Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Cartographer of No Man’s Land"

P.S. Duffy is the author of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, a debut novel that takes place during the First World War in Nova Scotia and the Western Front in France. She lives in Rochester, MN, had a long career in neurologic communication disorders, and now splits her time between writing fiction, reading history, fiction, and essays, and writing in the neurosciences for Mayo Clinic. She says that at her age she is happy to have the word “debut” applied to anything she does.

Duffy applied the Page 69 Test to The Cartographer of No Man’s Land and reported the following:
The Cartographer of No Man’s Land takes place during the First World War and is told through the eyes of Angus MacGrath, a lieutenant on the Western Front in France, and his 13-year-old son back home in a fishing village in Nova Scotia. When Angus’s best friend and brother-in-law goes missing at the front, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing and enlists to find him. Hoping to be a military cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly to the infantry. An initially reluctant soldier, he continues his search, but now for some greater purpose. What he eventually discovers about Ebbin makes sense only in the context of war. At home, his young son is coming of age without him and, like all the characters in the book, must navigate the shifting ground of war’s uncertainties and lasting effects.

Page 69, in full:
Chapter Five
February 18th
Arras Sector, France

“February 18th, 1917,” Angus wrote at the top of the tablet in his lap. He ran a filthy hand through his filthy hair. The sack of censored letters slumped beside him on the frozen ground of the dugout. Some he’d censored himself, as was required of junior officers—a task he found embarrassing, and one which Publicover sailed through on the winds of duty. I get through mine in ten minutes flat, he told Angus. Just scan for anything that reveals location or tactics and for grievances against King and country, the CEF, or the top brass. No need to get bogged down with memories of apple blossoms or hopes for Aunt Bertie’s recovery.

In the process Angus had learned a few things about his men—that some, like Boudrey, could barely write; that Katz, McNeil, and Wertz could turn a phrase with ease; and that some wrote no letters at all. Many were homesick, some heartsick, but they generally refrained from self-pity. Survival demanded that someone, somewhere had it worse.

There was about an hour of daylight left, Angus figured, maybe twenty minutes of it to himself. By midnight, he’d be gone. His men …
Page 69. Hmm … wasn’t there a “Page 99 Test” awhile back? Because that page is good. It’s great, in fact. It contains all a reader needs to be intrigued, moved, astounded. I actually haven’t looked at it, but I’m sure that’s true. Page 69, on the other hand, is an interlude (sigh) between action on the home front and the Western Front. In a trench in the last hours of daylight, Angus has finished censoring letters and struggles to write his own. It presages a moment later in the book when Angus will again censor letters, but under very different circumstances. Why not? “Who better to blot out truth?” he’ll say to himself.

But here we learn merely that he’s survived his first two weeks on the front line and that despite being the reluctant soldier, he takes his duty to his men seriously. There’s a passing reference to their stoicism and to Publicover, the good-looking19-year old lieutenant, who is a stronger officer than Angus at this point, and whose boyish enthusiasm belies the ice in his veins. I happen to love him so I’m glad he’s on page 69.

By the midnight hour alluded to at the bottom of the page, this quiet moment and Angus’s world will be rocked by a young private who runs amok, then straight into No Man’s Land toward the German line. The previous page has Angus’s son, Simon Peter, also in fading daylight, staring in wonder at a painting by Angus—strange and more alive than any his father had painted before—of a boy and his father in a rowboat. That thread of connection is there in the boat, in Simon Peter, and in Angus sitting on his crate trying to write home. It is the love story of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at P. S. Duffy's website.

Writers Read: P. S. Duffy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Dead Eye"

Mark Greaney’s debut international thriller, The Gray Man, became a national bestseller and was nominated for a Barry Award in the Best Thriller category. The follow-up Gray Man thriller, On Target was also nominated for a Barry Award in the Best Thriller category. Ballistic, the third in the series also received glowing reviews including a rave from the New York Times comparing flipping the pages of the Mark Greaney thriller to “…playing the ultimate video game!”

Greaney applied the Page 69 Test to Dead Eye, the fourth book in the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dead Eye does a fine job of capturing the feel of the novel. Dead Eye is the fourth novel in the Gray Man series, chronicling the adventures of ex CIA paramilitary operations officer Court “Gray Man” Gentry as he lives off the grid as a freelance assassin.

On page 69, Russ “Dead Eye” Whitlock, himself a former CIA operative, is on the hunt for the elusive Gray Man in the Baltic port city of Tallinn, Estonia. Dead Eye is supposedly following the orders of a shadowy private military company in D.C., but on page 69 we see he has called an audible by coming to Tallinn, using his own tradecraft to anticipate Gentry’s arrival here.
He lifted his Steiner binoculars to his eyes and checked out to sea, monitoring the small vessels as they came in, and then he shifted back to a spot a half mile below his position. At the mouth of the port near the massive Tallink Ferry terminal was a choke point that anyone who had disembarked from a vessel in the port would need to pass on the way into town, and this was the main focus of Whitlock’s attention. Most people leaving the docks did so in groups; clusters of three to ten men, heavily bundled in coats and hats to protect them from the cold sea air. They would then head to buses or cars and trucks in one of the parking lots in the area.

Russ ignored these groups; he was on the lookout for a loner.”
Russ soon finds Gentry in his sights, and the game is afoot. His motivations drive the story, but a female Mossad officer, American paramilitary teams, CIA executives, and Gentry’s incredible skill all ensure plenty of twists and turns in the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark Greaney's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Gray Man.

My Book, The Movie: The Gray Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


As clichéd as it sounds, Renée Rosen is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, the author loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written.

Rosen applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties, and reported the following:
So I took the test and honestly, I was kind of disappointed on where I landed. Not that I don’t love the scene of Vera and her mother at the lunch counter, but it’s just not representative of the book as a whole. The scene is absolutely necessary but page 69 doesn’t capture the spirit of Dollface, which is the story of flapper who falls in love with two mobsters from rival gangs during Prohibition Chicago. Other than “water closet” and “bloomers” you’d have no idea that this book is about gangsters and the Roaring Twenties. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean.

From Page 69:
A woman stepped out of the water closet and we noticed that she had accidentally tucked the back of her dress up inside her bloomers. I glanced over at the woman, and from the corner of my eye, I saw the expression on my mother’s face. I turned and looked at her. She was trying not to laugh, but her shoulders were shaking. That’s when I surrendered and started laughing, too.
Learn more about Dollface at Renée Rosen's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Dollface.

Writers Read: Renée Rosen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Sorrow’s Knot"

Erin Bow was born in the Midwest and studied particle physics in college, eventually working at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. She then decided to leave science to concentrate on her love of writing. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her husband, James, and their two daughters.

Bow applied the Page 69 Test to Sorrow's Knot, her new YA novel, and reported the following:
It will appeal to the eighth-grade boy in all of us to learn that page 69 of Sorrow’s Knot [below left; click to enlarge] is the dirtiest page in the book. Go ahead and snicker. But seriously, this double entendre about Cricket’s ineptness at shooting a lance through a rolling hoop is as off-color as this particular novel gets.

But this page stands out in other ways, too, at least to me. There’s a story behind it.

I wrote this scene, and a handful of others, on a retreat in November 2012. Besides the odd copy edit, they were the last things I did to the book. I added them to give a glimpse of the deep core of happiness inside my characters.

I mean, this is a book called Sorrow’s Knot. It’s mostly about death. It was clearly never going to be a laugh riot. But still, when you deal only with the character’s problems, it’s easy for the readers not to get to know them as people. For instance, Otter (who is the lead character) has a sly sense of humor and is given to practical jokes. I, as a writer, am always aware of that. But if you as a reader only get to spend time with Otter on the worst days of her life — if you only get to see the plot — you might not get to see her sense of humor. You will like Otter less than I do.

So, paradoxically, the last thing I did to make this a better book was add scenes that don’t contribute to the plot at all. Kestrel and Cricket pledging okishae on page 80 (okishae is sort of like married, except no one does it and everyone thinks they’re weird). Otter and Kestrel swimming in the hot spring. The bit where they stuff the pillow. The bit where they catch, then eat, the comically stupid goose.

So enjoy the slightly dirty joke on page 69, internet. It’s making the whole book warmer.
Learn more about the book and author at Erin Bow's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Trish J. MacGregor is the author of 36 novels and as TJ MacGregor won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for original paperback in 2003. Apparition is the third book in the Hungry Ghost trilogy, and takes place in the mystical city of Esperanza, Ecuador, high in the Andes.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Apparition and reported the following:
Apparition begins with a brujo – a hungry ghost – materializing next to Tess Livingston as she’s in her car. No brujo has been seen in Esperanza since the defeat of Dominica’s tribe four years ago, but this one looks as real and solid as any living human and claims to be Dominica’s brother, Ricardo. When he threatens Tess and attempts to seize her, possess her, she fights back and escapes, completely freaked out by what has just happened.

In the final, fierce battle between the living and Dominica’s tribe of the dead, the living were helped by Light Chasers. These evolved souls, who brought Esperanza into the physical world 500 years ago, have deferred their passage to a higher plane in order to guide and protect the living and to guard the city against brujo incursions. Tess calls on her dad, Charlie, a member of the chaser council, but he doesn’t appear. She speeds on to the restaurant where she and her partner, Ian Ritter, are supposed to have dinner.

But while they’re eating outside, a monstrous wave of blackness sweeps up the hillside toward the restaurant’s deck. Everything the black wave touches simply disappears. As parts of the deck and the people on it are swallowed up by the blackness, pandemonium erupts and shrieks that the brujos have returned riddle the air. One thing is clear to both Tess and Ian: their time in Esperanza may be nearing an end.

On page 69 of the book, the 13 members of the chaser council are meeting to cast a vote about the fate of Esperanza. The head of the council, Newton, has just told them that in the last 48, hours there have been thousands of brujo seizures worldwide, that they’re using an abandoned hotel in the city as their portal to other countries. He insists it’s time to remove Esperanza from the physical world because the city itself is the brujo’s portal to the living.

Charlie has just learned that several chasers, whom he believes to be spiritually corrupt, experimented on their own with taking the city back into the nonphysical world and their experiment went awry. He now understands what happened at the restaurant. Dozens have died, dozens more were seriously injured. He’s irate and calls for a private vote.

Excerpt page 69:
“All in favor of a private vote,” said Franco, “raise your hand.”

Ten out of thirteen hands shot up. Newton glanced around nervously, apparently realizing for the first time that he might not have the support of the majority. Maria and Simon, Charlie thought, looked pissed. “A private vote it is,” Charlie said. “Write ‘yes’ if you favor what Newton is proposing and ‘no’ if you’re against it. Then put your vote in the center of the table.”

Charlie quickly scribbled “no” on his piece of paper, slid it out into the middle of the table. Within minutes, all votes were cast. Charlie shuffled them, then he and Maria began to turn them over. Yes votes along the top, no votes beneath.

Once the votes were all turned over he tried not to gloat. “Six yes, seven no.” Too damn close. Charlie suspected that Pilar and Alan or Dan had voted with his group. He knew that Newton and Maria would be lobbying behind the scenes to get one of them to change a vote. But for now, Esperanza had won a reprieve.

“Keep in mind,” Franco said, “that some of us who voted no might change our vote if provisions are included – something replaces Esperanza and people are given a choice.”

“Damn unlikely,” Maria muttered.

“You’d rather kill thousands?” Franco snapped, staring at her.

“It’d be easier.” Maria snatched her bag off the table, got up, and marched out of the café.
This scene makes it clear that even supposedly evolved souls may be corrupted by power and that politics is pertinent in the afterlife!
Learn more about the book and author at Trish J. MacGregor's website.

The Page 69 Test: Esperanza.

My Book, The Movie: Esperanza.

The Page 69 Test: Ghost Key.

My Book, The Movie: Apparition.

Writers Read: Trish J. MacGregor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Murder on the Orient Espresso"

Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including nine books in two different mystery series from Severn House--the Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries and Main Street Murders, set in the High Country of North Carolina. Balzo's books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Mary Daheim, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A Wisconsin native, Balzo now splits her time between South Florida and North Carolina.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder on the Orient Espresso, and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Spry old fellow,’ Prudence said.

‘The engineer? Oh, he’s quite the character.’ Missy checked her watch. ‘I do worry that we’ll get back to the station too early, though. You know, before the crime is solved?’

‘Maybe someone should make an announcement,’ I suggested. ‘Requesting that Potter and the rest of the “cast” come to this car.’

There was a flaw, of course, in my plan: Laurence Potter obviously didn’t want to appear. Missy, however, didn’t seem to see it. ‘That’s a wonderful idea, Maggy. Zoe should—’

‘Zoe? Why not you?’ Prudence prodded. ‘You do most of the work, anyway. Why let her take all the credit?’

Missy blushed, tugging down her dress. ‘Oh, no, I prefer to work behind the scenes. I couldn’t.’

‘You couldn’t what?’ Zoe, perhaps instinctively, had magically turned up, too.

‘Maggy suggested that we make an announcement . . .’

‘Maggy?’ Zoe repeated.

I raised my hand. The woman was either stupid or trying to rile me. I was betting on the latter.

‘Oh, right,’ Zoe said distractedly, her attention drawn to the commotion in the corner, where a huge man dressed in a zoot suit was trying to climb onto the table.

Pavlik, having been thwarted in his effort to save the day by venturing into the Everglades, slid out of the booth. ‘You!’ he said in a thundering voice. ‘Down! Now!’

The big man ignored him. With the train’s swaying movement he looked like an overweight, overdressed mob surfer trying to position his feet for one last Big Kahuna of a wave. Worse, he was a decade off in his costume. The high-waisted trousers and long coats with wide lapels and padded shoulders were popular in the forties, not the thirties.

‘Off the table, Fred!’ Zoe bellowed.

‘Fred’ got off. Pavlik shrugged and returned to our table.

‘Zoe, we think you should cut the cake,’ Prudence suggested. ‘Sop up some of the alcohol.’

‘Too late,’ Missy said mournfully.

‘Too late to sop up the alcohol or too late to cut the cake?’ One more Orient Espresso martini on an empty stomach and I’d be up on a table. Or under it.
The first thing I want to say about Page 69 of Murder on the Orient Espresso is that I really do know the difference between single and double-quotes. Severn House in London publishes my Maggy Thorsen Coffeehouse Mysteries (Orient Espresso is #8 in the series), and the Brits use single quotes where we use double and vice versa.

The second thing you should know is that in this scene, the fictional "Fred" is dancing on the edge -- the uneasy calm before the literal and figurative storm.

You see, Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen has accompanied her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he's speaking at a mystery-writers' conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express.

As night falls, conference organizer Zoe Scarlett rushes Maggy and Pavlik onto an excursion train into the Everglades along with the rest of the guests. Zoe's assistant, Missy Hudson, explains to the jet-lagged couple that Pavlik is to play the murder victim, Ratchett. Guests of Honor Rosemary Darlington and Laurence Potter will be Mary Debenham and Hercule Poirot, respectively. The rest of the guests are dressed in period costume and the idea is to solve the crime and return to civilization.

Maggy hopes that will be soon. But you don't always get what you want.

Things rapidly begin to fall apart. It's obvious that reviewer Potter and author Darlington despise each other, though whether that's because of a rumored affair or Potter's denouncement of Darlington's long-awaited comeback novel as "badly-written pornography," nobody seems to know. A young man turns up, claiming that Laurence Potter stole his manuscript and, on page 69, a torrential rain storm is about to strike.

And then there's the python…
Learn more about the book and author at Sandra Balzo's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Triple Shot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Tamar Ossowski resides in Needham, Massachusetts. She is married and has three children, one of whom was born with special needs and could spell before he learned to speak. She wrote the novel Left to explore the possibility that you can only become the person you are supposed to be once you truly embrace the person you already are.

Ossowski applied the Page 69 Test to Left and reported the following:
Left is the story of a mother who goes on the run with one child and abandons the other. It is the story of what remains once the unthinkable has happened.

One minute Franny has a mother and a sister and the next she is left in the care of woman whom she barely knows. Without explanation, her family suddenly vanishes. Learning to adapt would be challenging for any child but what happens when that child also happens to be autistic?

As time passes she begins to accept her fate even though she vows never to give up hope that one day her family will return. Leah, the woman caring for her, takes her to an indoor swimming pool at the university where she works (page 69) in an attempt to lift her spirits. As the scene progresses, it becomes clear that Leah is starting to care about Franny despite the fact that she covers her ears every time the toilet flushes, rearranges the letters of the alphabet out loud, and rocks back and forth when the world gets too intense.

Soon, protecting Franny becomes the only thing that Leah cares about. All she wants is to make sure that Franny is happy and even though Franny feels safe, it is clear that she still misses her mother. She asks Leah if she knows why her mother left and if she is ever coming back. She asks it in her little shaky nine-year-old voice. Those are the days that are the hardest.

Those are the days that secret keeping becomes suffocating.
Learn more about the book and author at Tamar Ossowski's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Left.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Lost Luggage"

Jordi Punti is a writer, translator, and a regular contributor to the Spanish and Catalan press. Punti is considered one of the most promising new voices of contemporary Catalan literature. In 1998 he published his first book of short stories, Pell d’armadillo (Proa, 1998) that won the Serra d’Or Critics’ Prize.

Punti applied the Page 69 Test to Lost Luggage, his first novel, and reported the following:
Here's the text you'll find on page 69 of Lost Luggage:
It seems that the gentleman from Logroño was a great lover of taxidermy. Every Friday afternoon he went off, like an explorer setting out on a hunt, to pay a visit to the taxidermist’s that used to be in the Plaça Reial. He gazed and gazed again upon the exhibited items and, from time to time, when one of them stole his heart, spent some money and brought it home. Senyora Rifà tended to receive the new acquisition with a wrinkling of her nose—“dust and more dust,” she said to herself—but immediately set about looking for somewhere to put it. She saw each new adoption as a sign of permanence. As long as the animals were there, she reasoned—and it wasn’t as if they were going to be escaping all by themselves some fine day—it would never occur to the gentleman from Logroño to leave her.

She was wrong, of course.

She was wrong because on her return from the market one September morning, that time of day when the house was empty and she listened to the serial on Radio Barcelona while she was cooking lunch, she found a folded piece of paper on the dining-room table. The gentleman from Logroño informed her, with immoderate stylistic flourishes, that he’d been obliged to hasten back to his home town. His two daughters, together and in concert, had attempted suicide. He’d write with further news as soon as he could. Lots of kisses, et cetera. Senyora Natàlia Rifà shuddered at the situation and felt sorry for the man. She then noticed the reek of Dandy Male and realized that the paper she was holding in her hands was perfumed. What a strange thing. Who would perfume such a sorrowful note unless he was soliciting forgiveness for something? She rushed to the room that the gentleman from Logroño still rented in order to keep up appearances and flung open his wardrobe. Empty. Fearing she was going to faint, senyora Rifà flopped onto the bed. Immobile on top of a chest of drawers, a ferret mocked its landlady with a scornful leer.

In the first few weeks, senyora Natàlia Rifà pinned her hopes on the stuffed zoo, but her longing for a letter postmarked Logroño gradually dwindled away to nothing. One evening at dinnertime, after two months of resisting renting out the man’s room, she realized that looks of compassion were being exchanged between her lodgers.
Lost Luggage is a story told by Christopher, Christof, Cristòfol and Christophe --four half-brothers, sons of the same father and four very different mothers. They live in Frankfurt, Paris, London and Barcelona and they unwittingly share the fact that their father, Gabriel de la Cruz, abandoned them when they were little and they never heard of him again. The novel begins when Gabriel is officially considered a missing person and the police contact the Christophers. As they come together for the first time, they start to tell by turns all what they know about their father, looking for some clues in the past. Gabriel was a truck driver who in the 60's and 70's traveled around Europe moving furniture with two colleagues. As the story unfolds, we discover a man who during thirty years of driving was able to escape the darkness of Franco dictator's Spain and to explore a luminous Europe --a long journey full of emotions, funny situations, families left behind and some capital decisions that account for a whole life. As a novel built through many perspectives, Lost Luggage takes pleasure in the art of storytelling. On page 69, we find the story of Natàlia Rifà, the owner of the guest house where Gabriel goes to live as a teenager, after he leaves the orphanage where he grew up. On the same day that Gabriel takes a room into the guest house, we learn the story of Senyora Rifà, a spinster that fell in love with a visiting gentleman who stayed in the boarding house. That man had a thing for taxidermy and little by little put a stuffed animal in every room of the guest house. She accepted it as a sign of love, but one day the man leaves her alone with the quiet zoo. Gabriel is accepted and he gets "the Ferret room."
Learn more about Lost Luggage at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Jordi Punti.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Burnt Black"

Ed Kovacs is the author of the critically-acclaimed Cliff St. James mystery/crime series published by St. Martin’s Press. He spent two and half years living in New Orleans beginning in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and he co-founded a security company there that taught defensive tactics and other techniques. Kovacs has studied martial arts, holds many weapons-related licenses, certifications and permits, and is a certified medical First Responder. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, American Legion Post 299, the International Thriller Writers association, and the Mystery Writers of America.

Kovacs applied the Page 69 Test to Burnt Black, his third Cliff St. James Novel, and reported the following:
As I scan page 69 of the Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) of Burnt Black, I see a break between scenes. So I have the last paragraph of one scene, and the first graphs of the next.

In that ending paragraph, a mysterious late-night stalker escapes from NOPD Homicide Detective Cliff St. James. It concludes a spooky, almost freaky scene where St. James was trapped in a succubus-type nightmare. So the sense that this case won't be easy to solve and that things are not as they seem gets reinforced. Good.

Burnt Black is not fantasy or sci-fi, but my detectives have to wrestle with some occult killings that seem to defy logic. Considering the long legacy of voodoo and spiritualism in New Orleans, where the novel is set, bizarre doings might be de rigueur to the average cop. But there's bizarre, and then there's over-the-top crazy/weird, and it's the latter that challenges my detectives.

There's no dialogue on page 69, but since I wrote this series in first person, some of St. James' inner musings regarding his detective partner and would-be lover, Honey, suggest suspicion and foreshadow a radical change in their relationship which occurs near the end of the book.

Other narrative is focused on the plot, and on touching base with the familiar—the familiar on page 69 being St. James' penchant for riding a bike. In a series, it's important to keep consistent habits, since readers expect it. I try to balance the things that readers have come to expect from my hero with out-of-left-field surprises, since, after all, I have to keep them guessing in a mystery.
Learn more about the book and author at Ed Kovacs's website.

My Book, The Movie: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Storm Damage.

The Page 69 Test: Good Junk.

Writers Read: Ed Kovacs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"The Séance Society"

Michael Nethercott's work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year, Gods and Monsters, and Crimestalkers Casebook. He is a past winner of The Black Orchid Novella Award, The Vermont Playwrights Award, and The Nor’easter Play Writing Contest. He lives with his wife in Guilford, Vermont.

Nethercott applied the Page 69 Test to his new traditional mystery novel, The Séance Society, and reported the following:
The 69th page of The Séance Society is actually very representative (no surprise to Page 69 theorists!) It touches on ghosts, quirky characters, interrogation, and the sharp wit of Mr. O’Nelligan, my gentleman sleuth—all main aspects of the novel.

At this point in the story—set in 1950s Connecticut—Lee Plunkett, a semi-adequate private eye, has enlisted the aid of the Irish-born O’Nelligan to investigate murder among a group of ghost-seeking spiritualists. In this scene, they confront that stalwart of traditional whodunits—the polished British butler. Far from being a submissive servant, Trowbridge is a pretty strident, well-spoken fellow who holds his own against his interrogators. Here he’s asked about his view of spirits. The belief or non-belief in the supernatural is very much central to the book’s plot. Lee Plunkett is our narrator:
“I don’t squander my time on phantoms,” Trowbridge said dryly. “None of their lot has deemed it necessary to contact me, and I return the favor by ignoring them. It’s a satisfactory arrangement.”

“I see,” my colleague responded. “Then that would number you, along with Miss Chauncey, as one of the household’s skeptics.”

“I can’t speak for the girl. I imagine she believed whatever Mr. Lloyd instructed her to believe. Not much backbone to that one. But then, off course, backbone is certainly not a
requirement for the position of secretary.”

“And what of the position of butler?” Mr. O’Nelligan was taking on this snooty son-of-a-gun. “What characteristics would you deem essential for your own vocation?”

Trowbridge didn’t flinch. “Discretion, precision, and a sturdy deportment, to name but a few. Oh, and I almost forgot detachment. Yes, detachment goes a long way. And, lastly… it never hurts to be English.”
The Irish and English have, of course, a complicated relationship, as evidenced by the tension between O’Nelligan and Trowbridge:
The glove had been thrown. These two men, born of nations with a shared history of armed strife, now stood staring each other down. I instinctively took a step back to distance myself from their standoff.
Here, as in much of the novel, Lee is more than content to have his Celtic colleague play point-man in the investigation. After all, Mr. O’Nelligan is the one with the real deductive chops.
Just when I feared they were about to respark old tribal violence, Mr. O’Nelligan drew himself back into detective mode.

“On Friday evening, approximately an hour prior to your employer’s death, you spent a few minutes alone with him. What was the nature of this visit?”
Did the butler do it? I’ll say only this: Trowbridge is one of numerous colorful, eccentric suspects who frequent the old gothic mansion where murder occurred. My influences are the Golden Age mystery writers—Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout—who established the genre. And a ghostly subplot never hurts...
Visit Michael Nethercott's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 15, 2013

"Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By"

Elizabeth J. Duncan is a winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She was shortlisted for the Agatha and Arthur Ellis Awards.

Duncan applied the Page 69 Test to Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, the fifth novel in the Penny Brannigan series, and reported the following:
Page 69 finds us at the opening of Chapter 12 in Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By. It’s only half a page, so this will be proportionally brief!

We join Bishop Michael Blaine in progress as he wraps up the morning session of a clerical conference being held at the stunningly beautiful Gladstone’s Library in North Wales. His secretary, Minty Russell, laughs to herself as he promotes the idea of a modern Church in Wales taking a strong, supportive stand on the role of women clergy.
This progressive thinking from the man who treated his own wife with such cold disdain and didn’t think her capable of doing much of anything.
In this brief passage we see the bishop through Minty’s unsympathetic eyes. The group breaks up and the bishop reminds everyone that lunch is at 1 p.m. Keep reading! Someone has a lunch date with death!
Visit Elizabeth J. Duncan's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Cold Light of Mourning.

The Page 69 Test: A Brush with Death.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth J. Duncan and Dolly.

Writers Read: Elizabeth J. Duncan (January 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Mary Anna Evans has degrees in physics and engineering, but her heart is in the past. Her series character, Faye Longchamp, lives the exciting life of an archaeologist, and Evans envies her a little.

Longchamp's growing list of adventures include Artifacts, Relics, Effigies, Findings, Floodgates, Strangers, Plunder and, new this month, Rituals.

Evans applied the Page 69 Test to Rituals and reported the following:
Ah, yes. The Page 69 Test. It’s terrifying. Until I take a peek at page 69, I never know whether I will find my finest work or whether I will find drivel. Even if I wanted to think ahead and plant a single page of genius there, I couldn’t. Who knows how the book will be printed? I find out what’s on page 69 at about the same time the rest of you do, when the printed copies are distributed and the first ones land on my doorstep.

I confess to being happy about the Page 69 Test for Rituals. It is, in its entirety, part of a monologue in the voice of one of my favorite guest characters, Antonia Caruso, a retired schoolteacher who spent decades moonlighting as a magician with the delicious stage name of “Toni the Astonisher.” Toni is a young retiree, but she is still several years older than me in chronological age. In our hearts, though, Toni and I will always be curious children who are everlastingly charmed by the mystery of how the world works. For that reason, Toni and I both majored in physics, and neither of us is very tolerant of people who are unwilling to believe the things that observation and reason prove to be true.

I have been told by one of my respected readers that Toni is the character who most reminds him of me. There are surely large chunks of me buried in Faye, and this person has not read Wounded Earth and has thus not met Larabeth McLeod, but yes. If I had never married or had children, I might have been a physics teacher who moonlighted in entertainment, although I would likely have been a writer or musician, rather than a stage magician. And I have a physicist’s regard for truth, so I might well have sounded like Toni Caruso when she assesses two women who claim to be able to talk to the dead, Dara Armistead and her mother Tilda:
Dara Armistead is not her mother. She resembles her mother in no way, beyond the fact that they are both tall, strong-willed women. I know for a fact that she lacks her mother’s integrity.

Any reader of my eventual book will know that I do not believe Tilda Armistead had psychic powers, because I do not believe that anyone has them. Still, intellectual honesty requires me to repeat this mantra daily: “I could be wrong.”

It is possible that I am wrong in my belief that the physical world is all there is. It is possible, though I think it’s highly unlikely, that some people can communicate with our dearly beloved ones who have passed to the other side. If so, then I admit the possibility that Tilda Armistead was the real thing. I do not give Dara Armistead that much credit, because there is no question that she is a fraud.

It is no wonder that the two women didn’t speak for the last fifteen years of Tilda’s life. It’s more surprising that their relationship lasted as long as it did….
Imagine how a crusader for truth like Toni would react to news of Tilda Armistead’s murder. Imagine, in particular, how she would react to evidence that points to Tilda’s daughter, Dara the Fraud, as a prime suspect. And imagine how well a woman with Toni’s crisp intellect would get along with Faye Longchamp, my no-nonsense archaeologist, and her extraordinary daughter Amande. This is a novel full of extraordinary women. (And Joe. No book about Faye is complete without her soulmate.) It reaches all the way back to America’s suffragettes for inspiration. I think Toni, Faye, and Amande would have made those brave women proud.
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Anna Evans' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Floodgates.

The Page 69 Test: Strangers.

My Book, The Movie: Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Plunder.

Writers Read: Mary Anna Evans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 11, 2013

"The Desperate Adventures of Zeno & Alya"

Jane Kelley is the author of the middle-grade novels Nature Girl and The Girl Behind The Glass. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their daughter.

Kelley applied the Page 69 Test to her latest middle-grade novel, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Dr. Jones says you’re ready to start the second phase of chemo next Tuesday.” Mrs. Logan tried to sound like this was a good thing.

“The second phase?”

“They want to make sure they got it all.” Mrs. Logan smiled and squeezed Alya’s hand.

Alya lay back against the pillow. The fabric rubbed her tiny hairs the wrong way. They had just started to grow. They shouldn’t have bothered. They were only going to fall out again anyway. What was the point when the doctors would always say that Alya needed more and more treatments? What was the point of anything when everybody everywhere in the whole wide world was eventually going to die?
This sad passage is most definitely not representative of the novel. But it does do a good job of describing what Alya refers to elsewhere in the book as “the monster in the corner of her room.” Alya is only eleven years old, but being treated for leukemia has forced her to confront the possibility of her death. Is it any wonder that she struggles with despair?

This passage is the shadow, the dark line that gives depth to the rest of the colors in the book. And there are plenty of colors. First and foremost, there is Zeno. The book is half his––and he isn’t even mentioned on page 69. He’s an African grey parrot with a red tail. He thinks a little too well of himself. Well, he does speak 127 words, including a few in Greek. His owner was a professor of Greek Literature, so Zeno occasionally quotes the Greek philosopher Zeno. A lot of the humor in the story comes from Zeno’s mistakes. He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. For instance, he refers to a statue of an angel as a Parrot-Man.

Many other colors in the book are created by Zeno’s adventures. As he flies around Brooklyn, he is challenged by other birds. He has to escape from a cage. He has to find his way home through a storm. He has to learn the real meaning of “home.” But most importantly, he has to find his way back to Alya’s window. His brusque arrogance is exactly what she needs to snap her out of her despair.

Sometimes we all need that––even if we don’t have leukemia. If I read page 69, would I keep reading? No! Why would I want to feel depressed? And yet, I might be glad to confront these ideas in the safety of a story. In middle-grade novels, a girl’s hair always grows back. The parrots find their way home. And friends help each other forget that death is part of life.
Learn more about the book and author at Jane Kelley's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"The Whole Golden World"

Kristina Riggle lives and writes in West Michigan. Her debut novel, Real Life & Liars, was a Target "Breakout" pick and a "Great Lakes, Great Reads" selection by the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association. The Life You’ve Imagined was honored by independent booksellers as an IndieNext “Notable” book. Things We Didn't Say was named a Midwest Connections pick of the Midwest Booksellers Association. Keepsake earned a "Highly recommended" starred review from Booklist.

Riggle applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Whole Golden World, and reported the following:
Excerpt of Page 69 from The Whole Golden World. As this snippet begins, Rain (the character, not the weather) is hiding in the bathroom, trying to pull herself together.
The door opened too fast, because someone was pushing it open from the outside, too.

“Rain!” Alessia exclaimed. She pushed her way in and shut the door with both of them still inside. Rain peered longingly at the door, wishing she could turn into mist and walk through Alessia and get out of there, though her friend was only concerned, as a friend should be.

Rain’s one daring move all her life was to take a trip to Italy alone with some of the inheritance from Gran, and she’d befriended Alessia over late-night bottles of prosecco in that instant way some girls can click, especially girls outside of their normal lives, like at summer camp. Alessia had made good on her promise to visit Rain in the States, and in short order she had met and married TJ’s brother.

Those long, prosecco-soaked nights seemed far away now.
I wanted my character of Rain – wife of TJ, the teacher arrested for a sexual relationship with his 17-year-old student – to have friendships feature in her story arc. Alessia here is one of those. I had complete freedom with the friend when I conceived of her; she had no pre-determined story of her own. For no particular reason, I harkened back to my own Italy trip, with my husband, in 2000. During that trip, we had a tour guide in Rome named Alessia. She was a pretty blonde not much older than me. So why not make Rain’s friend Italian? And, in doing so, I added a new dimension to Rain, because how would she meet this Italian friend? And how does this friend stay in her life? These answers to these questions helped form my main character.

Alessia is not the clichéd wise friend who has all the answers and cracks sarcastic jokes for comic relief. Nor is she universally supportive of every move Rain makes. In this way she provides both support and conflict, which is how friendships often work in real life.

She doesn’t often appear in the pages, but I try to make all my characters interesting and unique, even if they are usually offstage. If nothing else, it’s more interesting for me to write Alessia from Italy who turned out to be my main character’s sister-in-law, as opposed to a bland sidekick.
Learn more about the book and author at Kristina Riggle's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Kristina Riggle & Lucky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Price of Innocence"

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

The Price of Innocence is Black's latest novel featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. The author applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
The Price of Innocence begins with Theresa and Frank caught in an explosion possibly aimed at a local inventor/entrepreneur, the northeast version of Bill Gates, named Bruce Lambert. Ignoring her bruises and forced to relinquish the investigation to the feds, Theresa tries to dive back into normalcy at work only to have a cop assassinated nearly at her feet. These two apparently unrelated cases begin to move closer and closer together as Theresa encounters the unpredictable world of methamphetamine production, an attractive and mysterious man, a circle of new money and power and a conspiracy of silence going back twenty years.

On Page 69 of the book, a second explosion has just occurred at the factory/proving ground of the billionaire genius, and once again Theresa has just barely escaped serious injury--but she had been present only for a completely un-job-related reason: she and the billionaire are both alums of Cleveland State University and he had been hosting a small alumni reception and tour. This minor detail forms the loose connection between Theresa, Lambert, and the mysterious David Madison.

Page 69 is illustrative of the book as a whole because it shows Theresa in typical action--doing all that needs to be done, efficiently, professionally, while putting her own feelings and worries aside until she has the time and freedom to deal with them.
‘You almost got blown up for the second time this week?’ Frank demanded.

‘It sounds bad when you say it like that.’ She had been all right until now, calling the lab, retrieving her camera to take photos of the charred storage closet outside the fishbowl workroom, helping the EMT move a badly burned technician and forbidding him to move the engineer he pronounced dead, trapped beneath one of the overturned robots – they were much larger up close – all the while trying not to ponder why the area she had been in only ten minutes beforehand had turned into a smoking hole.

But now the tremor in her cousin’s voice made her realize that neither one of them had even begun to deal with the close call they’d had at the Bingham building. She had grown accustomed to the physical threats of the job, and mostly of Frank’s job, by not thinking about it – after all, there was little she could do to control it. But clearly that would not be sufficient, not for this round.
Not to mention that a few lines before, she discovers an important clue--that the explosive used is the same as the compound used in the first explosion. Its roots go back even further, to her alma mater and David Madison’s tenure there--which will become more significant to her life, and safety, than she would ever have dreamed possible.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child"

At fifteen Maria T. Lennon left Santa Barbara to study at The American School in Switzerland. She continued her studies at Brillantmont in Lausanne, got kicked out, then went on to London to complete her A levels. She was accepted to the London School of Economics and studied International Economics and Politics of International Aid. After graduating, she moved to Italy where she ate and drank enormous quantities. She also taught summer school at The American School in Genova, an elementary school. Lennon later moved to Paris and wrote her first novel. When she returned to Los Angeles, she quit all bad habits and continued working on her novel, Making It up as I Go Along, which was published in 2004.

Lennon’s screenplay about the Red Brigade was a third place finalist in Francis Ford Coppola's screenwriter's competition. Today, she lives in Laurel Canyon and has four children and a dog named Frida.

Lennon applied the “Page 69 Test” to her most recent book, Confessions of a So-called Middle Child, and reported the following:
Yes! Page 69 [inset right, click to enlarge] is where it’s at.

Take a quick browse and see what you’ll discover about my not-so nice heroine in the making.
  1. The book is short—major bonus for kids.
  2. You can tell Charlie is the middle-kid right away and both her younger and her older siblings are super annoying.
  3. She sees a shrink- this is LA you know.
  4. She goes to a new school where being different may or may not be cool.
  5. She hates the spotlight.
  6. This is an issue book—Charlie definitely wants to stop bullying—that’s funny as you know what.
  7. Teachers, parents and grandparents should buy this book for their kids. It’s a teachable book for 4th, 5th and 6th grade.
  8. Girls can be super mean you know.
  9. Believe it or not Charlie is a role model for all girls.
  10. It’s realistic fiction set in the Hollywood Hills. Your kids will love it. Trust me. I have four of my own.
Learn more about the book and author at the Confessions of a So-called Middle Child website, and follow Maria T. Lennon on Facebook and Twitter.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Maria T. Lennon and Frida.

My Book, The Movie: Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Two Serpents Rise"

Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. Two Serpents Rise, his second novel, is about water rights, human sacrifice, dead gods, and poker.

Gladstone applied the “Page 69 Test” to Two Serpents Rise and reported the following:
Here's Page 69:
Chapter 11

The sun died, devoured by the rolling ocean. Dresediel Lex bloomed from its death, like a flower on a grave. Pyramids and skyspires cast light into darkness. The arteries of commerce glowed. In an office atop the obsidian pyramid where he once broke the gods, the King in Red sipped coffee and watched the city his power made possible, the city his radiance illuminated.

The lords of the earth and the bums in rags and tatters hid from that light, under ratty blankets or in the perfumed caves of nightclubs and dance halls. Across town by the shore, five students doffed their clothes and ran naked into cold dark water. Dresediel Lex by night was a brilliant menagerie. The animals trapped inside scraped at the bars of their cages.

Caleb arrived early at the Rakesblight Center, a black square box a thousand feet on each side and four stories tall. Animals were bought here, butchered, and sold—unsuspecting pigs herded a hundred at a time into rooms that smelled nothing at all like death, so well did the center's Craft scrub away the stench and spiritual taint of slaughter. From those rooms the pigs' corpses moved to wheels and metal jaws and conveyor belts. By the time their meat reached the sale floor, it had become cold flesh in a small box, nothing left to suggest it once squealed or rooted in muck.

Two years before, the King in Red had bought the place from Illyana Rakesblight, the Deathless Queen who designed the center to replace the fallen Goddess of Plenty. After the purchase, Illyana retired to an island she raised from a distant ocean, and the King in Red assumed her role. Each knife and abattoir became an extension of his power. Caleb's job had been to review the plant and ensure RKC would profit enough to 0ffset operating costs. The center was a good investment, he decided…
I think Page 69 of my novel Two Serpents Rise makes a pretty good case for my new book Two Serpents Rise. The story follows wizards in pinstriped suits, skeletons with investment portfolios, and one basically human risk manager trying to figure out who poisoned the water supply of his desert city. All of these make an appearance, at least temporarily, in the page above.

We're introduced to a panorama of Dresediel Lex, from the dreaded skeletal King in Red atop his pyramid office building to a few college kids cavorting in the surf. We also see the fundamental horrors that maintain the world of the book—and we see how people relate to them on a daily basis.

And at the end we revolve back to Caleb Altemoc, the poor bastard who's trying to do his job in the middle of all this insanity, advancing toward the rooftop of an unsettling building for a confrontation with a source he doesn't quite trust.

I'd keep reading. I hope you would, too.
Learn more about the book and author at Max Gladstone's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 1, 2013

"Engines of the Broken World"

Jason Vanhee lives in Seattle, Washington.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Engines of the Broken World, his first novel, and reported the following:
I could have been lucky with this challenge; my book isn’t very long, so we’re already into the meat of it by page 69. But that exact page? Not so much. We’re in the middle of something: four people are talking, something horrible has happened, but we’ve come in too late to see exactly what, and one page doesn’t carry us out of the scene either. We’ve got bad news: “In a few days, every one of us was going to die, or vanish into something that wasn’t, into a cold and dead fog.” But there’s nothing to suggest why that could be happening. We’ve got a grim situation with a woman who’s in very bad shape, but we miss hearing out what that shape is. So the overall book we don’t get too much of. But we do get something of the characters: Merciful’s desire to act like a woman grown, and her endless curiosity even when it’s a bad idea; Gospel’s meanness; and the essential goodness of the Minister, tempered by one mention of how it was listening in, like it’s always listening. So does page 69 work to tell you the story of the novel? Not really. Would it keep you reading, though? Well. It should, even if only because of all that it hints at. But as the author, it’s very hard to judge, isn’t it?
Visit Jason Vanhee's blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue