Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Heather and Homicide"

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 her latest Highland Bookshop Mystery, Heather and Homicide, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It had to be Rab, but she wouldn’t swear to it. Urgent? She checked for customers looking for help. Happy browsers only. She got her binoculars from the office and first tried looking through a front window toward the headland. But the angle wasn’t right and the panes of old glass with their minor distortions didn’t help. She went out onto the front pavement.

The towering rock wall of the headland rose from the sea on the northern edge of Inversgail. How high? A hundred feet? More. The library sat on top like a toy from this distance. Middle square, he’d said, far left. Janet scrutinized the area she thought Rab—or whoever—meant.

Sweeping left and right, she worked her way up the rock face. Just call it what it is. A cliff. A monstrous, freaking enormous edge. Left, right, left, slowly, slow . . . until she saw . . . what? Something. Someone? On a ledge. How far up that—wait. No. It bloody well can’t be.

The shop door opened behind Janet and she heard Tallie call, “Mom?”

“She’s there, Tallie, clinging to the headland. Halfway up. It’s Heather!”
That’s all there is to Page 69 in Heather and Homicide. It’s short because it comes at the end of a chapter. Does that make it harder to pass the browsing test? It might make it easier. Browsers are jumping in at a moment of urgency and suspense – the word “urgent” shows up right there in the first line. And they quickly discover the dangerous situation Heather, the titular character, is in. The chapter ending is a literal cliffhanger, one that I hope makes readers and page 69 browsers turn the page to see what happens next.

The book is a traditional or cozy mystery, though, so does that come through in this short page? The passage offers a clue with the phrase “freaking enormous.” Another kind of book might have used stronger language. And there are details like the library sitting on top of the headland “like a toy” and Tallie opening the shop door and calling “Mom?” So yes, depending on what browsers are looking for, page 69 might give them a glimpse of what to expect in the book. It’s only a glimpse, but jacket copy is just another kind of glimpse, and between the jacket and page 69 a browser might be convinced to take the book home from the library or bookstore.

Heather and Homicide gave me a chance to spend more time with people I enjoy – and a chance to confound them by introducing them to Heather. How do ordinary people rise to the challenge of discovering and exposing a murderer in their midst? The women who own Yon Bonnie Books use their strengths – their relationships with each other and their new relationships with people in Inversgail, and the skills developed in their previous careers and through their years of observing and caring about others. That might not come through in the snippet on page 69, but I hope readers find it in the rest of the pages.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

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--Marshal Zeringue