Monday, December 24, 2012

"Dying on the Vine"

Edgar® Award–winning author Aaron Elkins’s creation—forensics professor Gideon Oliver—has been hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “a likable, down-to-earth, cerebral sleuth.”

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest Gideon Oliver novel, Dying on the Vine, and reported the following:
Page 69, eh? Well, I had my doubts , but I tried it on Dying on the Vine, and this is what I found:
threw a wry glance at Gideon. "Only now along comes the great Skeleton Detective with his gaga theories and screws up the works."

"Whoa," said John, "that's the first time I ever heard anybody say that about you, Doc."

"Well, now, how exactly did I screw up the works, tell me that. All I did.—"

"All you did was tell us first she fell off the cliff and then she was shot."

"Well, I know that complicates things a little—"

Rocco snorted a laugh. "Nah, not really. This guy shoves his wife off a two-hundred-foot cliff, then he runs down and pops her one more, just in case a fall that broke every bone in her body didn't do the job. Then, instead of killing himself right there and making it easy on himself, he climbs all the way to the top again—this fifty-eight-year-old guy with bad lungs--so he can shoot himself right on the edge, the very same spot, and fall down on top of her. Oh, yeah, nothing wrong with that picture."

"Rocco, we're getting ahead of the story here. All I can tell you for sure is that she was alive when she fell off the cliff, which I know because—"

"Oh, yeah, I wondered when you were gonna get around to that," Rocco grumbled

"—because she was conscious when she fell, and if you're conscious, it's a pretty safe bet that you're alive."

"Conscious?" Rocco practically shouted. "Damn, Gideon . . ." When words failed him he just shook his head.

"Yes, conscious. Sure. You see—"

"Hold it, hold it, hold it. What hat did that get pulled out of? Don't you ever stop?
My reaction: No, no, that's a terrible example of the book's flavor. The dialogue reads like a botched try at Elmore Leonard--cocky, streetwise, and cynical, not at all representative of Dying on the Vine.

In other words, speaking as an old professor, I'm afraid I have to give an "F" to the page 69 test, at least in my case.

I thought I might defend myself by suggesting some other page instead, but I wanted to be fair, so I made a stab at keeping it random by moving away from 69 in ten-page chunks.

OK, 79: No, even worse, looks as if I'm showing off my infantile knowledge of languages, and one of the dialogue chunks is too long.

59: Nope, the humor is strained and the page doesn't "go" anywhere.

89: Hm, marginally better (i.e, more characteristic), but I'd hate for a potential reader to get the wrong idea from that clunky expository paragraph at the bottom. And if he or she turns the page, it drones on for yet another nine lines.

And so it went, until I gave up. Ladies and gentlemen, not only does page 69 fail to adequately represent either the over-all style of my book or its quality, none of the other pages do either.

What do I suggest, then, instead of this now-discredited one-page scan? Well, I recommend that you make your decision based on the flap copy (written by the publisher's publicity department), or the blurbs on the front and back (written by the author's friends).

You know you can trust those.
Learn more about the book and author at Aaron J. Elkins's website.

My Book, The Movie: Aaron Elkins' "Gideon Oliver" novels.

Writers Read: Aaron Elkins.

--Marshal Zeringue