Friday, November 24, 2017

"Bucket's List"

Gary Blackwood is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and non-fiction titles for children and young adults, including the bestselling Shakespeare series. Born and raised in western Pennsylvania, he now lives in Canada.

Blackwood applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Bucket's List, and reported the following:
When I taught a college-level playwriting course many years ago, I spent a lot of time (more than the students would have liked, I’m sure) stressing the importance of dramatic structure.  It worked so well for writing plays that I started applying it to my books as well.  For a time, I outlined novels in advance, making sure I knew just where the conflict would begin and where the turning point would be, and so on.  I like to think that, by now, hewing to those principles has become second nature.

Looking at page 69 of Bucket’s List, it seems that it has—more or less.   Though I didn’t consciously pay much attention to structure, it’s in there.  That page falls slightly more than a quarter of the way through the book, which (if you don’t get too anal about it) is roughly where the main conflict should get underway.  And as it happens, it’s the spot at which Inspector Field encounters his nemesis, the nefarious Neck, in person for the first time (in the course of this tale, at least)—and lets him get away.  Since the inspector spends the rest of the story trying to catch up with Neck, I think we can successfully argue that this is where the conflict really kicks in.

And is page 69 representative of the book as a whole?  Well, I think that any reader who dips a toe into the book, so to speak, at this point in order to test the waters will get a pretty good idea of what lurks beneath the surface.  First off, we’re thrust into the middle of an action scene, as Neck flees and Charley tries to stop him:
Though he’s no crack shot, the revolver is his best bet.  He has no qualms about plugging the man; whether he killed Rosa or not, he’s committed more than enough crimes to deserve shooting.  Charley rests the gun butt on the window sill, wraps his finger—the middle one, not the crooked index finger—around the trigger, takes careful aim, fires.

The bullet finds its target; Neck falls to his knees, clawing at his shattered shoulder blade.  Charley is sure he’s done for.  But that’s what the hangman thought, too.  It seems the damned villain is indestructible.  He’s down for only a moment before he staggers to his feet and stumbles forward.  When he reaches the far end of the roof, he swings himself over the edge and disappears.
Then we get to see Inspector Field doing what he does best: gathering and interpreting clues—or at least trying to:
The detective scans the pavement for drops of blood or footprints that might lead him in the right direction, but it’s hopeless; there’s too little light and too much slush.  Among the many valuable things Charley learned during his policing career is his vast vocabulary of curse words.  Normally he makes sparing use of them, but now he avails himself of all his favorites.

Returning to the alley, he surveys the side of the harness shop.  He’s always despised drainpipes; they provide much too convenient a ladder for lead-stealers and attic thieves.  Now he has even more reason to hate them; it’s obvious from the way the pipe is pulled away from the brick wall that, despite his grievous wound, Neck somehow managed to clamber down it.
There’s more to the story than just action and detection, of course, and more to Charley’s character as well, but those two elements crop up again and again--as they tend to do in mysteries.
Learn more about Bucket's List.

My Book, The Movie: Bucket's List.

--Marshal Zeringue