Friday, April 6, 2012

"Skeleton Picnic"

Michael Norman is a Salt Lake City mystery author who has written four novels. His Sam Kincaid novels include The Commission and Silent Witness. His mysteries featuring Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Law Enforcement Ranger J.D. Books include On Deadly Ground and his latest novel, Skeleton Picnic.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
In Skeleton Picnic, the Page 69 Test is somewhat difficult because it’s the last page of a chapter and contains only four lines of dialogue. The passage reads:

“Illegal, it’s not, unethical, maybe. I won’t lose any sleep over it I can promise you that. Bad guys have plenty of rights. I don’t mind using whatever tricks and tools are available so long as we play by the rules.”

Admittedly, this snippet of dialogue doesn’t give the reader much to go on. It does, I think, represent the larger book on a couple of levels. But first, here’s the context. The book’s protagonist, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Law Enforcement Ranger J. D. Books, has been drawn into a joint investigation with the local sheriff’s department. The case involves the mysterious disappearance of a prominent southern Utah couple, who, for decades, have been involved in looting Native American ceremonial and burial sites in search of ancient artifacts. When they fail to return from a weekend “skeleton picnic,” the hunt is on.

In the above passage Books and rookie deputy sheriff Beth Tanner, who Books is mentoring, have arrested a suspect and are preparing to transport him to police headquarters for questioning. Deputy Tanner wants to immediately advise the culprit of his constitutional rights, commonly known as the Miranda Warnings. Books, however, insists on transporting the prisoner without giving him his Miranda Warnings hoping that he says something incriminating on the drive to the station. The two have a testy exchange with Tanner accusing him of engaging in unethical behavior. The experienced, if somewhat cynical Books, puts an end to the disagreement by telling the rookie cop that he will use whatever tools he has available so long as they stay inside the rules.

Is the above passage on Page 69 representative of the larger book? I think it is. Here’s why. The protagonists in both of my mystery series (Sam Kincaid in The Commission, and Silent Witness, and J.D Books in On Deadly Ground, and Skeleton Picnic) are cops, not amateur sleuths or PI’s. Hence, they have to know the rules and understand proper police procedure. As a former cop myself, I want my books to convey to readers a sense of authenticity and procedural correctness.

As to whether the Page 69 passage is sufficient to keep readers engaged, I hope so. At least it will for mystery readers who enjoy a fast-paced police procedural that will keep them turning pages well into the night.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Norman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Skeleton Picnic.

--Marshal Zeringue