Monday, February 28, 2011

"The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady"

Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of a novel, Mermaids on the Moon, a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa, and, with Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, and reported the following:
I’d always heard that page 100 was the test!

Here’s a synopsis of my novel:

Seventy-seven year old Marylou Ahearn is going to kill Dr. Wilson Spriggs come hell or high water. In 1953, he gave her a radioactive cocktail without her consent as part of a secret government study that had horrible consequences. Marylou has been plotting her revenge for fifty years when she accidentally discovers his whereabouts in Florida and her plans finally snap into action. She high-tails it to hot and humid Tallahassee, moves in down the block from where a now senile Spriggs lives with his daughter’s family, and begins the tricky work of insinuating herself into their lives. But she has no idea what a nest of yellow jackets she is stumbling into. Before the novel is through, someone will be kidnapped, an unlikely couple will get engaged, someone will nearly die from eating a pineapple upside-down cake laced with anti-freeze, and that’s not all…

Page 69 of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady will introduce you to some of the yellow jackets Marylou encounters-- Dr. Sprigg’s daughter Caroline and her eldest daughter Ava, who, on page 69, are having another fight. Caroline is also thinking about her husband Vic and how unhelpful he’s been in dealing with Ava’s Asperger’s syndrome.

But the point of view shifts in the novel, and all the family members get their own chapters. Page 69 just happens to be in one of Caroline’s chapters, so you are getting her perspective, which is crucial, but also crucial are the perspectives of Marylou and Vic and Ava and her siblings Otis and Suzi and Dr. Wilson Spriggs. You really must read the whole book!
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Stuckey-French's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 26, 2011

"The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore"

Benjamin Hale is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he received a Provost's Fellowship to write The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, which went on to win a Michener-Copernicus Award. He has been a night shift baker, a security guard, a trompe l'oeil painter, a pizza deliverer, a cartoonist, an illustrator and a technical writer. He grew up in Colorado and now lives in New York.

Hale applied the Page 69 Test to The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore and reported the following:
First of all, my inner thirteen-year-old boy can’t help but snicker over the name of this test. Why page 69?—heh, heh. The idea that something on page 69 should be somehow microcosmically representative of the rest of the book struck me as a bit arbitrary. But maybe there’s something to it. I looked up page 69 of my book. It’s actually the last page of a chapter, Chapter VII (yes, I like to rock the Roman numerals), and it’s only half a page of text. But—lo and behold!—I was amazed, as if it had been prophesied, to find that the ending paragraph of this chapter does, in fact, just so happen to encapsulate the greater themes of the book. My narrator-ape, Bruno, who is still a “silent-minded animal,” climbs into the treetops on the campus of the University of Chicago, and in the distance beholds for the first time the skyline of downtown Chicago. And, he says, “I fell in love”:
I forsook my animalhood right then and there at the top of that tree, because of this crazy, disastrous love I was in with humanity. Of course I was in love for all the vainest and greediest reasons. And it was this vanity and greed and lust that drove me to—following your example some several million years too late—come down out of the tree. I climbed down from that tree to spend the rest of my life running from the yawning darkness of animal terror toward the light of fire stolen from the gods, and like you, I remain in a state of constant pursuit, never quite escaping the darkness, nor ever reaching the light.
Learn more about the book and author at Benjamin Hale's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Deep Down True"

Juliette Fay received a bachelor's degree from Boston College and a master's degree from Harvard University. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and children. Shelter Me was her first novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Deep Down True, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Deep Down True, the main character walks into a dentist office, having chipped her tooth in a freak, chipmunk-related accident. The place is deserted except for a few people in the waiting room, who all get tired of waiting and leave. The phone keeps ringing and Dana picks it up, being an extremely (some might say relentlessly) helpful kind of person, and begins to respond to patients’ calls as if she were the receptionist.

I’d have to say it’s pretty indicative! The story is about a newly divorced mother who has to face up to some hard realities—including her middle school aged daughter’s eating disorder, the stress of returning to work, the awkwardness of mid-life dating, and ultimately, her own hesitance to take the reins of her life and lead. The story takes her through some tough times, but also through moments of hope, grace and humor.
Read an excerpt from Deep Down True and view the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Juliette Fay's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Dave Zeltserman is the author of ten novels, including Outsourced, Killer, Pariah, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, Small Crimes, and Blood Crimes, as well as many short stories and a collection of short crime fiction, 21 Tales.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Outsourced and reported the following:
Yep, it's very representative. Outsourced is about a bank heist, but is also about the group dynamics between friends and how badly things can go awry, and this page shows all of this. Dan Wilson, an ex-software engineer is seeing his middle-class existence disintegrating in front of his eyes, and out of desperation has come up with what looks like a brilliant plan to rob a bank. On page 69 he's trying to recruit Gordon Carmichael to join in. Gordon had worked for years with Dan at different companies, and has also hit upon hard times, and is close to losing his condo and being destitute. Gordon is an ex-Viet Nam vet who saw action, so he knows how to use a gun, and he also has other skills Dan needs. At first blush Gordon appears to be an goofball and severely socially awkward. But there's also a lot of rage hidden under the surface, and some of this rage shows briefly when Gordon throws out a different idea for how they can raise a lot of money quickly: by kidnapping a child of a mutual friend who was able to cash out at the top of the tech market bubble with a small fortune. When Dan is shocked by this and explains that they couldn't possibly do that, that the kid would be able to identify them, Gordon remarks how you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, but then just as quickly is back to his goofball self.
Learn more about the author and his work at Dave Zeltserman's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 21, 2011

"Journal of a UFO Investigator"

Back in the 1960s, David Halperin was a teen-age UFO investigator. He later became a professor of religious studies—his specialty, religious traditions of heavenly ascent. Journal of a UFO Investigator, released in February by Viking Press, is his first novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Journal of a UFO Investigator and reported the following:
Page 69 of Journal of a UFO Investigator falls at the beginning of a chapter. It’s nighttime. Danny Shapiro, the teenage “UFO investigator” of the title, is visiting the headquarters of the “Super-Science Society,” a band of intellectually and sexually precocious adolescents who, like Danny, are devotees of the mysteries that lie just outside the bounds of science.

There’s tall, debonair Julian. There’s pudgy, blond-haired Tom. There’s gorgeous Rochelle, who’ll presently reveal herself as an accomplished seductress and thief, and who may or may not be Tom’s girlfriend.

“I started toward the doorway of the hut,” Danny tells us on page 69. “I caught a glimpse, inside, of two bodies twisted against each other. I thought I heard clothes softly rubbing. There was another laugh. A gleaming white hand appeared, pressed against the back of a neck, amid short blondish hairs.”

And Danny, already in love with Rochelle, feels “my stomach clutching with grief and disappointment, at the knowledge that she was Tom’s after all.”

On page 69, Danny and his friends are on the platform at the top of the Super-Science Society’s observation tower. Soon he’ll go inside the domed hutlike structure that houses their telescope, and through the telescope he’ll see something extraordinary on the moon that will leave him stunned, drained of energy. Rochelle then will lead him through the moonlight toward the railing that surrounds the lofty platform. He’ll hesitate to follow. “What are you afraid of?” she’ll demand. “That I’ll push you over the edge?”

It’s a reasonable fear. Soon Danny will indeed go “over the edge,” into a world that’s easier entered than escaped. There he’ll find terror, wonder, ultimately wisdom. Again and again he’ll confront deadly peril. Yet the deadliest, in his own home, he’ll barely notice until it’s too late.
Learn more about Journal of a UFO Investigator at David Halperin's website and blog (“my thoughts on UFOs, religion, the writer’s life, and other subjects dear to my heart”).

Watch a video trailer of Journal of a UFO Investigator.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"The Bird House"

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and current novelist/advertising creative director. Her first novel, Standing Still debuted in February 2009.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Bird House, and reported the following:
Ah, the magic of page 69. In my new novel, The Bird House, a school genealogy project unlocks a series of connected family secrets between grandmother and granddaughter. And on page 69, Ann Harris, the 70-year-old narrator, learns that her 8 year-old granddaughter, Ellie, has decided to make “bird houses” the theme of her class project.

Here is Ann’s response:
“But a bird house is such a ... I don’t know ... such a small thing. In the scheme of a family and a heritage and a ... legacy.”

I tasted tears in my throat. Were they caused by her choice, or my own fumbling words? She knew nothing, so why did it matter, why did it hurt so much?

I breathed in sharply, willing it away. I was becoming a dreaded thing: a silly, sentimental, forgetful old woman.
The main secret alluded to, the emotional heft moves into focus, and the title is starting to make sense. A reader’s dream, all on one page.
Learn more about the book and author at Kelly Simmons' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Standing Still.

My Book, The Movie: Standing Still.

Writers Read: Kelly Simmons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 18, 2011

"One True Sentence"

Craig McDonald is the Edgar®/Anthony nominated author of Head Games, Toros & Torsos, and Print the Legend.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, One True Sentence, and reported the following:
It’s my understanding the Page 69 Test is cousin to a similar test that grew out of an assertion by Ford Madox Ford that one could assess or try to judge the reading value of a book by opening to its 99th page, reading what was there and seeing if one was pulled in.

Appropriately enough, on page 69 of my new novel, One True Sentence, Ford Madox Ford is actually name-checked. Ford is but one of several historical literary figures who people my new historical thriller set in 1924 Paris.

The novel centers on the murders of literary magazine editors/publishers along both banks of the Seine during one week of February. Gertrude Stein, an unabashed fan of crime fiction, assembles a group of Paris-based mystery and crime writers in an attempt to stop the killings. Among them is my series character, Hector Lassiter, and his friend, the still relatively unknown and little-published Ernest Hemingway.

One True Sentence was conceived to be a kind of re-imagination of Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, as an erotic crime fiction thriller. One of the other authors Stein recruits is the fetching and mysterious writer Brinke Devlin, a woman who will leave an indelible mark on Hector. Brinke is also the woman who moves Hector, then a struggling young writer and lone wolf, away from the path of being a literary novelist and into the field of writing crime fiction novels.

The novels endeavor to be as driven by character as they are — as a result of genre expectations — driven by plot.

Page 69 of the book finds Hector jousting with a French inspector who is displeased with the notion of expatriate mystery writers playing cop around real crimes. The inspector says of Hector:

“From your stories, I can see you have an astute eye for human weakness and motivation…of the low strong drives that can unbalance people.”

The action then shifts to the Hemingway’s apartment above a sawmill, where Hector and Brinke — still in the earliest phases of a passionate and very physical love affair — find themselves unsettled by the domestic life of Hem and wife Hadley and their newborn son, Jack.

That tension between the desire for family and the hedonistic spin of Parisian (or simply single) life is also a key undercurrent of this novel and the one intended to follow.
Learn more about the author and his work at Craig McDonald's website and blog.

Read "The Story Behind the Story: One True Sentence, by Craig McDonald" at The Rap Sheet.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"The Diviner’s Tale"

Bradford Morrow is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and poetry, including Ariel's Crossing and Giovanni's Gift. He is also the founder of the literary magazine Conjunctions, which he has edited since 1981. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 and is a professor of literature at Bard University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Diviner’s Tale, and reported the following:
What readers encounter on page 69 of The Diviner's Tale is an idyllic, wishful daydream into which our narrator, Cassandra Brooks, slips to escape the very real, very disturbing crisis she finds herself in: local police are searching the nearby woods for a hanged girl whom Cassandra, a diviner, believed she'd encountered the day before. What she had seen was dismissed as a delusion when authorities returned to the scene and found nothing. But delusion proves to be prophetic vision as physical evidence is found on the forest floor--a knit cap, a rope--and Cass now finds herself caught in the dilemma that has haunted her from childhood: she seems to have the ability to see things others cannot.

Can any single page of a novel truly be representative of its entirety? This page, ending as it does midsentence, with Cass “drawn cascading hard back” from the dreamlike scene to a startling moment in her waking life, if not representative of the book's literal content--much of the daydream centers on her father's and sons' fascination with baseball, and The Diviner's Tale is not a baseball book--does encapsulate much of what the novel is about. Cassandra's mortal struggle with visions versus so-called reality, her uneasy relationship with her religious mother, her beloved diviner father and his early-stage Alzheimer's, her twin eleven-year-old boys (one a jock, the other a math whiz), her onetime lover (now her sons' godfather and the sheriff of this rural upstate New York community), are all present on the page in question.

While the page itself does not mention the police, or the hanged girl, or the live runaway girl who turns up quite soon after this scene, not to mention 240 pages of narrative development that follow, page 69 occurs just as the novel's central action is rapidly unfolding, and is indicative of the way the novel itself often works. The Diviner's Tale is not a traditional whodunit or thriller but rather a combination of mystery, fantastic, and literary fiction. I would characterize it as a carefully-wrought mash-up that breaks many conventional rules as it delves deep into what it's like to be an outsider, a female diviner in a small town that has little credence in such things, even when Cassandra Brooks's visions become more and more undeniable, and increasingly perilous to those who live within the dark nimbus of her special imagination.Page 69:
…to know every Bronx Bombers player stat going back to the twenties and listened to games on the radio in his workshop all season long. More and more pieces of that great puzzle were getting lost now, except for times when vivid pockets of memorized information came
back with a vengeance. Both boys, especially Jonah, who carried a sea of numbers within him, had gotten it into their heads to pick up where their grandfather was being forced to leave off. A great deal of baseball talk, career numbers even for obscure players, filled our house, especially when Nep was around. Jonah was showing off his prodigious math skills, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, even squaring players' uniform numbers with the same elegant ease with which Joe DiMaggio ran bases after swatting one into the distant bleachers. What does DiMaggio's jersey number plus the Babe's plus Yogi's times Mantle minus Stengel less Guidry divided by Jeter equal?

A-Rod, said Jonah, with unearthly calm.

What's Lou Gehrig times the square root of Whitey Ford?

Easy. That's Whitey himself.

Then I was back in the kitchen with my mother, who asked me, straightforward and disarming, Are you and Niles still, is there still something going on between you two?

While I had anticipated her question, saw it on her wary face, it nonetheless came as a disappointment even in this imagined conversation.

How could you say such a thing?

There's still something there between you.

There will always be. Sentimental as it sounds, first love makes its own special stamp on people's hearts. But he has his family and life.

And I have mine.

She handed me a plate with a ham and Swiss sandwich on it sliced in half, some chips, and a garlic pickle. I was so hungry I felt faint. As we made to go back into the other room to join Nep and the twins, my mother offered the simple, sane kind of apology only lifetime intimates can make--Cass, I'm sorry, I just worry about you so--and I was seized abruptly from my fantasy and drawn cascading hard back…
Learn more about the book and author at Bradford Morrow's website.

Writers Read: Bradford Morrow.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Miracles, Inc."

T. J. Forrester has been a fisherman, a subsistence farmer, a bouncer, a window washer, and a miner. He is one of the few hikers in the world to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. He has written fiction since 2001, and his stories have appeared in numerous literary journals. Forrester also edits Five Star Literary Stories, an online site that brings the best fiction published on the web to a new audience for both reading and review.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Miracles, Inc., and reported the following:
Page 69 contains a description of Miriam MacKenzie, an aggressive businesswoman who left her parent's dairy farm and never looked back. She plays an integral role in Vernon's life, picking him to head her radical faith-healing scheme, but I cannot say more without giving too much away. Apropo of this blog title, a sexual discussion ensues near the bottom of the page.
Miriam had earned a business degree, worked as an accountant for a Chicago firm, saved her money, and invested in the first interesting proposition to come along. The carnival was owned and run by an old man who died within days of her investment. She took over. Fired everyone who didn't want to work for a woman.

"I heard you had sex shows in the early days," I said. "Johnny Bentley said something about midgets—"

"Stephan and Pauline! Thinking about them does bring back the memories. They were a married couple who put on a show for two hours a night, every night of the week. Hated every minute of it, as I recall."

I laughed.

"Seriously," she said. "They were like McDonald's employees eating free lunches. Eat hamburger every day, you wind up hating hamburger."
Read Chapter 1 of Miracles, Inc., and learn more about the book and author at Visit T.J. Forrester's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Dead Lift"

Rachel Brady is the author of the Emily Locke mysteries, Final Approach and Dead Lift.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Lift and reported the following:
I do think page 69 is representative of Dead Lift. In this scene, Emily is out on a limb, about to be stranded outside in a tropical storm at four a.m. while her boss is home, warm and dry in bed. Here, we see her begin to piece together what may be going on in the case she’s working on. Little does she know what will unfold in the next twenty-four hours:
“What’s up, kiddo?” Richard said. I pictured him sitting up in bed too, checking his watch and rubbing a stubbly cheek. My shirtless Vince image had been way better.

“Claire didn’t off her husband,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“I just got out of bed with him.” The wind picked up and I ducked my head. “Tell your police buddies he’s at his house if they want to question him.”

“You didn’t say you were going to their house.”

“I don’t say a lot of things. See what you can find on a guy named Kevin Burke. This is one messed up marriage.”

“We sort of got that from the neighbors.”

“Right, but there’s more. The financial accounts are Daniel’s. She gets a million dollars in life insurance if he dies and probably inherits all the stocks.”

“Again, no surprise.”

“But if she dies, the insurance pays out to her kids.”


“They’re in the middle of a divorce. What happens when they split?”

“It’s is a community-property state. Unless there’s a prenup, she’ll get half of those portfolios and everything else.”

“Say he wants to keep his share and hers too. There’s not much incentive to kill her. It’s a lot of risk and effort and he wouldn’t get any insurance.”

“No, but he’d keep his investments.”

“Sure. But maybe he keeps them anyway. Say he squirrels the money away while she’s all tied up in jail and can’t do anything to stop him. He could hide it off-shore or something.”

“You think Daniel framed Claire to give himself time to hide their money?”

“The murder weapon came out of their toolbox. Easy for Daniel to get. Harder for Diana.”

“There’s a problem, of course.”

“A huge one.” Bigger than my immediate problem—saturated clouds now freely dumping rain that pelted me like marbles.
Learn more about the book and author at Rachel Brady's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Eyes of the Innocent"

Brad Parks’s debut, Faces of the Gone, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His second book, Eyes of the Innocent, just released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.”

Parks applied the Page 69 Test to Eyes of the Innocent and reported the following:
Oh, Page 69 Test, how cruel you are. I have applied you to my latest work, Eyes of the Innocent, hoping you would catch me in the middle of some adrenaline-soaked action sequence, some breathless romantic scene or, heck, at least some decent dialogue.

Instead, oh vicious Page 69 Test?

You exposed me.

You shamed me.

You caught me monologuing.

Yeah, I stole that line from the Disney movie , The Incredibles. In that animated classic monologuing is what comic book villains cannot resist doing just when it seems like they are about to put away a hero – thus allowing the hero to escape and win in the end.

And while my intrepid protagonist, Carter Ross, is supposed to be one of the good guys, monologuing is, nevertheless, a perfect description for what he’s doing on Page 69.

To set the scene, Carter, an investigative reporter for The Newark Eagle-Examiner, has just discovered an article he has filed contains a blatant falsehood. A source, Akilah Harris, has lied to him about being an orphan, which leads Carter to wonder what else she might be lying about. Yet because the story contains a section about the dangers of space heaters – one of the executive editor’s favorite subjects – the paper is going to run the story anyway.

And while on most of the other pages of Eyes of the Innocent I would never let Carter go on like this – in what is essentially a self-indulgent rant – on Page 69 I just couldn’t seem to stop him.

Hence, Carter’s ranting manifesto…
(Page 68)

I took a great deal of pride in getting a story right, or at least trying my damndest at it. It went straight to the core of perhaps my deepest journalistic value: that the truth exists, and that it’s my job as a reporter to find it.

I realize that flies in the face of the moral relativism that has become so popular on campuses and in high-falutin’ big-think

(Page 69)

magazines, where the professors and editors will have you believe there is no such thing as the truth, only stories told from different perspectives. They’ll tell spin that marvelous bit of post-modern logic that says there are no absolutes and therefore we cannot possibly judge anyone else’s beliefs. And they’ll tell you journalists are hopelessly flawed creatures incapable of escaping their own innate biases long enough to ever approach anything resembling impartiality.

To which I reply: Fiddle faddle.

I’m not saying finding and telling the truth is a simple task. It takes a great deal of hard work, intellectual honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to keep listening to people even when your gut is telling you they’re full of it. Then it involves drilling through the layers one’s cultural assumptions and prejudgments, all the way down to the mushy middle of all of us, where I believe there’s a basic humanity that tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. If we as writers apply that code – without the anchors of agenda or ideology – we can lift our prose to something that can be called the truth. It’s the very best of what journalism can and should be.

So to have a story running under my byline that I knew was suspect? It made my guts twist. I never wanted to be one of those writers who skimped on the facts simply because they got in the way of a good story. And it pissed me off that’s what I was going to look like if Akilah’s story blew up in our faces – all because of Brodie and his spaceheater vendetta.

I went back to my desk, pondered what I might do with what remained of my evening, but couldn’t bat down my ire at the executive editor. Really, the man had left me only one option: go to McGovern’s and get drunk enough to start making bad decisions.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Brad Parks website and Facebook presence.

The Page 69 Test: Faces of the Gone.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The King of the Crags"

Stephen Deas is the author of the acclaimed short story “The Snow Fox.” The Adamantine Palace (Volume I of The Memory of Flames Trilogy) is his first novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The King of the Crags (The Memory of Flames, Book II), and reported the following:
The King of the Crags is the second book in the Memory of Flames trilogy. It's been out for about eight months in the UK, and arrived in the US on the 1st of February. US readers are fortunate, in that the cover is graced by a piece of gorgeous dragon-art from the mighty Stephen Youll. In the first book, The Adamantine Palace, it was explained that mankind rules over dragons by poisoning them throughout their short and violent lives with a potion that dulls their intelligence to the point that they can be trained and ridden and used as weapons of war. In a stroke of misfortune, a white dragon called Snow, who might just happen to be the dragon on the cover here, went missing. She woke from her chemically-induced stupidity, remembered her past lives and her true nature and was – and still is – mightly annoyed.

No. Annoyed is not a word you use to describe a dragon. The blazing raging fury of an exploding star, that would be more like it.

However, as this is the page 69 test and not the page 1 test, I shall put Snow aside, for one of the major plotlines in The Adamantine Palace has nothing to do with dragons at all. It has to do with a conniving murdering but charming little bastard called Prince Jehal, and his equally conniving, slightly more murderous and certainly more unstable lover, Queen Zafir. Jehal spends a great deal of time pushing Zafir towards the position of Speaker of the Realms, the ultimate power and arbiter of the dragon kingdoms and ruler of the mighty Adamantine Palace itself, an ambition in which he ultimately succeeds.

The opening chapters of King of the Crags concern themselves with the two main threats that Prince Jehal now faces. Firstly there is the white dragon Snow, the danger from whom he remains blissfully unaware. Then there is the rebellion of renegade dragon-riders who have set out on a single-minded mission to burn his reign to ash and the dragon-kings and queens who may or may not be giving these rebels some tacit support. The threat of all-out war looms.

Jehal, in fact, doesn't appear until chapter eight of King of the Crags, and page 69 (in the UK edition) conveniently brings that chapter to a conclusion. It's a nice page to use, in fact, as it's the first insight in King of the Crags into the relationship that drove The Adamantine Palace to its final conclusion.
Jehal looked at Zafir's naked shape, sprawled out before him. Well it could be a lot worse, and one must confess to having found a few diversions, I suppose.

Above the bed, two pairs of ruby eyes looked down at him from the rafters. Jehal stared back at them. Two golden mechanical dragons, wedding gifts of the Taiytakei, imbued with magics that let him look through their eyes. Perfect spies and yet now he had no one to spy on. He had to wonder, sometimes, why they'd given him such precious things, and why he'd given one of them to Zafir.

No, that wasn't right. He knew exactly why he'd given one to the Speaker of the Realms.

He took another step forward, out onto the balcony until his toes curled over the edge. This time, if anyone saw him, what would it matter? The whole palace knew they were lovers.

This isn't what I wanted. I thought I did, but I was wrong. He glanced back at Zafir, watching her chest slowly rise and fall. If I was speaker, what would I do? Bathe in the power, in the glory, in the knowledge that there was no higher place to be? Yet I see now that the view from up here was far better when it was forbidden.


Of all the things that might have happened, of all the things he'd planned for, of all the fates that might have befallen him on his path to this place, here was an outcome he'd never foreseen. He was bored.

Jehal walked back to the bed. He let his eyes linger on Zafir for one last time and listened to her breathing, slow and untroubled. You understand, don't you? That's why you can't simply let Shezira go. Because then it would be over. He leaned down and gently kissed her hair. ‘Have a care, my lover,’ he whispered. ‘Listen to your advisers, for they're no fools. And please let us not become enemies.’

He picked up his clothes, quietly dressed, and slipped away.
But there's a civil war brewing! And a rogue dragon bent on the complete and utter destruction of almost everything he knows! How can he possibly be bored?

Thing is, he doesn't know how much shit he's in. He hasn't even noticed that he's standing in it. Hell - he hasn't even started to smell it yet, he's that wrapped up in his own smugness.

The weeks and months to come will be anything but dull. What the dragon-realms will need, more than anything, is leadership, strong, firm and decisive. What it won't need is a fatal schism between the two people who have just clawed their way to absolute power.

Fatal? Did I say fatal? Why, is someone going to die?
Read an essay by Stephen Deas on the "Memory of Flames" trilogy.

Learn more about the book and author at the official Stephen Deas website.

The Page 69 Test: The Adamantine Palace.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Radleys"

Matt Haig is the author of The Labrador Pact, a UK bestseller narrated by a Labrador; The Dead Fathers Club, a widely acclaimed update of Hamlet featuring an eleven-year-old boy; and The Possession of Mr. Cave, a horror story about an overprotective father. His work has been translated into twenty-four languages.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Radleys, and reported the following:
Page 69 both is and is not representative of The Radleys as a whole. It is the page that first introduces Uncle Will, so it seems very different to what has gone before, but not necessarily to what comes after. The focus of the page though is Julie, a supermarket worker and a very minor character. She is about to be eaten alive but at this point, in the supermarket carpark, she doesn't know the danger she's in. It is through her we first see Will: 'her last customer of the day, he had come to her register with nothing but dental floss and wet wipes in his that first sight of him she had felt something wake up inside her. The self-willed semicoma she fell into at the start of her shift...suddenly left her and she'd felt strangely alive.'

I like this page. Nothing majorly dramatic happens in it, but it comes at a point in the story when things are hotting up. The Radley daughter, Clara, has just killed a boy at a party with her own teeth, and now her parents have got a lot of explaining to do about why they haven't until this point told their kids who they are. And now that they've got a corpse to hide and a cover-up to instigate they need the help of Uncle Will, so hence the sudden flash to this carpark and another of his hundreds of victims. There is already a hint by the time we get to this page that vampirism is not the only secret going on here and that Will may be a presence which threatens as well as potentially restores the Radley family's normal life. Yes, looking back and re-reading it now I'm quite proud of my page 69, and hope people would carry on reading because page 70 - wow - that's where it all gets going!
Read an excerpt, watch a video trailer, and learn more about the novel at the official The Radleys website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Someone's Watching"

Sharon Potts worked as a CPA, business executive, and entrepreneur before turning to a career of murder and becoming a crime fiction writer. Potts’s Miami-based thrillers are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Her debut novel, In Their Blood, won top honors in the Mystery/Suspense category of the 2010 Benjamin Franklin Awards. Her latest thriller, Someone's Watching was called "shiver-rich" by Publishers Weekly, and “stunningly well-handled” by Booklist.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Someone’s Watching and reported the following:
Page 69:
Robbie jogged back to her apartment. Breathing was difficult. Her sister’s friend was dead. It was tragic, but it only heightened Robbie’s sense of urgency to find Kate. But where could she be? And how was all this affecting their father?

Robbie ran upstairs. It was after nine, too late for the local news. She wondered if the TV cameras had captured footage for the early morning broadcasts. Would any of Kate or Joanne’s friends have seen it? And what about Kate? Could she have been watching from somewhere? Robbie logged onto her computer and went straight to Facebook. First she looked for a message from Kate Brooks. Nothing.

Then Robbie searched for Joanne Sparks. And there she was. Although the photo was different from the one on the police flyer, Robbie recognized the young, narrow face. Joanne was smiling, hugging a horse. Happy. Alive. Unlike Kate Brooks, Joanne had not blocked her profile. Just what Robbie had been hoping for.

She looked for messages on Joanne’s Facebook wall. Somehow, Joanne’s friends had already gotten the news of her death and set up a group to share their grief.

Oh no. This can’t be real ... I love you Joanne ...

You can’t really be gone ... you’ll always be in my heart ...
Someone’s Watching is both a thriller and a story about family and relationships. Robbie Ivy is working as a bartender on South Beach, trying to keep her life simple and commitment-free, when her father, whom she hasn’t seen in eighteen years, shows up at her apartment with a shocking revelation. Robbie has a half-sister whom she never knew about. But just as Robbie’s absorbing the idea of a new family, her father tells her that her sister Kate and a friend named Joanne, have disappeared while on spring break in South Beach. Reluctant to reestablish family ties with a father who deserted her and an unknown sister, Robbie is hesitant to get involved. Then the body of Kate’s friend washes up in the creek a short distance from where Robbie lives.

Page 69 begins at a turning point in the story, with Robbie shown here returning from Indian Creek, where Joanne’s body has been round. Robbie is propelled into action to find her sister, before Kate suffers the fate of her friend. This chapter shows an analytical, proactive Robbie, who’s not going to leave things to the police. But it also reveals Robbie’s emotional journey—concern for her estranged father, empathy for Joanne’s friends, shock at the premature, unexpected death of a young woman.

This is a slow, cerebral passage, which gives more of a sense of mystery, than thriller. In that regard, it isn’t representative on the overall book, which tends to be fast-paced and intense with roller-coaster twists that wind through the corrupt and decadent South Beach club scene. But let Robbie have a break now. She’ll need it.
Learn more about the book and author at Sharon Potts' website.

My Book, The Movie: Someone’s Watching.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Cold Shot to the Heart"

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. His novels include the acclaimed Gone ’til November and the Barry Award finalist The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Cold Shot to the Heart, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Cold Shot to the Heart actually turns out to be a key moment in the book. Crissa Stone, a career criminal and professional thief, is mulling over an upcoming job she’s been recruited for, the robbery of an illegal high-stakes poker game in a Fort Lauderdale hotel. She’s having a post-meeting huddle with another of the recruits, a fellow professional named Chance. Crissa is skeptical about the job, but needs money to grease the wheels of a parole board hearing for Wayne Boudreaux, her lover and mentor, imprisoned in Texas. Chance just needs money.

The two are sitting at a table in a dark corner of a hotel bar, drinks in front of them:
“You could bail on this if you wanted to,” Chance said. “I might not have that luxury.”

“What do you mean?”

“I need it.”

“That’s a bad way to go into something.”

“I know. But you don’t always get to choose.”

“You’re wrong,” she said. “You do.”

“It’s not like I’m desperate. It’s just that the last couple things fell apart before they happened. One goddamn thing or another. Bad luck. The kitty’s getting hungry.”


They sat in silence for a moment.

“Here’s what I think,” she said. “We go down there, take a look.”


“We get a feel for it. Check out the layout. If it looks good, we stay and do it. If not, we walk away.”

“That sounds right. When?”

“Soon,” she said. “There’s something else I need to do first.”
What she needs to do is visit Boudreaux in prison, outline the plan and get his blessing – or not. Either way, in this scene she’s moved from thought to action. She’s willing to take that next step, risk the exposure of traveling to Florida to case the job, look over the layout. She’ll carefully weigh the risk-to-reward factors. But it isn’t hard to guess that, cautious as she might be by nature, things aren’t going to work out the way she planned.
Learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The Curse-Maker"

Kelli Stanley is the author of last year's acclaimed City of Dragons.

Her debut book, Nox Dormienda (2008), was a Writer’s Digest Notable Debut, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award and was a Macavity Award finalist.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Curse-Maker, the sequel to Nox Dormienda, and reported the following:
He was a stallion— obviously. He could also smell Nimbus—obviously. She was nickering to him, and when he answered her, everyone in Aquae Sulis could hear what he said.

I strode into the house. “What the hell—”

A tall, hearty looking man of about forty was sitting down, starry-eyed, admiring my wife. Join the goddamn fraternity. Maybe I should put her in the barn with Nimbus.

“Arcturus—I’m so glad you’re home. This is Gaius Secundus. The duovir of Aquae Sulis.”

Of course. How could I forget there were two of the bastards?

I tried not to ask him what the hell he was doing with a stallion in my garden. I said: “We’ve already met Grattius.”

A look of distaste crossed his face. At least that was something in his favor.

“Well, Grattius and I run the town together, though we don’t always see eye to eye. I’d heard you were here, and thought you might want to come to dinner tomorrow.”

I glanced down at Gwyna, who smiled bewitchingly. “Of course. We’d love to. Thanks for asking.” Another neigh nearly shattered a glass.

“Is that your horse?”

“Noble beast, isn’t he? I understand you have a mixed Libyan breed yourself, a little gray mare.”

Ah. The horsey set. “Nimbus used to be a courier horse.”

“Fast devils. Good endurance, too.” He stood up. “Well, glad you can come. Not a lot to do in Aquae Sulis if you’re not infirm. Got a theater, of course— the wife and I are avid for theatricals. No arena yet. Hopefully, that’ll come. We could use a good gladiator show— liven things up a bit— but first things first. What we need is a good track. Run some fast circus breeds, have a little racing farm.” He clapped me on the back. “Always glad to meet a fellow who knows horses.”

I escorted him out, to make sure he left. Then made sure no one else was waiting around to make love to my wife.
Page 69 is all about Arcturus. He’s just returned home from a long and disquieting day fact-finding—for a case he didn’t want to take on. He detests the provincial atmosphere and Babbitt-like social climbers he’s encountered in Aquae Sulis (Bath), and has agreed to solve the murder of Rufus Bibax (the eponymous curse-maker) only because it’ll make Gwyna happy … and his desire to please his wife is obvious. He’s insecure, possessive, stressed, and frustrated—after all, he’s the governor’s doctor, a talented healer, and still he can’t figure out what’s wrong with his wife.

The Curse-Maker was inspired by a number of things: my own research as a classics scholar on curses and how they operated; the Hammett novels Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Thin Man, as well as Chandler’s unfinished concept of Poodle Springs (later completed by the great Robert B. Parker); and a desire to write about ancient history in a way that makes it seem contemporary and important and vibrant and real. The book follows up  Nox Dormienda, my debut novel and the 2008 winner of the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery award.

The Curse-Maker winds through underground water tunnels, sleazy taverns, a cemetery and a lead mine, several murders and Roman beliefs in the supernatural … from necromancy (the raising of the dead) to curses to ghosts. Arcturus battles the sideshow atmosphere of the spa town head-on , sorting out the charlatans, the phony healers preying on the sick, and others who would take advantage of the weak and desperate.

Lighter in tone than my 1940 San Francisco series (City of Dragons)—Arcturus tends to use sarcasm as a coping device—The Curse-Maker is actually a relaunch of “Roman noir”, a playful homage to my favorite genre of mystery and film. Nox Dormienda is currently out-of-print, so consider The Curse-Maker a series re-boot.

So does Nimbus get pregnant? She’s not telling …
Read an excerpt from The Curse-Maker, and learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Nox Dormienda.

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

--Marshal Zeringue