Monday, June 30, 2014

"Thorn Jack"

Katherine Harbour is the author of Thorn Jack, the first book in a trilogy of dark fantasy novels released by Harper Voyager.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Thorn Jack and reported the following:
On page 69 of Thorn Jack the heroine Finn and her two new friends, Christie and Sylvie, have been invited to one of the Fata family’s infamous parties—an autumn revel with a Shakespearean theme. The scene reveals Finn’s, Sylvie’s, and Christie’s budding friendship while hinting at sinister elements beneath the party’s ordinary fa├žade. When Finn discovers the sugar skull candies offered as treats, Sylvie and Christie say things that foreshadow some of Thorn Jack’s themes:
Sylvie handed (Finn) a tiny skull made of pink sugar. “All soul’s night is only a few weeks away. Eat these and honor the dead.”

Finn looked down at the candy and wondered how death could be treated so lightly.
And, a few paragraphs later:
Christie raised a tiny sugar skull. “‘To die: to sleep, no more, and by sleep to say we end the heartache—”
After Finn and her friends drink fake absinthe, the Fatas begin to seem strange and wild:
The burned-squash smell of the jack-o’-lanterns made (Finn’s) nose wrinkle. Musicians with pale hair and dark tattoos had taken the veranda stage, and electric guitars and the singer’s howling voice soon became deafening.

. . . she stopped to watch a magician in a striped black suit and no shirt pulling snakes from his sleeves—she recognized him as one of Jack’s friends, Atheno, the man with silver-and-black hair. As he draped what looked like a boa constrictor around his neck...
This party is the beginning of the Fata family’s attempt to seduce Finn, Sylvie, and Christie into their world. On this page, Finn and her friends are naive, oblivious—by the end of the scene, they realize they’re dealing with more than just a wealthy, eccentric family.

I think page 69 would make a reader continue on—it reveals a new friendship about to be tested and teases with a glimpse of otherworldliness.
Visit Katherine Harbour's website.

Writers Read: Katherine Harbour.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Black Current"

Karen Keskinen was born in Salinas, California. She has also lived in California’s San Joaquin Valley and in Wellington, New Zealand. She now resides in Santa Barbara where she is a full-time writer. She is the author of Blood Orange and Black Current.

Keskinen applied the Page 69 Test to Black Current and reported the following:
From Page 69:
The single sheet of paper was cream-colored. Thick and textured, it was of better quality than the envelope. I unfolded it. And for several seconds, I couldn’t breathe.

Your brother did not kill himself.

What are you going to do about it?
Since at least as early as 1862, we readers have adored a detective mystery. You see, 1862 was the year “The Notting Hill Mystery” was first published in Once A Week magazine.

But if we love a good mystery, we often love a good mystery series even more. In a series, we readers come to know the detective, her sidekick, and their fellow characters over time. We relish meeting up with our people again and again, preferably under hair-raising circumstances. Mystery readers haven’t changed much since 1862.

We haven’t changed much, but the zeitgeist has. After “The Notting Hill Mystery” was published, Freud strode through our collective unconscious, laying down his huge footprints. Popular psychology, our new religion, came hard on Freud’s heels, leaving a trail of angst and tears. Never would we view transgression in the same way again. And now we possess a robust appetite for knowledge about the characters’ off-page struggles, failures, losses, and sins.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn’t charged with the task of detailing the biography of Sherlock Holmes. His readers didn’t care to know about the detective’s infancy, his parents’ misbehaviors, or his childhood traumas. Modern readers, on the other hand, are hungry for all that. It’s not enough for us to know our detective has a wound. We want to know all about that injury, how it occurred, and how the healing is progressing - or not.

Of course, there are murders to be solved in the meantime, and the detective’s personal story can take a back seat. We are happy to meander through the chapters of the P.I.’s past life, exploring his or her psyche book by book, at a leisurely pace. But be assured, explore it we will.

In Black Current, page 69 takes up that underground story. Jaymie Zarlin has been struggling to come to terms with her brother’s death for three years, but till now she hasn’t questioned the facts surrounding it. The coroner’s judgment was unequivocal, after all: Brodie Zarlin hanged himself in the downtown jail.

For three years, Jaymie has had plenty of guilt to reckon with: why didn’t she step in sooner - or do more - or understand the severity of Brodie’s illness? But until page 69, she’d never questioned the verdict of suicide.

Now, the world wobbles on its axis. Brodie did not hang himself. And his death was no accident, either: you don’t accidentally place your neck in a noose. Jaymie’s world wobbles on its axis, and from page 69 onwards, it will not be put right.

Brodie Zarlin was murdered. Somebody out there knows all about it - and is ready to sing.
Visit Karen Keskinen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Kim Church's short stories and poetry have appeared in Shenandoah, Mississippi Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Prime Number Magazine, the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received fiction fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and Vermont Studio Center.

Born and raised in Lexington, North Carolina, Church earned her B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her J.D. degree from UNC School of Law. She has taught writing workshops in a variety of settings, from college classrooms to death row. She lives with her husband, artist Anthony Ulinski, in Raleigh, where she divides her time between writing and law.

Church applied the Page 69 Test to Byrd, her first novel, and reported the following:
Byrd is the story of Addie Lockwood, an independent single woman who, at 33, secretly gives birth to a son and surrenders him for adoption without telling his father—and without imagining how her decision will shape their lives.

On page 69, Addie, who works as a clerk in a secondhand bookstore, has returned to her cloistered life in North Carolina after a whirlwind New Year’s visit to her old friend Roland Rhodes, now a struggling musician in California. Addie and Roland have finally consummated their tenuous high school romance, and Addie doesn’t know it yet but she’s come home pregnant.

To get perspective on her relationship with Roland, she consults astrologer Warren Finch, my favorite minor character in the novel. Warren is a one-man Greek chorus, a soothsayer in plaid.
Visit Kim Church's website.

Writers Read: Kim Church.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Phantom Instinct"

Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School.

Gardiner practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She’s a former collegiate cross-country runner and a three time Jeopardy! champion. She divides her time between London and Austin, Texas.

Gardiner applied the Page 69 Test to her new stand-alone thriller, Phantom Instinct, and reported the following:
Phantom Instinct is about two wounded survivors of a shootout, who work together to catch the prime gunman. The trouble? Nobody else believes the shooter exists. Harper Flynn worked as a bartender at the club that was attacked. Detective Aiden Garrison was severely injured during the shootout. Now they can’t convince anybody that the shooter is stalking witnesses to the attack—including the two of them. The more they learn, the more dangerous things become. The more they’re drawn to each other. And the more distrust builds between them.

On page 69, they confront each other.
“I’m trying to convince the department that the third shooter exists and is back.”

“Then you’re going to have to convince me.”

His eyes were hidden by the sunglasses, his face clenched with some cool bitterness. Sorenstam had planted a seed of suspicion, and it was growing twisted roots. Harper felt she was on the edge of something very bad. It was circling. She had only a little time to get out from under it, or her last chance to come out of this the right way would be gone for good.

“You want to know the truth? I’ll tell you. And Sorenstam can dig up the court records and rip open everything that was supposed to be confidential. You can corroborate everything I’m going to tell you. But—”

“No buts.”

“But you have to tell me everything about your traumatic brain injury. The issue with misidentifying people. Straight up.”
Page 69 is where Aiden and Harper hit the crux of the problem between them: He has just learned that she’s an ex-thief. She has just learned the reason he can’t return to duty: his head injury has resulted in Fregoli Syndrome, a rare kind of face blindness. It can cause him to believe that the person he’s looking at is actually somebody else in disguise. They each have ample cause to mistrust the other. Now they have to decide whether they can work past that to catch a killer.
Writers Read: Meg Gardiner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"The Patron Saint of Ugly"

Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Calyx Journal, SouthWrit Large, and other journals. Her novel Shrapnel won the Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Still Life with Plums: Short Stories was a finalist for both The Weatherford Award and ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year.

Manilla applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Patron Saint of Ugly, and reported the following:
It’s a simple scene: Grandpa Ferrari and Nonna arrive at Garnet’s house to celebrate her First Communion. Grandpa parks his car at the foot of the hill, walks halfway up the steep steps, and pauses to swab sweat from his neck, grumbling: “You trying to give me a heart attack with those steps, Angelo?” Right behind him is Angelo’s brother who fans the flames: “You need an elevator to get up this hill, Pop. It’s even worse in the winter.” This seemingly trivial act reveals the disdain Grandpa feels for Garnet’s father, who couldn’t even buy the right, flat-lotted house. So much of The Patron Saint of Ugly is about sibling rivalries: Garnet and her brother, Garnet’s father and his brother, even Grandpa Ferrari and his brother back in Italy. It’s also a novel about the way parents can, or cannot, love their children. Grandpa can’t love his youngest maybe-not son, but neither can Angelo love his youngest child, Garnet. He just can’t get beyond the port wine birthmarks covering her body that look like a map of the world. It doesn’t matter that she may be able to perform miracles—and indeed that only adds to her freakishness in his view. Still, Garnet craves her father’s love, just as Angelo craves the love of Grandpa Ferrari.
Visit Marie Manilla's website.

Writers Read: Marie Manilla.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Child of a Hidden Sea"

A.M. Dellamonica is the author of Indigo Springs, which won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Sci-Fiction and Strange Horizons, and in numerous anthologies; her 2005 alternate-history Joan of Arc story, “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic,” was shortlisted for the Sideways Award and the Nebula Award. Dellamonica lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Child of a Hidden Sea, and reported the following:
From page 69:
"Sofe, you're starting to scare me a little."

"Sorry, Bramble." She pulled herself up, feeling heavy-limbed, and hauled her stuff into the house. She pulled out her camera, popped her battery into a charger and the chip into the laptop computer that lived by the kitchen island. Then she opened the fridge.The yogurt was green and the only thing that looked edible was an apple.

Haven't had fresh fruit in a week, she thought, and yet what I want is pizza.
I was thrilled to see that page 69 of Child of a Hidden Sea is a scene between Sophie Hansa and her little brother, Bramwell, because their relationship is very much the heart of the book.

The scene occurs after Sophie has just returned from another realm, a world called Stormwrack. She found the place mysterious and exciting, but she had just begun to explore it when she was essentially deported back home to San Francisco by bureaucrats in the capitol city, a sort of United Nations at sea called The Fleet.

Bram's a scientist, and he was so wrapped up in research that he didn't notice she was gone. He's feeling guilty and working to hide it. Theyre both a little freaked out, but as they reconnect you can see the affection and mutual goodwill between them. It's warm; I like it.

Is this representative of the whole book? Some of it, definitely. It doesn't show off the encounters with monsters or clashes with scheming homicidal pirate types, or the near-sinking of the sailing vessel Nightjar in a magically-induced storm at sea (Nightjar and her crew also appear in my prequel story, "Among the Silvering Herd", but it's a good snapshot of these two characters together in a safe moment.
Visit A.M. Dellamonica's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"Bliss House"

Laura Benedict’s latest dark suspense novel is Bliss House, praised as “Eerie, seductive, and suspenseful,” by Edgar award-winning author, Meg Gardiner. Benedict is also the author of Devil's Oven, a modern Frankenstein tale, and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts and Isabella Moon.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Bliss House and reported the following:
What luck! While page 69 is not an entire printed page in the book, it does begin one of the most critical chapters in Bliss House.

Bliss House is my love letter to the great haunted house novels, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson). But there’s a murder mystery as well, and the murder comes soon after this scene.

By page 69, Rainey Bliss Adams and her daughter, Ariel, are well-settled into Bliss House. They’ve moved from St. Louis, where Rainey’s husband (Ariel’s father), Will, was killed when their house exploded from an accidental gas leak. Ariel is fourteen years old, scarred, and very withdrawn. She secretly loves the massive, mysterious house that’s surrounded by tattered gardens, deep woods, and orchards, and believes it’s helping her heal. She also has seen her father’s ghost, which has told her he’ll be watching over her.

But Bliss House is not a quiet, benign sort of house. There are strange noises and they’ve heard stories about its tragic past. Ariel herself has been under attack from invisible assailants, but Rainey is having a hard time believing that there’s something truly wrong.

Page 69 is the first page of Chapter 13 (appropriate, yes?). A sound wakes Ariel in the darkness of her room. She’s finally gotten to sleep after the big housewarming party her mother threw the evening before. At first, she thinks it might be her father who has awakened her, and she’s reassured by the noise of crickets coming from outside. But the sound continues, and she gets up to find its source.
This sound was inside the house. Not rhythmic, but insistent. Someone running. Voices, but not happy ones.

I won’t be afraid.
She gets out of bed to put on an elaborate silk robe she’d found in one of the house’s unused closets. (Neither she nor her mother have any idea who it belonged to. Just the idea of the robe worries Rainey.) The robe makes Ariel feel graceful, something she hasn’t felt in a very long time--at least not since the accident, which left her relying on a cane. Since she’s come to Bliss House she’s had to rely on it much less frequently, and she’s been in almost no pain.

The page closes with Ariel going out into the second floor gallery outside her bedroom door. She looks up to the third floor where she thinks the sounds are coming from. (No one sleeps upstairs.) We leave her in the moonlight that shines through the clerestory windows around the base of the dome painted with stars that crowns the top of Bliss House.
Visit Laura Benedict's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 20, 2014

"All Day and a Night"

Alafair Burke's novels include the thriller Long Gone and the Ellie Hatcher series: 212, Angel's Tip, Dead Connection, Never Tell, and the newly released All Day and a Night. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal law and lives in Manhattan.

Burke applied the Page 69 Test to All Day and a Night and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 69:
Carrie’s list of documents to request was seven pages long by the time her cell phone buzzed against the table. It was Melanie.

“Hey, Melanie.”

“Are you all right?”

No “Hello.” No “Hey, it’s Melanie.” Just: “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. Why?”

“I sent you an e-mail this morning. It bounced back—”

“About what?”

“What do you mean?”

“The e-mail. What was it about?”

“Oh, it was—it’s this dog. On a couch. He jumps up there but the owner has it booby-trapped.”

Carrie remembered how much Melanie had wanted to be a pediatrician. Now she seemed to spend her days forwarding YouTube videos.

“You’ve got to see it. Trust me, it’s hilarious. Anyway, I sent it to you, and then it bounced back with an automated message saying to contact the firm for details. Then I called your office and your secretary picked up and said you weren’t working there anymore. Is everything all right?”

That was the world Melanie knew, because it was the world they had grown up in. If you had a job and then you didn’t have that job, then something must have gone terribly wrong. People lost jobs; jobs didn’t lose people.
I swear I didn’t plan for this scene to land on page 69, but I’m glad it did.

Though All Day and a Night is the fifth book in the Ellie Hatcher series, I think readers will find that it reads like a standalone. It centers around convicted serial killer Anthony Amaro’s claim that he was wrongfully convicted and that the real killer is still at large.

Much of the book is told from the perspective of NYPD Ellie Hatcher who, along with her partner JJ Rogan, is tapped as the “fresh look” team to reinvestigate the Amaro case and scrutinize the integrity of the evidence used to convict him.

But an equal narrator in the novel is Carrie Blank, who opens Chapter 11 on page 69. Carrie is a young defense attorney who leaves an elite New York City law firm to represent Amaro on his wrongful conviction claim. Carrie comes to the case with an agenda of her own. Her half-sister Donna was one of Amaro’s alleged victims, so for her, this case is about finding her sister’s true killer.

Carrie is a favorite for me among the characters I’ve created. On page 69, you get a little taste of the world Carrie came from. She grew up in Red View, a fictionalized version of neighborhoods we know too well, defined by generations of poverty, crime, underemployment, lack of education, and general hopelessness. While Carrie was raised by a mother who constantly told her that if she studied hard in school and went to college, her half-sister Donna succumbed to the patterns of the neighborhood, falling into sex work and drug addiction.

But Carrie’s backstory isn’t a tale about good-sister-makes-good and bad-sister-gets-killed. Through Carrie, All Day and a Night explores how difficult it can be to find a path for upward mobility. While Carrie was able to make it out of Red View, most of her friends did not, including her childhood best friend, Melanie. Despite having a raw intellect that Carrie believes surpasses her own, Melanie never made it to college, in part because of a teenage pregnancy and an on-and-off marriage to a shady older boy who impregnated her. A part of Carrie always feels guilty for leaving her friend behind.

On a less serious note, page 69 also happens to contain a nice little Easter egg for readers who keep in touch with my online antics. That YouTube video of the dog on the sofa? Yes, it’s real. The dog is my French bulldog, Double. And the booby-trapped sofa is probably covered with his white hair as I write this.

Carrie may think that YouTube videos are a waste of time, but this particular one isn’t. Trust me.
Learn more about the book and author at Alafair Burke's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Connection.

The Page 69 Test: Angel’s Tip.

The Page 69 Test: 212.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"The Abduction"

Jonathan Holt read English literature at Oxford and is now the creative director of an advertising company. He lives in London.

Holt applied the Page 69 Test to The Abduction, the second book in the Carnivia Trilogy,and reported the following:
I’m going to cheat a tiny bit and give you Page 68 as well, as it’s the beginning of a chapter. This scene is the first time in the book that we meet a central, but secondary character called Daniele Barbo, who some readers will already know from the previous book in the series, The Abomination. Daniele is a mathematician-turned-computer-hacker who’s recently built a social media site,, which has the unusual property that all interactions on it are anonymous.

The irony is that Daniele himself is the least social person imaginable. The son of a Venetian aristocrat, he was kidnapped as a child by the Red Brigades. Tragically, when his parents were slow to pay the ransom, the kidnappers cut off the boy’s nose and ears. It isn’t 100% clear whether Daniele was slightly autistic before the kidnap, or whether it was the trauma that triggered or worsened the condition. However, at the end of Book One he began for the first time in his life to feel attraction to a woman, US Intelligence Analyst Holly Boland. This scene has him trying to ‘cure’ his autism – or at least, to develop emotional empathy - with the help of a friendly psychiatrist.

I guess the point I’d make about this scene is that it isn’t typical of most thrillers to spend so much time on a character’s emotional life, certainly not a whole chapter. So it’s a good illustration of the ambition I set myself, which was to write a thriller where the characters are as gripping as the conspiracies. Have I succeeded? I guess that’s for the readers to tell me.

Daniele Barbo leant forward and held up his hands, fingers spread, so that they were exactly opposite the hands of the young woman sitting across the table from him, his left palm facing her right and vice versa, leaving just a few millimetres between his skin and hers.

“Begin,” a quiet voice said behind him. He heard the click of a stopwatch.

He looked directly at the woman, flinching minutely as they established eye contact. But he’d made good progress since he first started doing this exercise. Now he was able to meet her gaze without panic or distress, although he felt his breathing quicken.

Long seconds passed. Where their hands almost touched, his palms and fingers seemed to throb, as if his pulse was reaching out to hers. It was, he knew, an illusion, but the sensation was not unpleasant.

“Good,” the voice behind him said.

If he could manage it, the exercise required him to stare directly into her eyes for six whole minutes. Gradually he relaxed, and it became easier. She was, he supposed, attractive; her eyes, especially so. Around the pupils, her irises were light grey, flecked here and there with variations of colour. Magnified by the curve of the cornea, he could make out intricate white lines within each one, like a pattern of Murano glass inside a paperweight. Involuntarily, his skin prickled at her closeness, and blood thickened in his groin.

The eyes opposite him seemed to widen minutely, as if she knew. Or, he realised, as if something similar was happening to her. His hands twitched, ready to break away, but the millimetre-thin distance between their palms still held.

As their breathing deepened and synchronised, he became aware of the regular rise and fall of her chest. Now, somehow, he understood that it was her turn to feel self-conscious. He could feel her wanting to drop her gaze; felt the inner struggle as she told herself she couldn’t. It felt as if the two of them were having the most intense conversation, but without speaking a word. He wondered if it was the same for her. Every fibre of his body told him that it was, that this intense bond was being reciprocated. But a small, rational part of his brain knew that, unlike him, she had probably done this many times before, and with other patients besides him.

He also knew that the exercise they were carrying out, apparently so simple, was based on extensive research. In a 1989 study at Clark University, psychologist James Laird had established that mutual eye gazing for just two minutes can produce rapid increases in sexual empathy, even between strangers. The physical proximity of their hands was based on a similar discovery by Leon Festinger and Robert Zajonc at Stanford.

“Sabrina, make a gesture,” the voice behind him said.

Without taking her eyes off Daniele, the young woman moved one of her hands sideways, down towards the table. Immediately, Daniele copied her, so that their hands remained opposite each other. She did the same with her other hand, then turned her head from side to side. Each time he copied her, their eyes still locked together.

After two minutes of mirroring – again, based on research which demonstrated that it increased feelings of intimacy – the voice behind him spoke again.

“Now truth,” Father Uriel said. “Daniele, you first.”

He thought. What secret did he want this woman to share with him? Under the rules of the exercise, she had to answer any question honestly, no matter how intimate or revealing.

“Sabrina, why are you here?” he asked.
Learn more about the book and author at the Carniva website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"The Leopard"

K. V. Johansen is the author of Blackdog and numerous works for children, teens, and adults. She has an MA from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, and her lifelong interest in ancient and medieval history and the history of languages has had a great influence on her writing and world building.

Johansen applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Leopard, and reported the following:
Opening The Leopard to page 69, the first line my eye fell on was:
“I walked off a cliff once, you know,” Ahjvar told him. “Years ago. Fifty years, maybe. I woke up in the rain. Bruised like I'd rolled down a hill. It was a cliff. It should have smashed every bone in my body. Woke up in the rain and an old man asking, did I have the falling-sickness? The four-day fever? I could hardly walk. He tried to take me home. I told him not to, I told him to leave me, to run away....”
Well, that would definitely make me want to find out more, assuming I wasn’t already committed to buying it just for the cover. What’s going on here? This walking off a cliff thing doesn’t sound accidental, the way he puts it. Warning off the person who tried to help him, that’s a bit ominous. And fifty years ago? I’m intrigued. I’m assuming I’ve read the back cover copy before opening up the book. It begins “Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror ...” so this random page actually ties in pretty closely to that aspect of the plot. Lower down on page 69, there’s this:
“Hush,” said Ghu. “I'll tie you up, tonight.”

“Devils have mercy.” It was half a groan, half a laugh, but at least it brought him back to some edge of reason. “Ghu, that won't...”

“I'll tie you up,” Ghu said complacently. “And then I'll hit you over the head with something if I have to. We'll be fine.”

“It's no wonder all Sand Cove thinks you're only half there, you know.” But it might, it might be safe. It might get them both to Marakand, where he could hunt the Voice....
The back cover mentions “... the one person he has let close to him in a lifetime of death, a runaway slave named Ghu ...” The interaction between Ahjvar and Ghu shown on this page really interests me in both these characters and the relationship between them. Ahjvar is on the verge of breaking down, barely coherent, and Ghu’s approach to soothing him and calming him down is this? For the record, I should say that though tying up the psychotic madman can get pretty nasty, Ghu never does adopt concussion as a way restraining Ahjvar. It probably wouldn’t work anyhow, and the man has enough problems without adding brain damage. That was likely his idea of a joke, though even Ahj finds it hard to know when Ghu is joking.
Visit K. V. Johansen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 16, 2014

"The Lion and the Rose"

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she first got hooked on ancient Rome while watching I, Claudius at the age of seven. She wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome, and it was later published as Mistress of Rome. A prequel followed, titled Daughters of Rome, and then a sequel, Empress of the Seven Hills--written while her husband was deployed to the Middle East.

Quinn made the jump from ancient Rome to Renaissance Italy for her fourth and fifth novels, The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose, detailing the early years of the Borgia clan. She also has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

Quinn applied the Page 69 Test to The Lion and the Rose and reported the following:
From page 69:
The song ended, and a smattering of applause burst out. My Pope looked around for me and had a beam when he saw his old mistress sitting with the new. So amicably too, smiling at each other with such great sweetness. Rodrigo couldn't see that I was gripping my roses so hard my fingers welled blood from half a dozen thorn pricks. How I longed to cram those roses up Vannozza dei Cattanei's nose.
At first, I thought that my page 69 wasn't terribly representative of my last book The Lion and the Rose: this meeting between the Borgia Pope's two mistresses would imply the book is all flowers and female cat-fighting, which it isn't. (Lots of politics, assassination, and really good food, too.) But it does get two very important things across:

1. This ain't Pope Francis. Maybe your jaw dropped a little bit on the realization that a) a Pope not only has a girlfriend, but several and b) He's flaunting them in public where everyone can see, Renaissance-era tabloid gossip be damned. It was a very different era back then, one that might shock even a modern reader to their bones - and I had fun delving into that.

2. It's funny - at least, I hope you got a giggle from this. I like making my readers laugh, first of all because historical fiction has gotten so deadly serious lately, and second of all because the contrast of laughter makes ensuing tragedy all the more poignant. Read The Lion and the Rose, and you'll both laugh and cry.

At least, I hope you will.
Learn more about the book and author at Kate Quinn's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Kate Quinn and Caesar.

My Book, The Movie: Empress of the Seven Hills.

The Page 69 Test: The Serpent and the Pearl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 15, 2014

"That Night"

Chevy Stevens is the author of Still Missing and Never Knowing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, That Night, and reported the following:
My page 69 is a scene between Toni and Ryan—they have a fight because Toni is upset about some things that have been happening to her at school. Later Ryan climbs a tree to her window (a tree she frequently uses to sneak out) so they can talk and they go for a drive. This page shows how they relate to each other, how much they love each other. They always sense when the other needs them. This makes it even more painful when they are separated for years after they are both convicted for a crime they didn’t commit—the murder of Toni’s sister. I think this page captures one of the main themes in the book, which is true love, and whether it can survive everything that happens to these two people.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Chevy Stevens website.

My Book, The Movie: Still Missing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Splintered Paddle"

Mark Troy is the author of Pilikia Is My Business, a private eye novel published in 2001 and republished in 2010. Pilikia was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America for Best 1st P.I. Novel. Game Face, a collection of short stories featuring P.I. Val Lyon, was published in 2011. The Rules, the first story in the Ava Rome series, was published as an ebook and audiobook in 2013.

Troy applied the Page 69 Test to The Splintered Paddle, the latest book in the Ava Rome series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Splintered Paddle finds the protagonist, Ava Rome, a private detective, in conversation with her sidekick, Moon Ito. The sidekick is a fixture of many private eye stories, indeed much of literature. Spenser has Hawk; Elvis Cole has Joe Pike; Modesty Blaise has Willie Garvin; Don Quixote has Sancho Panza. The sidekick is usually different from the main character in some obvious ways and has abilities and attitudes that complement those of the main character. In spite of those differences, there is a bond of loyalty and respect that connects the two.

Moon is a Hawaiian-born Japanese American whose speech is peppered with Hawaiian pidgin expressions and grammar. As with Spenser and Hawk, there is a racial difference between Ava and Moon. As with Modesty and Willie, there are gender and linguistic differences. Like Joe Pike, Moon is a tough guy whose solutions to problems are not as nuanced as Ava's.

On this page, Ava is laying out the central problem facing her. She has just met her antagonist, a man whom she arrested years earlier and who is bent on revenge. The man, Norman Traxler, has visited Ava at her office and hinted at the revenge he has in mind. Moon suggests a direct solution and even offers to carry it out. Ava, of course rejects it, but as the story progresses, Moon's solution looks more and more like the only viable one.

The reader has met Moon earlier in the book, but those meetings were all business. Here, we get a deeper look into their relationship, which is summed up in the last line. The scene takes place on a basketball court in a public park because that's where the two of them can interact as equals. Moon addresses Ava as "Tita," a Hawaiian pidgin word meaning "tough girl." From Moon, it's a compliment. Moon's admonition to "Keep a simple thought," will be repeated later with more urgency.

Moon drained a jumper. “Murder what he got in mind for you. One day he going pop you. Step out of the shadows. Bang!”

“He’s got something else in mind. He gave me this speech about all he lost when he went to prison and how he’s been thinking about me.”

“What, he gonna try and take everything you got first?”

“Picked the wrong girl for that, didn’t he? What’s to take? I’ve got a one-bedroom apartment and a shitty-looking car.”

“Plenty people you care about.” He bounced the ball to me and I drove for a lay-up.

“Right now my love life is in the toilet, so that leaves only you.”

“Get me all choke up, you talk li’ dat. You know where Traxler lives?”

“Makiki. I got the address from directory assistance. He’s not trying to hide.”

Moon sank one more shot and went to a bench alongside the court. I followed. He passed me a water bottle. “Pre-emptive strike time. Some guys and me take him shark fishing. Use him for bait.”

I drank from the bottle and gave it back to him. “That’s wrong.”

“He’s working inside your head, Tita. Knows you care about right and wrong. Buggah like him, right and wrong don’t mean nothing.”

“If he really is stalking me, sooner or later he’ll make a mistake I can take to the police.”

“Thinking too much, Tita. Keep a simple thought. You see him, you pop him, yeah? You carrying a gun?”

“In the apartment.”

“I’m taking you back.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Yeah. Be glad you don’t have to. Watch your back. You need me, I’m with you.”
Visit Mark Troy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"A Creature of Moonlight"

Rebecca Hahn grew up in Iowa, attended college in Minnesota, and soon afterward moved to New York City, where she worked in book publishing and wrote A Creature of Moonlight, her debut novel, on the side. She now lives back in Minneapolis, with the winter cold, the wide sky, and many whispering trees.

Hahn applied the Page 69 Test to A Creature of Moonlight and reported the following:
From page 69 of A Creature of Moonlight (contains slight spoiler):
The lady is waiting near the wall, but I don’t cross over. She’s back a bit in the woods. It seems an age since I last saw her, though it can’t have been more than an hour. She’s watching me. She’s expecting me to come to her.

I call out softly, “I need a vengeance.”

She blinks; her eyes go dark for a moment. “What sort of vengeance, little flower?” she says, and her words twist this way and that through the air, lightly quietly in my ear.

“To kill the king.”

I hear her soft sigh. “I cannot make you such a thing.”

“Why not?”

“He’s not here. He’s out, beyond.” She lifts a hand toward the edge of the woods. “My magic only works in here.”

I take a breath. “Then I can’t come with you.”

She moves; she’s close to me in an instant, facing me across the wall. “There’s nothing for you there now,” she says. “Forget it, little one. Nothing matters but your freedom, but the life you can have with us in the woods.”

But she’s wrong. My Gramps lies dead in our garden. My mother never saw me grow. And the man who ruined both their lives walks free, unpunished, as happy as he ever was. And I know of things this lady may not, with all her mysteries, with all her secrets. I’ve heard tales of sorcerers and witches, away in far-off lands. I’m half dragon, yes, and that half is pushing me on, across the wall, into the woods. But I’m half human, too, and could be I can do things this lady would never dream.
It’s interesting to me that this is page 69, because not only does it illustrate several threads of the story, but it’s also an early major turning point for the narrator, Marni.

Throughout the book, Marni is pulled between two worlds: that of the woods and that of the human kingdom. For the most part, the woods is the center of the magic in this book. The lady is a magical creature, and the dragon also lives in the woods, along with griffins and phoenixes and fairy-like creatures and spirits. Part of the pull of the woods for Marni is exactly that magic: its beauty and its wonder.

The human world pulls her in other ways, through her connections to people and through everyday joys: riding a horse, dancing at a festival, etc.

On page 69, Marni’s two sides come together: she realizes that she can bring the magic of the woods into the human realm, because of her double heritage. This gives her an option that she wouldn’t otherwise have and (perhaps ironically) a reason to resist the woods’ temptations.

Maybe this page is a decent representation of this story, then, because Marni spends much of the book resisting being pushed one way or another, trying to find her own way.
Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Hahn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"The Marathon Conspiracy"

Gary Corby is the author of the Athenian Mystery series, starring Nicolaos, his girlfriend Diotima, and his irritating twelve year old brother Socrates.

The books in order are The Pericles Commission, The Ionia Sanction, Sacred Games and The Marathon Conspiracy.

Corby applied the Page 69 Test to The Marathon Conspiracy and reported the following:
I’ve been invited very kindly to do the Page 69 Test for every book I’ve written. You’d think by now I would have learned to make sure there was something particularly exciting on page 69.

Page 69 of The Marathon Conspiracy sees Nico and Diotima interview a suspect. There’s a missing girl, named Ophelia. A man has been caught creeping around the school from which she disappeared. Is he responsible?

The man claims he’s also on a search for the girl. He then delivers an important new clue: that before she disappeared, Ophelia told him that her life was in danger. Whether or not any of these claims are true remains to be seen, but the information sets Nico and Diotima on a new path.

This is a good example of how the book runs. The scene is set at the Sanctuary of Artemis, which was a small temple complex just outside Athens. The sanctuary was the world’s first official school for girls and much of the action takes place there.

Nico is very much an old school detective (rather appropriately for someone living two thousand five hundred years ago.) His stories are always fair play, and he proceeds by evidence and interviews, connecting the dots and following the leads wherever they take him.

To learn Ophelia’s fate, read The Marathon Conspiracy.
Visit Gary Corby's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Pericles Commission.

My Book, The Movie: The Pericles Commission.

My Book, The Movie: The Ionia Sanction.

The Page 69 Test: The Ionia Sanction.

The Page 69 Test: Sacred Games.

My Book, The Movie: Sacred Games.

Writers Read: Gary Corby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"On the Road to Find Out"

Rachel Toor is currently associate professor of Creative Writing at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, the graduate writing program of Eastern Washington University. She lives with her dog, Helen, who raced in her first half marathon in February.

Toor applied the Page 69 Test to On the Road to Find Out, her first novel, and reported the following:
What I didn’t realize when I started working on this novel—about a girl who decides to take up running after being rejected from her first choice college—was that it would be so much about mother-daughter stuff. It had never been my intention to wade into those waters. And yet, I ended up having to put on my bathing suit.

The book opens with Alice’s first run ever, which is okay for seven and a half minutes. And then it all goes to hell. But somehow she manages to keep stuffing herself into her (tragically unhip) jeggings and borrowing her mom’s (too small) running shoes and getting her dejected, depressed butt out the door. By page 69, her shins are starting to feel a little sore and her BFF Jenni advises she take some time off. Alice is surprised to find that she doesn’t want to stop running. So Jenni suggests Alice ask her physician mother about the pain. Alice says she doesn’t want her mom to know that she’s been running because it will make her too happy. Her mom’s been telling Alice to get outside more, to make more friends, to try to find an extracurricular activity. On page 69 Jenni says, “Alice, sometimes you stand in your own way.” This, as it turns out, is precisely what the book is about.

Alice realizes she should tell her mom that she’s been running—but only because she needs to buy some real running clothes. On page 69 Alice reflects on the fact that especially after her college rejection, she has been a real jerk. She knows her mother is just trying to be helpful, but Alice feels like she’s been possessed by a little alien who makes her say assholic things to everyone around her and her mother gets the worst of it. The only one who’s spared the alien treatment is Walter, her beloved pet rat. And Jenni. Most of the time.

The book is about Alice coming to terms with what she sees as failure and finding ways to jump off the hamster wheel of achievement she’d been running on and learning to get lost and enjoy paths less well trod. It’s about a strong and independent young girl, the daughter of a strong and independent woman, who learns to be a little less self-absorbed and a little more understanding of the people around her.
Visit Rachel Toor's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 9, 2014


Daniel H. Wilson is the author of the New York Times bestselling Robopocalypse and seven other books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising, A Boy and His Bot, and Amped. In 2008, he hosted The Works on the History Channel. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Robopocalypse is currently being adapted for film by Steven Spielberg.

Wilson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Robogenesis, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Robogenesis contains an incredibly horrific moment, and therefore I suppose it is completely representative of the rest of the novel. The survivors of Gray Horse army find a kind of organic robot, slowly making its away across the plains of Montana. The “slug” seems harmless, and they investigate. But the shaggy, clumsy robotic creature has a vicious built-in defense that no one could have predicted. It’s a fitting sample of the novel, which is largely about how a new ecosystem could spring up, made of natural and unnatural creatures – a new world.
The bowed legs are sharp and made of brownish metal and they move together in a complicated way.

“No, no, I can’t,” I mutter.

It’s a pile of buffalo under there. Making that stink. Twisted sneering corpses half stripped of flesh. The smell is hot and awful coming up off the mound of decomposed corpses. And I see now the slug’s almost reached where Howard has stopped moving under a carpet of brown writhing locusts. The slug shudders and drops its bulk over Howard’s sprawled feet. The noise it makes is awful.
Learn more about the book and author at Daniel Wilson's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Boy and His Bot.

The Page 69 Test: Robopocalypse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 8, 2014

"Hell With the Lid Blown Off"

Donis Casey is the author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries. While researching her own genealogy, she discovered so many ripping tales of settlers, soldiers, cowboys and Indians, murder, dastardly deeds, and general mayhem that she said to herself, “Donis, you have enough material here for ten books.” The award-winning series that resulted, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. The latest installment, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, is now available from Poisoned Pen Press.

Casey is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and now lives in Tempe, AZ, with her husband.

Casey applied the Page 69 Test to Hell With the Lid Blown Off and reported the following:
Hell With the Lid Blown Off takes place in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during the sultry summer of 1916. Storms are brewing all over; the country is teetering on the brink of World War I. Alafair Tucker fears for her children’s future as they grow up and her ability to protect them wanes--and then, a big twister cuts a swath of death and destruction around the county. No family is spared, including Alafair’s. However, no one is going to mourn the loss of Jubal Beldon, who had made it his business to know the ugly secrets of everyone in town. But Jubal was already dead when the tornado carried his body to the middle of a field. Did he die in an accident, or had one the victims of his malicious threats finally had enough?

Page 69 finds Alafair’s son, twenty-year-old Gee Dub Tucker, and his friend Trenton Calder, deputy town sheriff of Boynton, Oklahoma, in a smoky back room of the Rusty Horseshoe roadhouse, looking for Gee Dub’s brother-in-law Walter, who is about to become a father. They are hardly thrilled to find Jubal Beldon at the Rusty Horseshoe as well. True to form, has something to say to the boys that they don’t want to hear. Gee Dub takes exception to Beldon’s remark, and it looks like trouble is brewing...
Trent stepped between them. “I didn’t come here to arrest anybody but I’ll reconsider that policy if you don’t shut up, Beldon. Come on, Gee Dub.”
Over the bar girl’s protest, Gee Dub rose without further comment and the two young men headed for the door. But Jubal wasn’t about to let the opportunity for mischief pass. “Hey, Tucker, did your sister tell you about our encounter on the road a couple of days ago?”

Trent turned around, his eyebrows rising. Encounter?

“Seems that snot-nose little tree climber has got ripe all of a sudden. I think she’s about ready to pluck, and I may be just the man to do it.”

This time it was Trent’s reaction that caused the other people in the room to scoot out of the way, but Gee Dub managed to restrain him. “Calm down, Trent, he ain’t worth it. Think what Scott would say if Dills has us all arrested for riot and mayhem.”

Trent’s face was almost as red as his hair as his friend dragged him toward the door. They were half way back to Boynton before either of them spoke.

“What do you expect he meant about Ruth?” Trent said.

“I don’t know, but I mean to ask her.”

“You figure the Beldons have taken to harassing her? I don’t like that.”

“I figure Jubal just said that to rile me,” Gee Dub speculated. “He likely didn’t know he’d be getting you all hot as well.”

“Well, I plan to keep an eye on her,” Trent declared.

Gee Dub’s mouth quirked up at the corner. “My guess is you planned to do that regardless, Deputy.”

Trent couldn’t tell whether Gee Dub’s tone held approval or disapproval, so he kept quiet. They rode on in silence as their horses picked their way around ruts in the road.
Gee Dub’s sister, seventeen-year-old Ruth, will be closely tied to the investigation into Jubal’s death, which causes great concern to those who love her. I was interested to see that page 69 is the first time that Trent openly betrays his growing affection for Ruth. Trent is surprised that Gee Dub seems to be quite aware of his feelings. That’s always the way it is. Everyone knows you’re in love before you do.
Visit Donis Casey's website.

Writers Read: Donis Casey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Artemis Awakening"

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Firekeeper series, which began with Through Wolf’s Eyes and concluded with Wolf’s Blood, as well as many other fantasy novels.

Lindskold applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Artemis Awakening, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Artemis Awakening falls in the middle of a section, but I do think the line my gaze first rested on would make me read further.
“Griffin, you can’t possibly have ended your tale of the beginning of the end. It seems to me that all the ended were the lives of a few seegnur here on Artemis. What happened after?”
And Griffin goes on to explain. One paragraph in particular gives a vivid sense of just what sort of war this was:
“Bombs that could burrow to a planet’s molten core were launched, splitting planets into fragments. Specialists in fast-than-light travel were assassinated wholesale, thereby eliminating the psychic skills needed to fly the most sophisticated ships. Faster-than-light travel remained possible, but now that the courses of ships could be predicted, defenses could be erected…”
Griffin realizes he’s losing his audience – and admits that he’s losing himself as well – thus placing these events firmly in the context of long ago and far away.

And so he goes on, “In those days of war and destruction… Artemis was lost.”

But obviously, if Griffin is there, Artemis has been found again. Even if the reader hasn’t glanced at the book jacket and learned that Griffin is effectively stranded, I think there might be curiosity as to what this rediscovery could mean.

I also like that this page establishes the science fiction context of the book – but that the mention of psychic pilots makes clear that this is going to be a tale firmly anchored in delight and sense of wonder. And it is… It is indeed…
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jane Lindskold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"The Sixteenth of June"

Maya Lang grew up on Long Island, New York, where she stayed up reading late at night after pretending to be interested in science during the day. The Sixteenth of June, her first novel, is a modern riff on Ulysses that you can enjoy even if you’ve never read a word of Joyce. It was selected by Bookish as one of the best novels of the summer.

Lang applied the Page 69 Test to her novel and reported the following:
I’m pleased to share that page 69 reveals quite a bit about The Sixteenth of June. Here’s a passage:
“But nothing works! She died almost a year ago. A whole year! And here I am, barely holding it together. Sometimes I worry I’m worse.”

“Who’s to say there’s a time limit on grief? Maybe you have to feel worse before you can feel better.”

“I just—I keep waiting for things to feel normal again. But what if they never do?” Nora gazes out the open car door. “Honestly, the only time I feel like myself is when I perform. Which is weird, right?”

“I’ve seen you sing. The place could catch fire and you wouldn’t notice.”

Nora laughs. Stephen remembers first hearing her, in his room at Branford. He had heard her voice coming through the pipes, but when he opened his door, there was nothing. Some sort of trick of sound, the strange acoustics of the old dorm. He wandered upstairs, ducking a Frisbee, the blast of the Spice Girls, a group of freshmen dancing in their pajamas while laughing hysterically. Turning a corner, he finally heard a trickle of her undulating soprano and followed it to its source. He stood in her doorway, watching. The sheet music was spread before her, though her eyes were closed.

She paused to make a notation with a pencil from behind her ear. He cleared his throat. “Too loud?” she asked, unembarrassed.

“You’re amazing,” he blurted.

She laughed.
This passage introduces you to several key elements in the novel: Stephen and Nora’s abiding friendship, which goes back to their days in college, Nora’s talent as a former opera singer now performing jazz, and her paralyzing grief over the loss of her mother. Nearly a year later, Nora keeps waiting for life to feel normal again, for her old sense of self to return, and she feels unmoored.

Stephen, dithering in his seventh year of grad school, is no stranger to feeling lost; he feels appalled by his lack of achievement and struggles with questions about his career. As twentysomethings who feel the future coming at them fast, with friends around them getting married and settling down, Stephen and Nora struggle with expectations—from others as well as themselves—of what they “should” be doing. “It’s not the future we should fear,” Stephen reflects at the end of this chapter. “It’s ourselves.”
Visit Maya Lang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Face Value"

A trial lawyer by day, Michael A. Kahn is the award-winning author of ten novels and several short stories. His new novel, Face Value (Poisoned Pen Press), is the ninth in his Rachel Gold mystery series.

Kahn applied the Page 69 Test to Face Value and reported the following:
Page 69 of Face Value consists of a final paragraph at the end of a transition chapter that is way too complicated to explain. So I flipped the numbers and discovered that page 96 is a far better place to jump into my novel.

The back story: a young associate at a law firm apparently committed suicide by jumping from a top floor of the building’s garage. Except that Stanley Plotkin, one of the firm’s mailroom clerks, is convinced she was murdered, and that her killer is someone at the law firm. Stanley is a genius so hampered by Asperger’s that he’s never gone to college. Among his obsessions is the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), a massive compilation that correlates hundreds of facial muscle actions with specific emotions and mental states. Because Stanley’s autism renders him incapable of intuiting emotions from facial expressions, his mastery of FACS enables him to detect clues about people literally invisible to others.

Rachel Gold and her pal Benny Goldberg (the crude but brilliant law school professor) have narrowed the list of lawyer suspects down to five. Rachel has come up with a clever strategy to make use of Stanley’s unique skill: creation of a tribute video for the dead woman that will feature interviews of several of the lawyers in the law firm, including each of the suspects. Stanley will insert a few key (but seemingly innocuous) questions in the interview script, and then he will study the video later with Rachel to see what clues he can detect from their faces.

Page 96 is the opening of Chapter 22. In the prior chapter, Rachel, Stanley, and Benny had gathered in her office to view the videotape interview of Brian Teever, a senior partner in the firm and one of the suspects. That interview (and the prior chapter) ended abruptly when an angry Teever stormed out of office and the screen went blank. Chapter 22 opens on page 96:
Benny broke the silence with a chuckle. “Now that is what I call genuine cluster fuck.”

A moment of silence, and then Stanley spoke. “If by the term ‘cluster fuck,’ Mr. Goldberg, you are referring to the military slang nomenclature for a confusing or chaotic situation caused by a failure of communication, often involving an excessive amount of personnel attempting to accomplish a given task, then you are mistaken, sir. What you witnessed was not a cluster fuck. What you witnessed was confirmation of Mr. Teever’s motive for killing Sari Bashir.”

“Is that so?” Benny said. “Please enlighten us, Mr. Holmes.”
Visit Michael A. Kahn's website.

Writer Read: Michael A. Kahn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"The Bones Beneath"

Mark Billingham is one of England's best known and top-selling crime writers. He has twice won the Theakston's Old Peculier Award for Best Crime Novel and has also won a Sherlock Award for the Best Detective created by a British writer.

Billingham applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Tom Thorne novel, The Bones Beneath, and reported the following:
As I have not yet seen a copy of the book’s US edition, I am working from page 69 of the book as it will appear in the UK. I’m not sure if there will be a difference between the two editions. The jackets are different – obviously – though both feature a spooky looking lighthouse. And there’s the spelling thing. That colour/color business. What do you guys have against the letter U anyway? It’s harmless enough. I think you’re just being mean…

Page 69 is actually the beginning of chapter eleven. Up to this point, most of the action has taken place on the road, with Tom Thorne and a few of his colleagues escorting a dangerous prisoner called Stuart Nicklin, who has promised to reveal the whereabouts of a victim, killed a quarter of a century before. Their final destination is a remote island off the coast of Wales, and this is the point where they arrive at a small police station; the place where Thorne must leave Nicklin overnight, before setting off for the island the following morning.

Thorne is out of his comfort zone in every possible respect and that starts to really kick in around this point. The difference in the way crime is approached here, the differences in the crimes themselves. He knows that the man with him is a manipulative psychopath, but he is also – weirdly – something of a celebrity. At a tiny police station in a small Welsh village, just having a murderer as an overnight guest, is enough to bring out the “welcoming committee”. But this is a very special murderer indeed:
The detective – a scruffy sod who was wearing half his breakfast on his jacket – feigned a lack of interest, but was clearly there for no other reason than to gawp at their infamous overnight guest.
It is here that Thorne’s growing sense of unease starts to ratchet up. He has had little choice but to take this assignment on, but he knows Nicklin well enough to be aware that the killer has nefarious plans of his own.

Of course he does. This is a crime novel, right?

This is also a turning point in the book as it is the last night Thorne and the rest of them will spend on the mainland, before travelling to the island, where the rest of the action takes place. Bardsey Island is a unique and unworldly place; so much so that several people who have already read the book think that I invented it. It is, in fact, very real, and if anything, even stranger than it appears in the book.

It is all but uninhabited and remote in many senses, with its own micro-climate. The mountain renders the mainland invisible, the waters around it are treacherous and if you’re lucky, on a clear night, you might just glimpse the lights of Dublin. Its amazing marine and birdlife make it a place of Special Scientific Interest. It once had its own King. The absence of light pollution have given it Dark Sky Status. It is also said to be home to the bones of 20,000 saints, though Thorne of course is looking for remains that are rather more recent. What else makes it the perfect setting for a crime novel? Oh yes, there’s no CCTV and you really cannot get a phone signal.

For a crime-writer these days, that is seriously good news.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark Billingham's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Closed Doors"

Lisa O'Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for The Wedding Gift and, in the same year, was nominated for the Dennis Potter New Screenwriters Award. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize.

O'Donnell applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Closed Doors, and reported the following:
On page 69 Michael is listening to his parents have an argument about her college Professor. Ma has told her Professor the secret no one on the Island can know or Michael for that matter. Ma is taking pills to help her sleep on account of “the flasher”. It’s an example of Michael listening at doors again and gleaning as much as he can about his home life and of course the secret Michael’s family are keeping from him.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa O'Donnell's website.

Writers Read: Lisa O'Donnell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Black Rock"

John McFetridge, author of Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and Swap, became fascinated with crime when attending a murder trial at age 12 with his police officer brother. McFetridge has also co-written a short story collection, Below the Line, and wrote for the CBS/CTV television series The Bridge.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Black Rock, and reported the following:
On the back of the book it says:
Montreal 1970. The “Vampire Killer” has murdered three women and a fourth is missing. Bombs explode in the stock exchange, McGill University, and houses in Westmount. Riots break out at the St. Jean Baptiste parade and at Sir George Williams University. James Cross and Pierre Laporte are kidnapped and the Canadian army moves onto the streets of Montreal.

A young beat cop working out of Station Ten finds himself almost alone hunting the serial killer, as the rest of the force focuses on the FLQ crisis. Constable Eddie Dougherty, the son of a French mother and an Irish-Canadian father, decides to take matters into his own hands to catch the killer before he strikes again.
A lot of that has happened by page 69; the riots, the bomb in the stock exchange, the bombs in Westmount, the discovery of the missing woman - girl really, she’s only fifteen - and Constable Eddie Dougherty is pulled into the middle of the investigation. Or what there is of an investigation with everything else that’s going on.

Black Rock is based on real events that happened in Montreal (including the “Vampire Killer”) and when fictionalizing the stories I tried to stay as close as possible to the facts. Every bomb in the novel, every riot, every murder is pretty much as it happened.

Of course, in addition to the bombs that went off there were many bombs scares and false alarms. One of the things I was trying to do with Black Rock was get across the day-to-day feelings of the time, especially what it was like for the cops on the front lines.

On page 69 Constable Eddie Dougherty and a lot of other cops have arrived to search the buildings on the McGill campus after a bomb threat has been phoned in.
“But what if it’s in one of the locked buildings?”

The dispatcher said they’d have to check them all, and Dougherty said, “How many is that?” Before the dispatcher could answer, one of the cops in the break room said, “Delisle arrive,” and everybody straightened up as the Sergeant came up the stairs from the building’s front door, saying, “Mettez vos patins, les boys.”

The first one he saw was Dougherty standing by the dispatcher’s desk and he said, “Okay, Dougherty, you and ...” he looked around and waved a couple of cops out of the break room saying, “... Champoux and Deslauriers, go to the Redpath Building — the museum not the library,” speaking English as he looked back at the dispatcher, saying, “A lot of the buildings are Redpath.”

“The library and the museum,” the dispatcher said. “Redpath Hall, too, I guess, but that’s sort of the same as the library.”

Delisle said, “Sort of,” and looked at Dougherty. “You know where is the museum? Meet the foot patrol, he has the keys.” Then Delisle went into the break room and started speaking French to the other cops, handing out assignments.

Dougherty looked at the dispatcher. “Where is it?”

“Go out to Dr. Penfield,” he said, pointing down the stairs to the front door of the Physical Plant, “turn left and turn left again. It faces in towards the campus, the big lawn. You can’t miss it, it looks just like a museum.”

Walking downhill along Dr. Penfield Avenue, Dougherty said, “If we have to check all the locked buildings, too, we could be here all day.”
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--Marshal Zeringue