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