Sunday, August 15, 2010

"The Price of Liberty"

Keir Graff is the author of the novels Cold Lessons (under the pseudonym Michael McCulloch), My Fellow Americans, and One Nation, Under God.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Price of Liberty, and reported the following:
Wow! Page 69 of The Price of Liberty seems as though it could be a polarizing experience for potential readers. If they're the kind of people who like action and aren't averse to violence (in fiction), they might really want to know how this scene turns out. If, however, they tend to avert their eyes at the sight of (described) blood, they might decide the book is going to be too gory and give it a miss.

The scene here involves a bad guy's misguided attempt to get information from a couple of camping college-newspaper reporters -- and, yes, it does get worse. I'd be hesitant for any reader to use this page as a representative sample of the whole book because they'd be making the decision to read or not to read based on bad data. There are definitely scenes of action, and violence -- even gore -- in this book, but I use them sparingly, like punctuation marks.

This is an ensemble piece, and the emphasis is on the characters and their relationships; while those relationships sometimes intersect violently, there are humorous interactions, too. And you'll get to know the characters, from the aggrieved son of a Wyoming construction boss to a foul-mouthed, elderly librarian -- pretty well before any blood is shed. By then, hopefully, even the faint of heart won't be able to stop reading.

The Price of Liberty is politically similar to my previous books but very different in execution. I made this one faster and funnier, and have been gratified by reviewers' comparisons to Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Donald Westlake, and Lawrence Block.

The full text of page 69 is reprinted below, but readers can read the first 76 pages of the book for free at my website.
The light dropped. A big spot floated in front of his eyes. He couldn't see. He heard them running. He turned on his own flashlight and ran forward, snapping branches, hammering his shoulder on a tree trunk.

He came out into a clearing. The campsite. He waved his flashlight. He saw white legs scissoring into the darkness.

'Stop!' he shouted. 'Or I'll shoot!'

The legs stopped. He trained the light and the gun on the guy and closed the distance between them.

'I've got your friend,' he called into the night. 'Come back or I'll shoot him!'

He heard sounds of wood and rocks, and then nothing.

The kid was standing by the picnic table. He was wearing long underwear, which was why his legs were so white. There were empty beer cans on the table, and a mess that showed they'd been camped for a while. Everything looked ghostly in the light from the flashlight. It was like things only existed when Shane shined the light on them.

'Stay there,' he said.

The kid was shaking. It would be a miracle if he stayed standing. Shane unzipped his duffel bag and, after rooting around for a minute, found a zip-tie. He made the kid cross his hands behind his back and then cinched them together with the plastic strip. He told the kid to kneel, guiding him down with a hand on his shoulder.

'Please,' said the kid. 'You don't know me. I don't know you. You can just walk . . . walk . . . walk . . .'

It was like his brain got stuck. Shane smelled something sour and realized that the kid had pissed himself. He must have thought he was about to be executed. That was good. If he was afraid, he was more likely to talk. As long as he could stop saying 'walk.'

'. . . walk . . . walk away. You can just walk away.'

Shane prodded the kid in the back with the gun to keep the fear in him. He realized that his own hand was shaking. He was nervous, too. He pulled the gun back, so the kid wouldn't know exactly where he was.

'What's your name?' asked Shane.

Learn more about the book and author at Keir Graff's website.

The Page 69 Test: One Nation, Under God.

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

--Marshal Zeringue