Thursday, July 29, 2021


Richard Lange’s stories have appeared in The Sun, The Iowa Review, and Best American Mystery Stories, and as part of the Atlantic Monthly’s Fiction for Kindle series. "Apocrypha" was awarded the 2015 Short Story Dagger by Great Britain's Crime Writers' Association. He is the author of the collections Dead Boys and Sweet Nothing and the novels This Wicked World, Angel Baby, which won the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers, The Smack and the newly released Rovers. He received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow.

Lange applied the Page 69 Test to Rovers and reported the following:
On page 69 of Rovers, the two main characters of the book, Jesse and his mentally-challenged brother, Edgar, return to a Phoenix bowling alley where Jesse previously met a girl who is the spitting image of his long-lost love, Claudine. One thing to note about the brothers: They’re rovers, nearly indestructible beings who live by night and must consume human blood in order to survive.

From page 69:
Edgar sways and grunts and jabs at the flipper buttons on a pinball machine. Jesse’s at the bar. They’ve returned to the bowling alley after Jesse lay awake all day, buffeted by a flood of memories triggered by meeting Johona, memories he thought were lost to him for good.

There Claudine was, humming French songs in the moonlight; there she was, sipping champagne in a San Francisco hotel, New Year’s Eve 1902; there she was, the shine of her hair, the swish of her skirts, the seaside rhythm of her breath in sleep.

Time devours memories, gnaws the meat off them and crunches the bones. [AM1] Jesse’s always considered this a blessing. Better to be focused on the here and now when you’re forever on the hunt, forever being hunted. Better not to be daydreaming about Mama’s peach pie or a departed lover’s touch. But maybe he’s been wrong. Because tonight, for the first time in a long while, he doesn’t wish he was dead. In fact, after spending hours caught up in the torrent of reminiscence, he feels as if a crust of mud that’d been weighing him down has cracked and fallen away. That’s why, as soon as the sun set, he roused Edgar and said, “Let’s go back to that place we were last night.”
Someone opening to this page would get an intriguing glimpse of what the rest of the book is about, both in plot and theme. Jessie’s long-repressed grief over the death of Claudine and his desperate desire to save Johona, the girl from the bowling alley, from a similar fate are major motivators for his later actions, and this is the page where those drivers are introduced.

The page also contains an observation of the corrosive effect of time on memory, a theme the book returns to often, something inevitable in a story featuring characters who are essentially immortal and, some of them, already hundreds of years old.

Jesse’s decision to return to the bowling alley to see Johona again against his better instincts is the spark that ignites the book. When Johona winds up on the wrong side of a gang of savage rover bikers, the Fiends, all hell breaks loose, and Jesse, Edgar, and Johona are soon running for their lives across the American Southwest. Rovers is a supernatural-tinged revenge tale that I hope will both thrill and move readers, and this page, page 69, is where things start to get sticky.
Learn more about the book and author at Richard Lange's website.

The Page 69 Test: This Wicked World.

The Page 69 Test: Angel Baby.

The Page 69 Test: The Smack.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

"Murder in a Teacup"

Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, the Catskill Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to the new Tea by the Sea mystery, Murder in a Teacup, and reported the following:
By page 69, the scene has been set at Tea by the Sea tea room, the tea drunk, the scones eaten. Guests have arrived at Victoria-on-Sea B&B overlooking Cape Cod Bay. And the guests are not, to put it mildly, getting on. Meanwhile, Rose Campbell, owner of Victoria-on-Sea tries to have a pleasant visit with an old friend, and Lily Roberts, owner and head cook at Tea By The Sea only wants to make tender flaky scones and delicious sandwiches and pastries.
We heard voices coming from the drawing room and Éclair ran in to say hello.

“I’m calling an ambulance,” Trisha said.

“Are you sure? Maybe you should wait to see how he is in the morning,” Brian said.

“Of course, I’m sure. I know—”

I popped my head in. “Sorry to interrupt. Is it Tyler? Is he having delayed problems because of the crash this afternoon?”

“It’s my husband, Ed,” Trisha said. “He’s not well. He’s feeling sick.”

“Do what you want, Trisha,” Brian said. “I really don’t care. I’ve had enough drama for one day.”

“I hardly think it’s our fault your fool of a grandson stole a motorcycle,” Trisha said.

“I don’t think we want to get into that now,” Heather said. “But I agree with Brian. Let’s wait until morning. Oh, is that your dog, Lily? So cute. What’s his name?” She crouched down, holding out her hand, palm up, and clicked her tongue. Éclair’s little tail wiggled in ecstasy as she accepted the attention.

“I don’t need anyone’s approval.” Trisha pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I’m calling an ambulance.”

“I’m going to bed,” Brian said. “Wake me if something important happens. Darlene, are you coming?”

“Be right there.”

Brian walked past us, shaking his head. “Much ado about nothing,” he muttered as he went up the stairs. “Guy ate something that didn’t agree with him. Wimp.”

He passed Julie-Ann, coming down.

Trisha stood in the center of the drawing room, phone in hand. She glanced between one person and another, clearly undecided on what course of action to take.
Page 69 is a perfect reflection, I think, of Murder in A Teacup, as on this one page much of the conflict between the characters and their personal dramas comes out. By page 69 temperatures are flaring, old resentments are being remembered, and new ones created. Before we get to page 69, the B&B guests, a family visiting from Iowa, have enjoyed a full afternoon tea at Tea by the Sea. Apart from a minor accident when a teenage boy stole the gardener’s motorcycle and crashed into a stone wall (fortunately nothing hurt but his dignity) the tea appeared to have gone off without a hitch and everyone got on reasonably well. But on page 69 we realize that that might have been an illusion. One of the guests has taken ill, and the family feud raises its head again, when we see how everyone reacts to the news.

Page 69 also ends at a bit of a cliff-hanger. What will Trisha do? Call an ambulance, or let Ed sleep if off? Whatever ‘it’ is. And if Ed is sick, was it something he ate at Tea by the Sea? If so, what might be the consequences for Lily’s fledging tea room?
Visit Vicki Delany's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 25, 2021

"The Shadow People"

After spending the 1990s as a homeless heroin addict in San Francisco, Joe Clifford got off the streets and turned his life around. He earned his MFA from Florida International University in 2008, before returning to the Bay Area, where he currently lives with his wife and two sons (Holden and Jackson Kerouac). His autobiographical novel, Junkie Love, chronicles his battle with drugs and was published by Battered Suitcase (2010). He is the author of the award-winning Jay Porter series, as well as several standalones including The One That Got Away, The Lakehouse, and the newly released The Shadow People.

Clifford applied the Page 69 Test to The Shadow People and reported the following:
The Shadow People centers around Brandon Cossey, a twenty-three-year-old recent college grad, who has returned to his adoptive home following the disappearance of his childhood best friend Jacob Balfour. Jacob, who suffers from schizophrenia, has vanished in the past. But never for this long. Jacob’s mother insists he’s been doing better, on his meds, holding down a job. Mom leaves for work. Brandon spends the night in his old childhood bed. In the morning, he pokes around his missing friend’s room, uncovering a homemade conspiracy periodical, Illuminations, which tells Brandon that Jacob is anything but well.

Page 69 is our introduction to the character of Francis Balfour, the family’s estranged equally mentally ill grandfather. Francis is a stranger to Brandon, who came to live with the Balfours when he was quite young, on the heels of his own troubled childhood, so he has no conscious recollection of the old man. Through a confluence of events, Brandon, with great reluctance and apprehension, will find himself on a road trip with Francis, as the two men set out to discover what happened to Jacob.

This is the second time I’ve done the 69 test, and I am again surprised by how well it’s worked. I can’t recall the specifics of the last time (or even what book it was for!), but I remember being struck by how appropriate that passage was. It is spot-on this time as well. Francis is a pivotal character in The Shadow People. Though the story is told via first person through Brandon’s eyes, in many ways, the book is as much Francis’s story, he its narrator, which leaves us, the reader, to determine just how reliable his version of events are. Francis is Brandon’s foil. Not just in terms of age, with Brandon twenty-three and Francis in his seventies. Brandon comes across as a straight arrow, a “what you see is what you get” kind of character. Francis is, well, out there. The two men have opposing attitudes and viewpoints about Jacob, life, and everything in-between. The novel hinges on whose POV we accept. While at first, the answer seems obvious—Brandon, the one who isn’t crazy—the tone and twists of the narrative play with that assumption. Maybe in a crazy world, one needs to be a little crazy to survive. It certainly helps in their search for Jacob to have someone like Francis, who thinks like a madman thinks, a variation on “takes one to know one.”
Visit Joe Clifford's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lakehouse.

My Book, The Movie: The Lakehouse.

Q&A with Joe Clifford.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow People.

Writers Read: Joe Clifford.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 23, 2021

"When the Sparrow Falls"

Neil Sharpson lives in Dublin with his wife and their two children. Having written for theatre since his teens, Sharpson transitioned to writing novels in 2017, adapting his own play The Caspian Sea into When The Sparrow Falls.

A huge fan of animation, Sharpson writes Unshaved Mouse, a comedic review blog mostly focusing on animated film and comic book movies.

He applied the Page 69 Test to When The Sparrow Falls and reported the following:
From page 69:
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, and extended her hand.

StaSec is not in the business of shaking hands. I ignored her.

“I am to take you to identify your husband’s remains.” A look of mild confusion passed over her features but I continued. “Before we leave the airport I must ensure that you understand the conditions of your stay here.”

“All right,” she said, quietly.

I had been given a specific text to read to her. Fortunately, the morning light had improved enough that I could actually read it.

“You have been granted the status of natural-born human by special dispensation of the Parliament of the Caspian Republic”…
Page 69 (in the US edition at least) sees StaSec Agent Nikolai South meeting his charge at an airport, the visiting AI dignitary Lily Xirau. She tries to be friendly, he is curt and brusque and begins to read a long and increasingly absurd list of restrictions that will be placed on her during her time in the Caspian republic (“in the event of your death, in the eyes of the law you will be considered dead and will be legally obliged to remain so”). This continues until Lily interrupts South with a polite but firm suggestion that they continue this in the car where it's warmer so that she won’t have to stand on the cold tarmac.

I was genuinely surprised at how well this test worked for When the Sparrow Falls. We join right at the beginning of what will be the single most important relationship in the book, that of Nikolai South and Lily Xirau. We learn about StaSec, the anti AI ideology that underpins the Caspian Republic and perhaps most importantly we get the ambience of a paranoid Soviet era state. It’s also a very good introduction to Lily, gentle and polite but with a core of iron. It’s less representative of Nikolai, who here comes across as a rigid and inflexible government bureaucrat rather than the extremely canny and compassionate man he truly is. But all in all, I think Page 69 does a very good job of setting out the book’s stall. I’ll definitely be trying this out next time I’m down the book shop.
Visit Neil Sharpson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

"Flash Fire"

TJ Klune is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author (Into This River I Drown) and an ex-claims examiner for an insurance company. His novels include the Green Creek series, The House on the Cerulean Sea and The Extraordinaries. Being queer himself, Klune believes it's important—now more than ever—to have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Flash Fire, the sequel to The Extraordinaries, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Flash Fire shows Nick Bell and his father—Aaron—having a discussion about the antagonist of the series—Simon Burke—and the history he shares with Jennifer Bell, Aaron’s deceased wife who is also Nick’s mother. Their familial histories are more intertwined than Nick knew, and he is learning the truth of certain events for the first time.

The “Page 69 Test” absolutely works for this book, and well at that. Nick’s relationship with his father has always been just as important as Nick’s romantic relationship with his boyfriend, Seth, but never more so than in Flash Fire. Aaron Bell is not a perfect man and has, in fact, made many mistakes, some small, some much larger. This is a big plot point in Flash Fire, the idea of trust and keeping secrets and the lengths people will go to in order to protect those they love. Aaron has kept certain things hidden from his son, but not because of anything malicious. As a single parent, he would do anything to protect his kid, even if that means going about it in ways that could potentially damage their relationship. In addition, it shows Nick finally being comfortable enough to ask questions he’s always wondered about but never found the courage to say out loud, given how fresh the passing of Jennifer is in both their minds. This particular scene also acts as a catalyst for Nick as he begins to understand that his father, while being honest here, is still hiding things, things that could affect the future of the Extraordinaries.

Flash Fire is about discovery, about dragging secrets from the shadows into the light, and dealing with the fallout from what’s revealed. It’s about trust and how tenuous it can be, and the hard decisions parents make in order to ensure their children are safe. Are they right? Are they wrong? Or does that even matter? There is power in truth, power in knowledge, and Nick’s past is about to collide with his present, changing the course of his future forever. It’s going to be a wild ride and I, for one, am so excited for the reader to see what happens.
Visit TJ Klune's website.

Q&A with TJ Klune.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 19, 2021


Hermione Hoby grew up in Bromley, in south London, and graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2007 with a double first in English Literature. After working on the Observer’s New Review she moved to New York in 2010. She has written for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's, and others. She has also interviewed hundreds of cultural figures including Toni Morrison, Naomi Campbell, Laurie Anderson, Debbie Harry and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.

Her debut novel, Neon in Daylight, is a two-time New York Times editors’ choice.

Hoby applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, Virtue, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel, appropriately enough for the lewdest number we have, includes a passage about sexuality. Our narrator, Luca, is in the studio of Paula, an older woman and artist who's interrogating him about his sex life. Luca has just recalled, but not divulged, an instance at a posh birthday party where he somewhat passively received a blowjob from a guy called Sandy. Here's the whole page in full:
I don’t know what happened to Sandy or where he is now. It’s hard to retain a sense of the reality of people, by which I mean their human fullness. Sandy, of course, would always be a full person to himself, a thousand different planes. But in my memory, he appears just as a mirrored blow job, one image repeated endlessly. One time years later, in the infinity room of a Japanese artist, I would have to suppress an erection I would never have been able to explain.

I don’t think the simple word bisexual even occurred to me in those years. The great flowering of queerness and sexual expression was well underway, a revolution of sorts as people all over social media claimed their pronouns and confirmed their identities, but I never considered how any of this might apply to me. One day I opened up Instagram and thought, Who’s this cute, butch-looking, eyelinered girl I seem to be following? My friend Tim had become Thalia—overnight, it seemed, but that was just the disjunctive nature of the stupid app. So I approved from the sidelines while failing to reckon personally with sexuality and its grayness. Or not grayness, maybe, but its many-colored mess, like one of Paula’s palettes at the end of the day, smudged and smeared into dingy browns but still flecked with flashes of vivid pigment. Generally, I liked the idea of a man admiring me and wanting me, but the carnal reality of bodies and what went where, made me squeamish. Women were softer, easier. Plus, the script of straightness was already written, making it easier to play the part. Maybe heterosexuality was nothing but a great shared failure of imagination.

I didn’t say any of this to Paula, of course. She was talking about love now. People love to talk about love as an absolute. She was saying love was like being both cut in half and multiplied by two. Cut in half because you lost a portion of yourself to it but doubled because the two of you became magnified.
I suppose this passage is fairly representative when it comes to Luca's personality: gauche, uncertain, thoughtful, hesitant. As for the book as a whole, Luca's vague bewilderment with shifting gender mores is only a minor current. Like most writers of fiction, I want it to be a book "about" many things. Not a hot take, but a very cold, very slow, geologic accretion of something.

As I reread it now and come across Paula wanging on about love as an absolute, I suppose - and hope! - that this bit speaks to that line above about heterosexuality - whose absolute quality is also, of course, a fallacy! What a vital thing that is, resisting absolutes. It's why I read novels and why I try and write them, too. With this book I was particularly concerned with the competing meanings of "the good life", as in, the life of comfort and pleasure on the one hand, and the life of ethical and civic duty on the other. The unrelenting hideousness of the previous administration made a lot of us ask whether beauty and duty can be reconciled - we should keep that question urgent.
Visit Hermione Hoby's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 17, 2021

"Man on Fire"

Humphrey Hawksley has reported on key trends, events and conflicts from all over the world.

His work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him to crises on every continent.

Hawksley applied the Page 69 Test to his new Rake Ozenna thriller, Man on Fire, and reported the following:
On page 69 Rake Ozenna’s undercover special forces team has flown from Alaska to a remote settlement on the far eastern Russian coast. They are looking for documents that will eventually lead Rake to the discovery of a dreadful of modern warfare. The team is in the main government building searching files with Korav, the leader of the settlement. Outside, a vehicle carrying Russian enemies speeds toward them. There is a twist in that Korav belongs to the same indigenous Bering Strait tribe as Rake. Will Korav side with Rake, even if he is an American, or with the Russians. Rake has seconds to decide. His team is in lethal danger.

Readers would get a pretty good idea about Man on Fire at several levels from page 69. The pace is fast. Knife-edge choices need to be made is seconds. There is a sense that whatever is discovered here will lead to something far worse because Rake’s challenges are behind-the-headlines global threats. There is a hint of breakthrough on page 69 in that Korav and Rake share heritage that has been divided by White Man’s politics, and Korav needs something from Rake. His brother is missing. The chapter ends on a cliff-edge as the Russian enemy is moments away. Is Korav and ally or an enemy? How will Rake get his team out of this one?

Page 69 builds tension before a high-octane action scene in the next chapter. Before getting there, the reader will be taken to the landscape of the remote U.S.-Russian border where nuclear-armed superpowers face each other across the narrow Bering Strait. This is vivid scene-setting. Very few thrillers use this location and none in as much detail. As the narrative gathers pace, Rake’s flaws and determination are displayed. By page 69, the reader will have met Carrie Walker, Rake’s on-off girlfriend, the one woman he’s unable to get out of his mind. They are soul mates but they come from two very different worlds. The reader will have been introduced to Harry Lucas, a private security contractor, to whom Rake reports and Harry’s ex-wife. Baroness Stephanie Lucas of Clapham, the British foreign secretary, takes readers behind the scenes to battles and turf fights inside the corridors of power. Twenty pages earlier, readers would have glimpsed Ruslan Yumatov, whom one critic described as ‘a hard-ass, cold-stoned, iron-like man with unparalleled determination! You gotta love Yumatov, he is fierce!’ As the saying goes, a good villain makes the story. As for Rake, the great Nelson DeMille says simply, “We’re glad he’s on our side.’
Visit Humphrey Hawksley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The History Book.

The Page 69 Test: Man on Ice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 15, 2021

"The Boy in the Photo"

Nicole Trope went to university to study Law but realized the error of her ways when she did very badly on her first law essay because—as her professor pointed out—'It's not meant to be a story.' She studied teaching instead and used her holidays to work on her writing career and complete a Masters' degree in Children's Literature. After the birth of her first child she stayed home full time to write and raise children, renovate houses and build a business with her husband.

The idea for her first published novel, The Boy Under the Table, was so scary that it took a year for her to find the courage to write the emotional story. Her second novel, Three Hours Late, was voted one of Fifty Books you can't put down in 2013 and her third novel, The Secrets in Silence, was The Australian Woman's Weekly Book of the month for June 2014.

Trope lives in Sydney with her husband and three children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Boy in the Photo and reported the following:
From page 69:
‘Maybe I can live with Nana and Pop?’ he once said to Daddy.

‘They don’t want you either. No one in that family does. I’m the only one who truly loves you, Daniel, the only one.’

He is hungry but he won’t wake Daddy up. He gets angry if he’s woken up. He touches his cheek because he can feel he’s crying again and he’s not allowed to cry. He is not allowed to be ‘weak’. But sometimes it’s hard not to cry when there is a ball of sadness inside him all the time. He wishes he could make it go away but he can’t. He’s almost used to it now and he knows to only cry quietly so Daddy doesn’t hear him.

He wipes his face. He needs to be strong and he needs to be grateful that Daddy loves him. He can’t cry. He has to be strong and he has to be grateful.
This was quite fascinating to read and a pretty good test of what the novel is about, although it benefits from context.

In this passage readers are experiencing the world from Daniel’s perspective. When he is abducted at six years old by his father, Greg, he is a happy, loving child. Greg makes it his mission to turn Daniel against this mother and extended family. It is a necessary part of Greg’s control and in this passage the confusion and despair Daniel is feeling are very evident. He is seven years old and still longing for his old life.

He has little choice but to believe whatever his father tells him because he has been removed from everything else he has ever known. When Daniel returns at twelve, he is troubled and distant, but when reading through his chapters, it becomes apparent why this is the case. His experience of the world after being taken by his father shapes his personality and Daniel is the child around whom the whole novel revolves. The concept of parental alienation which is when one parent attempts to turn their child against the other parent is vividly on display here. Readers can hopefully feel Daniel’s bewilderment even as they witness the first in a long line of changes in his personality that turn him into the angry, aggressive child who returns home after six years. Here he attempts to find a way to be in the world, knowing his mother no longer loves him. And once Greg has convinced him of this-he has forever changed who Daniel is.
Follow Nicole Trope on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"The Cruelest Mercy"

Natalie Mae is an ex-programmer, a dark chocolate enthusiast, and an author of young adult novels. She has also been a freelance editor and a Pitch Wars mentor, and she feels it notable to mention she once held a job where she had to feed spiders. When not writing, she can be found wandering the Colorado wilderness with her family.

Mae applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Cruelest Mercy, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gold satin drapes the giant four-poster bed instead of blue, and crystal-topped tables for dining gleam outside on the balcony, where practice swords and reading chairs once sat. Gossamer curtains shimmer like fireflies before the windows, an airy gold instead of silver.

I think of the dusty feed room I grew up in, the cot I slept on last night across from Hen. But it’s a little hard to appreciate that all this finery is mine when it feels like I’ve stolen it.

Jet watches me, the hint of a real smile in his eyes. “Now it’s a proper ballroom.”

I step in farther, past a couch with lion’s paws for feet, running my hand over its polished wooden back. Wishing I knew what to say. Wishing I knew how to fix this for him. I’m just starting to turn when a fuzzy head pops out from around the archway to the pool room, and Jade streaks over in a blur of spots.

Human! she squeaks in her sweet voice. Play! Toy?

“You’re here, too!” I scoop her up, though my heart still twists. “Now it’s perfect.”

Jade, like most kittens, is not impressed with this or any displays of affection, and wiggles incessantly. No love. Play! Play!

“All right, all right,” I grumble, setting her down. I scoop a feathered cat toy from the floor and throw it to the other side of the room. Jade tears after it, as fast as an arrow.

Jet watches her go, the afternoon light deepening his coronation tunic to a river blue.

I trace the cactuses carved into the back of the couch. “What can I do to help?”
Page 69 actually works decently well for the book without revealing any major spoilers! There are a number of things happening here, from the descriptions of the lavish new surroundings Zahru now possesses (and how drastically different they are from what she's used to), and also the building tension between her and Prince Jet, who she had just begun to consider in a romantic capacity -- except, as fate would have it, she's now unintentionally usurped his crown. You can see that relationship begin to strain here as Zahru struggles with how to make this right for him. And of course, I love to trail humor through my books no matter how dark they get, and the moment with Jade, Zahru's new kitten, hits on that.

Where this could be deceiving, though, is that this doesn't hint at the darker turn Zahru will take in this book, or how desperate she'll become to pursue what she believes is right in this story. This is a snapshot of a playful scene, but the issues the book will tackle will be much heavier. So readers could assume, if the test is to be believed, that the story will be light or floofy where it often is not. However, combined with the synopsis for the book, this might be the perfect way to see that there will be a balance of lighter moments throughout, which could help the reader decide if this was their kind of book!
Visit Natalie Mae's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Kinder Poison.

Q&A with Natalie Mae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 11, 2021

"Her Last Breath"

Hilary Davidson was a journalist before she turned to the dark side and started writing crime fiction. Her novels include the Lily Moore series—The Damage Done, The Next One to Fall, and Evil in All Its Disguises—the bestselling Shadows of New York series—One Small Sacrifice and Don’t Look Down—and the standalone novels Blood Always Tells and Her Last Breath.

Davidson applied the Page 69 Test to Her Last Breath and reported the following:
From page 69:
I found the printout of Caro’s email. “I got a message from my sister yesterday. She wrote it just before she died. You need to read it.” I slid it across the table so that he could.

“You got this yesterday?” Villaverde raised a dubious eyebrow. “She died over a week ago.”

“Caro set the message up to go out if she died.”

“How do we know this is legit? Anybody could set something up online.”

“My sister is the only person in the world who’d make these references to our family.”

He gave it a quick once-over. “She called you Dodo in it. That’s your nickname?”

“It was when I was in kindergarten. She was Caro and I was Dodo. That’s what our parents called us.” I didn’t understand why he was zeroing in on the least interesting part of the message. “There’s more to it than that. I keep thinking of Mom, and how you never believe you’re going to end up like one of your parents, until you do.” I took a breath. “That’s a reference to a letter my mother wrote a long time ago. It’s the real reason I know this email is from my sister. Literally no one else knows these details about my family.”

“What details?”

At that moment, it would’ve been easier to strip down to my underwear and hurl myself out a window than tell him the truth. But what choice did I have? “My father used to hit my mother. They argued all the time, and it would get physical. Especially when he was drinking, which was pretty often back then.”

“Were the police ever called?”

I started to laugh, before I caught myself. “We were supposed to act like it didn’t happen. In my family, it was a bigger crime to tell an outsider about private stuff than it was for my father to hit my mom in the first place.” My parents were immigrants from Northern Ireland; nothing was more sacred to them than their code of silence.
In this scene, Her Last Breath’s main character, Deirdre Crawley, has finally gone to the police with the disturbing message she received from her sister, Caroline, on the day of Caroline’s funeral. Deirdre has been reluctant to get the NYPD involved, but after trying to investigate herself and hitting a wall, she feels like she has no choice.

Part of the reason Deirdre didn’t want to go to the cops is because she doubts they’ll believe her. Caroline’s note told Deirdre not only that she was afraid of her wealthy husband, Theo, but that Theo killed his first wife and got away with it. At this point in the story, Deirdre has already confirmed that the note is legit, Theo was married before, and that his first wife is indeed dead. For Detective Villaverde to go back to Square One and question the legitimacy of the letter is frustrating for her and feels like a waste of time.

But there is more to Deirdre’s discomfort than meets the eye. She’s afraid of the police digging into her family history, which is mentioned in the letter. Detective Villaverde is not wrong to focus on that and to force Deirdre to spell out what Caroline is referring to. Deirdre is a character of action, one who wants justice, but she’s also terrified of revisiting her past. She would rather be alone and remain estranged from her family than discuss the abuse that happened when she was growing up. That code of silence she talks about her parents having is something she definitely inherited from them. But in this scene, Deirdre starts to understand that she can’t keep family secrets buried if she wants justice for her sister.
Learn more about the book and the author at the official Hilary Davidson site.

The Page 69 Test: The Damage Done.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Always Tells.

The Page 69 Test: One Small Sacrifice.

The Page 69 Test: Don't Look Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 9, 2021

"Death on the Night of Lost Lizards"

Julia Buckley has loved reading and writing since childhood. She is still a sucker for a great story, and, like any bibliophile, she loves libraries, Scholastic Book Fairs, the smell of ink, pads and pens, typewriters, and books you can't put down. She lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband Jeff; she has two grown sons and a beautiful daughter-in-law.

Buckley applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Death on the Night of Lost Lizards, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Death on the Night of Lost Lizards contains a bit of a spoiler for readers of the series, but it also identifies a very powerful central reality of the books: the psychic power of Hanna's grandmother. Runa Wolf, who was introduced in Book 2, had asked Hanna's grandmother to read her tea leaves. The older woman foresaw not only that Runa was pregnant, but that her baby, a girl, would face some unknown danger. Page 69 of Book 3 finally reveals the nature of that danger.

Browsers opening to this page wouldn't get a sense of the full story, which emerges as a rather complicated web, but would get a sense of several things. First, they would take note of the fact that Runa is confiding in Hanna. The two had grown closer by the end of Book 2 but this confidence marks a new intimacy in their relationship. Second, the reader can see a new maturity in Runa, whose previous priorities had been utterly different. Third, it is clear that both Runa and Hanna have complete faith in her grandmother's ability to see truths unavailable to others.

While page 69 does not reveal anything about the central mystery, it does focus on an underlying thread woven throughout the series. Themes of family, conflict, hope and the importance of making the right choice will be echoed in the larger mystery. These themes are symbolized as well by a tapestry which hangs in the tea house depicting the world tree or vilagfa, which depicts the upper, middle and lower worlds (similar to heaven, earth and hell) and implies that people's choices determine bliss or suffering.

The series is set at Christmas time, and the holiday backdrop also emphasizes the importance of hope and goodness within the human soul.
Learn more about the book and author at Julia Buckley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Death on the Night of Lost Lizards.

Q&A with Julia Buckley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 7, 2021


Tracy Clark is the author of the highly acclaimed Chicago Mystery Series featuring ex-homicide cop turned PI Cassandra Raines, a hard-driving, African-American protagonist who works the mean streets of the Windy City dodging cops, cons, killers, and thugs. Clark received Anthony Award and Lefty Award nominations for her series debut, Broken Places, which was also shortlisted for the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List, named a CrimeReads Best New PI Book of 2018, a Midwest Connections Pick, and a Library Journal Best Books of the Year. In addition to her Cass Raines novels, Clark’s short story “For Services Rendered,” appears in the anthology Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors. A native of Chicago, she works as an editor in the newspaper industry and roots for the Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks equally.

Clark applied the Page 69 Test to Runner, her new Cass Raines mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
There was an unmarked cop car idling a couple slots from my car when I got to it, and I stopped to watch as Detective Dan Hogan got out and walked over to me.

“I know I said I didn’t mind the extra eyes, but things are getting a little crowded, aren’t they?” He said.

“I’m playing catchup,” I said. “Shaw seemed like an important person to talk to.”

“And? Did you get anything?”

“I think I would have gotten more if I’d been official.”

Hogan chuckled. “Missing that star, Raines?”

I shrugged. “Not really. Still, I got nothing from Shaw other than a lot of ass covering. He did his job – according to him, Ramona’s the problem.”

“I got that too last time out. I thought I’d come back and try again, see if he could tell me a little more.”

“Speaking of crowded fields,” I said. “Shaw’s spoken to Martini, did Martini mention that to you?” “Martini? What the hell was he doing here?”

“Maybe you should ask him?”
Page 69 of Runner marks the opening of chapter eight. There is only a half-page of text on page 69, but it shows my PI, Cass Raines, on the case and pushing forward. Cass is searching for 15-year-old Ramona Titus, who has run away from her foster home. She’s been in the wind for over a week.

Cass has just spoken to Ronald Shaw, the girl’s case manager at a for-profit agency that specializes in placing older kids in stable homes, but she suspects Shaw hasn’t told her the truth about his last contact with Ramona. Hogan, the detective working the missing persons case for CPD, is overworked and understaffed, and beginning to chafe at Cass’s encroachment. The Martini in question is Frank Martini, is a retired cop who spends his free time “helping out” on kid cases, using his numerous street contacts as sources when he should be fishing or playing golf.

Three detectives, one girl, no leads, at least up to page 69. At this point in the story, Cass is up against it. It’s the middle of a Chicago winter and Ramona is nowhere to be found. The clock is ticking. Page 69 is the build-up to a huge tension point in the book. Hogan’s feeling crowded, Cass has bupkis, Shaw is stonewalling her, and Martini is everywhere he isn’t supposed to be. But Cass is beginning to get the feeling, here on page 69, that her simple runaway case may not be all that simple. Ramona didn’t just run away, she fled. Why? And from whom? For the answers to those questions, you’ll have to make it to page 97.
Visit Tracy Clark's website.

Q&A with Tracy Clark.

Writers Read: Tracy Clark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"Lights Out in Lincolnwood"

Geoff Rodkey is the New York Times best-selling author of many children’s books, including the Tapper Twins and Chronicles of Egg series; We’re Not From Here; and Marcus Makes a Movie, a collaboration with actor Kevin Hart. He’s also the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of Daddy Day Care and RV, among other films.

Rodkey applied the Page 69 Test to Lights Out in Lincolnwood, his first novel for adults, and reported the following:
Some context for what’s happening as page 69 of Lights Out in Lincolnwood begins:

Fiftyish suburban dad Dan Altman is in an overcrowded New Jersey Transit commuter train en route to Manhattan on an unremarkable Tuesday morning…when the train suddenly loses electrical power, and everyone’s phones, laptops, and other electronics mysteriously go dark. After a few moments of bewilderment mixed with irritation on the part of the commuters, they hear and feel (but mostly don’t see) an airplane crash in the middle distance, which plunges the entire train car into a collective panic.

Dan’s seated at a rear-facing window, and the terrified young woman next to him demands that he open the window’s emergency exit. While trying to stand up and turn himself around in the cramped space, one of Dan’s AirPods falls from his ear and out of view. As page 69 begins, he’s still trying to maneuver himself into a position where he can pull the emergency exit lever:
He also felt a competing—possibly irrational, yet strangely insistent—urge to locate his missing AirPod.

Dan began to shift clockwise, putting his foot back down on the floor and bending his knees awkwardly to negotiate the 270-degree turn that would leave him facing the window. As he turned, he kept his eyes down, hoping to catch a glimpse of the little white earpiece.

“I just dropped my—”

OPEN THE FUCKING WINDOW!” his seatmate shrieked. He looked back at her, startled—and got a brief glimpse of her eyes burning with fury, so close to his that he could see tiny red veins spiderwebbing the whites around her dark brown irises.

Then he hit his head on the luggage rack.



“I’m trying!”

A few feet away in the aisle, people were yelling and pushing as they tried to shove their way toward the back of the car, away from whatever it was that had so terrified the passengers up at the front windows.

With a heroic twist that nearly blew out his knee, Dan managed to turn all the way back around to face the window. But then his wedged-in messenger bag blocked him from getting his right knee up and completing the maneuver.

AirPods are backordered at the Apple Store. It’ll take weeks to


The third occupant of the seat was screaming at him now, too.
The Page 69 test works pretty well for Lights Out in Lincolnwood. It’s a dark comedy about a mass technological breakdown that might mean the collapse of civilization, a minor pain in the neck, or anything in between—and because the loss of power robs the characters of all their news sources, nobody in the story can get a handle on which threat level is the correct one.

As a result, Dan and the rest of the characters have to make their own decisions about what’s happening, and how urgently they should respond to the situation. If it’s an apocalyptic event, the correct response is going to look very different than it would if it turns out to be a short-term problem.

On a micro level, this is exactly what’s happening on page 69. Is the panic spreading through the crowded train car justifiable, in which case Dan’s getting the exit window open is a matter of literal life and death?

Or is the hysteria unwarranted, and the passengers’ lives aren’t actually in immediate danger (how far away was that plane crash, anyway)? In which case, maybe it isn’t that irrational for Dan to take a moment to find his AirPod and spare himself both the expense and the hassle of having to replace it later.

To be fair, Dan’s preoccupation with his AirPod is probably misguided under almost any scenario. But in the pressure of the moment, rationality is in short supply. And as Lights Out in Lincolnwood unfolds, this juxtaposition of minor everyday problems with major existential ones gives the book both its story tension and its humor.
Visit Geoff Rodkey's website.

Q&A with Geoff Rodkey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 4, 2021

"Best Class You Never Had"

Jim Cullen is the author of numerous books, including The American Dream and Those Were the Days: Why All in the Family Still Matters. He has taught at Harvard, Brown, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is a member of the faculty of the newly established Greenwich Country Day High School in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Cullen applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Best Class You Never Had, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book captures a fairly typical moment. Best Class You Never Had is a genre hybrid -- a history of the United States told in the form of classroom dialogue, and embedded in a storyline about a veteran teacher finishing the last of his 40 years at Seneca Falls High School -- the high school is fictive, but of course Seneca Falls (site of the famed women's suffrage conference) is not. Seneca Falls is also the inspiration for the movie It's a Wonderful Life, and the story is sprinkled with Easter Eggs that refer to it.

From page 69:
Adams recorded the scene of his night with Franklin in the autobiography he began writing after his forced retirement from politics following his failed bid for re-election in 1800. I see him at his estate, Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts, an old man remembering himself as a younger one, with Franklin, who had been dead for ten years, alive and likeable. I imagine him chuckling at Franklin, and himself, as he remembers sharing that bed. I’m thinking that the memory of that night brings him pleasure and maybe even comfort in the long twilight of his life. Writing it down gives him something to do.

You two have a bus to catch. Now go savor the company of each other.

Sadie: Thanks, Mr. L.

Emily: Yeah, thanks.

Thanks, Mr. Adams. Thanks, Mr. Franklin. See you tomorrow.
In this passage, two students who are about to catch a school bus home check in on their teacher, Kevin Lee, to ask about an off-hand reference he made earlier to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin sleeping together, which in fact they did on the night of September 9, 1776, when they were delegated with negotiating a deal with the British government to end the Revolution -- they rejected a deal -- and shared a bed at an inn in New Jersey. In this passage, Mr. Lee imagines John Adams remembering that moment, based on his diaries. Adams came to resent Franklin, who maneuvered to have him sent home when the two were serving in diplomatic roles in Paris during the Revolution, but on that night he was amused by Franklin's theory that the best way to avoid a cold was to keep the bedroom window open, not closed.
Visit Jim Cullen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 2, 2021

"The Keepers"

Jeffrey B. Burton was born in Long Beach, California, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received his BA in Journalism at the University of Minnesota.

His many novels include The Finders, The Chessman, and The Eulogist.

He lives in St. Paul with his wife, an irate Pomeranian named Lucy, and a happy galoot of a Beagle named Milo.

Burton applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, is The Keepers, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Keepers, Special Prosecutor Peter Feist needs to meet with a confidential informant (CI) at Washington Park at midnight. His wife questions him as he's leaving the house but, as he's sworn to secrecy, he deflects his wife's queries by telling her how a close colleague of his has filed for divorce. A couple paragraphs then describe how Feist's colleague imagined herself in the perfect marriage, idyllic, that is, until she began viewing the video feed from the indoor security camera her husband had recently installed. And what she discovers on the video feed has her scampering to the office of the nearest divorce attorney.

Though it touches on a special prosecutor meeting with a CI at midnight, and there's something darkly humorous about the end of Feist's colleague's marriage, the page 69 test would not grant readers a good idea of the work as a whole. Peter Feist is not the protagonist and, of course, where are the human remains detection dogs?

The Keepers is about Mace Reid and the finders - his nickname for his pack of cadaver dogs - as they stay one step ahead of the powers that be that want Reid dead.
Visit Jeffrey B. Burton's website.

Q&A with Jeffrey B. Burton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"Walking Through Needles"

Heather Levy is a born and bred Oklahoman and graduate of Oklahoma City University's Red Earth MFA program for creative writing. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including NAILED Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Dragon Poet Review. She authored a nonfiction series on human sexuality, including “Welcome to the Dungeon: BDSM in the Bible Belt,” for Literati Press.

Levy applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Walking Through Needles, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Walking Through Needles, Eric Walker, one of my protagonists, is thinking about a recent road trip he took with my other protagonist, Eric’s stepsister Sam Mayfair, to try to track down his missing abusive father through his father’s old friend:
Four days since the drive to Sapulpa and seeing Les, and Eric still couldn’t shake the knee-drop sensation he’d experienced when Les said Vickie’s name. His mom would’ve called the sinking sensation “a knowing,” something she swore his grandmother had too.

His mom was always having knowings when he was young. There was the time she dreamed a giant crow plucked Eric from the playground and tore him in half. The next day, he fell from the monkey bars at school and split his ulna in two. The doctor said it was the cleanest break he’d ever seen. His mom had other knowings, ones that kept Eric awake at night, like her vision of her swallowing a black storm cloud. No matter how much she coughed and coughed, nothing came out until a tornado of blood ripped from her lungs and swept her away.
I can’t say that this test works to give readers a good idea of the whole work, but it’s certainly pivotal to the larger story and it gives readers a taste of the unease I wanted to create throughout the mystery part of the novel.

This page is also a good example of the subtle southern gothic elements I wanted to incorporate in the story. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, and my mom grew up believing in many superstitions. Like Eric’s mother, my mom had prophetic dreams, some of which scared the hell out of me when they came true, such as when she predicted the San Francisco earthquake of 1989.

The rest of the page not listed above shows Eric’s kindness to an older woman whose house he’s working on. The woman reminds him of Sam’s Grandma Haylin, who watched out for Eric when he was a teen.
Follow Heather Levy on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Walking Through Needles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 28, 2021

"In Royal Service to the Queen"

Tessa Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed Lady Montfort mystery series—Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman was a finalist for the 2016 Agatha Award Best First Novel. She is also the author of Poppy Redfern: A Woman of World War II mystery series. And the author of the historical fiction: In Royal Service to the Queen.

Arlen lives in the Southwest with her family and two corgis where she gardens in summer and writes in winter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to In Royal Service to the Queen and reported the following:
From page 69:
June 1945

Buckingham Palace, London

“It’s cruelly unfair, Crawfie. I hate being alone, I really do.” Mar­garet, back rigid, jaw jutting in mutiny, slammed her fountain pen down on the desk. “Papa keeps dragging Lilibet off to do this and read that. He even let her have lunch with him and Mr. Churchill.” She was vibrating with hurt feelings as she hurled her homework into the basket for me to mark.

“It is important that Lilibet spend as much time with His Maj­esty as she can,” I explained to tossing curls and folded arms. “The king is teaching her the ropes because he remembers how difficult it was for him to come to the throne untrained. In a few more years, you will be involved too. As the queen often reminds me: the Wind­sors are a working family, and there will be plenty for you to do when you are old enough. Now, I think it would be a good idea if—”

“Crawfie, don’t you ever get tired of coming up with good ideas?” I recognized the edge in her tone that signaled a storm.

My voice was level as I looked her directly in the eye. “It is my job to have them, Margaret, but if you know what you would like to do this evening, then let’s hear it!”

I saw the flash and could almost smell the gunpowder.
WWII is over and the princesses Margaret and Elizabeth (Lilibet), have returned with their governess, Crawfie, to the royal court of Buckingham Palace from the isolation of Windsor Castle. After the comparative simplicity of their lives at Windsor, Crawfie is beginning to realize that the complex decorum required at Buckingham Palace is going to take all her patience and tact, as her charges adapt to Royal life.

Elizabeth has just announced that she is in love with a man her parents consider thoroughly unsuitable as a consort for the future Queen of England, and after the excitement of VE Day celebrations it is beginning to dawn on Margaret that her role in public life will be significantly less than her eighteen year old sister’s. Margaret’s frustration and resentment are palpable, but as yet palace protocol and the iron rule of courtiers have not yet done their damage to this bright, vital fourteen year old, the darling of the Windsor family with her quick wit, her flashes of perception and her precocious need to get out and enjoy life.

Crawfie, after twelve years as the Windsor governess, loves both of the girls as if they are her own, but she was hoping that now the war is over she might retire, at age thirty-six, and marry the man she loves. If palace life has challenges for Margaret, Crawfie is emotionally torn between supporting Elizabeth in her desire to marry Philip and seeing Margaret through what will become an ongoing rough-patch in the second princess’s tempestuous life.

Inevitably this young, loyal and deeply sympathetic Scotswoman will choose to stay on with the Windsors, putting her personal happiness to one side and nearly losing the man who wants to share a full life with her. But she does not yet see that her desire to do her duty will have dire consequences with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

The Page 69 Test: A Death by Any Other Name.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an Unsung Hero.

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders.

The Page 69 Test: Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 26, 2021

"The Privilege"

D.W. Buffa was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. After graduation from Michigan State University, he studied under Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey and Hans J. Morgenthau at the University of Chicago where he earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science. He received his J.D. degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Buffa was a criminal defense attorney for 10 years and his Joseph Antonelli novels reflect that experience.

The New York Times called The Defense "an accomplished first novel" which "leaves you wanting to go back to the beginning and read it over again." The Judgment was nominated for the Edgar Award for best novel of the year. The latest Joseph Antonelli novel is The Privilege.

Buffa applied the Page 69 Test to The Privilege and reported the following:
In one of the marvelous short stories of Jorge Borges he tells of the Aleph, “the microcosm of the alchemists,” a “small iridescent sphere of almost unbelievable brilliance,” a sphere with a diameter of “probably little more than an inch;” a sphere in which could be seen, and seen simultaneously, everything that had ever existed. Which brings us to Page 69 and the dubious suggestion that opening a book, any book, to this particular page will tell you whether it is a book worth reading. I did this, opened The Privilege, the latest of my late night scribblings, to page 69, and discovered to my astonishment that, like the Aleph, everything was there, on that one page. James Michael Redfield, the genius, perhaps the evil genius, in the story, is there, and so is Tangerine, the woman that Joseph Antonelli, and everyone else who has ever seen her, is in love with.

Antonelli, who tells the story, tells us that he “carried with me a lifetime of other people’s secrets, my memory a catalogue of violence - murders, rapes, and thefts - crimes that had gone unpunished, crimes that had never been solved, all of them things I had learned from the men and women I had represented in the past; confessions made with full knowledge that they could never be repeated, that whatever they told me, however bestial, however shameful, was protected by a privilege that was more sacrosanct than anything they ever had with their priest.”

The title, The Privilege, refers to that, the attorney-client privilege. It was all that James Michael Redfield wanted to talk about the first time he came to Antonelli’s office. “He wanted to make sure I could never reveal to anyone anything that passed between us.” More than that, “He wanted to make sure that I would become the silent accomplice in whatever he chose to tell me about anything that had happened in the past.”

Page 69 of The Privilege comes after a trial Antonelli would have lost if Redfield, after making sure that the privilege meant that what he told Antonelli would always stay secret, gives him the evidence that makes certain an innocent man is not convicted. Page 69, the end of one trial and the beginning of others, is the pivot on which the action of the novel turns. Redfield, Antonelli notes on this same page, is different, “not just from any client I had had before, but from anyone I had met.”

If Redfield threatens to control Antonelli’s life, Tangerine, the woman he lives with, saves his sanity. “Her voice, as magical as the moonlight on the bay outside, made me forget everything but her.”

Is page 69 unique in what it tells about the story? Is it like the Aleph in that fable by Borges, or is it not something almost normal, something that could be found reading some other, random, page? Years ago, in a book few have heard of and fewer still have read, Ernest Hemingway revealed what every writer, every serious writer, should know, that if you can tell the story so that the reader “can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any part you make will represent the whole if it is truly made.” The story, the whole story, is told on every page.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Q&A with D.W. Buffa.

My Book, The Movie: The Privilege.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 24, 2021

"A Distant Grave"

Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. She grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries.

Taylor applied the Page 69 Test to A Distant Grave, the second Maggie D'arcy mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Saturday at headquarters usually feels skeleton, but when we have a big case — which this is, on account of the nice neighborhood, the mystery about what exactly we're looking at – it’s as busy as a weekday. Dave and I update everyone once we get back from the scene and make sure they know what they’re working on. Then I go to talk to Marty. But when I poke my head into his office, he’s not alone.

Cooney and Pat Messenger are there, Cooney sitting in a chair too small for him and looking much too elegant for Marty’s plain office and Pat leaning awkwardly against the heating unit in the back of the room. He’s pale, his eyes sunken; Pat is 6’3”built like a quarterback but now his blue jacket is hanging off his shoulders, his belt cinched tight in the loops of his too-loose pants.

“Detective D’arcy,” Cooney says, nodding at me from across the room.

I stand up a little bit straighter, straighten my blazer over my hips. I nod to Pat.
Page 69 is the first page of a new chapter and though it's not a perfect encapsulation of the themes of the novel, I am delighted to see that it does introduce one of the novel's central conflicts. At the beginning of A Distant Grave, my main character, Long Island homicide detective Maggie D'arcy, is still recovering from the events of her deeply personal last case when the body of an Irish man named Gabriel Treacy is found in a marina near a wealthy Long Island beach community. As Maggie starts to work the case, both on Long Island and then in Ireland, she comes up against the characters with whom she's interacting in this scene: the district attorney John "Jay" Cooney, the police commissioner, Pat Messenger, and Maggie's boss, the commander of the homicide squad, Martin Cascic. She and Cooney have an antagonistic relationship and when he decides that the victim was killed by MS13 gang members, Maggie finds it hard to get him (or anyone else) to consider a different solution. Marty, on the other hand, is a good friend and mentor and he sticks his neck out for Maggie throughout the novel. These relationships will be very, very important to the progression of Maggie's investigation and to the future of her career.
Visit Sarah Stewart Taylor's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Mountains Wild.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"Dream Girl"

Laura Lippman is the New York Times bestselling author of acclaimed stand-alones and the award-winning Tess Monaghan series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Dream Girl, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Dream Girl, Gerry Andersen has just received his second late-night call from a woman claiming to be the titular character of his most successful book, which also happens to be called Dream Girl. The thing is, Aubrey had no real-life counterpart. And the other thing is, Gerry can't prove that she's been writing him and calling him. Her letter has disappeared, her late-night calls don't show up on his Caller ID. Hopeful of proving that this is not a figment of his imagination, Gerry bellows for his night nurse -- he's confined to a hospital bed after a freak accident -- only to lose power in a snowstorm before she can reach the phone.

As the writer, I don't get to claim that Dream Girl is the funniest novel I've ever written, but it's definitely the one I had the most fun writing. Yes, it was eerie that I started a book about someone living in isolation in early 2019. Stranger still, finishing it was probably what helped me cope during the early months of the pandemic. Gerry's a terrible person, although he doesn't realize it, and he's probably the most temperamentally autobiographical character I've ever written. Make of that what you will.
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 20, 2021

"The Portrait of a Mirror"

A. Natasha Joukovsky holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent five years in the art world, working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before pivoting into management consulting. The Portrait of a Mirror is her debut novel. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Joukovsky applied the Page 69 Test to The Portrait of a Mirror and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Portrait of a Mirror marks the opening of Chapter VIII. It is a roundly complete one: two paragraphs, no jagged, mid-sentence cutoff between pages; a self-contained little slice of the novel to evaluate. It begins:
In retrospect Vivien would develop a clear explanation for herself as to why it happened, how many (many) years of resisting what she wanted to do in favor of what she wanted to have done had, far from building up a tolerance, reached some kind of maximum capacity in her, some outer-bound limit to human restraint. It wasn’t a departure from her character, she came to believe, but rather an inevitability precisely because of her character: her over saturation in the present perfect tense had left her perversely, cruelly vulnerable in the face of a perfect present. And Julian hadn’t helped.
At this point in the novel, the reader does not yet know the “it” that has “happened” to Vivien, and the first paragraph provides a remarkably fitting introduction. Its psychological focus, complex sentence structure, and narrative tone are all representative of the lion share of the book, as is the self-referential joke about grammar. The “many (many)” construct specifically is even an echo from the novel’s actual introduction—from its very first page. This parallel continues into the second paragraph:
Sill Mill gossip notwithstanding, Vivien had never really pictured Wesley Range as a tech CEO. Her impression of him was built on the kind of emotional truth impervious to fact, and she could only conceive of his adulthood as the creative class ideal: an endless extension of ultra-privileged adolescence, of ambiguous job but definitive lifestyle. He’d be perpetually at the epicenter of the universe, conspicuously at leisure whatever the season. Summers in Nantucket that rounded into a Telluride September. Autumnal New England culminating in a traditional Connecticut Christmas before skiing in Adelboden or Chamonix. A ‘real’ vacation in January or February—St. Barths or Nevis, something remote and lush and invariably involving a yacht. There’d be at least one extended, more exotic self-discovery sort of sojourn each year: Rajasthan, Machu Picchu, Marakech ... By Vivien’s intuitive calendrical expectations, Wes should have been in Cannes this week.
This too is reminiscent of the novel’s actual beginning, which likewise introduces Wes, but from the narrator’s direct perspective as opposed to indirectly, as it is here, through Vivien’s. The Portrait of a Mirror is all about indirect social inference and evaluation, about rumor and perspective, and if anything Vivien’s illusory impression of Wes’s existence provides a better snapshot of the novel than his actual circumstances. In this sense, I’d say the page 69 test largely succeeds. If you enjoy the mode of observation presented in these two paragraphs, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the novel as a whole.

What the page 69 test fails to fully capture is the novel’s humor, which surfaces most acutely in dialogue, and the extent of its referentiality—there’s one allusion here to Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous leisure,” but the page is otherwise original. The test’s biggest miss, however, is of the book’s intermittent alternative format chapters. These range from emails and text messages to Wikipedia entries and Instagram, and infuse some levity and literal negative space into the novel, a counterweight to the density of its narrative prose.
Visit A. Natasha Joukovsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 18, 2021

"Murder in Old Bombay"

Nev March is the recent winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Award for Best First Crime Fiction.

After a long career in business analysis, in 2015 she returned to her passion, writing fiction and now teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Osher Institute. A Parsee Zoroastrian herself, she lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Murder in Old Bombay is her debut novel.

March applied the Page 69 Test to Murder in Old Bombay and reported the following:
Astonishing! The Page-69 test absolutely does work for my book. As a chapter titled “Damned Personal Questions” opens, here’s Captain Jim waking at the Framji home after being assaulted by unknown assailants:
“Captain, please stay. At least until you recover,” Adi’s father said, somewhere above me. Clad in a brocade dressing gown, Burjor’s girth moved by my bed. How long had he stood there? “Rest now,” his low voice rumbled.

“I’ll stay with him,” said Diana’s voice.

He consented and the scent of sandalwood, laundered linen and soap departed. I winced. Just my luck. Graced with Diana’s presence, and I was barely capable of coherent thought.

I recalled the doctor’s words and felt weighed down with forebodings. I’d suspected that Lady Bacha’s death might revolve around some error of her youth, or Miss Pilloo’s. But this was no dusty riddle from the past. Her secret still menaced her husband and I was loath to be the instrument of Adi’s disgrace.

The attack had taken me by surprise. My inquiries had disturbed, no, threatened someone. I felt a spurt of satisfaction, a sense of having achieved something; the murderer was uneasy. I smiled and my mouth stung, bringing forth an oath.

“Do you need anything?” Diana moved into sight.
Here Captain Jim voices suspicions that Lady Bacha and Miss Pilloo might have had a dangerous secret that led to their deaths, and fears that it still threatens Adi, his client. It showcases his dare-devil personality, wanting to draw those hidden enemies into the open, as well as his sensitivity and reluctance to damage his client’s social standing with unpleasant revelations.

These brief lines also contain the themes that echo through the novel—Captain Jim’s affection for his client’s family (he’s a mixed-race orphan, a social pariah in those times) and the romantic subplot of his increasing involvement with Diana, his client’s sister.

So yes, if a reader opened to this page, they would certainly get a glimpse of the perils to come!

Murder in Old Bombay is a voyage through Colonial India, where Captain Jim, a recovering officer navigates a maze of danger and deception. He explores society ballrooms, princedoms, dockyards and mountain villages in search of clues to uncover the real culprits behind the unexplained deaths of two young women. In the process he discovers a vast conspiracy hidden in plain sight, and finds what he’s been seeking all along, a sense of belonging.

This compact page, though early in this story, still showcases the nuances of language and social constraints of the time, and makes promises about the action to come.
Visit Nev March's website.

Q&A with Nev March.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

"The Shadows of London"

Nick Jones was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, and now lives in the Cotswolds, England. In a previous life, he ran his own media company and was a 2nd Dan black belt in Karate. These days he can be found in his writing room, working on his latest mind-bending ideas, surrounded by notes and scribbling on a large white board. He loves movies, kindness, gin, and vinyl.

Jones applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Shadows of London, and reported the following:
Joseph Bridgeman is back in the present, believing his time traveling days are over. However, on page 69 of The Shadows of London, we discover that WP Brown – a mysterious time traveler from the future – has other ideas. Brown appears to have control over time itself and takes him back to a pivotal night in Joe’s past where he blackmails him into completing another mission, one that will send him hurtling back to 1960’s London.

In the first book in the series, Joe changed the entire course of his family history. Page 69 of the sequel is a critical moment of choice in the story. Joe’s life in the present is used as leverage, a kind of debt that he must repay. He must complete this new mission or risk losing everything he fought so hard to attain. As an author, I enjoy finding situations that force difficult decisions. So often in life we find ourselves making the ‘best bad choice’, caught between a rock and a hard place. Page 69 is Joe’s.

The blackmail scene on page 69 ignites the story and creates a doorway of no return for Joe. With the help of his vinyl-loving sidekick Vinny, he faces-off against a ruthless gangster in 1963. As the story progresses, Joe realizes that he actually wants to help an innocent woman and her son escape their fate. What starts out as blackmail becomes a passionate journey of discovery for newbie traveler, Joseph Bridgeman. As the book reaches its climax, Joe learns that when it comes to time travel, things are rarely as they seem, and the future of many people he cares about is in his hands.
Visit Nick Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 14, 2021

"The Bone Field"

Debra Bokur is the author of The Fire Thief and The Bone Field (Dark Paradise Mysteries, Kensington). She’s traveled the world as a writer, journalist and staff editor for various national media outlets, with more than 2,000 print pieces carrying her byline to date. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including a 2015 Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Journalism. For more than a decade, she served as the poetry editor at a national literary journal, and her poetry and short fiction have been widely published. Among her favorite writing credits are a series of original literary essays commissioned by the Celestial Seasonings tea company that appeared on the artfully illustrated boxes of ten separate tea flavors. She continues to travel in her capacity as the Global Researcher and Writer for the Association for Safe International Road Travel, and as a monthly columnist for Global Traveler Magazine.

Bokur applied the Page 69 Test to The Bone Field and reported the following:
From page 69:
Kali laughed. “For crying out loud, Chad, how many times does someone need to explain to you that having a blog or a podcast or whatever the hell…”

“Blogcast,” said Chad, his voice smug.

“… does not make you a journalist?” she finished. “Let’s see some credentials. I’ll let you slide if you show me a diploma with a journalism degree, or a press pass from an accredited news association—not something you generated online and printed out in a fancy font.”

“I have an Emmy nomination for my role as an investigative journalist.”

From a television show!” Kali nearly shouted. She took a deep breath, trying to control her mounting annoyance. “And I don’t believe you actually won the award, did you?”

“Oversight and politics,” he said, completely unruffled.

Tomas intervened. “Okay, that’s enough. All of you, stay on that side of the tape. That includes you, Mr. Caesar. No pictures. No recording. As I’ve already said, an official police statement will be issued later today. Understood?”

“Freedom of information, officer!” yelled the man standing next to Chad. “You can’t stop the people from learning the truth! It’s your job to protect us!”

There was more agreement from the others, this time louder. The women in the blue skirts laid their signs on the ground and joined hands with one another, raising them above their heads. One of them bowed her head and began to pray aloud.
I’m going to take my chances here and say I think the Page 69 test works pretty well. It reveals the thread of chaos running through the cold cast murder investigation, and gives a brief flash of the female members of an old cult that features prominently in my detective’s quest for answers.

In this scene, local celebrity Chad Caesar, a television actor turned podcast host, has managed to find his way to the crime scene—an abandoned pineapple field on Lānaʻi Island. He’s attracted a crowd that’s begun to disrupt the investigation. The police team working at the crime scene has just discovered a new and particularly disturbing gravesite. Detective Kali Māhoe and Officer Tomas Alva are doing their best to rein in the bedlam that’s recently been created by Chad’s on-air sensationalism of the case. They know the killings involve a symbol and possible ritual. They know there are ties to an ancient Hawaiian legend about man-eating demons. They’re certain an old religious cult plays some part. But how it all ties together remains a mystery, and the distraction generated by Chad Caesar isn’t helping.

The character of Chad Caesar was a sort of afterthought, but he’s become one of my favorites to write. Because the series plays constantly on the contrast between the beauty and surface tranquility of the Hawaiian landscape and the pervasive existence of darkness and evil, I wanted to find a way to occasionally build in lighter moments. Not exactly comic relief, but a character who—though actually a really nice, clueless kind of guy—manages to add unwittingly to the challenges faced by Kali. Unlike most of the people who know Chad (or at least his public persona), she’s immune to his movie-star good looks and trademark charm. He doesn’t understand how this can possibly be, so all of their encounters contain a different, less intense sort of tension that shifts the focus briefly away from the grimness of whatever case she’s working on.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

My Book, The Movie: The Fire Thief.

Writers Read: Debra Bokur.

My Book, The Movie: The Bone Field.

--Marshal Zeringue