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.”
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--Marshal Zeringue