Monday, May 30, 2011

"Why Didn't You Come for Me?"

Diane Janes is a full time author, who lives and writes in the English Lake District. Prior to be accepted for publication she was shortlisted twice for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger and her first novel The Pull of the Moon was a finalist for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2010.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Why Didn't You Come for Me?, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Why Didn’t You Come for Me? Jo is reflecting on her life in the aftermath of her daughter’s kidnap:
She and Dominic had achieved a horrible form of celebrity, which drew false friends like wasps to a jam pot. People they had hardly known before it happened now appeared in the newspapers, talking about them, making things up.
We learn a lot about Jo here and begin to understand her deep aversion to any kind of publicity. We can see the multiple ways in which what happened to her daughter have distorted her life. Yet later in the book, we will perhaps recall Jo’s page 69 recollections again and question them, because this is a book which ultimately asks questions about the reliability of an individual’s memories and perceptions of past events.

Perhaps page 69 also invites the reader to confront the issue of the public’s intrusive and often damaging interest in the lives of those who have been the victims of a crime:
…would be hangers-on, people who wanted to be your ‘friend’, just so that they could satisfy their curiosity… so that they could tell their friends all about you, what they had made of you and how it affected their take on the case.
When I write a novel, I like to think that it offers some real issues to consider as well as a story to be told, and I think page 69 satisfies that test. Would it tempt anyone to read more? I hope so.
Learn more about the book and author at Diane Janes's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Long Drive Home"

Will Allison's debut novel, What You Have Left, was selected for Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, Borders Original Voices, and Book Sense Picks, and was named one of 2007's notable books by the San Francisco Chronicle. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, and One Story and have received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies. He is the former executive editor of Story. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, he now lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Long Drive Home, and reported the following:
This is the middle of one of my favorite scenes. It's the first time the narrator, Glen, comes face to face with Tawana, whose teenage son died in a car accident that was, unbeknownst to her, Glen's fault. The accident occurred in front of Glen's house, and in this scene, Tawana is taking an axe to the tree that her son's car hit as Glen's six-year-old daughter, Sara, looks on.

The page is representative of the rest of the book in that it involves themes of loss and grief and regret, and points to the story's central relationship, between Glen and Sara.

Would someone be inclined to keep reading? In search of a slightly less biased opinion, I read the page to my nine-year-old daughter this morning as she was brushing her teeth. "Would you keep going?" I said. "Yes!" she said. "Definitely!" Then she proceeded to turn to page one and read until she had to spit. So there you have it. (By the time I was driving her to school, though, she was back to The Mysterious Benedict Society, so there you have it again.)

Here's page 69:
"Ms. Richards?"

As I approached her, she drew back and took another swing, her eyes so full of tears I don't know how she could see what she was doing. Down at the corner, a woman pushing a stroller turned around and went back the way she'd come. On the next swing, the axe got stuck again. That's when Sara's voice reached us. She was standing just outside our front door, begging Tawana to stop. Tawana didn't bother trying to free the axe. She let go of the handle and looked at Sara and then me, her chest rising and falling.

"Your daughter," she said.

I nodded.

"She doesn't want me to hurt the tree."

"Come on," I said, hoping to get her away from the axe. "Come inside."

She righted the bouquet she'd knocked over, then brushed leaves from her sweater. "I'm not crazy," she said. "I know the tree didn't kill him. I just can't stand the sight of it."

"Me, neither."

She followed me back across the street. Sara was standing on the porch, looking at Tawana as if she were on fire.

"It's just a few scratches," I said to Sara. "No big deal."

Tawana took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm sorry, baby. Sometimes grown-ups get upset and do things they shouldn't."

Sara nodded, staring at her feet now.

"Why don't you go up to your room," I said.
Learn more about the book and author at Will Allison's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"A Conflict of Interest"

Adam Mitzner graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. and M.A. in politics, and from there went directly on to law school at the University of Virginia.

After law school, he joined the litigation department of a large New York City law firm, and after a few more stops, is currently the head of the litigation department of Pavia & Harcourt LLP. Pavia & Harcourt recently received some fame because it is the law firm where Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor practiced before she was appointed to the bench.

Mitzner applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Conflict of Interest, and reported the following:
Page 69 is only a few lines long, so it may not be a fair test. However, those few lines deal with Alex receiving advice that Michael Ohlig may not be innocent of the charges, and that Alex might not be using his most objective reasoning when it comes to Ohlig. In that way, even these few lines address the central theme of A Conflict of Interest -- whether the people in our lives are really who we perceive them to be.
Learn more about the book and author at Adam Mitzner's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Lake Charles"

Novelist Ed Lynskey writes the Private Investigator Frank Johnson mystery series, including this year’s The Zinc Zoo where Frank moves to the big city and lives with his lady friend Dreema before big trouble ensues, yet again.

Lynskey applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Lake Charles, a standalone Appalachian noir set in the 1970s, and reported the following:
Page 69 comes up at a pivotal scene where Mr. Kuzawa, a Korean War vet, is speaking to Brendan Fishback, the 20-something protagonist. Cobb, Mr. Kuzawa’s only son and Brendan Fishback’s best friend, was killed earlier. Then Brendan phoned Mr. Kuzawa to get some aid against an unknown foe, the one responsible for Cobb’s gory murder.

Brendan also suspects the foe kidnapped his twin sister Edna. Here we listen in at Brendan and Mr. Kuzawa notching out the hard objectives to their mission to be performed on the jungled banks of the TVA-built Lake Charles.

Their dialogue is kept terse, gritty, and idiomatic. For the first time, we also hear Mr. Kuzawa call Brendan “son,” and the more frequent use of the word begins to suggest it’s more than mere a habitual figure of speech.

The use of Lake Charles also touches on its noirish symbolism as a dreary spot where nothing much good happens to our heroes. Mr. Kuzawa is toting a 12-gauge shotgun, a tip off that more bloody violence bristles in the offing. In fact, Brendan fears their escalating scope of violence and preaches restraint and caution.

This comes after he has taken care of Cobb’s killer. In turn, Mr. Kuzawa only gives vague assurances that everything will be okay. Then he mentions the availability of a militia group (“the rangers”) led by Cullen, evoking the cussed, independent streak of the local populace. The rangers are a volatile, unpredictable force that Brendan says he wants no parts of, but will he refuse their help when the chips are down?

Of course, the rugged masculine image isn’t complete without the inclusion of cigarettes and smoking. The simile of the Six Million Dollar Man is a 1970s pop culture reference (an over-the-top TV show starring Lee Majors), one of a number different references in the narrative and anchoring it to that era.

At the end of the passage, Brendan introduces the old pressmen’s strike at Longerbeam Printery in their hometown of Umpire, TN, that only ended with bitter resentment and simmering grudges. The strike will later play a big role in resolving the noir’s conflicts.

Page 69:
“Did this big bug kidnap Edna?”

“She vanished from the same area, and I found her barrette lying in their campsite.”

“Don’t let it drive you nuts, son. We’ll soon evacuate her.” He chambered a 00-buckshot load into his 12-gauge.

As we took off again, I forced a self-deprecating chuckle. “I feel ridiculous marching through the boonies armed like two vigilantes.”

“We’ll be the rangers.”

“No-no, uh-uh. We’re nothing like them,” I said, knowing their leader Cullen didn’t let rational thinking govern his often rash actions. We had to be smarter than he was.

“We’re not near the campsite, are we?” asked Mr. Kuzawa.

“Two hours walking. You know, I fixed Cobb’s killer. He’d no I.D. on him, but he’s dead.”

“A commendable action and you’ve my thanks, but this big bug gave the orders. So now I’ll go squash the big bug.”

“Kill him?” I arched a hard glance at him.

He gave me a nod. “I’m trembling to explode with rage, and I can’t pull out even if I tried. Are you with me or not?”

“All right.” I waved at him to press on. “I’m behind you.”

“That’s all I wanted to hear from you.”

Lake Charles was our visible landmark as we crossed a hilly pine forest.

Soon the trunks and boulders clarified in the gathering daylight, and a great horned owl, all wings, swooped down at us. Mr. Kuzawa laughed at my cowering. The laurel branches slashed at our pumping thighs, and skirting the boulders slowed our progress. At last, Mr. Kuzawa gave a shout.

“Whoa, Brendan. Take five, son. Going at this clip, I’ll keel over from a coronary.”

“Blame it on the elevation.” I bent over at the waist, bracing my hands on my knees, my lungs also a wheezing bellows. “The oxygen runs thinner up here.”

“Uh-huh. Never mind I don’t look a day over fifty-five or your pack-a-day habit.”

“Don’t slam my cigarettes. Their tar counteracts the ink fumes eating away at my lung tissue.”

“Sure, you’re the Six Million Dollar Man.” Mr. Kuzawa shrugged back his bullish shoulders. “Is there less backstabbing at work? Cobb didn’t seem to think so.”

“Things could always be better. Brothers still don’t speak but the past three years we’ve done well enough to turn a profit and get our annual bonus. You’ve got to like that.”
Read the first chapter of Lake Charles.

Visit Ed Lynskey's Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Lake Charles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Alice Bliss"

Laura Harrington's award winning plays, musicals, operas, and radio plays have been widely produced in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Harrington is a two time winner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and a two time winner of the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England for Mercy and Hallowed Ground.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Alice Bliss, and reported the following:
Would a reader skimming page 69 be inclined to read on?
 Is it representative of the rest of the book? At first I thought, oh no, it’s such a quiet scene. It’s not a turning point, per se, but this book isn’t really about turning points as much as it’s about the deepening of a situation. The book is about the daily pain and uncertainty of a family who has a loved one away at war; the worry, the constant awareness of a father’s absence, the way all relationships shift and morph because of that absence, and the way an older child will be leaned on and relied upon to help take care of things. It’s also about family and how family pulls together, and it’s full of humor, as you’ll see with Ellie. So yes, I’d have to say this scene is representative of the rest of the book.

Page 69 finds Alice, 15, her sister Ellie, 8, and Gram just after Ellie has gotten a haircut that changes her appearance completely. Her braids are gone, saved in an envelope for her mother, and she has a Louise Brooks style bob with very short bangs. Now they are looking for eyeglass frames because Ellie needs glasses.

This deceptively simple scene, through inference, expresses the difficult changes they are undergoing because of Matt’s absence (their father, deployed to Iraq). These errands are happening with Gram instead of Mom, as they usually would, because Mom is working longer hours. Alice’s growing sense of responsibility with Matt gone and her deepening anxiety over fulfilling those responsibilities is the emotional undercurrent that drives the scene.
At the eyeglass place Ellie is not happy with the selection they have for kids. She pulls out her picture and gives it to the guy behind the counter. He’s incredulous, but goes to the locked cabinet with the designer frames and hands her a pair. She tries them on. The lenses are elongated rectangles and the frames are dark green plastic.

“Too big,” Gram says, thinking that will be that.

But Ellie studies her reflection in the mirror, turning this way and that, trying to keep the glasses from sliding off her face and not having much luck. Alice suddenly has this stab of fear for Ellie. With this haircut and these glasses she will be teased mercilessly; Alice has already swallowed several choice phrases rather then throw them at Ellie. But now that she’s actually looking at her she can see that Ellie is really skinny, maybe even skinnier than usual, and pale, super pale, like maybe she’s coming down with the flu or something, or maybe she’s not sleeping well or eating well and Alice thinks maybe she hasn’t been paying attention to the right things and maybe she should be paying more attention to her sister, and how is she ever going to manage with one more thing to worry about?

“Can you order these in a smaller size?” Ellie asks the clerk.

“Sure. We can have them for you in a week.”

“How much are they?” Gram asks.

“Three fifty.”

“Three hundred and fifty?” Ellie asks.

A tight-lipped smile from the clerk.

“Thanks so much,” Gram says, ushering them out the door.

In the car, holding the envelope with her braids in it, Ellie is unusually quiet. Even when Gram gets to talking about the chickens she’s thinking of getting and the chicken coop Uncle Eddie has promised to build for her, even though knowing Uncle Eddie, that could take another year, and how Ellie is going to be her right hand girl in the chicken-and-egg business. Ellie and Gram love chickens. Alice does not find chickens remotely appealing, let alone lovable, but Gram keeps telling her: “You just wait and see. When we get our first baby chicks …”

“eBay,” Ellie says out of the blue. “Second hand stores. We have some options.”

“What are you talking about?” Alice asks.

“I’m not giving up on those glasses.”
Read an excerpt from Alice Bliss, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Harrington's website and blog.

Writers Read: Laura Harrington.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Felicity's Gate"

Julian Cole is a journalist and columnist with The Evening Press. He spent three years writing and researching The Amateur Historian, his first novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Felicity's Gate, and reported the following:
My book, the second in a projected series of crime novels featuring the Rounder Brothers, is a multi-layered tale of murder, beginning with the death of an artist, Jane Wragge, bashed about the head with a glass juicer. It also concerns lost love, a fugitive fleeing the scene of his banished happiness, and mysterious paintings of naked lovers. The chosen page contains almost none of these, introducing as it does a subsidiary character, Clarence Smith, keeper of the sort of guest house you would not wish to visit. This place of uneasy refuge is close to York Cemetery, which has a vital presence in the novel, providing background, depth and a few threads of history. Reading the passage again, and this is always strange for a writer, there is plenty here to tease the reader, hopefully, although no hint that this is a crime novel in which bad things have been done, and will be done again. It is impossible for me to say whether reading this passage sums up the book, but it does sketch in a character with a role to play. So no squabbling Rounder brothers, no Mosey Mundy, the man on the run, and no mention of the freshly released ghost of the novel, poor dead artist Jane.
Read an excerpt from Felicity's Gate.

The Page 69 Test: The Amateur Historian.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Vanessa Veselka is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. She has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train-hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maxmum Rock ’n’ Roll, Yeti Magazine and Tin House.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Zazen, and reported the following:
The Rat Queen shook her head in a shower of pennies and beads and scratched at the cinders of Old Honduras looking for her children too. Police set up a barricade at one end of the street and another several blocks down in the other direction. Mirror hauled the Saint with the Black Tears back to the restaurant. I followed a few minutes later, walking through gusts of smoke. Chips of flaming auto shop whizzed by my head, most of them no bigger than a quarter. There was still some pink on the horizon but mostly it was night now. Above us stars were hidden in the haze.
This is Della, the narrator, describing the aftermath of a bombing. At first glance, this passage seems pretty impenetrable and I could easily see someone picking it up, looking at this page and saying, “What is this arty crap? What the hell is a Rat Queen? I think I’ll get a beer and browse.” But in the context of the novel this page isn’t impenetrable because the Della’s language develops as she goes. The auto shop down the street has just blown-up and what we’re getting here is Della’s way of talking about things, how she sees them. The Rat Queen is close, like a specter it haunts her sense of her world, not like a metaphor, but rather like something she can't quite name and tries to. The uneasy tone in this section is definitely something that weaves through Zazen. So back to the reader in the bookstore—would they buy it or browse more? I’ll just keep my fingers crossed.
Learn more about the book and author at Vanessa Veselka's blog.

My Book, The Movie: Zazen.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Dreaming Nicaragua"

David Gullette is an English professor at Simmons College and the author of two books about revolutionary poetry in Nicaragua.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Dreaming Nicaragua, and reported the following:
The year is 2000: Jesse Pelletier is a Vietnam Vet who runs a small hotel in a little port on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. He’s 56. It’s been 10 years since he divorced his wife and got on his daughter’s shit-list. But the daughter, Suzy, has decided to come to Nicaragua to visit the old man and see if they can reconcile.

Page 69 catches Jesse and Suzy at the end of a scene in which he’s been fussing about in a Mother Hen way, warning her not to jog on the beach at night and she tells him to Just Give It A Rest. He’s stung, but admits he gets a kick out of doing the Concerned Father bit “which I almost never got to do when you were a teenager because I was down here screwing around when no doubt I should have been back in Dorchester doing what Daddies do.” No, she says, “You can spare yourself the guilt trip.” Then she tells about a time back in Boston during his (clearly PTSD-fed) freak-out period when she heard him crying out in his sleep, and sat by him and held his hand and patted his shoulder until he went back to sleep.

Page 69 is perfect: it’s one of several Jesse/Suzy scenes in which we see them carefully, painfully kitting their relationship back together.

Page 69:
She comes out in a white cotton beach dress, rubbing her head with a towel. She opens the fridge, takes out the blender of pineapple/banana refresco, and pours herself a glass.

--Look, she says, leaning against the pillar that supports the overhang, I know you must want to worry about me for some reason, but you’ve got to understand I’m a big girl now. And I don’t do stupid things: my driving is safe, so’s my sex life, so’s my emotional life, I keep a sharp eye out for danger, I have a pretty good sense of how the world works, and so I tend not to get hurt. So there’s no need for you to get all anxious when I’m not around.

--So I should just back off and give you space.

--Uh, yeah. . .that’d be cool.

--I can do that. I just. . .well, I guess I must get some sort of weird kick out of doing the Concerned Father thing.

--Which except for a couple of weeks in the summer you never got to do when I was a teenager.

--Which I almost never got to do when you were a teenager because I was down here screwing around when no doubt I should have been back in Dorchester doing what Daddies do.

--Forget it. Mom was bad enough. I’m not sure I could’ve taken both of you at once. Besides, I was a mess, just like I was supposed to be. I don’t think you could’ve made me any less crazy than I was.

--But maybe my not being there helped make you crazy.

--Nah. You can spare yourself the guilt trip.

--But I. . . want to feel guilty, I need to. You were my Pumpkin Girl and I walked out on you. I was pretty sure you hated me, with good reason.

--Oh, I remember being pissed off at you from time to time. But I think I knew even then, even in that haze of adolescent ego-tripping, that you were probably doing something that you needed to do, taking care of business, getting yourself cleaned up inside.

--Cleaned up?

--Yeah. You could be a pretty scary guy. You’d sort of drift off sometimes into this strange space, all zoned out and. . . well, let’s call it like it was. You were unhappy and you were hurting, even a kid could tell that. So, sure, I cried when you said you were going away to Nicaragua for a long time, but I think I thought maybe if Nicaragua could give you some peace, then that was better than having you moping and groaning around the house.

--Groaning? Really?

--You don’t remember, do you?

--I guess not. Did I really groan?

--One time, after you and Mom had had one of your whopper fights and I had stayed in my room with my fingers in my ears, and you slept on the couch, well that night you started crying out in your sleep, and I came in and sat by you and asked you if you were having a bad dream and you said yes, so I just held your hand and patted your shoulder until you went back to sleep.

The old sorrow crests like a wave about to break; he fights it back.

--Let’s eat, he says.
Read more about Dreaming Nicaragua at the Fenway Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"The Informant"

Thomas Perry is the author of the Jane Whitefield series as well as the best-selling novels Strip, Runner, Fidelity, Silence, Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He won the Edgar Award for The Butcher's Boy, and Metzger's Dog was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Informant, and reported the following:
Once again, it's time for the page 69 test. I'm pretty lucky this year with The Informant. Page 69 is representative of the book, and it also contains some crucial dialogue.

Page 69 opens with "The Butcher's Boy," Michael Schaeffer, holding a gun on an old gangster named Mike Cavalli, who tells him that the up-and-coming Mafia chief Frank Tosca has asked the other Mafia leaders to "make him their problem." How does Tosca know that Schaeffer won't win?
"You've taken on too much importance for that. You're a symbol, like the Thanksgiving turkey. Whether you like it or not, this is going to be a celebration, and you're the guest of honor. Frank Tosca is the first young, strong, smart leader the families have produced in years. He's like all our grandfathers--crazy-ambitious, strong, tough. He's acting just like them. If he can get the Balacontano family under his control, the rest will start to turn to him too. There are people who have been waiting for this for a long, long time. It'll be like turning the calendar back, so La Cosa Nostra is young again. Everybody wants that. But first, he needs you dead."
That is a concise description of the predicament that Schaeffer faces throughout the novel. After hunting him for twenty years, the Balacontano faction has finally found him living in England and tried to kill him. Now he's back in the U.S. trying to make that a very costly plan. But once here, he learns his death has become more important than he is. It's an almost ceremonial step in an ambitious plan to revitalize the Mafia.

Next Cavalli says something that's another continuing theme in the book. When this vendetta started, Schaeffer was about thirty, and Cavalli slightly older. That was a long time ago. Schaeffer may still be the consummate killer, but even he "lives in time."
"I can tell you from experience that every year you slow down--you lose a step here and there. Your reactions aren't as fast, and pretty soon it feels like you're always walking on sand or deep snow instead of sidewalk. Then one day, you notice that your hearing and vision are a little worse too. Pretty soon, it's not so hard for somebody to come up behind you, the way you did to me tonight. They wouldn't have gotten you easily when you were a kid. But you're not a kid now."
Schaeffer lets Cavalli live, asking him to tell Frank Tosca he wants to talk to him. But at the bottom of the page, as he backs out, he sees Cavalli's reflection on the darkened television screen, shifting in his chair to pull out a gun to shoot him in the back. Cavalli's act, accepting Schaeffer's mercy and then, seconds later, trying to get rich by killing him, is all we need to know about the Mafia. It's all guile masking greed and violence.
Read an excerpt from The Informant.

Visit Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 13, 2011

"A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism"

Peter Mountford's short fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices 2008, Conjunctions, The Normal School, Michigan Quarterly Review, Seattle Review, Phoebe, and Boston Review, where he won second place in the 2007 contest, judged by George Saunders.

Mountford applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism, and reported the following:
On page 69, my hero/anti-hero Gabriel is visiting his love-interest Lenka at her office—she is the press liaison for the soon-to-be Bolivian president, Evo Morales. This is a couple weeks before Evo wins the election, but it’s clear he’s going to win. Gabriel and Lenka have been on a pseudo-date already, and now they’re going to lunch, but things are getting more flirtatious now. On page 69, he arrives at her office and then meets her.

One of the central tensions of the book is Gabriel’s relationship with Lenka and other people, like his mother, who are potentially “valuable” assets for him in his new job—he has recently been hired at a notoriously rapacious hedge fund; his job is to pursue tangible investment leads as a researcher or analyst. Of course, although Lenka has the potential to be hugely useful in his job, he wants to avoid muddying their relationship by making it professional, but it’s a difficult balance. And as his professional pressures mount, it’s harder and harder for him to justify keeping their relationship separated from his work.

Here he is flirting with her, a bit, but you can sort of feel the tension already between the professional and personal.
He asked the receptionist in Spanish if Lenka Villarobles was in.

She looked him up and down. Her lips were as glossy as glazed pottery. Her crimped hair looked like the dark tendrils of a sea plant that had dried stiff at low tide.

“She is expecting me,” he said.

The receptionist dialed a number, then turned away and whispered into the phone, glancing back at him.

He picked up a campaign circular and sat down. On the cover, Evo, visiting a mine, wore a yellow hardhat. In the background little boys spattered in slate-colored mud, burgundy hardhats on their heads, too-big rubber boots on their feet, stared at Evo in wonder. Gabriel flipped the page. More of the mines: a glimpse at a chillier and darker atrium in hell’s labyrinth. It was an infinite landscape of gray: pebbles, boulders, and sheets of slate; gentle shale, half mulched, as if attacked by an army of rock-eating termites. There was nothing else. Just as Gabriel began wondering if Lenka had anything to do with this leaflet, she appeared.

He stood and lunged into the greeting awkwardly. She flinched, almost, then leaned in, and they kissed each other on the cheek quickly. Though acutely aware of the many eyes on them, he had no idea if the attention was as a result of something she’d said about him, or if this was just because a young man had arrived and seemed to know her.

“You like that?” she said, referring to the brochure.

“Did you make it?”


“Then it’s just okay.”

She smiled at him and he caught a glimpse of warmth.

She led the way across the floor to her office, on the far side of the room. The only window in her office was a floor-to-ceiling sheet of glass facing the main floor. She sat in front of her computer. Her coworkers outside pretended not to stare.
View a trailer for the novel, and learn more about the book and author at Peter Mountford's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The Mermaid Garden"

Santa Montefiore's novels have been translated into twenty languages and have sold more than three million copies in England and Europe. Montefiore, who studied Spanish and Italian at Exeter University, now lives in London with her husband, historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, and their two children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Mermaid Garden, and reported the following:
Here we meet Clementine, who’s young and scatterbrained and hating her first job in the Estate Agency in the small Devon town of Dawcomb-Devlish. She’s cynical about marriage because her parents divorced when she was little. She believes Submarine, as she calls her stepmother Marina, stole her father from her mother and she can’t bear her. But she dreams of falling in love. Sylvia, her colleague, is a thirty year old divorcee who’s having an affair with a married man she does not love. She thinks that Big Love only happens to the very few – she certainly doesn’t believe it will ever happen to her. On this page we meet two of the main characters and touch on the two major themes in the book: love and Clementine’s troubled relationship with her stepmother. You have to read on to meet Marina and the thwarted Italian lovers Floriana and Dante – and of course the hero, Rafa Santorno, from Argentina who comes to teach Marina’s hotel residents how to paint and changes the people around him – but who is he really and why does he come? For that you have to read right up to the last page of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Santa Montefiore's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Happiness.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Warm Bodies"

Isaac Marion applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Warm Bodies, and reported the following:
I turn to face her. Now that the situation has settled and the blood on the floor is drying, I’m finally able to contemplate what’s happening here, and somewhere deep in my chest, my heart wheezes. I gesture toward what I assume is the “Departures” sign and give Julie a questioning look, unable to hide the hurt behind it.

Julie looks at the floor. “It’s been a few days,” she mumbles. “You said a few days.”

“Wanted to...take you home. Say goodbye.”

“What difference would it make? I have to leave. I mean I can’t stay here. You realize that, right?”

Yes. Of course I realize that.

She’s right, and I’m ridiculous.

And yet...

But what if...

I want to do something impossible. Something astounding and unheard of. I want to scrub the moss off the Space Shuttle and fly Julie to the moon and colonize it, or float a capsized cruise ship to some distant island where no one will protest us, or just harness the magic that brings me into the brains of the Living and use it to bring Julie into mine, because it’s warm in here, it’s quiet and lovely, and in here we aren’t an absurd juxtaposition, we are perfect.

She finally meets my eyes. She looks like a lost child, confused and sad. “But thanks for uh...saving me. Again.”

With great effort, I pull out of my reverie and give her a smile. “Any...time.”

She hugs me. It’s tentative at first, a little scared, and yes, a little repulsed, but then she melts into it. She rests her head against my cold neck and embraces me. Unable to believe what’s happening, I put my arms around her and just hold her.

I almost swear I can feel my heart thumping. But it must just be hers, pressed tight against my chest.
I'd say this page is about 50% representative. It captures the awkward, tentative nature of R and Julie's slowly developing relationship, the impossibility of their situation. (Julie is R's pseudo-prisoner at this point, waiting for the right moment to escape from the "city" zombies have established in an abandoned airport. Romance is the last thing on her mind.) It also captures R's whimsical inner life, the dreams and flights of fancy that make him different from his fellow corpses, who are much more pragmatic about being bloodthirsty corpses. I hope the tension established on this page would make skimmers keep reading, because what it doesn't capture is the dark side of this story. Warm Bodies is unfortunately being billed as a "paranormal romance" which would make you assume the whole book will be breathless moments like this, heaving bosoms and zombie groans of pleasure, but it's actually a lot more serious than that. There is a central love story, but it takes place amidst a struggle to reclaim a ruined world from forces of decay on both sides of the Living/Dead divide. There are battles in here. Sex and violence. Big philosophical themes. Did I mention sex and violence?
Learn more about the book and author at Isaac Marion's website and the Warm Bodies Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"The Gods of Greenwich"

Norb Vonnegut is a professional wealth adviser turned novelist. Top Producer, his debut novel, was a featured pick of Today, SmartMoney and is published in eight languages.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Gods of Greenwich, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Gods of Greenwich, Rachel Whittier is whacking a 72-year-old woman. Rachel is a constant, lurking menace throughout the novel. This hit is her second in the book. And there are more septuagenarians, who will fall victim.

Page 69: “Rachel loved this part of her job. She felt like an alley cat toying with a trapped mouse.”

By day, Rachel works as a nurse in a plastic surgeon’s office. By night, she is a hired assassin. And the questions are:

Why is she killing seventy-year-olds?

How is she involved in the war between a hedge fund in Greenwich and a really nasty bank in Iceland?

What made her so evil in the first place?

Rachel eschews guns. Her aversion could be a problem in the murder-for-hire profession, right? Not so. She is extremely effective, skilled at her trade. Thriller fans won’t believe the hit on page fifteen.

Once again, the page sixty-nine test works. I think it nails what readers will find inside The Gods of Greenwich.
Learn more about the book and author at Norb Vonnegut's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 6, 2011

"The Medusa Amulet"

Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, television writer, and the bestselling author of many novels and nonfiction books.

His newest novel, The Medusa Amulet, is a supernatural thriller based on the life and works of the Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini. Like its predecessor, Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet mixes historical fact with dark fantasy, and takes its readers on a journey across continents and centuries, from the Medici court in Florence to the Coliseum in Rome, from the ramparts of the French Revolution to the innermost councils of the Third Reich.

Masello applied the Page 69 Test to The Medusa Amulet and reported the following:
It was dusk already, and the monumental sculptures in the square threw long shadows on the stones .... And Cellini, already an acknowledged master in so many arts, longed to make his own contribution to their august company. What the piazza needed was a bronze more perfectly modeled and chased and refined than any such statue ever done. Its subject? The hero Perseus....
Benvenuto Cellini was one of the greatest artists in Renaissance Italy, and his bronze statue of Perseus slaying the gorgon Medusa is still his most famous work. It stands today in the central square of Florence. But Cellini was also a wonderful writer, and his renowned autobiography was the starting point for my own novel. Cellini's book ends abruptly, uncompleted, and there are hints of necromancy in earlier portions of the manuscript. I took those hints, and that unfinished manuscript, and told my own story of his life -- and in mine Cellini creates an amulet with miraculous powers ... an amulet that my hero in the present day -- a young scholar at the Newberry Library in Chicago -- must find at all costs. The story takes place over nearly five hundred years, with stops at the papal courts in Rome, the French Revolution, the invasion of Paris in the Second World War. My movie agent billed it as a supernatural Da Vinci Code (I should be so lucky), but that's not a bad thumbnail description. If you like thrillers filled with art history and European intrigue, as I do, then The Medusa Amulet might be right up your alley.
Learn more about the book and author at Robert Masello's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blood and Ice.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"The Fallen Angel"

David Hewson is the author of the Nic Costa series of novels set primarily in contemporary Rome. A former journalist with the London Times and Sunday Times, his work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai ... and Italian.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Fallen Angel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Fallen Angel takes us to the opening of Chapter 16. An English academic has fallen to his death in strange circumstances in the Roman ghetto. Costa thinks there's more to the death than meets the eye, and has convinced his boss Falcone of this too. Falcone, a sly man, has reeled in a former acquaintance of theirs from book six, The Garden of Evil, Agata Graziano. Back then she was a nun though expert on art. Now she's trying to make her way as a teacher, outside the Church. She's not much impressed by the way Falcone keeps trying to tap her for advice.

Relationships are important in my books. The four principal police characters-- Costa, his colleague Peroni, the pathologist Teresa Lupo and Falcone -- are a family of a kind, deeply fond of one another, prone to disagreements. Agata is someone they all like and the others want to push her towards Costa as a girlfriend. At this point in the book we're in the middle of a meal. People often ask why eating appears in my books -- are they food porn? Not really. The English go out to eat. Italians go out to talk. If there's something to be discussed, pulled apart, analysed, then a dining table and some free and open conversation is the way to do it. And that's what's happening here. People are brainstorming if you like -- in ways that Agata finds disturbing.

So this is very representative of the book as a whole. It's decent ordinary people who love one another trying to work out why there's been a violent and incomprehensible tear in the fabric of the beautiful, lazy world of Rome one hot August.

Extract from page 69:
Agata was leaning against the wall, eyes closed, looking weary. A pretty young woman in her early thirties, doubtless worried about the job she'd start tomorrow, the first real employment she'd ever had. It was thoughtless of Falcone to invite her out, especially on dubious pretences. He'd clearly briefed Teresa fully before the meal, and was fishing for more information about Malise Gabriel and his background in the Confraternita delle Civette.

'It's stifling in there,' Costa said as he joined her.

'Why am I here?' she asked with a touch of anger. 'If you wish to have meals to discuss your cases, do so. But please tell Leo to leave me out of them. I saw enough of the world you live in two nights ago. I don't want to meet it again. Not for a long time.'

He glanced at the piazza, and the Cenci building opposite. 'It's still there, though. "And yet it moves."'

It was a very strange thing for someone to write on a bookmark.
Learn more about the author and his work at David Hewson's website and blog.

Hewson is the author of the Nic Costa series of novels set primarily in contemporary Rome. A former journalist with the London Times and Sunday Times, his work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai ... and Italian.

The Page 69 Test: The Seventh Sacrament.

The Page 99 Test: The Garden of Evil.

My Book, The Movie: Dante's Numbers.

The Page 69 Test: City of Fear.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Anthem for Doomed Youth"

Anthem for Doomed Youth is Carola Dunn's 19th Daisy Dalrymple mystery, set in England in the 1920s.

Dunn applied the Page 69 Test to Anthem for Doomed Youth and reported the following:
Page 69:
"I am Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher."

"I thought so, but she—Chief Inspector? I'm so glad someone is taking his disappearance seriously at—But it isn't just a disappearance now. He's dead, isn't he? They came last night and told—I just can't accustom my mind to—The first policeman said young men, even the steadiest—Martin was very steady. He always told me where he was going and when he'd come—so it was nonsense to say he'd probably gone off to have a fling!"

"Martin was very steady, was he? You must miss him terribly. Tell me about him, Mrs Devine."

"He wanted to be a clergyman, you see. Then the War started, just as he finished school. He volunteered at once, of course—the Territorials—they didn't take volunteers into the regular army yet, not till—I'm not quite—Sometime in 1915, I think, or was it '16? As soon as they did, he—and then he was sent to France. Or he volunteered to go. Must you know exactly?"

"That's all right, it doesn't matter." And, if necessary, could be looked up in the records. "Don't worry about the date. Do you know which regiment, or battalion, of the Territorials he was in?"

"Regiment—No. Did they have regiments, like the proper army? Does it matter? I thought they were all—But they didn't all go to France. Mesopotamia and India—but he transferred to the army in France. I wish he hadn't! When he came back, he said he couldn't be a clergyman because the Bible says, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and he had killed two men. Or three—he wasn't sure. It was the third—For some reason, that one worried him most but he never really—"

Alec decided not to press her about which unit her son had joined in France. Not unless they couldn't work it out from the records. "Never really...?"

"Explained. So he articled as a solicitor in my brother-in-law's firm—Lily's husband—very good to him."

"He lived with you all this time, Mrs Devine? Since he was demobbed, I mean."

"Yes. He never seemed interested in—We lead—led a quiet life—bridge, tennis—I don't play tennis but he was quite keen, though he didn't care for golf, though I encouraged— and cricket. I know what they say about widowed mothers but I wasn't clinging! I wasn't! I just wanted him to be happy." She broke down again, and Alec fished for another hankie.
The missing son of Mrs. Devine was found shot and buried along with two other bodies. Martin Devine, as described by his mother, seems an unlikely murder victim. As you might guess, the "third" man, whom he never explained to her, is one of the keys to the puzzle. DCI Alec Fletcher, husband of Daisy Dalrymple, is trying to discover the identities of the three men and the connection between them. If he doesn't catch the killer soon, more deaths may follow.

Anthem for Doomed Youth is about the wounds of war, the ones that never heal. Mysterious Women called it: "gripping and fascinating." This side of the story is reflected in the cover of the UK edition [left]. The title is taken from the poem by Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action a week before the Armistice. You can read it on my website.

You will have noticed that Daisy, the eponymous sleuth of the series, doesn't appear on P.69. She takes little part in Alec's case. She's out of town, visiting her stepdaughter at boarding school(which just happens to be the school I went to, though not in the 1920s!).

In spite of the murder of one of the teachers, Daisy's part of the story is in a much more light-hearted vein, "amusing and sprightly," according to Kirkus. The cover art of the US edition is more appropriate for this aspect of the book [top right]... though Daisy is looking distinctly worried! To protect her daughter from interrogation by the obnoxious local detective, she does her best to find out what happened. And she begins to wonder: Is the teacher's death somehow connected with Alec's case?
According to Publishers Weekly: "The aristocratic but very modern Daisy makes a formidable amateur sleuth." Being "very modern," she has her own Facebook page, Daisy Dalrymple, Fictional Character. You can also read more about her at Carola Dunn's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Carola Dunn & Trillian.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Leaving Van Gogh"

Carol Wallace is the author of numerous books, including The Official Preppy Handbook, which she coauthored. A graduate of Princeton University, Wallace received a M.A. in art history from Columbia University in 2006. The research for her M.A. thesis provided the foundation for Leaving Van Gogh, her first historical novel.

Wallace applied the Page 69 Test to Leaving Van Gogh and reported the following:
Leaving Van Gogh flunks the page 69 test in one really important way: Van Gogh does not appear, so in this respect it’s not representative of the rest of the book. Instead, we’re in the middle of a flashback to the mid-1850s, when Van Gogh is still a small child toddling around in the Netherlands.

What is happening, though, is pretty interesting. The novel is narrated by Dr. Paul Gachet, who was the doctor in charge of Van Gogh for the last two months of his life. As everyone knows, Van Gogh committed suicide. This might be construed to mean that Dr. Gachet failed; after all, he couldn’t keep his patient alive.

Page 69 falls in the middle of a scene describing Dr. Gachet’s medical training. He is serving as an extern (non-resident intern) at the women’s hospital called the Salpêtrière, in the wards full of mental patients. He has an artist friend named Amand Gautier who wants to draw the madwomen in the hospital. Gautier has made an impression on some of the patients because he came to the annual bal des folles or Madwomen’s Ball, dressed as a Roman legionnaire. With bare legs. (The bal des folles is fact, as are Gautier and Gachet, and even the painting of the madwomen.)

In this excerpt, Gachet is explaining Gautier’s presence to Laure, an older woman who lives at the Salpêtrière as a patient, though she previously worked there as a nurse. (Long-term patients and caregivers did switch roles from time to time.)
Laure’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t understand. We aren’t beautiful.”

“Perhaps you are beautiful in his eyes,” I suggested.

“He is certainly beautiful in ours!” She sniggered. “Don’t you remember that he was the king of the ball? The women loved seeing his legs! Now they will want to show him theirs!” She rocked with laughter, slapping her thigh. The coarse humor of a nurse? The lack of control of a madwoman? The former, I thought.

“Then no one will mind his presence here?”

“Oh, far from it, Doctor!” She chortled. “The more young men, the merrier.” She stood up to leave me. “They’re already calling him Jules César,” she said and walked away.
Would a reader picking this up be hooked? I can’t tell. I was more concerned with getting a grip on readers from the very beginning, hence the first sentence of Leaving Van Gogh: “I held Vincent’s skull in my hand yesterday.”

That seems a good bit catchier than page 69, I’m sorry to say.
Learn more about the book and author at Carol Wallace's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue