Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"The Constant Lovers"

Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Nickson spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He's made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specializing in world and roots music. He's the author of The NPR Casual Listener's Guide to World Music and dozens of other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Constant Lovers, the latest of his Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham, and reported the following:
Is Page 69 typical of the book? Hard to say. It’s a small encounter between Nottingham and the sister of a man who’s committed suicide. She’s hoping he might pronounce it as something else to save the family’s reputation.

But it’s one small cog in something much bigger, each turned leading to something else. That’s the way of a mystery, especially one set in the 18th century when there are no forensics. My protagonists discover things by talking to people and using their wits – what’s often called old-fashioned detective work. As a writer, I find that much more satisfying. I steer away from too much explicit gore. It’s there, but hinted at so the reader’s mind creates the fuller picture, and can be more effective and gruesome than any words on the page.

It’s representative in that family is at the heart of most things in my books – an idea culled from the late, great Ross MacDonald, who used families and their dysfunctions to such brilliant effect in his books.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Nickson's website, and view the book trailer for The Constant Lovers.

My Book, The Movie: The Constant Lovers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2012

"Gone Missing"

Linda Castillo is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder novels, including Sworn to Silence, Pray for Silence and Breaking Silence, crime thrillers set in Amish country.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Gone Missing, the latest Kate Burkholder novel, and reported the following:
Kate Burkholder was born Amish, but left the plain life—and her home town of Painters Mill, Ohio—when she was eighteen years old and never became a member of the church. Sixteen years later, she returned to her home town and because of her Amish roots and background in law enforcement, she was deemed the perfect candidate for chief of police.

In Gone Missing, the fourth book in the series, Kate is asked to consult on a missing person case by state agent and part-time lover, John Tomasetti. An Amish teenager has gone missing in the northeastern part of the state. As Kate and Tomasetti delve into the mystery, they discover links to cold cases that go back years—and quickly find themselves embroiled in a murder investigation.

Page 69 illuminates the persona of some of the more colorful individuals Kate encounters in the course of the investigation:
word, his right hand never far from his holster, and he doesn’t bother wiping his feet. I go in next, swipe each shoe against the throw rug at the threshold. Goddard brings up the rear, actually looks down while he diligently wipes his shoes on the rug.

The interior of the house is hot and stuffy and smells vaguely of fish. A swayback sofa draped with a dingy afghan separates the small living room from an even smaller dining area. A floor fan blows stale air toward a narrow, dark hall. A sleek high-def television is mounted on the wall. It’s tuned to an old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the volume turned low. From where I stand, I can see into a dimly-lit kitchen with cluttered counters and a sink full of dirty dishes. Beyond is a back door, its window adorned with frilly yellow curtains. A folded pizza box sticks out of the top of a stainless steel trash can.

For a full minute the only sound comes from the rattle of the air conditioner and Trina Treece’s labored breathing.

“Where is he?” Goddard asks.

“I reckon he’s out back with that worthless old man of his.” But she’s looking at Tomasetti as if trying to decide which buttons to push and how hard to push them. Tomasetti stares back at her with a blank expression that gives away absolutely nothing. Oh boy.

A sound from the hall draws my attention. Two girls, about ten years old, peek around the corner at us. I see shy, curious faces and young eyes that have already seen too much.

Trina hauls her frame around. “I told you two idiots to stay in your room!”

Both girls have the same wild black hair as their mother. But all likeness ends there. The girls are thin and pretty and seemingly undamaged by the environment in which they live. Watching them, I can’t help but to compare these kids to the girls at the King farm. Innocent lives filled with promise, but whose future will be determined by the guidance they receive from their parents and the vastly different worlds in which they reside.

I think of all the life lessons that lie ahead for these two girls, and
Later, Tomasetti captures one of the themes of this book with a single line of dialogue: “What the hell are people doing to their kids?”

This was about kids, our most precious resource, and the way we treat them. How out of touch parents—even good parents—can be. But this case was mostly about the lost ones that fall through the cracks, both Amish and English.
Learn more about the author and her work at Linda Castillo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sworn to Silence.

My Book, The Movie: Pray for Silence.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Let the Devil Sleep"

John Verdon is a former Manhattan advertising executive who lives with his wife in the mountains of upstate New York. His first two Dave Gurney novels, Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight, are both international bestsellers.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Let the Devil Sleep, the third Dave Gurney novel, and reported the following:
I must admit that I felt a small twinge of uneasiness when the “Page 69” concept was explained to me. What if, when I looked at that specific location in Let the Devil Sleep, I discovered that it failed to meet the crucial challenge:

“Would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on?”

If the answer should turn out to be No, then a hell of lot of rationalizing and fancy dancing would be required to emerge from the “test” with anything like a positive score.

However ... I’m relieved to be able to report that no fancy dancing will be required. Because page 69, in my opinion, is reasonably intriguing. First of all, it happens to incorporate a key element not only of Let the Devil Sleep but of the Dave Gurney thrillers in general: the odd nature of the crime scenes.

Among the distinctive features of my novels are their puzzle components, and the puzzles often begin with strange and contradictory evidence found at the murder sites. On page 69 of Let the Devil Sleep, for example, we learn that a variety of small toy animals have been turning up next to the victims of highway shootings.

On the same page we also get a hint that the fatal shots may have been fired from an unusual gun. In addition, we get a small taste of the edgy dynamic that exists between Dave Gurney and his sometime colleague Jack Hardwick. And we catch a glimpse of Gurney’s mixed feelings about being drawn more deeply into an assignment that was supposed to be simple but is rapidly turning into a monster.

Not a bad showing for one randomly chosen page! I hope you agree.
Learn more about the book and author at John Verdon's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Shout Her Lovely Name"

Natalie Serber received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in The Bellingham Review and Gulf Coast, among others, and her awards include the Tobias Wolff Award. She teaches writing at various universities and lives with her family in Portland, Oregon.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Shout Her Lovely Name, her debut book, and reported the following:
Uncanny! I couldn’t have picked a better page to represent the heart of my story collection, Shout Her Lovely Name. Page 69 falls smack in the middle of “Free To A Good Home,” a story that finds Ruby Hargrove (a recurring character in the linked stories) in the charity/maternity ward of St. Vincent’s Hospital, struggling with an excruciating decision that will change her life. She’s being pressured on all sides; by her boyfriend who wants her to give up their baby daughter, by her family who wants her to bring the baby home, and by her own temptations for Ruby understands that if she chose to, she could walk away and be completely free.
Girls stick together is what Ruby repeated to herself as she walked back up the hall toward her bed. She skimmed her hand along the wallpaper, over the laughing dog, the happy dish escaping with the spoon, the soaring cow, and the moon beaming bigheartedly in the night sky. Her hand left the wall and came to rest upon a window. Five babies slept in soft light. Swallowing down her thumping heart, her gaze racing from one baby to the next, she found her daughter in the second row. Baby Hargrove. Ruby could see the little body, wound tight in a pink blanket, curved like a kidney bean. She could see the downy head, the face turned toward the window, the lips; were they moving? Ruby pressed her palm against the cold glass. Sister Joseph stepped into the nursery, and seeing Ruby in the hall, she lifted the baby and brought her to the window. The baby’s face was scrunched tight, her skin tone blotchy and uneven, red along the chin and across her nose. The baby’s faint eyebrows were drawn together in a scowl. Ruby motioned for Sister Joseph to unwrap her daughter. As she did, the baby’s tiny fist flew up and her mouth opened, though she did not cry. The baby had her thumb tucked inside her hand. Her fingers wrapped over the top for safekeeping, her nails as fragile as tissue paper. Ruby stayed in the hallway, shaking her head no when Sister Joseph motioned for her to come. Ruby preferred to keep the window glass between them.
Yes, as Ruby says, girls do stick together. Mothers and daughters are bound to one another by love and rage, delight and dismay, pride and jealousy. Standing outside the nursery, seeing her daughter for the first time, Ruby makes her choice not in a rush of love and devotion, not breathing in her baby’s warm cotton and milk scent, but with a pain of glass between them.
Learn more about the book and author at Natalie Serber's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The Last Policeman"

Ben H. Winters is the author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar Award nominee and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2011. Winters’ other books include the science-fiction Tolstoy parody Android Karenina, the Finkleman sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything, and the supernatural thriller Bedbugs, which has been optioned for the screen by Warner Brothers. Winters also wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate, based on the award-winning children’s book by Douglas Rees.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Last Policeman, and reported the following:
The Last Policeman falls into a couple different genre categories. It’s been called a science-fiction novel, but it’s really more speculative fiction: What would happen to civilization, and particularly to law enforcement, if a giant asteroid was on the way and we only had six months left?

But its other genre is the kind of mystery known as a “police procedural.” We follow a dedicated cop, Detective Henry Palace, as he works the clues to solve the murder of an insurance agent named Peter Zell. (At least, he thinks it’s a murder. Everybody else thinks Zell hanged himself.) Page 69 gets into the asteroid a bit, but it’s heavier on the police-procedural side.

Palace is in the midst of interviewing a witness, the victim’s brother-in-law, and takes a moment of reflection in which he performs what any mystery writer will recognize as a necessary periodic recap--he’s recalling what he’s learned thus far, so the reader will be reminded as well:
So what do we have, then? We have a man who, at work, appears to be basically disaffected, quiet, head down, registering no reaction to the coming calamity except for that one shocking outburst on Halloween. Then it turns out that he’s squirreled away a massive and comprehensive trove of information on the asteroid, that he’s privately obsessed with what he’s shrugging off in public.

And now it seems that, at least according to his brother-in-law, outside the office he was not only affected but overwhelmed; distraught. The kind of man who would, after all, be inclined to take his own life.

Oh Peter, I think. What is your story, friend?
The page is also representative, I’m noticing right now, in that it features my hero’s propensity for having a private inward conversation with the victim. Throughout the book, Detective Palace is extremely (some say pathologically) focused. Despite the asteroid, despite the chaos around him, all he can think about is finding the killer.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ben H. Winters website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Jim Krusoe is the author of the novels Toward You, Erased, Girl Factory, and Iceland; two collections of stories; and five books of poetry. His stories and poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Bomb, the Chicago Review, the Denver Quarterly, the American Poetry Review, and other publications. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Parsifal, and reported the following: 
Oh me, oh my ... I have to start planning my sixty-ninth pages better. This one has exactly two and one-half fragments. But in the narrative—which moves around in time—we are approximately here: Parsifal’s first attempt to return to the forest where he was raised is a failure. Having asked a blind man for directions, he was pointed, because of his poor enunciation, to a florist, albeit a pleasant one. At the flower shop, the saleslady gave him a lemon-scented cloth to put over his face to cool down, and out of gratitude Parsifal bought a few tulips.

Now, as Parsifal returns home, disappointed but not discouraged, he recalls the day he left the forest, many years ago. He remembers that as he walked toward town back then, leaving behind his mother standing at the edge of a forest fire, he met a young woman hiking toward him. She was dressed in pink, and her blond hair was in a ponytail. On seeing his face, she let out a small, startled sound.

That’s more or less it, but the surprising thing about this page—now that I look at it—is how many of the book’s motifs are present here. There is the return to the past, blindness, monsters, librarians, things falling from the sky, and Misty, a woman whom Parsifal believes he loves and who bears an uncanny resemblance to the young woman hiker. Later, we will find out that Misty too, is a hiker in her way.

So ultimately, it’s the fragment form of the book that allows this unusual interpenetration of theme, detail, and action, past and present, with most every page covering the whole spectrum. Did I say that makes me happy?
Read more about Parsifal at the Tin House Books website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Factory.

The Page 69 Test: Erased.

The Page 69 Test: Toward You.

Writers Read: Jim Krusoe (April 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"A Room Full of Bones"

Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway novels have been praised as “highly atmospheric” (New York Times Book Review), “remarkable” (Richmond Times-Dispatch), and “gripping” (Louise Penny).

Griffiths applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Room Full of Bones, and reported the following:
On page 69 of A Room Full of Bones my heroine, Dr Ruth Galloway, is drinking coffee. I’ve noticed that my characters drink a lot of both coffee and wine, probably because I do myself. Ruth has also bought a doughnut but she doesn’t want to eat it in front of her boss, Phil, because he has a slim gorgeous girlfriend who happens to be one of Ruth’s best friends. I have been surprised - and delighted - at how much people like Ruth, partly because she isn’t slim and gorgeous. Ruth wants to be thinner but she doesn’t want it enough to stop eating and I think people can relate to that.

Phil is telling Ruth about a collection of Indigenous Australian relics at a local museum. Ruth knows the museum well as she recently discovered the curator lying dead beside a medieval coffin, but she doesn’t know about the Aborigine artefacts. These relics, which are actually human bones, are at the very core of the story. Is it right for museums to hold human remains? For Indigenous Australians it is very important that their dead are buried in the ancestral land so that they can enter the next life, or The Dreaming. Is it right for the ancestors to lie behind glass in a backstreet museum? Someone in this book thinks that it is very wrong indeed.
Learn more about the book and author at Elly Griffiths's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crossing Places.

My Book, The Movie: The House at Sea’s End.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2012

"This is Not a Test"

Courtney Summers is the author of young adult novels including Fall for Anything, Some Girls Are, and Cracked Up to Be. She lives and writes in Canada, where she divides her time between a piano, a camera, and a word-processing program when she’s not planning for the impending zombie apocalypse.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, This is Not a Test, and reported the following:
This is Not a Test is about six teenagers trapped in their high school during the zombie apocalypse. It's told through the eyes of a girl, Sloane, who was abandoned by her sister in an abusive household. The day the apocalypse happened, Sloane was planning to kill herself. Now she's an accidental survivor, which is a bigger problem to her than the zombies outside, constantly pounding on the doors. I think Page 69 of the book definitely reflects how skewed her perspective and priorities are:
The hall is empty, looks kind of burned out in the dark. My gaze moves from the path back to the auditorium, which I'm not ready to go back to, and the stairwell. I climb the stairs to the second floor. When I reach the top of the landing my body feels impossibly heavy like the weight of the sky is on top of me. I make it halfway down the hall before I'm sitting, resting my head against my knees because Cary knew.

He knew.

This is how I imagined it over and over: it's my eighteenth birthday. I wake up before I have to be awake. My bags are next to the door. Seeing them makes my palms tingle, I'm so nervous/excited/scared/excited/nervous/excited. I hear Lily in the hall and all I can think is how lucky I am, how she's the best sister ever. She stayed two extra years just for me so we could leave at the same time, so I wouldn't have to be alone with him. I wouldn't have to be alone. You'd die without me. She said it all the time. She said it because it was true.
Learn more about the book and author at Courtney Summers' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Cracked Up to Be.

The Page 69 Test: Some Girls Are.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Cathi Hanauer is the author of the novels My Sister’s Bones and Sweet Ruin and the editor of the New York Times bestselling essay anthology The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage. Her articles, essays, and/or criticism have appeared in the New York Times, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self, Parenting, Whole Living, and other magazines. She lives with her family in western Massachusetts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Gone, her new novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Gone happens to have a lot of dialogue by a fairly minor character, but I think it's representative of my writing--in Gone and my other novels, too--in that I try to make my dialogue both very real and also a little unusual--something that might make you smile--and I tend toward slightly quirky characters in minor roles. On this page, the main character Eric is listening to the 22-year-old babysitter, Dria, tell him about her life. She's young and sexy and naive, and he's a little turned on by her--that too is common in my books (including this one), there's often a subtle sexual undercurrent (if not actual sex) when a male and female who are potentially attracted to each other are together--but he also is a married man who loves his wife, so he's a little bit torn about all that. He's listening to this young woman, finding her intriguing and amusing both visually and in what she's saying, but he's also somewhat tortured, slightly depressed--he's a formerly famous sculptor who's been blocked and unproductive for a long time now--and that comes out too, his insecurity, his ambivalence about everything. If you go one graph onto p. 70, you get a slightly better sense of Eric. 69 is a lot of Dria. But again, she's fairly representative of how I write a minor character--both in Gone and in my other novels.
Learn more about the book and author at Cathi Hanauer's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Some Kind of Fairy Tale"

Graham Joyce, a winner of the O. Henry Award and multiple recipient of the British Fantasy Award, lives in Leicester, England, with his family. His books include How to Make Friends with Demons, Smoking Poppy, Indigo (a New York Times Notable Book), The Tooth Fairy (a Publishers Weekly Best Book), and Requiem, among others.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Some Kind of Fairy Tale, and reported the following:
Page 69 doesn’t really represent the novel overall but then I’d be surprised if it did, since the precise genre of my novels is never easy to pin down. That’s deliberate by the way. There are elements of Fantasy (or of the Fantastical, since it’s not traditional Fantasy) but there are also sections of social realism. Much of the novel doesn’t have a whiff of Fantasy about it, and page 69 reads like a sequence from a crime novel. It does however pin down the central mystery, which is that of a girl going missing from the bluebell woods of the English countryside. She comes back 20 years later and doesn’t appear to have aged. Page 69 refers to the disappearance, but not to any more than that.

The disappearing girl is Tara, and page 69 has her former boyfriend Richie talking about how he fell under a suspicion that lasted twenty years and wasn’t lifted until she suddenly returned. All that time he’d been suspected of having killed her in some way that the police were unable to prove. No-one quite believed he was innocent. He not only lost his girlfriend, but also his close ties with her family and with his own best friend, too. This shattering experience has, in a different way, locked Richie in the past, too.

The other thing is that I play around with Point Of View in different chapters. This is so that you get a shifting perspective on what is happening, not of the same events, but on what to believe. Some of the novel is told in one character’s first person point of view; other parts are told in third-person; secondary characters get to chip in with a first-person perspective and so on. In one way, the novel is a game of who do I believe? but with serious issues at stake.
Learn more about the book and author at Graham Joyce's website.

See Graham Joyce's top ten fairy fictions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Sleeping and the Dead"

Jeff Crook is a technical writer/editor for the U.S. Postal Service and the author of several fantasy books in the Dragonlance series including Conundrum and The Thieves' Guild.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Sleeping and the Dead, his first mystery, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
After I left Deiter's, I got a call from Preston Park to photograph a wreck on I-240 involving a tractor trailer and a motorcycle. The biker earlied-out beneath the trailer, doing an estimated buck-twenty. There wasn’t much left of him above the zipper except a big red dent on the trailer's back door. His mother called Preston Park wanting to sue the truck driver, the trucking company, the city of Memphis and maybe God Himself for making it rain. The scene was jacked up on epic scale, traffic jammed for eight miles, car after car full of Adam Henrys trolling for a look at the corpse folded up under the truck axle. It was enough to make you hate people on principle, but I was happy not to see the motorcyclist anywhere. He hadn't hung around and I was starting to think God had let this cup pass from me.
This scene is Jackie in a nutshell - her voice, her brutal cynical language, her job, and her special ability. The heroine of The Sleeping and the Dead is Jackie Lyons. She photographs accident scenes for lawyers and homicides for the chief of the homicide unit of the Memphis Police Department. Jackie also sees ghosts. Her abilities are what draws her into the investigation of the notorious Playhouse Killer.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Crook's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


D.B. Jackson is also David B. Coe, the award-winning author of a dozen fantasy novels. His first book as D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker, volume I of the Thieftaker Chronicles, was released by Tor Books on July 3d. Jackson lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They're all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he's not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Thieftaker and reported the following:
Page 69:
It wasn't just that she was the most important thieftaker in Boston, in all of the American colonies. She was also responsible for much of the thieving and violence that made thieftaking necessary. At least half the gems and jewelry and other riches she returned for reward were first stolen by men in her employ. She took with one hand, gave back with the other, and was paid handsomely for doing so.

Those like Ethan, who lived their lives in the streets, saw the woman for what she really was: a charming, clever villain. But to the unsuspecting, particularly the wealthy, she was the person who kept Boston's streets safe. And by dint of having forged this reputation, she had built an empire for herself. For if she profited from her efforts to keep order in the city and see to it that stolen property was restored to its rightful owner . . . well who could begrudge the woman a bit of coin?

She watched Ethan now as she circled him, a half smile on her exquisite face, an appraising look in her cold, pale eyes, as if she was weighing whether or not to have her men beat Ethan a bit more.

"You've been hired by Berson," she said at length.

Ethan would gain nothing by denying it. Little happened in Boston without Sephira knowing of it; chances were she had known Berson was going to hire Ethan before the merchant's man ever reached the Dowsing Rod. But Ethan saw no reason to confirm her suspicions. He stared back at her as the pain in his gut and his cheek gradually faded. After several moments, Sephira flicked her gaze up to one of the men standing behind Ethan. One quick glance, that was all it took.

Immediately the man behind him--Yellow-hair--grabbed Ethan by the hair, pulled his head back, and laid the edge of a blade against Ethan's throat, much as Ethan had done to Daniel the night before.

"I believe Miss Pryce asked ye a question," Yellow-hair said, giving Ethan's hair an extra yank.

"Actually, she didn't," Ethan said, his voice strained. "She made a statement."

The man looming over him frowned, then looked to Pryce, apparently unsure of what to make of this.
As it happens, it's hard to imagine any page in my novel being more representative of the entire book than this one. Ethan Kaille, my protagonist, is a thieftaker and conjurer who scratches out a living for himself in the streets of Colonial Boston. Sephira Pryce is his rival and nemesis, a thieftaker of great renown who always manages to keep one step ahead of him. Their rivalry, with its humor, its deadly earnestness, and its sexual tension, drives the book and in fact, the entire series.

This is the first scene in which we meet Sephira. She and her goons are waiting for Ethan when he returns to his room. After her men beat him, she begins to question him about his latest inquiry, which has drawn her interest because the man who has hired Ethan is among Boston's wealthiest merchants. Usually Boston's elite go to her when they need a thieftaker's services, and Sephira doesn't share well with the other children.

Ethan has taken on his new client because he believes that magic was used to kill the merchant's daughter, and because he is the only thieftaker in the city who is also a conjurer. But he suspects that Sephira might have played some role in the killing, and so this encounter marks the beginning of a cat-and-mouse game that will continue throughout the book.

So, yeah, in this case page 69 tells you pretty much exactly what the book is going to be like. Hope you liked it.
Learn more about the book and author at D. B. Jackson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Hell or High Water"

Joy Castro is the author of the thriller Hell or High Water, which received a starred review from Booklist for its “exquisite New Orleans background, intriguing newsroom politics and atmosphere, a flawed but plucky heroine, and skillfully paced suspense.” Also the author of two memoirs, The Truth Book and Island of Bones, she lives with her husband in Lincoln, Nebraska and teaches creative writing, literature, and Latino studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Castro applied the Page 69 Test to Hell or High Water and reported the following:
Oh, dear. Yes, I’m afraid this is a representative passage. It falls at the end of an intense sex scene between the hard-boiled protagonist, twenty-seven-year-old crime reporter Nola Céspedes, who’s private to a fault, and Bento, the handsome stranger she picked up at a soccer field for some no-strings sex.

It’s night. They’ve just finished having rather successful sex in her car.
I sit there panting and blissed out, already starting to forget him.

He’s tugging his nylon shirt and shorts back into place. “May I have your telephone number?” he asks.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I don’t give my number out to men. Not even men like this one.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

What the hell. “Nola.”

“Nola,” he says, like it’s the word for something delicious. We sit in the cool dark together, staring straight ahead out the windshield. “Well, Nola, I’d like to give you my phone number.”

“I won’t call.” The dark, empty fields stretch in front of us.
After convincing Nola to take his number, he shakes her hand, introduces himself, and thanks her for “a lovely evening.” Reluctantly, she thanks him in return.
Letting my hand go, he smiles with delight, like I’m a child raised by wolves who’s just used a fork for the first time. Like he’ll be returning to report good news to the other researchers back at the lab.
Nola is wary and secretive, for good reason. Bento’s patient pursuit of her—and her resistance—is laced throughout the murder mystery she’s investigating.
Learn more about the book and author at Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Say Nice Things About Detroit"

Scott Lasser is the author of four novels: Battle Creek, All I Could Get, The Year That Follows, and Say Nice Things About Detroit. He recently completed a screenplay adaptation of Say Nice Things About Detroit for Steve Carell’s Carousel Productions. His non-fiction has appeared in magazines ranging from Dealmaker (for which he wrote a regular book column) to The New Yorker. Lasser has worked for a variety of now-bankrupt companies, including the National Steel Corporation, General Motors, and Lehman Brothers.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Say Nice Things About Detroit and reported the following:
Open any novel in the middle and you’ll need to be filled in on what has come before. So it is with my new novel, Say Nice Things About Detroit. On page 69, Shelly, the widow of Dirk, a central figure in the book, has invited Dirk’s mother and half-sister to Shelly’s house to give them a photo album. Simple enough, but then there’s the issue of race. Shelly is black. Dirk was, too, except that he had a white mother with whom he did not grow up. The album contains photos from Dirk’s youth, a kind of testimony to the years he was essentially motherless. Thus the photo album is about both shared and separate histories, which, when you think about, is similar to the histories of blacks and whites in Detroit. I don’t know that I was thinking of that when I wrote it—I was just trying to tell a compelling story—but it sounds good to me now.
Learn more about the author and his work at Scott Lasser's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Year That Follows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Ann Littlewood was a zoo keeper in Portland, Oregon for twelve years. She raised lions and cougars, an orangutan; and native mammals, as well as parrots, penguins, and a multitude of owls. The financial realities of raising primates (two boys of her own) led Littlewood to exchange a hose and rubber boots for a briefcase and pantsuit in the healthcare industry. She has maintained her membership in the American Association of Zookeepers and has kept in touch with the zoo world by visiting zoos and through friendships with zoo staffers.

Littlewood applied the Page 69 Test to Endangered, her latest novel, and reported the following:
Endangered is the third in the Iris Oakley zoo mystery series. In this scene, Iris is interviewed by Officer Gil Gettler of the Clark County, Washington, Sheriff’s Department. The day before, while removing pet macaws (a pair of large, unfriendly parrots) from a remote farm after a drug bust, Iris discovered a plastic bag hidden behind their cage. It contained a small water glass with tissue paper stuffed inside. Puzzled, she handled it carefully and intended to turn it over to law enforcement, but didn’t have the chance. She drove the macaws to Finley Zoo where she works, left the van briefly in the parking lot, and returned to find the van broken into and the bag missing. She called a police officer, who didn’t believe her and pissed her off by implying this was a drug buy gone bad. But Deputy Gettler, who participated in the drug bust, came to the zoo to hear her story.
“How could this bag have gotten where you found it?”

I’d been thinking about that. “One way would be when the cage was first set up. But it wouldn’t be that hard to do later. The cage has small doors so you can reach in to feed and water from either side. The door on the far side wasn’t hard against the wall. You could reach in, unlatch it from the inside, and push it open it three or four inches. Then you could drop the bag down between the cage and the wall. If you wanted to hide it, toss some birdseed and feathers after it. Then close the latch again.”

“So anyone could have put it there.”

“Not really. Whoever did it had to stick their hand in with the macaws. They’re likely to bite.”

“How bad would that be? What if you wore gloves?”

I shook my head. “With gloves, you couldn’t unlatch the far door. Without them, you could get chomped pretty good. But if the birds knew and liked you, you could try it without gloves.”

His eyebrows went up. “Who knew you’d found this?”

“I can’t remember who was around when I brought it outside and showed it to Denny. It was a bright day. Someone could have watched us from the woods and seen me bring the bag out. You could hide an army around that place.” Pluvia had said that Tom and Jeff watched from the woods.

He moved on to the van robbery in the employee parking lot. If he didn’t believe me, at least he was polite about it. He said, “That bag might have nothing to do with the Tiptons, but if you find it, we’d like to see it. It’s a murder investigation, and we have to follow up on all the leads. Thank you for your time.”

He was being dutiful and doubtful, and I couldn’t blame him. I moved to another concern. “Um, are you looking into the wildlife smuggling? Where they got the parrots and tortoises?”

“That would be the Feds. You could contact U.S. Fish and Wildlife.”

I might have to do that.

“Uh, one more thing.”

He waited, eyes alert.

“Liana wasn’t killed during the bust, right? She didn’t die where I found her.”

A stiff smile. “Let me know if you remember anything else of significance.” And he took his leave.
Of course Iris is correct. The murder victim was killed elsewhere and staged to look as if she were shot during the bust. Iris is mystified—anyone who’s ever seen a crime show knows that forensic investigators will figure this out in a heartbeat. Who would be so naïve? The criminal family who lived at the farm, perhaps. Still… And what’s up with hiding this water glass? What was wrapped up in that tissue inside it?

Iris is focused on the animal smuggling that was a side-line of the drug operation and is intent on bringing the criminals to justice. Her animal knowledge helps, but she has no idea who she’s really up against. To trap the killer, she makes the mistake of implying that she knows much more than she really does. Then she must take desperate measures to keep her toddler and herself safe from a career criminal, who is not the least naïve.
Learn more about the book and author at Ann Littlewood's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Ann Littlewood and Murphy.

The Page 69 Test: Did Not Survive.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"The Singles"

Meredith Goldstein is an advice columnist and entertainment reporter for The Boston Globe. Her column Love Letters is a daily dispatch of wisdom for the lovelorn that gets about 1 million page views every month on Boston.com. Love Letters appears in the Globe’s print edition every Saturday. Goldstein also writes about fake rock stars, former boy banders, female werewolves, self-help books, last picture shows, and how to sound like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Singles, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Singles takes place at a wedding, but the story isn’t about the bride and groom.

The novel puts the spotlight on the only five guests at the wedding who don’t have a date. Three of those “singles” happen to be men. And that’s why Page 69 is a great example of what you’ll find in the book.

Page 69 is about my favorite male character, Phil. He’s a wedding guest who is forced to attend the nuptials of two perfect strangers because his mother (a friend of the groom’s mom) is too sick to attend.

By day (and night), Phil is a ballpark security guard for the Orioles who lives alone and loves to gamble on college sports. He spends much of the wedding thinking about an ex-girlfriend, checking the score of a college football game, and coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother.

Page 69 is all about Phil’s deep love for his mother and why he’s so worried about her all of the time. It’s one of the pages that made me fall in love with one of my own characters. And it’s pretty representative of my novel, which is absolutely a funny story about a crazy wedding, but is also a rather intimate look at how people cope with being alone.
Learn more about the book and author at Meredith Goldstein's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"The Stolen Chalice"

Kitty Pilgrim worked as a CNN correspondent and news anchor for 24 years. As a New York-based reporter her normal beat included politics and economics but her assignments also have taken her around the world – Russia, China, Venezuela, Cuba, the Middle East, Korea and South Africa. Pilgrim anchored her own CNN morning show, Early Edition in 1998-1999 and was anchor for prime time broadcasts at CNN from 2001-2010. Pilgrim is the recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award, a Peabody Award, an Emmy, and New York Society of Black Journalists Award. She is a member of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and the Explorer’s Club of New York.

Pilgrim applied the Page 69 Test to The Stolen Chalice, the latest book featuring archaeologist John Sinclair, and reported the following:
In The Stolen Chalice by page 69 we are well into the thriller aspect of the plot. At a glamorous gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, we have already met Lady Xandra Sommerset. (Or Lady X as the tabloid press call her) She is a fabulously wealthy British aristocrat who is very beautiful and a little eccentric. She has a bad case of Egyptomania, and covets the priceless artifacts that come from that ancient culture. The scene opens at her suite at the Carlyle Hotel in New York where she is gloating over the priceless objects that are now arrayed on her bed - all stolen. She is getting ready to board her fabulous yacht - a 200 foot Fedship, The Khamsin which is docked in lower Manhattan.

This is the beginning of an around-the-world chase that is the lynchpin of all of my novels. In my first book, The Explorer's Code, and now in The Stolen Chalice, the reader is always treated to a beautiful international voyage filled with luxury, mystery and intrigue. The Stolen Chalice begins in New York, goes on to London, Scotland, Venice and ultimately Egypt. All the characters travel in high style, by yacht, private jet.

The Stolen Chalice is a total fantasy world in which the reader abandons their daily cares and lives the life of great luxury. I write escapist thrillers for people who want to relax, enjoy an interesting plot and learn about new places. By the time the reader hits page 69 they have already been to a gala, a fabulous New York Penthouse, a film director's cocktail party in Tribecca, and have met the hero of the book, the dashing and elegant John Sinclair. By page 69 you are spoiled by glamour and luxury. I dare you to put it down!
Learn more about the book and author at Kitty Pilgrim's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Stolen Chalice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Vanishing Girls"

Born in France to American parents, Katia Lief moved to the United States as a baby and was raised in Massachusetts and New York. She teaches fiction writing as a part-time faculty member at the New School in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn.

Lief's Karin Schaeffer novels include You Are Next and Next Time You See Me.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Vanishing Girls, the latest book in the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Vanishing Girls finds Karin Schaeffer with her friend Detective Billy Staples at a community meeting where the police are giving Billy a Distinguished Officer Award for Bravery in the Line of Duty. He hates getting this award because of the price he paid for it: his right eye. When he gets up to take the plaque is also the moment when the locals realize that he's the lead detective on a multiple murder case currently scandalizing the neighborhood. People want answers, but Billy doesn't have any. He gets out of there as fast as he can. Down on the street with Karin, he refuses her offer to introduce him to a police peer assistance group who might be able to help him cope with his ballooning PTSD. Billy is in trouble, but he won't accept help. Karin won't accept not trying to help him. As the story moves forward, this tension weaves into the solving of a complicated case.
Learn more about the book and author at Katia Lief's website.

Writers Read: Katia Lief.

The Page 69 Test: Next Time You See Me.

My Book, The Movie: Next Time You See Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Ransom River"

Meg Gardiner writes thrillers, including the Evan Delaney novels featuring a smart-aleck freelance journalist from Santa Barbara, California, and the Jo Beckett series featuring a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist.

Gardiner applied the Page 69 Test to her new stand-alone novel, Ransom River, and reported the following:
In Ransom River, Rory Mackenzie's life is turned inside out when gunmen attack the courthouse where she's serving as a juror on a murder trial. The courtroom is held hostage, and though SWAT finally storms the building, the aftermath proves even more dangerous for Rory. She discovers that the attack is connected to an old case that has never been solved - and to her own family's history. And uncovering the truth might destroy her.

Page 69 finds Rory being interrogated by the Ransom River police after the siege is broken. As detectives question her about the gunmen who seized the courtroom, she becomes increasingly unsettled:
She seemed to hear a creaking noise, like a pin had been pulled from a support beam below her.

"I think they were working with somebody on the outside. Nixon kept looking at—” She spread her hands. "Do you know his name? Something else I can call him?"

"Nixon is interesting," Zelinski said. "We can go with that for now."

She paused. She wasn't imagining the good cop, annoying cop routine. "Nixon kept handling his phone. I got the impression he was sending text messages. And I heard them arguing."

Xavier said, "About what?"

"Whether the two of them should flee on their own. Nixon wanted to take hostages with them. He said, 'We leave by ourselves, we die.'"

"He probably meant he wanted human shields."

Rory shook her head. "It was more than that. He insisted that they take the people who got tapped on the back. He said, 'The plan is the plan.'"

They didn't react.
This page gives a sense of the growing tension between Rory and a police department that thinks she's the attackers' inside man. If readers turn to it, they'll get a good idea of what the novel's about. So, Page 69: Yep, it hits the mark.
Learn more about the book and author at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

Writers Read: Meg Gardiner (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2012

"The 13th Target"

A native of North Carolina, Mark de Castrique writes mysteries primarily set in the Appalachian mountains. He is an award-winning film and video producer whose work has been broadcast on PBS, HBO, and network-affiliate stations as well as the author of the Sam Blackman mystery series, the Buryin’ Barry series, and two mysteries for young adults.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest thriller, The 13th Target, and reported the following: 
Page 69 can best be described as a set up page. My protagonist, ex-Secret Service agent (and squeaky clean) Rusty Mullins is taking his grandson Josh to a T-ball game where he also plans to meet with a reporter claiming to have information on the suicide of Mullins' friend and protective charge Federal Reserve executive Paul Luguire. But his daughter Kayli's neighbor, Don Beecham, asks to come along with his young son Luke:
Mullins recognized the child. Luke. Josh’s playmate from a unit on the second floor.

“I’ll have to get a bigger bag. I’m Rusty Mullins. Aka Paw Paw.”

“Don Beecham. Luke’s dad. Kayli said you were coming by for Josh.” He walked back in the condo. “The girls have gone to some sale at Pentagon City. I’m afraid my wife enticed your daughter to join her.”

Mullins followed him, but left the door open. “I hope I haven’t held you up. Kayli could have called me to come earlier.”

“That’s all right. It was a spur of the moment thing. Sandy saw the ad in the morning paper. Stores opened at eight for some Summer Madness promotion. Then they both have hair appointments.”

Josh squirmed to get down.

“Hold still,” Mullins said. “We’re going in a minute.”

“Kayli left diapers and a clean outfit by the door.” Don pointed to a blue bag adjacent to the threshold. “She said she’d pick Josh up at one.”

“Okay. I can lock up. Thanks for holding the fort till I got here.”

Don reached down and lifted his son. “Kayli said she didn’t think you’d mind if Luke and I tagged along. He’s never seen a ballgame.”

Mullins hesitated. Last night Detective Sullivan had convinced him to talk to some reporter named Sidney Levine, and the guy woke him up at seven-thirty. Mullins agreed to meet him, and the ballgame seemed a safe, public place.

Don picked up on Mullins’ reluctance. “But if you’d rather have time alone with Josh, I understand.”

“No, it’s not that. I’ve got some errands to run afterwards and that might not be convenient for you.”

“We’ll take separate cars. Better anyway because I don’t know how long the game will hold Luke’s attention.”

Mullins considered the point. Having Luke along might keep Josh occupied. He’d find a way to exchange a few words with the reporter and be done with it.
Rusty Mullins is doing his own unofficial investigation into Luguire's suicide, the man his private protection agency was supposed to safeguard. To complicate matters, Don Beecham is a Federal Reserve employee. The reporter, Sidney Levine, will not be "done with" but will dog Mullins' trail. Soon, the apparent suicide becomes a secondary concern as an impending terrorist plot against the Federal Reserve surfaces. Mullins is in a race against time, and, as the evidence mounts, one person emerges as the prime suspect -- Rusty Mullins himself.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark de Castrique's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Mark de Castrique & Gracie.

--Marshal Zeringue