Saturday, September 29, 2012

"A Death in Valencia"

Jason Webster was born near San Francisco in 1970 and educated in England, Germany, Italy and Egypt. After graduating from Oxford University in Arabic and Islamic History, he moved to Spain, where he has spent most of his adult life.

His crime fiction series set in the Spanish city of Valencia - his adopted home - features Chief Inspector Max Cámara of the Spanish National Police. The first novel in the series, Or the Bull Kills You, involves a murder in the complex and tightly-knit bullfighting community.

Webster applied the Page 69 Test to the second novel in the series, A Death in Valencia, and reported the following:
Page 69 is the opening of chapter ten. Max Cámara is walking the streets of Valencia, his world having - literally - fallen down around him. The poorly-built block of flats where he lived collapsed the day before, killing some of his neighbors (this is not uncommon in Spain). He is homeless and has lost most of his possessions. His love life is in ruins and he’s wondering whether to even carry on as a policeman. To sum up, his life is a mess.

In this state of shock, he buys a new charger for his cell phone before heading off to inspect the flat of an abortionist who has recently been kidnapped. It’s a high profile, very political case and Cámara has been taken off the murder investigation he was working on in order to take part. The Pope is about to visit the city, and the forces of liberalism and conservatism are at loggerheads. It seems as though the conflicts that brought the country to civil war in the 1930s are still there, the wounds still open.

The page is very representative of the book as a whole: the sense of place - the streets of Valencia on a hot, sweaty July morning; the dualistic conflict at the heart of so much of Spanish politics; the tensions within Cámara himself as he tries to reconcile his outer life with the inner questions that dog him, and the shock and bewilderment that comes as everything he has clung on to in his adult life - everything that has given him a sense of identity - has been taken away from him. In the end he has to search inside himself to discover who he really is.
Learn more about the book and author at Jason Webster's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Or the Bull Kills You.

The Page 69 Test: Or the Bull Kills You.

Writers Read: Jason Webster (September 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2012

"The Life of Objects"

Susanna Moore is the author of the novels The Big Girls, One Last Look, In the Cut, Sleeping Beauties, The Whiteness of Bones, and My Old Sweetheart, and two books of nonfiction, Light Years: A Girlhood in Hawai’i and I Myself Have Seen It: The Myth of Hawai’i.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Life of Objects, and reported the following:
Yes, of course, page 69 is representative, as is every page in the novel. I don't know how I could separate one page from any other page --- they are all representative. How could they not be?
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Moore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Fires of London"

Janice Law is an author, teacher, and painter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Fires of London, and reported the following:
Alas, page 69 turns out to be a half page, being the start of chapter 6, so a reader opening the book there would find a rather cryptic conversation between the hero, Francis, who is based on the notable English painter Francis Bacon, and the police inspector whom he always refers to as his ‘personal copper.’ How poor Francis, irrepressibly gay, promiscuous, alcoholic, and brilliant, winds up in the uncomfortable position as police snitch is a big part of the plot.

Francis has been implicated by stumbling over a murdered man during the course of his Blackout duties as an ARP warden. His uninhibited lifestyle has compromised him and his options are further limited by his devotion to his old nanny, now half blind but ruthlessly devoted.

His relationship with his Nan, which follows closely the real Bacon’s devotion to his old nurse, is the reason that I thought I could write about him. As a downstairs child growing up in an upstairs/ downstairs estate, I felt I understood that relationship very well, however strange and exotic the rest of my hero’s life might seem.

Page 69 does mention another point of contact between us. The historical Bacon had a rackety and ill-educated youth. Perhaps as a result, he adored Greek literature, never having been force-fed the tragedies and tested on the comedies. I gave him my own partiality for Aeschylus, particularly the great Agamemnon. The subject of his conversation with the inspector is a dubious theatrical whose fetish involves playacting as Clytemnestra, the murderer in Agamemnon. I thought this would be right down Francis’ alley.

Finally, though it is not mentioned in this passage, Francis is first and foremost a painter. He might be dancing on the tables half the night– and probably was– but he is up with the dawn and in his studio. The real Bacon had a strong work ethic. I kept that for my character, as I heartily approve of hard work in the arts.

Art keeps Francis stable and enables him to interpret the world. As both a writer and a dedicated amateur painter, I understand that perfectly.
Learn more about the book and author at Janice Law's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Foul Play at the Fair"

Shelley Freydont is the author of the Katie McDonald and Lindy Haggerty mystery series, and the Liv Montgomery, Celebration Bay Festival Mysteries.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Foul Play at the Fair, the first Celebration Bay Festival mystery, and reported the following:
Amateur sleuth mysteries, sometimes known as cozies are just that. They involve not just victim, murderer and sleuth but a whole cast of characters, friends, neighbors, family, who take part in the story. It’s one of the things readers like about cozy mysteries. That small town feel where everyone who isn’t “fer” you is “agin” you.

When murder strikes my small destination town of Celebration Bay, all eyes turn to Liv Montgomery, the new town event coordinator just arrived from Manhattan. They think, being from the big city, she’ll know what to do to find the killer. But also because she’s from the big city, they’re not quite sure about trusting her with their future. It makes for a lot of fun for us and headaches for Liv.

Here’s a bit of Page 69 of Foul Play at the Fair between Liv and her assistant Ted.
“Mayor Worley’s called a trustee meeting this morning at ten. You and I are invited.”

Liv closed her eyes. “Any particular reason?”

Ted took the cups and pastry from her. “He’s in a panic. Afraid he won’t be reelected if he gets the reputation of being soft on crime.”

“It just happened two nights ago.”

“I know and I don’t know why he’s worried. He’s been the only candidate for the last twelve years. It’s not like anybody else is dying for the job.”

“Does Bill have any leads yet?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

They sat down at the desk. Ted turned the coffee cake over and wrinkled his nose. “Dolly seems off her game this morning.” He held up the burnt bottom.

“She was definitely upset. She asked me if it were true. I told her yes. Then Fred came in while I was there and she got more upset.”
Although there’s no nail biting action here, (there’s quite a bit in the book), this is indicative of how Liv’s investigation is tied up with the other residents. It takes a village with all its quirky characters and a good amount of crafts and bakery delights to see their way clear.
Learn more about the book and author at Shelley Freydont's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Mixed Signals"

Jane Tesh lives and writes in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. A media specialist/librarian for grades K-6 for 30 years, she retired to write and exercise her creative side. A rehearsal pianist and sometime orchestra conductor for community theater, she also plays the violin, and is a certified kick-boxing instructor.

Tesh applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Mixed Signals, and reported the following:
When I heard about the Page 69 Test, I couldn’t wait to try it. I was very curious to see if this page had anything to do with the central theme and the plot of my book and if it was the kind of page to keep the reader interested.

In Mixed Signals, book 2 of the Grace Street Mystery Series, PI David Randall and his friend Camden find Jared Hunter murdered at his home. Camden, who is psychic, starts having violent visions of the crime and fears he is linked in some way to the killer. Randall not only wants to solve the mystery, he wants to find a way to end Camden’s nightmares. On page 69, there is the end of a scene where Randall stops by the garage where Jared was employed and interviews some of Jared’s co-workers.
“He was a good guy,” one said. “A good mechanic. It’s a real shame.”

“What about Boyd Taylor? Did he argue with Jared over the Marlin?”

“Yeah, they had their differences,” another man said, “but Boyd’s not the kind of person who’d kill somebody.”

In my experience, I’d found out that for love, money, or plain uncontrollable rage, anybody could snap.
A definite hint of darker things to come.

Next on page 69 is the beginning of a scene in the office of Chance Baseford, art critic for the Parkland Herald, who may have some information about the city’s mysterious superhero, the Parkland Avenger, a superhero who may have ties to the crime.
When I tapped on his office door, he looked up from his computer and reared back in his chair, giving me the full glare.

“What do you want?”

“Good afternoon to you, too.” I made myself at home in the chair in front of his desk.

Baseford’s broad fleshy face went pink with annoyance. He tossed back his mane of white hair in a gesture that I’m sure sent waves of horror through timid dancers and painters trying to make it in Parkland, but I’m not easily impressed by theatrics. “Every time I see you, it means trouble. What could possibly bring you to my office?”
These pieces of scenes show Randall at work, so the plot is moving along. As for the theme, well, there is indeed love, money, and uncontrollable rage at the heart of this murder, as well as a group of annoyed amateur superheroes who have issues with the Parkland Avenger.
Learn more about the book and author at Jane Tesh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"The Devil’s Madonna"

Sharon Potts is the critically acclaimed author of three thrillers about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Potts has worked as a CPA and business executive and is currently vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Her novels include the award-winning In Their Blood and Someone’s Watching. In her latest thriller, The Devil’s Madonna, a young pregnant woman, threatened by a stalker, discovers secrets about her grandmother’s life in 1930s Berlin that will have devastating consequences for her marriage, her unborn child, and perhaps even the world. New York Times best-selling author Jeffery Deaver says, “The Devil’s Madonna is rich with high-concept, captivating characters and a relentless plot that simply won’t let go.”

Potts applied the Page 69 Test to The Devil’s Madonna and reported the following:
From Page 69:
Javier preferred slender blondes with narrow necks and large breasts, much like his ex-wife and the woman in the photos and films his father had sequestered. It was like viewing an X-rated movie, but better. Only a piece of glass stood between them.

A car swished through a puddle of rainwater, the sound merging with the crescendo of Beethoven’s liquid moonlight.

No one was home at the Campbells’ tonight. Nothing to watch. Nothing to do for now.

Javier started the engine and turned up the volume. He’d drive around the block one more time, then check back.
I’ll be honest, I was hoping Page 69 would fall on one of ninety-three-year-old Lillian Campbell’s reminiscences of her life as a movie star in 1930s Berlin. Her fears that someone will discover and expose her true, hidden identity. Her involvement with an old art professor and his disturbing, lecherous lackey. Her terrifying escape from Berlin, knowing there are some things from which she will never be able to run away. Or perhaps Page 69 would belong to her granddaughter, Kali Miller. A young woman who’s pregnant with her first child and determined to learn the truth about her evasive grandmother’s past, only to uncover a secret that would better have been left buried. I was hoping that Page 69 would reveal the relationship and powerful emotions that both women must confront—fear, guilt, and hate. But no. Page 69 brings us the villain, Javier Guzman, as he sits in his car listening to Beethoven while he stalks the two women. It shows us Javier’s sickness and obsession, but not his motivation. All we can tell from Page 69 is that this is not a man we want to meet his prey—a ninety-three-year old woman and her pregnant granddaughter.
Learn more about the book and author at Sharon Potts' website.

My Book, The Movie: In Their Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Someone’s Watching.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2012

"The Three-Day Affair"

Michael Kardos’s debut thriller The Three-Day Affair has received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, which named it one of the best books of the fall. He’s originally from New Jersey and currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

Kardos applied the Page 69 Test to The Three-Day Affair and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Three-Day Affair takes place during a flashback, when the main characters are in their freshmen year at Princeton and in the middle of committing a minor campus prank. This page depicts a moment of bonding for the guys but also reveals a bit of their hubris and naiveté—they’re unaware that their actions might have larger implications.
With one arm around a pack of toilet paper, and the other locked around the ladder rungs, I started to climb. It was ten or twelve stories at least to the top and slow going. I didn’t look down. Nolan and Evan stood lookout at the base of the ladder and failed miserably, because suddenly a deep voice was shouting at me to come the hell down off that ladder.

I looked down. My friends and a uniformed campus policeman and a few other passersby all were looking up at me from below. Way below. For a moment I froze. Then I dropped the package of toilet paper and began a slow descent.

The moment I was back on firm ground, the police officer shined his flashlight in my face and asked if I was a student.

I told him I was.

“Let me see your student ID,” he said.

He shined his flashlight on it, then on my face again.

I grinned widely.

“This isn’t funny,” he said, “so shut your fucking mouth.”

His manner startled me. University police, called proctors, were extremely well-trained men, gentlemen really, who knocked on dormitory room doors when parties became too loud and reminded us to please keep it down. They carried flashlights, not guns, and weren’t prone to gruffness. What we did not know then was that the prior spring, a student had fallen nearly to his death while climbing this exact fire escape, while in this same inebriated state. He was still in the hospital, and the family had filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the university. Our small prank therefore loomed large in the eyes of campus police.

We were freshman, though, and ignorant of any number of things that later would seem like common campus knowledge.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Kardos's website.

Writers Read: Michael Kardos.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Trinity Game"

Sean Chercover is the author of the novels Big City, Bad Blood, Trigger City, and The Trinity Game, as well as short stories that have appeared in a number of anthologies. His work has received the Anthony, Shamus, CWA Dagger, Dilys, Crimespree, Gumshoe and Lovey awards, and has been shortlisted for the Edgar, MacAvity, Barry, ITW Thriller and Arthur Ellis.

Chercover applied the Page 69 Test to The Trinity Game and reported the following:
Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s secretive Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the department that scrutinizes miracle claims. Over ten years and 721 cases, not one miracle he tested has proved true.

But case #722 is different. Daniel’s estranged uncle, a crooked TV evangelist named Tim Trinity, has started speaking in tongues—and seems to be accurately predicting the future. Having been raised by Trinity on the tent revival circuit, Daniel knows his uncle is a con man, and is familiar with his tricks. The Vatican sends Daniel to Atlanta with orders to debunk Trinity hard.

When we reach page 69, Daniel has just learned that Trinity’s predictions are always accurate, and has come to Trinity’s television studio church to confront him…
Daniel sat in the back row, taking it all in. He had to admit, his uncle wasn’t just good—he was a master. He’d seen many talented grifters at work on the tent revival circuit, many more preaching on television. But nobody owned the stage like Tim Trinity.

Trinity let the silence linger, then flipped a page of his blue Bible, which sat before him on the lectern. When he spoke, his voice boomed to the rafters. “Jesus said—Matthew 13:45—‘The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all he had and bought it.’”

He scooped up the Bible, grinned out at the crowd, and scratched his head in mock confusion. “One pearl of great value? Now just what the heck is he talkin’ about?”

The audience laughed easily.

“The pearl, my friends, is salvation. Salvation is the pearl of the highest value.” Trinity started pacing the stage as a handful of Amens came up from the crowd. “But some of you are like the rich man who came to Jesus and asked what good deed he must do to get into heaven. You remember the one. The man was already virtuous, kept all of God’s laws, so Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and become a disciple. And the rich man went away, grieving, for he had many possessions. What he failed to understand—and what y’all need to understand—is that spiritual salvation brings with it all the material wealth you could ever hope for! Salvation is—always and in all ways—the pearl of great value. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Daniel shifted uncomfortably in his seat, thinking: Here it comes
At that point, Tim Trinity begins his money pitch, promising financial miracles in the lives of those who sow their seed of faith by giving to his television ministry.

A couple pages into the scene, Trinity launches into tongues, which seems more like an epileptic fit than a performance, and which unnerves Daniel. And we see the crowd reaction. We get the feeling that something big is happening here. Yes, Trinity is a con man, but could he also be something more? We get a feel for the stakes involved, we start to understand the strong motive for those powerful groups who want to silence Trinity before the world learns of his power.

So that entire scene is, I think, a good representation of the book. But ignoring the rest of the scene, is Page 69 representative of the book? That’s for you to decide.
Learn more about the book and author at Sean Chercover's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"The Memory Thief"

Emily Colin holds a BA in Psychology, with a second major in Literature/Media Studies, from Duke University, and an MS in Family Studies and Human Services, with a specialization in Youth Development, from Kansas State University. She is the Associate Director of DREAMS of Wilmington, a nationally award-winning nonprofit dedicated to building creative, committed citizens by providing youth in need with high-quality, free-of-charge arts programming.

Colin applied the Page 69 Test to The Memory Thief, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Let us begin with Page 69 itself (with slight poetic license, in order to include the last paragraph):
Our bodies were only a few inches apart, and he had a good grip on me. His quiet laughter shook both of us. “Maybe you were right about the whole uncontrolled nature thing.”

“I told you so,” I said.

“They’re usually nocturnal. Maybe this guy’s lost,” he mused as we watched the copperhead reach the other side of the path and disappear into the trees. He sounded concerned for the snake’s safety, which made me smile.

“Thanks for rescuing me,” I said, imbuing my tone with enough sarcasm so that he knew I wasn’t the helpless-maiden type.

“You do need a guide. You would have stepped right on the freaking thing if I hadn’t stopped you.” I couldn’t see his face, but I would have been willing to bet he was smirking again.

I dug deep and came up with something I’d seen on the Discovery Channel during a snowed-in weekend in the Adirondacks with my parents. “They’re venomous, but their bite isn’t fatal, right? So I would’ve suffered for a while, but everything would’ve turned out okay.”

He spun me to face him like we were dancing. “You know more than you let on. Are you a closet herpetologist?”

I could give as good as I got. Tilting my head, I ran my free hand through my hair, letting it cascade over my back. “If you’re asking me if I have a nasty venereal disease, the answer is no. Not that that’s any of your business, on a first date. And speaking of which, would you mind letting go of my wrist? You’re hurting me, and it’s a little too early in our relationship for S&M.”

He dropped my wrist like it was on fire and let his hand fall from my shoulder. “That’s too bad,” he said, his voice a few notes lower and his blue eyes locked on mine. “The second part, not the first. The first part is purely good news.”
Here, Aidan and Madeleine, two of the story’s main characters, have just recently met. You get a glimpse of his affinity for nature, as well as his self-confidence—and you see Madeleine, refusing to be intimidated. There’s a tacit agreement between them when she stands up to him, a deal brokered—it’s the beginning of the imbalance of power that will ultimately characterize their relationship, in ways that will challenge him and surprise her. These are early days, still, so you get a taste of flirtatious banter, rather than the intimacy that will exist between them later—but this is the general idea.

Of course, if you just read this page, you might think that The Memory Thief is predominantly about the evolution of the relationship between these two characters … in other words, a love story. And it is that, but it’s also much more: it’s a ghost story and a mystery, a journey that tests the weight of promises and questions the true nature of memory. If you just read page 69, you’d miss all that.

You’d also miss the mountain-climbing scenes, and the avalanche that takes Aidan’s life somewhere around page 34 ... or page 25, depending on your perspective. (It’s in the book’s blurb—don’t worry, I’m not giving away any secrets here.) You wouldn’t get to meet Nicholas, haunted by visions of a woman and child he’s never laid eyes on, nor would you experience a young boy’s love for the father who refuses to leave him behind—all of which is key to the way the novel unfolds.

So. Is page 69 representative of the rest of the book? If pressed, I’d say it’s accurate, but incomplete—one perspective of a three-cornered narrative. A snapshot, really, frozen in time.
Learn more about the book and author at Emily Colin's website.

Writers Read: Emily Colin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Detroit Breakdown"

D. E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood. He comes by his interest in automotive history through his grandfather, who was the vice president of Checker Motors. Johnson's books include The Detroit Electric Scheme and Motor City Shakedown. He lives with his family near Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Johnson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Detroit Breakdown, and reported the following:
From page 69:
We walked down a corridor with a concrete floor, a red brick wall on one side, plaster on the other. A guard sat next to the metal door at the end. As we approached, he pushed himself to his feet and unlocked the door. The policeman handed me over to him and simply said, “Nut.”

The guard eyed me. I looked back at him with no expression. I knew what these men were capable of. I’d had one beating today and had no intention of provoking another. He pushed me through the door and down the hall to a holding cell about twenty feet square. Behind the iron bars were a dozen men. Other than one old man rolling around on the floor, hugging himself, all the prisoners sat quietly on the benches that lined the perimeter. The guard unlocked the door and shoved me in. I took a seat on an open piece of bench between a couple of men who looked pretty harmless. From farther down the corridor I heard men shouting, cursing mostly, back and forth between cells. Their voices echoed through the jail.

As the afternoon progressed, I spoke with two other prisoners, one accused of automobile theft, another of assault. They were both completely innocent, they said. I nodded and agreed that they must be. Hours later, the guards brought us supper, such as it was—bread, beans, and coffee. I’d gotten used to eating this slop but had never acquired a taste for it. I ate it nonetheless.

Another man was brought in after supper, but he was quiet. The man rolling on the floor began grunting but eventually fell asleep. Down the hall the other prisoners kept up their shouting for quite a while, but at some point, late at night, I fell asleep leaning against the cell bars.
As in my previous books, Will Anderson spends a great deal of time in trouble. Detroit Breakdown has a lot of action in it, but this section hits the result of some of that action. About half the book takes place at Wayne County’s infamous Eloise Hospital, the asylum, tubercular sanatorium, and county house for the area for nearly 150 years.

Elizabeth Hume’s cousin has been accused of murder behind the iron gates of Eloise, but she is sure he’s innocent. The administration blocks her attempts at seeing Robert, so she and Will decide to take the matter into their own hands. Will is pretending he is an indigent amnesiac, so he will be committed to Eloise where he can search for Robert, and while he’s at it, find out the killer. Elizabeth goes in as a volunteer to do the same.

This is the first book I’ve written with dual narration, as Will and Elizabeth take turns describing their experience. It was great fun and a great learning experience for me to write the story this way. (I learned I understand women even less than I thought I did – just ask my wife.) My female early readers were a huge help in shaping Elizabeth’s narration into a credible female voice.

My books lean toward the dark, but there’s also quite a bit of humor in Detroit Breakdown, as well as the inclusion of a mysterious killer known as the “Phantom,” in a nod to Gaston Leroux’s novel.
Learn more about the book and author at D.E. Johnson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Motor City Shakedown.

Writers Read: D.E. Johnson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2012


Amy Sohn's novels include Prospect Park West, My Old Man, and Run Catch Kiss. She has written television pilots for such networks as HBO, Fox, and ABC.

Sohn applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Motherland, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Motherland, a gay dad named Marco is trying to quiet a colicky newborn whom he and his husband have just adopted. The baby is their second child and Marco is alone in a cottage on Cape Cod with both kids by himself because his husband is away on business. A couple of interesting things about the scene: 1) Marco refers to the possibility that gay marriage may someday be legal in NY state. The book takes place in 2010 and I wanted to nod to a future event that had not occurred in the timeline of the book (NYS legalized gay marriage in June 2011.) 2) The scene is about the downward spiral a parent feels when a baby will not stop crying. Marco is trying everything he can but nothing is working. It's a very dark moment for him, one that epitomizes the dilemma in his relationship - Todd wanted a new baby but Marco would be the one to take care of him. 3) There is a moment where a nickel drops out of the baby's mouth. Even though the baby is fine Marco finds the experience harrowing. In the shock and horror he feels, Marco realizes just how tough his life is about to become.
Learn more about the book and author at Amy Sohn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"The Mirrored World"

Debra Dean’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Dean applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Mirrored World, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It is said that as the Mongol horde approached the walls of the city, fountains of water sprouted from the ground around them. Khan’s army retreated and watched from a remove as God caused the city to be swallowed into a deep lake. Many pilgrim to Lake Svetloyar to pray and to drink from these waters. Holy persons have sometimes reported seeing the lights of the invisible city glimmering in the black depths or hearing, faintly, the tolling of bells and the murmured prayers of the ancient inhabitants. There are even stories of pilgrims who have gone there and never returned, or they have disappeared for a time and then reappeared on the banks of the lake with no memory of where they have been.

That evening, we processed down to the water, where hundreds of candles had been set adrift and twinkled in the summer dusk. We knelt in the damp grasses and turned to watch Her Imperial Majesty take the final steps of the pilgrimage. On her left was Count Razumovsky and close by, Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov. At the edge of the water, Razumovsky helped the Empress to kneel onto a carpet. Her confessor said the prayers and then, dipping a goblet into the lake, held it for her to drink. When she had drunk, she held a plump hand out, not to Razumovsky but to Ivan Ivanovich. He handed her onto her throne, which had been carried from Petersburg, and she rested her tired feet on a stool.

Across the dark water came the high note of a hand bell, icy and ethereal. Then another bell and another, [...]
Remarkably, this page points right to the thematic core of the novel. The narrator, Dasha, is recounting the myth of the lost city of Kitezh and Lake Svetloyar, where she and her cousin Xenia have arrived at the end of a pilgrimage. (The legendary lake, by the way, remains to this day a popular destination for devout Russians.)

In the novel, it’s roughly 1750, and Dasha and Xenia are part of the enormous retinue of Empress Elizabeth, who famously took nearly a quarter of the population of St. Petersburg along with her when she went on these journeys, not to mention her furniture and thousands of dresses. The pilgrimage, a holy rite, was transformed into yet another of the Empress’ extravagant spectacles, a traveling circus of bored and petulant courtiers.

However, this is a turning point for Xenia. She has a genuine spiritual experience here, and the end of this chapter marks the starting point of a journey, both figurative and literal, that will take her farther and farther away from the status quo of the world she has known. She will become one of the pilgrims who disappear.
Learn more about the book and author at Debra Dean's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Debra Dean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"The Salt God’s Daughter"

Ilie Ruby’s second novel, The Salt God’s Daughter has been called by Booklist “lushly woven with elements of folklore.” Her first novel, The Language of Trees debuted in 2010 and was a Target Emerging Author’s Pick.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Salt God’s Daughter and reported the following:
This is such a cool test. The very idea that a page chosen randomly (or that appears so—perhaps the secrets of quantum physics would reveal a connection we can’t see) would capture a novel is in of itself a leap of faith. But it’s also a true test of what happens when a reader wanders into a bookstore, pulls a book from the shelf, and opens randomly to read a paragraph or two. That often determines a lasting impression of the book. In my debut novel, The Language of Trees, page 69 was very reflective of the story. In my new novel, page 69 is a bit different stylistically than the rest of the book. It’s banked in more history than is found throughout. However, it’s spot on in terms of revealing the inner workings of the book, and the idea that those things we can’t see, including the things that are marginalized or repressed, have a power and an evolution all their own, and are often controlling more of our lives than we know.
The natural world absorbed the artificial in a show of dominance. The islands, along with several free-standing oil rigs, became artificial reefs—home to a plethora of marine mammals and thousands of fish and birds, including herons, falcons, and even parrots.

An illusion, as pleasing to the eye as a carnival, which was the point.

Beneath the surface of these rigs, sea lions could be found diving through the silvery bubbles created by millions of swirling fish, spinning turrets beneath the blue-green water. If you are swimming or kayaking off the coast, chances are, you might run into one of the cows or bulls. Though gentle by nature they are territorial here. The drilling platforms are their home, the reefs their turf.
From this piece, one might get the impression that this book is all about nature and the marine world. Yet it comingles with the human world and the spiritual world—

1. That regardless of the trappings, the make-up, and the décor, true nature shines through.

2. That the natural world will always reign supreme—when it can’t obliterate imposing forms, it will simply incorporate them.

3. That the behavior of animals can show us more about human nature than we know.

4. That our desire to create illusions is timeless and captivating. This area in Long Beach, where I was a teacher, was the perfect environment for this story. Years ago, oil was discovered there, but in order to drill, an agreement was made that called for the preservation of the beautiful Southern California coastline. Great efforts were made to disguise the drilling—artificial reefs housed drilling platforms. Man-made waterfalls disguised the noise. Huge constructions painted to look like skyscrapers contained the rigs, complete with faux teal balconies. And yet the industry became a revitalizing force.

In a way, page 69 drives the rest of the book. The story is mostly character-driven, about two young girls who are forced to survive, largely on their own in an enchanted landscape where nothing is as it seems—not love, not childhood, not even their own identity. Here, the spirits of sea lions take the form of men who walk right out of the waves, promising love and the restoration of stolen virginity. In a larger sense, the story is about human nature, animal nature, and the ways in which our instincts will always lead us to that which feels most like home.

Amazing, isn’t it? This test seems to carry a little magic in of itself.
Learn more about the book and author at Ilie Ruby's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Language of Trees.

My Book, The Movie: The Language of Trees.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Face of the Enemy"

Joanne Dobson is a former English professor, having taught for many years at Fordham University, also at Amherst College and at Tufts University. Beverle Graves Myers made a mid-life career switch from psychiatry to full-time writing. A graduate of the University of Louisville with a BA in History and an MD, she worked at a public mental health clinic before her first Tito Amato novel was published in 2004.

Myers applied the Page 69 Test to Face of the Enemy, their first novel in the New York in Wartime mystery series, and reported the following:
After the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Masako Fumi wears the enemy’s face. No matter that this talented, sensitive artist was raised in Paris and hasn’t set foot in Japan since she was a little girl. No matter that she considers herself as American as her Columbia professor husband who was born on a farm in Indiana. No matter that she is as horrified at the devastating attack as any of her friends and neighbors. When New Yorkers look into Masako’s beautiful, almond-eyed face, they see the enemy.

On page 69 of Face of the Enemy, homicide detective Michael McKenna is questioning an art gallery assistant about his boss’s murder. Desmond Cox discovered Arthur Shelton’s corpse artfully posed beneath Masako’s signature canvas, “Lion After the Kill.” Cox explains that Shelton was in process of dismantling Masako’s show. New York’s artsy crowd was willing to put down a lot of money for her paintings, but the gallery was catching flak from more conservative quarters, especially America First and other isolationist groups. A picket protest funded by an anonymous source was the last straw. Shelton had to act, despite Masako’s pleas to keep her paintings on his walls.

From page 69:
“So …” McKenna said, as he thumbed his jaw. “The toughs were scaring away trade. What’d your boss do?”

“Called the police. The desk sergeant at the Eighteenth Precinct said as long as the picketers weren’t accosting people, they were within their rights—freedom of expression. By Thursday noon, there were six of them, chanting. ‘No go Jap show, no go Jap show.’ A couple of passers-by joined in and a crowd began to gather. Arthur took the situation in hand …”
The picketers chant—NO GO JAP SHOW—pretty much sums up the thrust of the book. Two days after Arthur Shelton’s murder, the Japanese blew the U.S. Navy to smithereens and the FBI rounded up New York’s Japanese residents and detained them at Ellis Island. The G-men find Masako particularly suspicious because her father, whom she hasn’t seen in many years, is a high-ranking official in Emperor Hirohito’s government. Then there’s the fact that her apartment overlooks the shipping lanes of the Hudson River. Masako’s troubles multiply when she’s accused of Shelton’s murder. Can this gentle Japanese woman find justice when New York has become a cauldron of hate, dread, and racial paranoia?

Yeah, page 69 represents Face of the Enemy very well. I’m not sure I could find a more evocative page if I tried.
Learn more about Face of the Enemy at Joanne Dobson and Beverle Graves Myers's websites.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"The Trust"

Norb Vonnegut is a professional wealth adviser turned novelist. His books include Top Producer and The Gods of Greenwich.

Vonnegut applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Trust, and reported the following:
When I turn my iPad to the side, the pagination all changes as the view shifts from portrait to landscape. Are e-readers distorting results from the page-69 test?

For the sake of consistency with my previous posts on this blog, I'm using my hardcover copy of The Trust. And I'm pleased to report that page 69 is consistent with an experience that Janet Maslin of The New York Times describes as "money-porn beach reading." She adds, "Mr. Vonnegut dreams up diabolically elegant business crimes, then sends smart-talking characters to follow the money."

Here's the paragraph from page 69, which best illustrates Grove O'Rourke—the edgy, recurring hero in my fiction:
Sort of. Annie and I had planned a Saturday night out with her graduate school buddies, which meant I'd pay for everyone. They'd eat. They'd drink. And they'd disappear into the bathroom when the check arrived, leaving me to do the gracious thing and pay the bill because I'm the only one with a job. Bar flight is a form of behavioral entitlement that makes my skin crawl. If you ask me, there's a special place in hell for NYC's dinner deadbeats.
Learn more about the book and author at Norb Vonnegut's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Top Producer.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Greenwich.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2012

"The Map of Lost Memories"

Born in Seattle and raised throughout Washington State, Kim Fay lived in Vietnam for four years and still travels to Southeast Asia frequently. A former independent bookseller, she is the author of the historical novel The Map of Lost Memories and Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards’ Best Asian Cuisine Book in the United States.

Fay applied the Page 69 Test to The Map of Lost Memories and reported the following:
Oh, what a difference two pages can make. If this was the page 71 test, it would need a “spoiler alert.” In fact, I doubt I’d be writing this post, since the unexpected action on page 71 is essential to catapulting the book forward. As for page 69, it reveals how the intricacies of the plot rely on unraveling information and the power of deduction, as the main character Irene Blum confronts Communist revolutionary Roger Merlin, who is trying to prevent his wife Simone from joining Irene on an expedition in search of a lost Cambodian treasure.

It’s fascinating to me to hone in on a single page after so many years of examining and analyzing the book as a whole. Not mentioned on this page is the setting (1920s Shanghai) or even the main storyline (finding the ancient treasure), and still I feel that it captures the essence of the book’s many-layered storyline. Roger killed what baby? What was Simone’s involvement in arms shipments? What harm is she capable of? And who is Voitinsky? The funny thing is, these elements are not primary influences on the plot, but they are examples of details that are crucial to the development of the characters and their involvement with one another.

Of course I hope that every page in the book has something unique and captivating to offer, and that page 69 in particular encourages readers to pick up my novel, take it home and immerse themselves in Irene’s journey.
It was as if [Irene] had reached a clearing within the dense forest of her thoughts, an uncluttered expanse in which the lies simply waited for their turn to be told. “A good friend of mine, Marc Rafferty. Do you know him? An information man.”

Roger’s expression was taut. “The best. Works for Henry Simms. Of course, yes, of course. The Brooke Museum. Simms. You would know Rafferty.”

Irene said, “Your stunt on the ship to Shanghai was noted, and not favorably. Trying to throw your wife overboard. You’re irrational. Everyone knows you killed the baby.”

Roger glared at Simone.

“Irene,” Simone said, faltering, “what are you—?”

“She didn’t tell me,” Irene said. “She didn’t have to.”

“So Voitinsky is talking about me.”

“He’s worried about you, about both of you. Worried about what you might drive Simone to do. What revenge she might take. She could do quite a bit of harm, considering her involvement with Borodin’s arms shipments.” Irene drew on her cigarette. Her hand was no longer trembling.

Roger appeared to be mulling what she was telling him. Perhaps these were not lies. Perhaps—inadvertently, instinctively—she had honed in on the truth. “But what if you send her away?”

“Why would I do that?”

“You could send her home to rest for a while. To recuperate. In the company of bodyguards, whom you will choose and I will pay for. It would be seen as more than a gesture of kindness on your part. It will mean that you put the cause above your personal feelings. This is what concerns Voitinsky the most.”

Roger looked Irene over with disdain. “She won’t come back.”

“I wouldn’t if I were her.”

“You’re smarter than I expected you to be.” Roger began walking toward Irene. “But you’re ignorant at the same time. Do you know how easy it will be for me to check on your story?”

“Be my guest.”

“I do admire your audacity.”
Learn more about the book and author at Kim Fay's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Ghost Key"

Trish J. MacGregor's books include Esperanza, the first supernatural thriller in the Hungry Ghost series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel Ghost Key, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Ghost Key depicts an important scene, a turning point in the plot. But since there are five viewpoint characters, I’m not sure it describes the novel. In fact, if I had to summarize the novel in a single sentence, this is how I would do it:

On an island off the Florida coast, a single mother must battle an invasion of avaricious ghosts who take possession of the living to indulge themselves in the sensual pleasures of physical life.

Dominica and her tribe of hungry ghosts were driven from Esperanza, that magical city high in the Andes, but they were not all destroyed. As a last devastating blow against Tess Livingston, Dominica seized Tess’s niece Maddie as a host, and fled to the United States.

The evil bruja has settled in a small resort town in Florida and is cementing her power over a new tribe of unquiet dead. But she will not be able to take over Cedar Key without arousing the suspicion of the US government, when remote viewer Nick Sanchez glimpses the island and Dominica’s host, Maddie, in connection with 13 unexplained deaths. The government believes the deaths were the result of a biological terrorist weapon and that Cedar Key is the perfect place for the testing of such a weapon – isolated, small, containable.

Meanwhile, Dominica is being pursued by Wayra, a shape shifter from Esperanza, Dominica’s oldest lover and most bitter enemy, who is intent on freeing Maddie. Dominica hasn’t taken into account the fierce independence of the island locals, in particular that of a single mother and bartender, Kate, who will fight to the death to protect her teenaged son – and the island she loves.
Learn more about the book and author at Trish J. MacGregor's website.

The Page 69 Test: Esperanza.

My Book, The Movie: Esperanza.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"The Twelve Rooms of the Nile"

A widely published fiction writer and poetry, Enid Shomer is the author of seven books. Her work has been collected in more than fifty anthologies and textbooks, including POETRY: A HarperCollins Pocket Anthology, Best American Poetry, and New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, and reported the following:
The other day I did an interview for BBC 4 radio and they asked me to bring along a copy of the book. I picked up the book and then realized that the American and English editions are paginated differently! I ended up taking both along for the show. So, page 69? There are two versions, and they cover vastly different parts of the story, you might even say opposite ends of the story.

1. The American edition page 69:

Flaubert receives his first letter from Nightingale (delivered by native runner). She includes a drawing (reproduced earlier in the book) of the contraption called a “levinge” that she is sleeping in to keep away insects. While he is reading her delightful letter, he can smell the dinner of roast lamb, rice, and beans cooking on his houseboat. “Whenever he reread the letter years later, he was haunted by a vague memory of hunger—of heightened awareness and the anticipation of pleasure.”

So, yes, this page is a good window on the novel as a whole. It connects the characters and invites us further into Flaubert’s mind, especially his reaction to Nightingale.

2. The British edition page 69:

A completely different scene happens on page 69 of the British edition. Flaubert is conferring with his traveling companion, the journalist Maxime Du Camp. Du Camp fears that he has caught the pox. “I have dipped my pen into too many inkpots,” Max said, pouring himself half a tumbler of wine.

Being the son of a physician, Flaubert inspects his friends “noble part” and determines that Max has not contracted syphilis. At the same time, he quietly recalls for himself his own first exposure to venereal difficulties. When he lost his virginity to a housemaid at home in Rouen as a teenager, he, too, thought he had caught syphilis. He remembers consulting the town pharmacist because he was too embarrassed to speak with his father.

Here, though the plot point is different, I think the page is a good representative of the novel. Flaubert and Du Camp are getting to know each other better, and the introduction of the threat of syphilis lays the groundwork for an important turn in the plot later on. Syphilis was an enormous medical problem in the nineteenth century and in Flaubert’s real life. He caught “the pox” on this trip through Egypt.
Learn more about the book and author at Enid Shomer's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Don't Turn Around"

Michelle Gagnon has been a modern dancer, a dog walker, a bartender, a freelance journalist, a personal trainer, and a model. Her bestselling thrillers for adults have been published in numerous countries and include The Tunnels, Boneyard, The Gatekeeper, and Kidnap & Ransom.

Gagnon applied the Page 69 Test to Don't Turn Around, her first novel for young adults, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She scanned through it looking for unusual source code; sometimes hackers sent each other messages hidden inside HTML formatting. But there was nothing. Why the hell had someone sent her this? If they’d seen her escaping from the warehouse complex, why hadn’t they tried to stop her? Was this from the same people who took her, or someone else?

Noa sipped more coffee as she pondered, wrapping both hands around the cup to warm them. She still felt unusually cold, like with every exhale she should be seeing tiny puffs of air. Maybe she was in some sort of shock.

She glanced through the picture window. There was a guy leaning against the building across the street. Around her age, wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. The hood was up, so it was hard to see his face clearly. But he seemed to be staring right at her.

They gazed at each other for a minute. Then a bus stopped right in front of him. Noa craned her head, but it didn’t look like he’d gotten on.

The bus pulled away from the curb and back into traffic. The guy was gone.

Suddenly wary and eager to get off the streets, Noa wrapped up the sandwich and chips and stuck them in her bag in case she got hungry later. She tucked away her laptop, slung the strap over her shoulder, and pushed back out into the cold.
This excerpt represents the book perfectly. Everything is there: Noa’s hacking abilities, the fear that she’s being followed, and a hint of the core mystery that underpins the entire storyline. I couldn’t have chosen it better if I’d tried. I’d like to think that if someone was skimming the page, these few paragraphs would induce them to keep reading; but if not, then Don't Turn Around probably isn’t for them!
Learn more about the book and author at Michelle Gagnon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tunnels.

The Page 69 Test: Boneyard.

The Page 69 Test: Kidnap & Ransom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Shake Off"

Mischa Hiller is a winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in the Best First Book Category for South Asia & Europe. Raised in London, Beirut, and Dar El Salaam, Hiller lives in Cambridge, England.

Hiller's acclaimed, first thriller Shake Off has been called "deadly, poignant, and powerful" (The Economist),"Smart and tense and real enough to be scary" (David Morrell), and "A spy thriller of the highest class" (Charles Cumming).

He applied the Page 69 Test to Shake Off and reported the following:
To be honest when I was asked to do this I thought it was silly. Then, out of curiosity, I opened my book at page 69 and there is the last paragraph of chapter thirteen, which reads like this:
So you have to be on continual alert: every public place is a potential meeting place; every alley or public toilet could be a dead-letter drop; every street, store and restaurant needs to be assessed for its countersurveillance potential. You need to be constantly on the look-out for places to cache money and documents. Everyday objects must be considered potential concealers of microphones or cameras. Every person you meet could either be an agent wanting to get close or a possible recruit to the cause. Every woman that talks to you wants to trap you with the promise of sex. Every postcard has a hidden meaning. Everybody behind you could be following you, and it is your job to shake them off.
Now if you'd asked me to choose my own paragraph that sums up the protagonist's state of mind and gives some sense of the constant paranoia he lives with, as well as reflecting the title of the book and its theme, then I couldn't have chosen a better one. Perfect.
Learn more about the book and author at Mischa Hiller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2012


A graduate of Emerson College's MFA program, Maryanne O'Hara was a longtime associate editor at Ploughshares magazine. Her short stories have been published in Five Points, The North American Review, The Crescent Review, and Redbook, as well as the literary anthologies MicroFiction, Brevity & Echo, The Art of Friction, and Flash Fiction: Youth.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Cascade, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Cascade depicts a town meeting, where alarmed townspeople have gathered because the state is threatening to disincorporate and flood their town to build a reservoir. None of the main characters are on this page, but the town itself is a kind of character, and this scene plays out the personal dynamics that exist within the larger dilemma—those who would fight the state, those who have already given up.

Page 69, Cascade:
Onstage, Zeke, the chairman, hunched over a long wooden table with the two other selectmen, Hartwell Page and Peter Southwick. Clara Post, town secretary, bent over her notepad, scribbling, eyeglasses sliding down her nose, managing to seem both attentive to and oblivious to Zeke, who was talking in his animated way, stabbing at the air with a cigar, a stream of smoke trailing his gestures. Zeke had a gift for elegant gestures and elegant diction; he had once played the lovable, lying Falstaff in a production of Henry IV, the only time William Hart ever hired a nonprofessional actor. But Zeke had insisted he’d make a good Falstaff and he had, playing Falstaff comically, pathetically, brilliantly. At a few minutes past seven o’clock, he walked to the center of the stage and clapped his hands. A chain of coughs echoed around the room. Dez sketched him in a few short strokes, a caricature from a political cartoon—growling demeanor, fat cigar in his mouth, buttons about to pop off his vest. Shoes scuffled, chairs scraped, then the audience hushed and all eyes turned toward the stage.

Zeke spoke into the fat microphone. “Basically, my friends,” he said, his voice booming out through the window where it was carried away on the evening air, “we are between a rock and a hard place. The bottom line is that 1929 and our once-illustrious summer resident, Mr. Harcourt’s, once-influential political connections lulled us into complacency. Now Mr. Harcourt is cooling his heels in Sing-Sing and Cascade is facing abolition.”
View the Cascade trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Maryanne O'Hara's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"The Headmaster's Wager"

Dr. Vincent Lam is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. Dr. Lam did his medical training in Toronto, and is an emergency physician in Toronto. He is a Lecturer with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. He has also worked in international air evacuation and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships.

Lam's first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has recently been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. Dr. Lam co-authored The Flu Pandemic And You, a non-fiction guide to influenza pandemics.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Headmaster’s Wager, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Headmaster’s Wager is a torture scene.

Sort of…

The novel takes place in Vietnam during the war. Prior to this page, Dai Jai - the son of the main character, Percival Chen, was arrested by the notorious South Vietnamese Secret Police. Desperate, Percival has agreed to meet a man in a jungle shack who supposedly can rescue his son.

‘Sort of’ a torture scene?

In the dark shack, the man describes to Percival the abuses that his son might be undergoing. He terrifies the father before naming a ransom price. This is representative of the novel. In the implied torture, much is concealed even as much is revealed. In this book, the layers of plot and sequence of revelations is important. Percival’s love for his son drives the scene, as it drives much of the novel. The scene’s tension is elevated by the conflict between Percival as an ethnic Chinese in Vietnam, and the other man, who is an ethnic Vietnamese. These kinds of ethnic conflicts were true to the time, and are true to The Headmaster’s Wager.

Of course, not everything can be found on one page. You’ll have to read the rest of the novel to know about Percival’s love affairs, his high-stakes gambling, and how things turn out with his son.
Learn more about the book and author at Vincent Lam's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Headmaster's Wager.

--Marshal Zeringue