Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb"

Melanie Benjamin's first historical novel is Alice I Have Been.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb, her second historical novel, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“You bet, little lady,” someone shouted, and there was a general stirring and creaking as people took their seats. It was a sound I would grow to recognize, the contented sound of an audience settling in, ready to be entertained. But at that moment, I noted it with only exquisite relief, for soon my humiliation would be over.

I nodded at Mr. James, who began the lively military introduction for “The Soldier’s Wedding.” With clenched fists, I held on to my skirts in an effort to keep myself from toppling over.

’Give me your hand, my own Jeanette,’” I sang with determined force, and soon the audience was clapping along. Somehow I got through the song, I know not how, although Mr. James told me later that I had smiled the entire time. As soon as I was finished, I smoothed my skirts, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the keyboard, then the piano bench, then finally the floor; I couldn’t wait to leave that stage.

The roar started; from the back of the audience it came, a deafening sound that made me clasp my hands over my ears. It was applause; my first ovation, and it was a sound I would never forget. Utterly astounded, I somehow found the presence of mind to curtsy, my hand over my heart, as if I was, indeed, Miss Jenny Lind.

A little smile tickled my lips as I turned around to go back through the curtains, passing Colonel Wood. But that dastardly man actually kicked at me as I walked by, laughing to see me jump in fright.

“That’s not the last you’ve heard from me about that slap, little missy. I won’t be made a fool of on my own stage, especially not by a dwarf,” he hissed, before turning back around to quiet the still roaring audience.
This is a perfect encapsulation of Vinnie’s story, actually. It’s a description of her very first appearance before the public, which began very differently than she had anticipated. Expecting simply to perform and sing, she found, instead, that the rough crowd was crudely curious about her size. When this section begins, she has quieted them down and finally begins to sing. And just as she discovers the approval of applause, the glow of being adored, she’s reminded, again, of the cruelties awaiting someone her size. This conflict – is she loved because of her size, or mocked? Is she prized because she has talent, or simply because she’s a “curiosity?” - is central to her story throughout the book. She both deludes herself into thinking people do not see her as a dwarf, and trades on that very fact in order to find approval and fortune. And page 69 of The Autobiography Of Mrs. Tom Thumb perfectly reflects this conundrum.
Learn more about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website. Her first historical novel is Alice I Have Been.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 29, 2011

"A Game of Lies"

Award-winning author Rebecca Cantrell majored in German, Creative Writing, and History at the Freie Universitaet of Berlin and Carnegie Mellon University. Her Hannah Vogel mystery series set in Berlin in the 1930s includes A Trace of Smoke and A Night of Long Knives.

Cantrell applied the Page 69 Test to A Game of Lies, the third Hannah Vogel book, and reported the following:
A Game of Lies is set during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where, just for the duration of the Olympics, the Nazis are pretending that Berlin is not the cruel and oppressive city they have made it. When Hannah takes a quick trip there to cover the Games and smuggle out secret documents, she is quickly confronted with the death of a close friend and fellow journalist. She sets out to reveal the story he died for.

Page 69 falls on a scene where Hannah Vogel meets her former fiancé, Paul Keller, and his wife. The Kellers are both Jews trapped in Hitler’s Germany, and the scene shows how everyone’s relationships have changed because of their political situation. That’s definitely a major theme in A Game of Lies, so I’m counting it as very representative. What do you think?

Here is page 69 of A Game of Lies:
“Hannah, this is Miriam, my wife.”

“Best wishes on your marriage.” I held out my hand for Miriam to shake. She did not take it. I glanced at Paul, who shrugged. He did not shake my hand either. I lowered it. Not quite the welcome our almost twenty years of friendship had led me to expect.

We entered the living room. Sarah’s aubergine horse hair sofa still stood next to the graceful coffee table, and her lace curtains hung in the windows, but nothing else was the same. Dark rectangles on the walls showed where her pictures had once hung, among them one of myself and my murdered brother, Ernst. Her personal things were gone. Shipped to her, or sold?

I walked behind the sofa and slid my hand across the smooth fabric, remembering hours spent here laughing with Sarah and Paul.

Miriam asked Paul a quick, angry question in a Slavic language.

Polish? What ever the language, it sounded like a challenge.

“Would you be more comfortable in the kitchen?” A note of defiance peppered his words. What waited in the kitchen?

“What ever you prefer,” I said.

Miriam glowered. I was not to feel comfortable in any room in this apartment; that was clear.

Paul led us to the kitchen. Miriam took care to keep herself between Paul and me, as if to protect him.

Ceramic crunched under my shoe when I stepped across the threshold.

Shards of broken crockery littered the floor. Someone had thrown a dish against the wall. I guessed it had once been a plate.

I glanced at Paul. He shook his head fractionally. I stepped around fragments and sat at the table. He could keep his secrets. I certainly would keep mine.

I took in the well- scrubbed surfaces. Of that, Sarah would approve.

A knife rested on a wooden board next to a loaf of bread.

“I have not been here in ages,” I said, reminded of my last visit.

Perhaps it was even the same knife. “Not since—”

“Since you almost skewered me?” Paul asked. In 1931, before I left Germany, Anton and I had been hiding in this apartment after someone ransacked mine. When Paul stopped by unannounced, I nearly stabbed him.
As to the question about whether readers would be inclined to read on, I like to hope that readers can open the book at any page and be inclined to read on. It’s part of the naïve philosophy of life that led me to be an author.
Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Cantrell's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Trace of Smoke.

My Book, The Movie: A Trace of Smoke.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Cleaning Nabokov's House"

Leslie Daniels' stories have appeared in Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, The Florida Review, Gulf Coast, The Santa Monica Review and New Ohio Review. The Shooting Gallery in New York City produced her one-act play. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize and for the Best of the Associated Writing Programs. From 2005 to 2010, she was the fiction editor for The Green Mountains Review.

Daniels applied the Page 69 Test to Cleaning Nabokov's House, her debut novel, and reported the following:
This page has some of the threads of my fascination with shame, with tenderness, with the imagined life. It has a representative dancing away from pretension. The relationship between the reader (fictional, the narrator here) and the writer (also fictional, a book by Vladimir Nabokov that is pure invention) is explored on p. 69.
I walked home without knowing it. Nothing looked familiar. I went inside my house and closed the door. I took my clothes off and got in the bathtub and cried. I don’t know why I had to be naked to cry properly, but I did. Then I took a blanket to the couch and read Babe Ruth again.

I tried to read past the story to see what the person who wrote it cared about. It was a shape-shifting kind of book. The writer understood that even in the middle of the most ordinary of happy circumstances, shame and exposure lurked. I wasn’t sure if the writer even believed in love, although there was a lot of love in the book. There were also long twisting paragraphs studded with horror, small shards of horror, like splinters of glass under fingernails.

I thought about Nabokov living here, looking out these same windows, wondering if it was going to rain on him when he walked to teach his class at Waindell. I wondered if Vera handed him the right coat for the weather, or drove with him in their big ’46 Oldsmobile. I wondered if they ever went to a baseball game, and if they did, why?
Learn more about the book and author at Leslie Daniels's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Brian M. Wiprud's novels include Feelers and Buy Back.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Ringer, and reported the following:
Ringer Chapter 13 begins on page 69, and it is a set up for a new scene at an exclusive Hamptons beach lounge. Our protagonist Morty doesn’t appear on the page, and neither do any of the principal players, so it is not even integral to the primary and secondary plot lines. However, page 69 introduces us to the hulking bouncer of this lounge, Wilmer, who is an expert in ladies shoes. He needs to be in order to decide who can come in and who can’t. He can differentiate between Pay Less and Gucci cork wedges at a glance. Yet – as the page concludes – Wilmer is no wilting flower, he once threw a drunk Mike Tyson physically from the club. So while page 69 may not be a pivotal page that introduces a major character or plot twist, I think it is at representative of the sorts of characters and Morty’s dramatic narration – lightning “flutters” on the western horizon and the sea crashes on the beach with “briny exuberance.” Based on page 69 would a reader want to turn the page? I think at the very least they would do so to see if Wilmer is on the verge of tossing famous people out of the club. Or to explore the origin of the first line: “Let us cut away from the smoky confines of the palmist’s inner sanctum…”
Learn more about the book and author at Brian M. Wiprud's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"This Burns My Heart"

Samuel Park is an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago. He is a graduate of Stanford and the University of Southern California, where he earned his doctorate in English. He is the author of the novella Shakespeare's Sonnets and the writer-director of the short film of the same name, which was an official selection of numerous domestic and international film festivals.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, This Burns My Heart, and reported the following:
Page 69 presents both a twist and a turning point in the novel: it’s the scene where one of the characters stops pretending he’s something he’s not, and reveals himself to be a much more scheming person than the heroine knew. At that moment, she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake—one that will haunt her for the rest of the story. Page 69 leads to the end of the first section, and provides the starting point for the middle section of the book.

Set in 1960s South Korea, This Burns My Heart centers around Soo-Ja, a privileged young woman. As the story begins, Soo-Ja finds out she’s been accepted to study to become a diplomat. However, her overprotective parents refuse to let her leave their village. Ambitious and resourceful, Soo-Ja devises a plan to trick a young man into marrying her and thus win her freedom from her parents. Meanwhile, the nation’s in disarray as student protests push for the ouster of the dictatorial President.

Page 69 encapsulates some of the central themes of the book: that the greatest violence is done between people who know each other, and that when it comes to love, a careless choice can lead to surprisingly tragic results.
Learn more about the book and author at Samuel Park's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Chihuahua of the Baskervilles"

Esri Allbritten lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband, Angel Joe, and her cat, Musette La Plume. In addition to sushi, bowling and madrigals, she enjoys discovering quirky, real-life towns and wreaking fictional havoc in them. Her novels include two books about Lord of the Ring type elves, living in Boulder, CO.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, the first book in the Tripping Magazine mystery series, and reported the following:
Page 69:
She obligingly stepped closer. “You’re going the wrong way. It’s there.” She pointed again.

Angus sniffed. “That’s quite the strawberry breath you have.” Was it covering something, like vodka?

“It’s my toothpaste. Good night, Mr. Ghost Man.” She giggled.

“Good night.” He walked the correct way down the hall, glancing back briefly. Cheri opened her door with no sign of difficulty, and her steps didn’t seem unsteady.

With a sigh, Angus went into the bathroom, switched on the light and closed the door. One side of the counter held someone’s personal toiletries, and he remembered that the guest bathroom was also Ellen’s.

As he took a leak, he thought about mousy Ellen. She seemed to be lowest on the totem pole, always opening doors and showing people around, yet Petey’s Closet was built on her designs.

That wasn’t strictly true. It was built on Ellen’s designs plus Charlotte’s networking, marketing know-how, and money. Presumably they were partners. Ellen was simply the kind of person who opened doors and fetched things, whereas Charlotte was not.

Angus flushed the toilet, then opened the door and checked the distance to his room before turning off the light. Second door along.

He switched off the bathroom light, then paused as something caught his eye.

A small green dot shone up from the floor, where the bathroom threshold met the wood floor of the hall. In shape, it resembled nothing so much as a paint drip.
Angus squatted and ran his finger over it. It felt dry. He looked at his fingertip and thought he saw a faint glow there, as well. It was difficult to tell, as his eyes struggled with shades of darkness.
This is quite representative of the book, except for the fact that only one of of my three sleuths is on the page. But they often split up. It's one of the benefits of having an ensemble cast.

In this scene, Angus MacGregor, editor of Tripping Magazine, is staying at the Baskerville house. Charlotte Baskerville says she's seen the ghost of Petey, the Chihuahua who got her started with Petey's Closet, a catalog of canine clothing for small dogs. When Angus gets up in the night, he takes the opportunity to see if Charlotte's granddaughter is secretly drinking, and he also finds something that may shed light on the ghost. But since he really wants a genuine paranormal event to put in the magazine, he's going to keep this possible clue quiet until he's compelled to reveal it.
Learn more about the book and author at Esri Allbritten's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Original Sin"

Beth McMullen graduated from Boston University with a degree in English Literature and received an MLS from Long Island University. After landing a gig with Reader’s Digest, she eventually realized she’d rather write books than condense them.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Original Sin, and reported the following:
So what is the real story because everyone must come from somewhere and I am no exception to this rule. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York, surrounded by acres of corn and milk cows named Bessie and Moo. It was an idyllic existence in the beginning. During the summer, I’d roll out of bed, still in my nightgown and bare feet, and grab a few still warm biscuits and a glass of fresh milk from the kitchen table and go sit on the porch. Watching the farm hustle and move all around me, I’d plot my day. Maybe I’d get Luke from next door and we’d fish for trout in the river with our dime store poles. Or go swimming in Black Lake. Or ride our bikes down the endless dirt road that seemed to go nowhere. Or go searching for fossils in the dried out streambed that ran by Luke’s farm. The possibilities were endless. As I was only eight years old, I was not called upon to help on the farm. And because we lived in the middle of nowhere, I was allowed to run amuck, unquestioned. I had the long endless days of childhood summer all to myself and everything was a wonder to behold.

I would come flying into the house in the early evening, hair a mess, damp from swimming, covered in dirt and mud, a huge grin on my face and throw myself into my chair at the big oak dining room table. My parents would look at me and shake their heads. What are we raising here, a wild animal? I’d dig into my food, meat, potatoes, vegetables and bread straight out of the oven like I hadn’t eaten in a month. After dinner, I’d help clean up the kitchen, we’d play cards or watch TV and I’d go to bed. The next day I’d wake up and do it all over again.

The winters in upstate New York are another situation entirely. Long, cold and gray, it is safe to say nothing good ever happened in an upstate New York winter. I like to believe it was the bleakness that made the annual winter visits from the man in the dark blue overcoat stand out in my memory. Or maybe it was the fact that he was the only person ever invited into our house.
I swear this is the longest stretch without dialog in the entire book. Dialog is the most fun for me to write so it tends to show up a lot but in this section it is straight prose. By this point in the novel we’ve learned that stay-at-home mom Lucy Hamilton used to be Sally Sin, a covert agent for The United States Agency for Weapons of Mass Destruction. We’ve also learned that stepping out of that life has not been so easy for Lucy. She loves her mothering gig but old habits die hard. And now that her old boss, Simon Still, wants her back in the game to help trap a notorious traitor named Ian Blackford, the need to keep her past from taking over her present seems more urgent than ever.

On this page, we start to fill in the blanks of Lucy’s background. Nothing, of course, was as it appeared to be. What might have looked like a normal childhood from the outside was anything but. The last line on the page reminds the reader that despite the homey description that came before, something weird was going on. Why was no one invited into the house? What did they have to hide? By page 69, it is pretty clear everyone is hiding something.
Learn more about the book and author at Beth McMullen's website and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Lola, California"

Edie Meidav is the author of The Far Field: A Novel of Ceylon and Crawl Space. Winner of a Lannan Fellowship, a Howard Fellowship, the Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman, and the Bard Fiction Prize, she teaches at Bard College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lola, California, and reported the following:
May I just say this whole premise is a brilliant concept? Readers probably come to this web site as either Hedgehogs or Foxes, ready either to dig in or frolic about, and something about the query satisfies my inner hedgehog (allowing me the joy of close reading along with the simultaneous, welcome defamiliarization of a book I know now all too well) while saluting some essential randomness in all such premises à la the true fox.

So the happiness of the query aside, my book’s page sixty-nine? Does it represent the book? Given the above paragraph, would aleatory forces let me say no? So yes she said yes it does: this page is the entire book's fulcrum! (As Salvador Dali is reputed to have said, awaking from a drug-induced shamanic journey in the Perpignan train station: Perpignan is the center of the world! which immediately became a flowery mosaic emblazoned for posterity on the walls of the same station in much the same self-flogging way I am now declaring page 69 to be the center of the known universe of Lola.) Why 69, however?

Here on this page you find a central familial charade: the scene explores both uneasy camaraderie and motherhood. Added bonus: you stumble upon the one word I am sure I have used in every novel I have or will ever write (“hirsute”). If that doesn’t get a novel’s hair growing, what does? Not to mention the bigger stuff: i.e., Christ.

Finally, here you find Q-tips, a crucial symbol of balancing, agency, penetration, domesticity, aspiration, the centrality of neurological safety, items meant for babies being abducted by adults, and, finally, the potential loss of selfhood into larger dictates about conformity. If these themes do not sum up Lola, California, what else would?
Learn more about the book and author at Edie Meidav's website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Edie Meidav.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"The Art of Forgetting"

Camille Noe Pagán's work has appeared in dozens of national publications and Web sites, including Fitness,, Glamour, Self, and Women’s Health.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her newly released debut novel, The Art of Forgetting, and reported the following:
The Art of Forgetting is about two long-time best friends, Julia and Marissa, and how their friendship is forever changed after Julia suffers a traumatic brain injury that alters both her memory and her personality. On page 69 of Forgetting, Marissa has only recently come to terms that her formerly capable, charismatic best friend is no longer the same person, and is recalling an event from very recent history in which Julia has a meltdown related to her brain injury.

From Page 69:
Then, two days ago, she had a meltdown.

We were in the Ferrars’ kitchen making scones. Despite the fact that she barely ate baked goods herself, Julia could always turn a stick of butter and some flour into a heavenly concoction. This time, though, the dough had morphed into something more appropriate for a kindergarten art class than for consumption.

“It’s not supposed to be this paste-like, is it?” I asked, trying—rather unsuccessfully—to prevent the mixture from sticking to my flour-coated hands. “Any suggestions?”

Julia whipped around and looked at me as though I had just asked her if she wanted to put her head in the oven. Her eyes filled with a look of rage that I had never, in our sixteen years of knowing each other, seen—not even the day she threw a fit in the hospital.

“If you don’t like it, then figure out how to fix it, genius!” she screamed at me. “Isn’t that what you love to do? Make everything better?!”

I stared at her, initially more shocked than offended. She stared back so fiercely that I thought she might be trying to telekinetically throw me against the wall.
“Jules, you don’t mean that,” I finally said quietly. But deep down, I knew that a least a little part of her did. While Julia was still in the hospital, Dr. Bauer told Grace, Jim, and me that one of the more common side effects of frontal lobe damage was unflinching honesty.
Learn more about the book and author at Camille Noe Pagan's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 18, 2011

"7th Sigma"

Steven Gould is the author of Jumper, Wildside, Helm, Blind Waves, Reflex, and Jumper: Griffin’s Story, as well as many short stories. He is the recipient of the Hal Clement Young Adult Award for Science Fiction and has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, 7th Sigma, and reported the following:
7th Sigma has an episodic nature to it. The chapter that page 69 falls into involves a sheep rancher who is in danger of losing sheep from a pack of feral dogs. He thinks. He is mostly right, but there is an unexpected element, too. Is it typical of the entire book? No. It is right for where it is. Kimble, my protagonist is growing up through the entire book. This chapter is a stepping stone.

7th Sigma is several things. It's a book set in the American southwest after an invasion of self-replicating metal bugs have eaten all the metal based infrastructure in the region. It's a retelling of the Rudyard Kipling's Kim. It's an alien invasion novel. It's a book about the martial art Aikido. It's about spying. It's about moral choices. It's about religious intolerance. And it's about coming of age. So, identifying a page as "typical" doesn't really work.

The first review I saw said I'd made the situation (the inability to use metal in the region) just so I could write a Western. I don't think the reviewer has ever noticed how much metal was used in the average western.
Learn more about the book and author at Steven Gould's website.

Writers Read: Steven Gould.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"The End of Everything"

Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of six books, including Die a Little, The Song Is You, Queenpin, and Bury Me Deep. She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar® Award nominations, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Abbott won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2008 for Queenpin. She was also nominated in 2010 for Bury Me Deep for Best Paperback Original and in 2006 for Best First Novel for Die A Little. In 2008, she won the Barry Award (Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News award) and has been nominated three times for the Anthony Award (Bouchercon World Mystery Convention award).

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The End of Everything, and reported the following:
I admit, I always suspect this won’t work. One random page, at such an odd spot in the book, what could it signify? Could it really hold any flicker of the secrets all books hold?

But every time I read one of these, it somehow does. It’s as though the “Page 69 Test” knows something none of the rest of us does.

Flipping to page 69 of my new novel, The End of Everything, sure enough there is something there that does say a great deal about the book, even though the moment feels small, quiet.

Set in the suburbs in the 1980s, The End of Everything is the story of Lizzie, a 13-year-old girl whose best friend, Evie Verver, has vanished.

Lizzie has lived next door to the Ververs her whole life. They are one of those perfect families we all want to be a part of, and Lizzie is entranced by them—by Evie’s intimidating older sister, Dusty, a star field hockey player and golden girl, and especially by Mr. Verver, Evie’s charming father.

In the days following Evie’s disappearance, Lizzie begins spending more and more time at the Verver house, inserting herself into the investigation, determined to help find her friend, to save the family.

In the scene that begins halfway down page 69, Lizzie is still a tentative “detective.” Entering the once glowing Verver home, she faces a household rattled with fear. But the scene that follows is not about Evie at all but about Evie’s dashing father, Mr. Verver.
The sobbing upstairs is loud, helpless, as to rattle the windows and shake the pillars.

“Dusty wasn’t feeling up to school today,” Mr. Verver says, and I can tell from his t-shirt and jeans at three thirty in the afternoon that he never made it to work either.

I’m there to deliver the trophy Dusty won at the end-of-year ceremony at the high school. MVP, which is a very big deal, especially for a junior. Ted brought it home, was asked to deliver it to Dusty. (“I can’t go over there,” he whispered. But I could.)

Mr. Verver smiles at the golden figurine of the pony-tailed field hockey player, turning the walnut base over in his hand. He brings the face close to his eyes, his brows knitted. “She doesn’t look nearly fierce enough,” he says, staring hard into the gold-plated eyes.

I can’t fight the grin and he sees it and grins too.
I’m glad that page 69 features Lizzie and Mr. Verver. For me, the heart of the novel lies in their unexpected friendship.

Most girls have at least one youthful crush on the father of one of our friend’s, the one who somehow seems to represent all the possibilities of men, and against whom we may measure all men to come.

Mr. Verver is that kind of father. Her whole life, Lizzie has savored the moments he shone his attentions on her. As she tells us, he could “throw a football 50 yards and build princess vanity tables for his daughters and take us rollerskating or bowling” and that he always smelled of “fresh air and limes and Christmas nutmeg all at once—a smell that meant ‘man’ to his girls ever after.”

Now, with Evie gone and his devoted oldest daughter, Dusty, in perpetual grieved retreat to her bedroom, Lizzie suddenly finds herself center stage with Mr. Verver, and she seizes it. In this brief exchange, the pair shares a confidence, a wink over Dusty’s fearsome field hockey presence. And the moment lifts both of them.

In the scene that follows, neither Lizzie nor Mr. Verver mentions Evie. Instead, spurred by Lizzie, Mr. Verver embarks on a nostalgic reverie about his past as a musician in a band. As they talk in the basement rec room, the site of many childhood parties and table tennis bouts, all the terror and pain of Evie’s absence fades, for a moment. And Mr. Verver’s charm and attentions, the pleasure he takes in the distraction the conversation provides—they spark something very strong in Lizzie. Soon enough, a terrible act over which she would seem to have no control—Evie’s mysterious disappearance—starts to feel like something she must solve. Soon enough, she can’t stop herself.
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bury Me Deep.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 15, 2011


David Hagberg is a former Air Force cryptographer who has traveled extensively in Europe, the Arctic, and the Caribbean and has spoken at CIA functions. He has published more than twenty novels of suspense, including the bestselling Allah's Scorpion, Dance With the Dragon, and The Expediter.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest thriller, Abyss, and reported the following:
The basic premise of Abyss pits the players in the oil and fossil fuel hedge fund/derivative/credit default swap market conservatively estimated to be in the trillions of dollars worldwide against NOAA scientist Dr. Eve Larsen who has devised a system to take unlimited energy from the world’s great ocean currents, and in so doing provide green electricity and perhaps even partially control the weather.

Her system would all but bankrupt the entire energy market, and these people will stop at nothing to make sure that she not only fails—and fails big—but that any kind of non-fossil fuel energy becomes unpalatable to just about everyone.

Their first target is the Hutchinson Island Nuclear Power plant on Florida’s east coast—where at the moment the saboteur takes over the control room and plants explosive charges that will destroy the safety system—Eve Larsen is trying to sell her idea of cheap electricity to the Sunshine State Power & Light people who operate the plant.

On page 69 Brian DeCamp, a world class gun for hire in the tradition of Carlos the Jackal, has managed to get inside the plant, into the control room, set his explosives and calmly walk away.

Gail Newby, who is the plant’s chief of security, has been alerted that a visitor in one of the tour groups suddenly got sick, and left. Apparently he was so nervous being close to a pair of live nuclear reactors that he couldn’t handle it and had to bail out.

But something’s not right.

“I’ll take it from here,” she radios the security people at the visitor’s center.
She switched channels and pulled up a page showing the closed-circuit cameras around the plant, scrolled down to the single camera under the eaves of the visitor’s center that was pointed at the parking lot and hit Enter. A black-and-white image of the half-filled lot came up on her FM radio’s small screen. One car was just turning into the driveway from the beach road, A1A, and as it went left she spotted a lone figure just getting into a dark blue Ford Taurus parked next to the Orlando tour bus, his back to the camera. Moments later the car backed out of its spot, turned and went out to the highway and headed south.

He hadn’t been in a hurry, and he definitely hadn’t acted like a man who was nervous either because of his surroundings or because he had done something wrong and was making a getaway, and yet something about him bothered Gail. She couldn’t put her finger on it, except that he had seemed almost too self-assured for a man who’d gotten sick and had to cut the tour short. On the way to his car he hadn’t looked around nervously or over his shoulder to see if anything was happening behind him.

The screen on her FM radio was too small for her to make out the license number, but that would show up on the recordings in security, and there’d been something about the incident that made her want to follow up.
But the damage has been done, the plant will melt down just like the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan unless Gail’s friend Kirk McGarvey shows up and can do something.
Learn more about the book and author at David Hagberg's website.

Writers Read: David Hagberg.

My Book, The Movie: Abyss.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Steal the Show"

Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His first book, Drink the Tea, won the PWA/St Martin's Press Competition for Best First Novel. His second book, Steal the Show, comes out this month.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Steal the Show and reported the following:
Steal the Show is my second book featuring private eye Willis Gidney. I knew from the start that, in this sequel, I wanted to bring back a few characters from Drink the Tea. One of them is a drug dealer named Griffin Blake. Blake tries to reinvent himself as a gentleman, and not a drug designer and dealer. Gidney reminds him of who he really is.

Page 69 lands on the last page of a scene between Gidney and Blake, in which Blake doesn't want to give up information that Gidney needs. Also, Blake is hurrying, trying to pack and get to the airport so as not to miss his flight. Gidney grabs Blake's sketchbook of cannabis molecular chains and holds it over a lighter. Blake tries to grab it away, but he's too stoned and Gidney is too fast. So Blake gives Gidney a lead, a gang banger named Tuckerman, saying:
“He’s spent most of his life in jail. Knows all the players in town. He’ll be at the ball field at M and Twenty-sixth around noon. Can’t miss him, scratches his neck all the time.”

“Palmer Park? In PG County? The Roaches’re into film pirating?” I asked.

“Who knows? They’re into everything else.” The fight had left him.

“You don’t approve.”

“They’re amateurs.”

I snapped off the lighter. “I know what you mean. Nobody specializes anymore. You look at today’s crooks, it’s a wonder any crime gets committed at all.” I handed him his pages.

He took them, then another hit, his anger fading with the hovering cloud of smoke. He shoved the notebook into the mound of clothes in his suitcase. “But let me caveat you, Gidney. Take backup. The Roaches like to shoot people.” Now he struggled with the shallow lid of the case, trying to force it shut.

“Anything else?”

His spindly, pale arms tried to press the suitcase halves together, his face white with the effort. He gave me the one-eyed look again, his gentleman persona peeling off like a rattlesnake’s skin. “Anything else? Like a letter of introduction? Just go fuck off, okay? I gotta get this suitcase shut.”

“Why don’t you sit on it, Buford?”

“And you’ll shut the latches?”

I went for the door. “I wasn’t talking about the suitcase.”
Once Gidney gets what he wants from Blake, he snaps off the lighter and hands the sketchbook back. It's very like Gidney to make a comment about the lack of specialization among crooks today. As a (nearly) reformed criminal, Gidney has an appreciation of anyone who practices their craft.

The next part of this scene is a setup, Blake warning Gidney to take backup. (Gidney decides to follow this good advice with disastrous results.)

Then there's the metaphor – "his gentleman persona peeling off like a rattlesnake’s skin." It seems appropriate to me, and I don't recall seeing it in print before.

The scene ends with Blake's getting angry at Gidney, and Gidney getting the exit line. Gidney doesn't always get an exit line, but when he does, I try to make it a good one.

This page 69 shows Gidney is active, controlling the situation, and expresses a point of view a little different from you or me. We get an insight into Gidney's character, as well. All in all, a tidy little page.
Learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website and blog.  Kaufman's blog tour for Steal the Show continues at Jen's Book Thoughts, The Rap Sheet, and Writers Read.

The Page 69 Test: Drink the Tea.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Game of Secrets"

Dawn Tripp graduated from Harvard and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons. She is the author of the novels Moon Tide and The Season of Open Water, which won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Game of Secrets, and reported the following:
When I first flipped to page 69, I thought: Ah no. Not really representative of the book.

Game of Secrets is a mystery, framed through a Scrabble game. I love Scrabble. Always have. How we play that game reveals so much about how we tick. And the Scrabble game for me became the perfect lens for a novel about two families bound together and divided by unspeakable secrets—a brutal past, a murder, a love story. The novel is a mosaic narrative, fractured in time and point of view, the story unfolds as the game is played, clues laid down, pieces coming together, falling into place.

On p. 69, we find Marne, 35, the grand-daughter of the dead man, Luce Weld, whose skull rolled out a pile of fill fifty years before with a bullet hole in it. According to small-town rumor, Luce was murdered by the husband of his lover, Ada Varick. But on p. 69, Marne is not thinking about the murder, or the lore wrapped around it; she’s not thinking about curious friendship between her mother Jane and Ada, the weekly Friday Scrabble game they still meet to play that Marne does not, cannot, will not understand. What I love about p. 69 is that it is all edge. True Marne, film-school drop-out turned waitress, still obsessed by the work of Sven Nykvist and Jean Cocteau. It’s 3 a.m. and the neat little walls she keeps have begun to break down. She is haunted by a childhood memory of her mother that she can’t quite find a shelf for—and she is starting to fall for Ada’s youngest son, Ray, who in typical small-town tangle, is also her brother’s best friend and the guy she’s almost loved since she was twelve:
Trying not to feel, not to think—Wanting, trying not to want, too much.

Yesterday lunchtime, my brother stopped in for coffee and a ham sandwich and, as he was leaving, threw a cool look at me, and said, “I hear you got plans for Thursday night.” Like we were still teenagers, me horning in on his crowd.

I retorted something to that effect.

He just kind of glared. “Do me one great favor, Marne, and don’t fuck everything up.”

Light, Nykvist wrote...

... hot, dark, violet, springlike, falling

It can all come down on you like this. Can’t it?

Learn more about the book and author at Dawn Tripp's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"The Wild Hog Murders"

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and is an Edgar Award finalist.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Wild Hog Murders, Volume 18 of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries, and reported the following:
In The Wild Hog Murders, page 69 is the first page of Chapter 8, so it’s really only half a page, book design being what it is. It’s the first appearance in the book of Seepy Benton, a professor at the local community college. Sheriff Rhodes makes a stop at Benton’s house to check up on Bruce, a dog that Rhodes has removed from his former home and turned over to Benton to care for. Anyone who’s kept up with Rhodes’s career over the years knows about his propensity to rescue animals from bad situations. It’s a continuing theme.

Seepy Benton was a character in my series about Sally Good, a college English teacher who occasionally got involved in murder cases. Benton liked to think he helped her out. He was a popular character with the readers, and so I moved him to a new job in Blacklin County where he could carry on his misguided attempts to solve crimes. Now he thinks he has a semi-official job with the Sheriff’s Department, having completed the Citizens’ Sheriff’s Academy. Rhodes likes Benton and puts up with him, so there’s a good opportunity for comedy. I think that’s pretty evident on page 69, and I enjoy writing scenes where Rhodes and Benton play against each other. If the readers get as much fun out of reading the scenes as I do from writing them, then we should all be happy.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, and Murder in the Air, as well as an excellent write-up about Dan Rhodes on the big screen at "My Book, The Movie."

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Jeff Abbott is the international-bestselling, award-winning author of over a dozen mystery and suspense novels.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Adrenaline, and reported the following:
Adrenaline is a thriller about family: one CIA agent’s search for his missing wife and newborn son. Sam Capra has a perfect life in London until a frantic phone call from his wife summons him out of his CIA office just as the building explodes in a fireball. Sam sees his wife Lucy in a car, speeding away, driven by a man with a question-mark shaped scar. Accused of treason, uncertain whether his missing wife is a traitor or a victim, Sam goes on the run from the Agency to infiltrate an extraordinary criminal ring: and to find out the ultimate truth about his wife.

Page 69 shows us the face of evil: it’s a scene involving Edward, the question-mark scarred man, who is keeping a young woman hostage in an Amsterdam house. She’s clearly been traumatized by her captivity, and he is slowly brainwashing her, though violence and terror into being his pawn. But here’s what the reader doesn’t know: is this woman Lucy, Sam’s wife? Or another victim? It becomes clear, though, that Edward’s schemes involve far more than kidnapping and assault. Because he is sending this woman to Amsterdam’s crowded Centraal Station with a mysterious backpack....

If Page 69 of Adrenaline encapsulates any aspect of the book, it is that nothing is what it seems.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Abbott's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"The Bones of Avalon"

Phil Rickman has worked as a BBC radio and TV reporter, and he currently writes and presents the book program “Phil the Shelf’ on BBC Radio Wales. He is also the author of the internationally bestselling crime series featuring Merrily Watkins.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, The Bones of Avalon, and reported the following:
Page 69, huh? You looked, didn't you? Page 69 gives an excellent idea of what the plot is about - basically Dr John Dee, astrologer-royal to Queen Elizabeth I, has been ordered by Elizabeth's chief minister to find the bones of King Arthur, from whom the Tudors claimed to be descended. Page 69 finds Dee quizzing the notorious Bishop Bonner, now under house arrest. In the previous reign, Bonner was responsible for the burning of hundreds of non-Catholics. Despite this, he's a fun guy.

'What does King Arthur represent? (asks Bonner) but magic... enchantment? The king who does not die but waits in some misty, spiritual realm until he shall be summoned. The S-word, John, the S-word...'

Learn more about the book and author at Phil Rickman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Bones of Avalon.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"County Line"

Bill Cameron is the author of dark, gritty mysteries featuring Skin Kadash: County Line, Day One, Chasing Smoke, and Lost Dog. Bill’s short stories have appeared in Spinetingler, as well as Portland Noir, First Thrills, and the forthcoming West Coast Crime Wave and Deadly Treats anthologies. His work been nominated for multiple awards, including the Spotted Owl Award for Best Northwest Mystery, the Left Coast Crime Rocky Award, and the 2011 CWA Short Story Dagger Award.

Cameron applied the Page 69 Test to County Line and reported the following:
As County Line opens, Ruby Jane Whittaker, mistress of coffee and the most grounded person Skin Kadash knows, has vanished, apparently of her own volition. But after he discovers a dead man in her apartment, Skin Kadash sets out to find her — a search which takes him from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco (and eventually to Ruby Jane's childhood home in rural southwestern Ohio). By Page 69, Skin has connected with RJ's one-time love, Peter McKrall (last seen in Lost Dog). Together, they go looking for RJ's brother Jimmie, who they hope will provide a clue as to Ruby Jane's whereabouts. They find Jimmie in a sketchy sports bar.
Now, his skin is sallow, his hair wiry and gone to grey. A fading bruise shades one cheek a sickly green. Only his shoes stand out compared to the rest of him—brown Esquivel wingtips—which I recognize because I knew a cop who bought a pair after a promotion to lieutenant; the asshole wouldn't shut the fuck up about them. Jimmie has nothing else to brag about. He's wearing a green and grey glen plaid suit which looks like it came off the rack at Macy's during the after Christmas clearance. White shirt, collar open, no tie. Can't say I've ever dressed better, but then I'm not a venture capital douchebag who shits gold nuggets and pisses silver filigree.

Jimmie recognizes Pete, waves with a kind of forced affability. His eyes don't quite go two directions as he takes us in, but almost. "McKrall. What'n hell you doing here? Long drive from Turdnut Creek." Whatever he's drinking, it's not his first. He points at me with his glass in hand. "No one could ever forget that neck."

Peter lets me take the stool next to him. Jimmie knocks off the last of his drink, eyes at half-mast. "You never told me you were an astronaut, Kadash."

I glance at Peter, eyebrows raised. "Just an ex-cop." I emphasize cop, not so much ex-. Not sure what good it'll do me, but there's an edge to his tone I hope will be dulled if he thinks I'm in a position to give him some shit.

But he doesn't care. "You fly your rocket ship down here, astro-cop?"

"I'm not following you, Jimmie."


"I'm not following you, James."

"You called me like an hour ago or something. How the hell you get here so fast?"

I turn to Pete. "Maybe we should let him sleep this off, try again in the morning."
Skin has just driven from Portland to San Francisco. He's exhausted, worried about Ruby Jane, and struggling to make sense of a growing string of mysteries. At least a few answers, he'd hoped, would come from Jimmie. But Jimmie's condition, belligerent and dissipated, erodes that hope.
I have to be honest. With County Line, I wouldn't mind if this was the Page 71 Test. Not that page 69 doesn't have a lot to offer. I'm rather in love with the phrase, "venture capital douchebag who shits gold nuggets and pisses silver filigree." This moment illustrates the contrast between what Skin thinks he knows about Jimmie and who Jimmie really is. Skin's wry view of the world is hinted at nicely.

But page 71 (which was page 69 in the Advance Review edition of County Line, as it happens) does a perfect job of capturing the anxiety Skin feels and the challenges he will face in his search for Ruby Jane. It illustrates the conflict he feels with his one-time friend Peter, and hints at the struggles they will face as she search for Ruby Jane together.

Of course, having said that, I then looked at page 70, and page 68. Each offers up a snippet of something I wouldn't mind seeing in the Page 69 test. I think that's a good sign. As Elmore Leonard said, "Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Perhaps I've managed that with County Line. Certainly in the late 60s and early 70s, I've got a strong feeling that every page is doing good work. As I skim though the rest of the book, I can't help but feel good about what I see.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Cameron's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Deed to Death"

D.B. Henson was born and raised in the southern United States. Her love of reading began at age six when she was given the first book in the Trixie Belden Mystery series. Shortly thereafter, she began writing stories of her own. A former real estate agent, Henson most recently worked as the director of marketing for a construction company. During a slump in the housing market, she made the decision to leave the construction industry and pursue her life-long dream of writing.

Henson applied the Page 69 Test to her novel Deed to Death, which makes its print debut this month, and reported the following:
A bride never expects to attend the funeral of her husband-to-be on the very day they planned to wed, but for real estate agent Toni Matthews, the unthinkable becomes reality. When her fiancé, architect Scott Chadwick, plunges to his death from the top floor of a hotel under construction, the police believe he committed suicide. Convinced Scott would never take his own life, Toni begins her own investigation. As she crisscrosses Nashville on a quest for the truth, she begins uncovering a series of dark secrets.

On page 69, Scott’s business partner, Clint Shore, wastes no time in his attempt to take over the company Scott spearheaded. He meets with a group of mortgage lenders, all concerned about the solidity of the firm, and considering calling in their loans. Knowing the loss of funding will bankrupt the company, Clint scrambles to prove that he is capable of running Chadwick & Shore on his own.

Though not really representative of the remainder of the novel, page 69 plants a seed of doubt in the reader’s mind regarding Clint Shore and his ulterior motive. Could he be Scott’s killer?
Learn more about the book and author at D.B. Henson's website and blog.

Writers Read: D.B. Henson.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Paradise Dogs"

Man Martin is a writer, teacher, and founding member of the Perambulators living in Atlanta, Georgia. His debut novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, made him Georgia Author of the Year in 2008.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Paradise Dogs, and reported the following:
Here is page 69 of Paradise Dogs. I begin with the first complete sentence.
Adam knew what a serious game Potter was playing; with stakes as high as this, laws were made to be broken. Adam had spotted William Potter as military as soon as he saw him; that cool gaze, those squared shoulders, the long assurance of being top dog.

Navy? Adam had asked.

Army, Potter replied. Major General. Retired. You?

Four-F, Adam admitted, too proud to drop his gaze. Fallen arches.

Because Adam had been willing albeit unfit to serve, he’d gotten the Honorable Service Pin – honorable! A plastic eagle, wings spread but feet planted – fallen arches, no doubt – signifying that this bird wasn’t no way doing no fighting for nobody no how. No one called it the Honorable Service Pin, and no one used the nickname to Adam’s face, but he knew what it was: the Ruptured Duck. You had to wear your Ruptured Duck to keep from getting questioned by mp’s or hearing dark mutters of passersby: What’s wrong with him? Why isn’t he doing his bit? It was a choice between the humiliation of facing the world with the pin or without it.

Adam would have happily sold Ayefour his land, but he felt entitled to be admitted to the inner circle about the so-called Venezuela Project – the codename assigned the Cross-Florida Barge Canal. After thirty minutes’ of having all his questions parried by bland non-responses, Adam had begun to grow exasperated. I know what this is for, he said. But you’re buying up too much land – and in the wrong directions. You’re going north and south and you should go east and west. I need to see your engineers. General Potter turned up his manicured but powerful hands as if to show he hadn’t brought any engineers with him. I’ve done my research, Adam said, I know what this is for. Will you at least admit you still work for Uncle Sam?
Paradise Dogs is a farce set in pre-Disney Florida. Like all good farces, it has plenty of knock-about action, absurd plot twists, mistaken identities, and the like. And then, in true farcical fashion, everything wraps up neatly and abruptly in a happy ending. Or is the ending as happy as it seems? I’m hoping for an undertow of sadness that suggests all happiness is provisional and temporary, and the best we can do is savor it while we wait for the next rain of disasters to fall on our heads.

In a novel that is very silly, this is one of the relatively serious passages. All the cloak-and-dagger stuff – the Cross-Florida Canal, the Venezuela Project – is just pure goofiness, but the part about Adam’s being Four-F is something that deeply stings his pride. The memory of having to wear the Honorable Service Pin, and knowing the humiliating nickname that went with it, is just one of the many things from his past Adam wants to undo, “un-bungle” as he puts it. Of course, you can’t undo the past, and the Golden Age, the “paradise,” we imagine once existed and might exist again if just this time we could get things right, is a delusion. But we still keep chasing it, don’t we?
Learn more about the book and author at Man Martin's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Man Martin and Zoe.

Writers Read: Man Martin.

My Book, The Movie: Paradise Dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue