Saturday, August 9, 2014

"The Good Know Nothing"

Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies, been honorably mentioned in Best American Short Stories, and earned National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. His novels have been chosen as an Ernest Hemingway Best First Fiction Book, a Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and a Shamus Awards Best Novel. The novels are Midheaven and the Tom Hickey California Crime series.

Kuhlken applied the Page 69 Test to the new Tom Hickey novel, The Good Know Nothing, and reported the following:
The scene features L.A. police detective Tom Hickey, a film producer named Hopper, and a man who calls himself Hal Croves, whom Tom suspects is actually Ret Marut, the author who goes by the pseudonym B. Traven, and who Tom believes stole and published his missing father's novel manuscript and perhaps killed his father to get it. The three are in a bar, the Pitcairn, on Santa Catalina Island where Hopper, at Tom's behest, has lured the author by offering the possibility of a film adaptation of The Death Ship, the novel in question.
The men [Tom and Marut] sat crouched like bare knuckle boxers consigned to their respective corners. So he [Hopper] returned, seated himself, and rested a hand on Marut’s shoulder. “Mind I call you Hal?”

“If you prefer.”

The producer made a fist as if to reach across and give Tom’s arm a good-natured tap, which he then chose not to deliver. “Hal rode the train the whole godawful way [from Mexico City]. How about that? What, a couple thousand miles, mostly desert.”

“Twenty five hundred kilometers.”

“Pullman car?”


“Hot as hell?”

“I have known worse.” Marut spoke English with a slight Germanic gruffness and diction.
The waiter arrived, costumed in an eye patch and his head wrapped with a bandana. “What’ll it be, blokes?” he rasped.

Hopper called for a bottle of Irish whiskey and three tumblers.

Tom had already convicted the man across from him. Back on the dock, on account of Marut’s reaction to his appearance and to his mention of Charlie Hickey, he had shed all doubt.
Still, he would need to convince Florence, Madeline, and perhaps a judge and jury. So he continued to collect and memorize evidence, such as the book thief’s every expression and move appearing either nervous or sly.

The bottle arrived. The producer poured, two fingers in each tumbler. A long and a short swallow helped Tom speak in level tones. “Let’s take it from the top. Charlie Hickey goes to sea, comes back home and writes about his travels.” He shoved the bottle at the man. “Take it from there. Where’d you bump into him, Mister Traven?”

The man poured a second dose and sipped. “Traven, I am not.”

“Then you’re going to take me to Traven. Correct? And he’s going to take me to Charlie Hickey. Correct?”

“This is not possible,” the man said in a voice that hinted of apology.

Tom reached for the bottle. He sensed, or detected from the man’s face, what was coming. He closed his eyes.
The page offers a glimpse of the quest that drives the whole story, and it shows Tom's dark and restless state of mind and his determination to get at the truth, no matter how painful it might be.

So it passes the page 69 test, right?
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--Marshal Zeringue