Saturday, October 9, 2021

"Deadly Summer Nights"

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 her new Catskill Resort mystery, Deadly Summer Nights, and reported the following:
Deadly Summer Nights fails the Page 69 test.

Page 69 is the beginning of Chapter 7, so it’s only half a page. In this scene, Elizabeth Grady, manager of Haggerman’s Catskills Resort, is dealing with the fallout of the death of one of the resort guests. The police arrive and she hurries to greet them. It’s very late and she has been up all night, first supervising the hotel’s nightly entertainment, and then finding a body in the lake, and calling the police. So she’s dishevelled and tired and slightly grumpy.
Chapter 7

Bath and pajamas would have to wait. I was still mulling over that phone conversation when a light came on in the outer office and Eddie the security guard called, “Mrs. Grady! Cops are here.”

I stood up quickly, wincing as the rough inner soles of the tennis shoes scraped the sore places on the bottoms of my feet. I switched off the light and locked the office door behind me. I had no place to put my keys, so I stuffed them into my bra. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror one of the clerks kept on her desk. The keys were a big bunch, and I looked dangerously lopsided. Oh well, couldn’t be helped. My legs were bare, my shoelaces dragging behind me, my beautiful new dress drying into a mass of wrinkles, my neat poodle cut ruined, the curls sticking out in all directions, my lipstick smeared.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to remind Eddie who was in charge here. I couldn’t blame him for thinking it wasn’t me.
Deadly Summer Nights is set in a Catskills Resort in 1953, but page 69 doesn’t give a good sense of the place or the time period.

The only reference to the time setting is her ‘poodle cut’. That probably needs an explanation for the modern reader, and it is described earlier in the book. A poodle cut is an arrangement of tight curls, cut just above the shoulders at the back and piled on the top or sides of the head. Lucille Ball made the style famous and as my character, Elizabeth Grady, as the same red curls as Miss Ball, she copied the actress’s hair.

Nevertheless, although page 69 doesn’t give the reader any clues about the location or the time the book is set, it does, I think, reflect the tone of the book very well. Poor Elizabeth is harried. She’s new to managing this large hotel her mother unexpectedly inherited; she has enough problems on her plate without dealing with the death of a guest, and what turns out to be a murder investigation. To make matters worse, the police find a copy of The Communist Manifesto in the deceased’s cabin and immediately leap to the conclusion that he was a Russian spy. The last thing Elizabeth needs is word getting around that Haggerman’s is a hotbed of communist conspiracy.

To make things even more difficult, it is 1953 and many of her employees are reluctant to recognize the authority of a young woman. On page 69 she reflects that she had to remind Eddie (a security guard) that she’s the one in charge. Let’s hope that was enough to let the reader know this is not a contemporary-set book!
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The Page 69 Test: Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen.

The Page 69 Test: A Scandal in Scarlet.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in a Teacup.

Writers Read: Vicki Delany.

--Marshal Zeringue