outside perspective on what’s happening between himself and Annabelle, i.e. the best friend giving him an idea of where he stands:
[Sabine and Jack are sharing wine and olives in the kitchen as they wait for Annabelle]

Sabine dropped the pip into an ashtray. ‘That’s a lovely suit,’ she said. ‘Ermenegildo Zegna?’

‘Is that the little Italian guy in Leichhardt?’

‘Sorry?’ she replied. Then she smiled, shook her head. ‘Oh, yes. Anna said you were a smart-arse.’

‘Nice to know she’s been talking about me.’

‘Not really. She won’t tell me anything.’ Sabine picked up another olive. ‘Must be serious.’
The exchange continues and for the rest of the chapter important details are revealed that continue to build the plot. Sabine’s overall role in the novel is small: but I must admit, for a walk-on character, she’s one of my favourites.
Read an excerpt from Death by the Book, and visit Lenny Bartulin's blog.

The Black Russian, the second Jack Susko mystery, is already available in Australia.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs"

Blaize Clement is the author of the Dixie Hemingway mysteries: Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, Duplicity Dogged the Dachshund, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, and Cat Sitter On A Hot Tin Roof.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs, the fifth novel in the series, and reported the following:
I laughed when I turned to page 69 of Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs to see if it met the "Page 69 Test." The page opens mid-conversation between pet sitter Dixie Hemingway and one of her clients. Dixie says, "I don't go around carrying a sign that says, 'Tell me your problems,' but somehow everybody who has one ends up on my doorstep."

Well, of course they do! Otherwise, a protagonist who's not a professional sleuth wouldn't get involved in mysteries. So page 69 definitely begins with a line that illustrates the entire book, not to mention the entire series. Better yet, it goes on to summarize an important part of the plot. "Saying doorstep made me think of Maureen and what I'd promised to do that night... If I'd told Tom about our plan to stuff a million dollars in a duffel bag and give it to kidnappers, he'd have given me the lecture of a lifetime."

Being a confirmed skeptic, I immediately flipped to random pages to see if every page contained elements of the plot of this particular book or of the series as a whole. They all had some passages that had something to do with character development or with place or with theme, but page 69 truly was more descriptive of plot than any of the other pages I sampled. Ford Madox Ford may have been right about pages 99 and 69 being keys to a book's character.

While page 69 only refers to one part of the book's plot -- two other people are missing in addition to the wealthy man whose wife has agreed to pay the ransom demand -- it provides a look inside the mind of a smart, capable woman who lets loyalty to old friends make her do some dumb and dangerous things. By the time the story ends, Dixie has learned that love is not for sissies, and that loyalty carried to an extreme becomes self-destructive martyrdom.
Read an excerpt from Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs, and learn more about the book and author at Blaize Clement's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

"Rescuing Olivia"

Julie Compton is the author of the legal thriller Tell No Lies, set in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. An attorney by profession, she most recently worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Delaware and now lives with her family near Orlando, Florida, where she is the proud owner of a Kawasaki Vulcan 500.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Rescuing Olivia, her new novel, and reported the following:
Kirkus Reviews aptly called Rescuing Olivia a hybrid between a modern-day fairy tale and a contemporary thriller. It's a novel about an unassuming Florida biker, Anders, whose girlfriend Olivia mysteriously disappears from the hospital after a suspicious motorcycle accident. In his search for answers, he unearths her traumatic past only to find it shares similarities to his own that he's spent years trying to forget. He finally accepts he must face his own demons if he is to have any chance of saving Olivia from hers.

Is Page 69 representative of the novel? Indeed, I think it is. The passage takes place the morning after Anders was told by Olivia's father that she had died from her injuries. In despair, Anders showed up drunk in the middle of the night at his friend Lenny's house. Page 69 begins with Anders waking up, hung over, on Lenny's couch.
"Andy's up," Joey announced.

The boy padded from the kitchen in his bare feet and climbed onto the couch with him.

“Hi, Andy.”

“Hi, Joey.”

Anders grunted when Buster, Joey’s large Labrador given by Lenny as a guilt gift just after his divorce, leapt up to the couch with his small master and landed on Anders’ gut. The dog panted its bad breath on his face, and he tried unsuccessfully to push it away. He'd wanted nothing to do with dogs since the day Levi died.

“Your bike got wet,” Joey informed him.

He groaned again and sat up to escape the dog, but the movement caused a pounding against the front of his skull. He noticed the full beer bottle from the night before still on the coffee table, and the sight of it made his stomach turn.

“I moved it to the breezeway for you,” Lenny called from the kitchen, picking up on Joey’s comment. He came in with a mug of steaming coffee; his hair and T-shirt still showed the evidence of his trip into the rain.

Anders nodded thanks and took a sip. “What time is it?”

“It’s still early, about seven thirty.” Lenny motioned his head toward Joey by way of explanation. “Sorry.”

Anders grabbed Joey and pulled him close for a hug. Joey squealed but let him do it.

“Did I wake you up last night, buddy?”

“Dad thinks so, but no. I was already awake.” He waited until Anders released him, and then he asked, “It is true that Olivia died?”

Anders looked in Joey’s eyes and swallowed. How did such questions come so easily to little kids? Adults could dance around something for days. “Yeah.” His forehead continued to throb; his nose felt congested and he wanted to be outside, on his bike and heading back to the house. He couldn’t feel her presence here like he could at the beach. He tried to remember why he'd decided to come to Lenny’s, but the night before was a blur.
This passage provides important foreshadowing of events to come. There is mention of Levi, which the reader knows from an earlier scene was Anders' mother's dog, and that it died when Anders was a boy. The reader doesn't know the circumstances of Levi's death, only that Anders is still disturbed by it. The passage also features Lenny, Anders' best friend and the person he goes to when he feels overwhelmed by the task of finding answers about Olivia. Lenny plays an even more crucial role as the novel progresses. Finally, the reader sees a bit of Anders' relationship with Joey, Lenny's son, a relationship that will have a subtle but important influence on Anders later in the story.
Read an excerpt from Rescuing Olivia, and learn more about the book and author at Julie Compton's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: Tell No Lies.

My Book, The Movie: Tell No Lies.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"The Fourth Assassin"

Matt Beynon Rees is the author of the acclaimed series of novels featuring Palestinian detective Omar Yussef: The Collaborator of Bethlehem, which won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, A Grave in Gaza, The Samaritan's Secret, and the newly released The Fourth Assassin.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
The first three novels in my Palestinian crime series take place in the West Bank and Gaza. All the characters are Palestinian, with the exception of a couple of foreign aid workers. But I want my series to show the full extent of Palestinian life, and half the people in the world who call themselves Palestinian don’t live in Palestine. So my hero Omar Yussef hits the road.

The Fourth Assassin, the new book in my series, takes place in the UN on the east side of Manhattan, and in the section of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, that’s becoming known as “Little Palestine,” as immigrants from the Jerusalem area make it their home.

Page 69 hits the two main topics that make the book compelling.

First, the alienation felt by a foreigner when confronted with the enormity and chaos of New York. I wanted to show how immigrants might turn inward, rejecting the society around them, becoming religious fundamentalists. Here’s the description of a subway ride from Omar’s point of view:
The train rumbled at low speed onto the strangely terrifying superstructure of the Manhattan Bridge. Downriver, beyond the massive girders and the mesh of electric lines, the Brooklyn Bridge arched over the water. Its famous towers sprayed thick cables along its span. Omar Yussef felt as though he were flying out of control through the air, high above the river and the tangle of highway along the shoreline. An old Vietnamese man screamed into his cell phone over the noise of the train. The wheels rang like the slow beating of a giant steel kettledrum until the train slipped back under the earth, jumped to a different track, and picked up speed. ‘This is an unnatural way of traveling,’ Omar Yussef whispered.
Second, Page 69 contains an important spark for the mystery at the heart of the book. Up to this point, no one but Omar Yussef acknowledges that things seem awry. But now his sidekick, Bethlehem Police Chief Khamis Zeydan, says to him:
‘My brother, I have a bad feeling about this visit. Some danger that I can’t predict.’
Now if that doesn’t hook you, nothing will. Read on to page 70, eh?
Watch Matt Beynon Rees read the first chapter of The Fourth Assassin.

Visit Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 1, 2010

"Requiem in Vienna"

J. Sydney Jones is the author of twelve books, including the first in the Viennese Mystery series, The Empty Mirror, the nonfiction Hitler in Vienna, 1907-1913, the guides Viennawalks and Vienna Inside-Out, and the Vienna-based suspense novel Time of the Wolf. A long-time resident of Vienna, he currently lives near Santa Cruz, California.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Requiem in Vienna, the second Viennese Mystery, and reported the following:
Requiem in Vienna, the second novel in my “Viennese Mystery” series, is set in 1899 and features the new Court Opera Director and composer Gustav Mahler. A series of mysterious accidents at the Opera have led to the death of a young soprano. Alma Schindler, the future Alma Mahler, hires my protagonist, the lawyer Karl Werthen to protect Mahler, whom she is certain someone is trying to kill. Werthen teams up once again with Dr. Hanns Gross, one of the pioneers of modern criminology, to get to the bottom of things.

Page 69 of the novel finds Werthen and Gross called to the scene of the suicide death of Friedrich Gunther, the third violinist at the Court Opera by Detective Inspector Drechsler. The pair has let it be known that they are interested in anything that has to do with the Opera, but at first glance, this seems just a tawdry suicide brought on by despair and drink. The body is hanging from a chandelier in the violinist’s apartment, a chair tipped on its side underneath. After carefully examining the scene and forbidding the gathered policemen from cutting the corpse down, Gross discovers something that convinces both him and Werthen that they are, indeed, dealing with murder both here and at the Court Opera:
Musicians earned little enough, Werthen knew. The job was a sinecure--at least it had been before Mahler’s reign of terror at the Opera and Philharmonic--but such security came at a high price. Herr Gunther clearly had made barely enough for a single man to subside on; whether by design or necessity, his violin had also become his wife. A sad sort of life, Werthen thought. Devoted to art, yes. But then to come home from the lofty world of music to such a depressing environment. Once again, Werthen marveled that a sense of beauty was not something that was generalized to all aspects of one’s life. That is, he was amazed that a man such as Gunther who, one assumed, had been filled with the beauty inherent in music, could still live in such unaesthetic surroundings. Or, like much of Vienna, perhaps Herr Gunther had spent his free time in his favorite coffee house and not in the restricted confines of his unwelcoming apartment.

Werthen’s ruminations were cut short by a snort from Gross.

“Suicide. Utter nonsense.”

Drechsler also perked up at this comment.

“Well, I admit that the lack of any suicide note looks suspicious. But what makes you say so without even examining the body?”

To which comment Gross simply righted the dining chair, placing it under the dangling feet of Gunther. The tips of the dead man’s boots were suspended two inches above the chair seat.

“I’ll be damned,” Drechsler said. “Cut him down.” He motioned to the constables who now finished the work they had earlier begun.

They laid the body gently onto the floor, and Gross leaned down to make a quick examination. Drechsler, his hawk-like face marred by a rather unattractive overbite, squatted next to him.

The inspector assumed control now, slipping a forefinger under the front of the noose. The skin underneath was neither bruised nor rope-burned. He worked around to the back of the man’s head, feeling for broken vertebrae with his eyes closed. He shook his head.

“Amateur,” Gross spluttered, as if it was the worst offence he could imagine. “As if he didn’t care enough to even try to deceive us.”
Read an excerpt from Requiem in Vienna, and learn more about the book and author at J. Sydney Jones' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Empty Mirror.

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

--Marshal Zeringue