Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"Scones and Scoundrels"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Scones and Scoundrels, book two in her Highland Bookshop series, and reported the following:
Here’s page 69 of Scones and Scoundrels in its entirety (short, because it’s the end of chapter 6):
closed, too. She could also stop at Paudel’s Newsagent, Post Office, and Convenience to see what Basant would sell her that she didn’t need. He had a wall of old-fashioned sweetie jars behind his counter and she definitely didn’t need anything from them.

The door jingled. Janet heard Tallie start to greet the customer, but the customer’s own greeting washed right over Tallie’s and drowned her out.

“You must be very happy to see me. People in bookstores usually are.”

That voice. It could only be their visiting author. Janet, hidden from the sight of anyone at the sales counter by the row of tall shelves, cravenly stayed where she was.

“What do you know about this murder last night?” Daphne asked.

“As yet, details are sketchy,” Tallie said in her best lawyer’s voice.

“And I think we need to change that, don’t you?”
In 144 words, page 69 does a pretty good job of representing the rest of Scones and Scoundrels. It establishes the setting, introduces three central characters and gives hints about their personalities by showing tension between them (and within one of them), mentions murder, suggests a need for change, and ends with a question that might compel the reader to turn the page. I could hardly ask six and a half paragraphs to do more. Let’s take it point by point.

Broad: a place where combination Newsagent, Post Office, Convenience shops exist that sell jars of old-fashioned sweeties.
More immediate: a bookshop.
Exact: down a row of tall shelves with Janet.

Janet: works at the bookshop, somewhat self-indulgent, somewhat craven.
Tallie: works at the bookshop, speaks with a lawyer’s voice when necessary.
Daphne: visiting author, inspires cravenness in one strong woman and washes right over another.

Why is Janet thinking about buying sweeties she doesn’t need? Will she? Why does she stay hidden when she recognizes Daphne’s voice?
Why does Daphne speak right over the top of Tallie’s greeting? Are people in bookstores happy to see her?
Did she say murder?
Why does Tallie use her best lawyer’s voice?

Change and a question
What exactly is Daphne asking them to do? Will they?

So, will someone skimming page 69 be inclined to read on? I think readers who enjoy traditional or cozy mysteries just might.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

--Marshal Zeringue