Tuesday, December 28, 2021

"The Savage Kind"

John Copenhaver’s historical crime novel, Dodging and Burning, won the 2019 Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and garnered Anthony, Strand Critics, Barry, and Lambda Literary Award nominations. Copenhaver writes a crime fiction review column for Lambda Literary called “Blacklight,” cohosts on the House of Mystery Radio Show, and is the six-time recipient of Artist Fellowships from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He has taught high school English for nearly twenty years. He grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia and currently lives in Richmond, VA, with his husband, artist Jeffery Paul (Herrity).

Copenhaver applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Savage Kind, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Philippa, October 21, 1948

Judy and I agreed to meet up after school. We needed to make a plan to investigate what happened to Miss Martins. So, there I was, scanning Horsfield’s malt shop for her, peering in through the O in the red-enameled script that swept across its wide plate glass window. I felt jittery, nervous that I’d witnessed too much at Miss Martins’s apartment and said too much to Judy about it. This afternoon—and still now—my loyalties are strained, even divided, not that I’m somehow beholden to Miss Martins and not that Judy doesn’t deserve to know. In truth, I’m not sure what I actually saw, but it felt intimate, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve done something to add to Miss Martins’s pain.
Frankly, I’m amazed at how well the page 69 test works for this novel.

After shifting away from Judy’s point of view, Philippa, one of my two main characters, reflects on a disturbing scene that she witnessed involving her beloved English teacher, Miss Martins. Her teacher loaned her a pulp mystery and asked that she return it to her home. They live in the same neighborhood. When she arrives at Miss Martins’s apartment, the door is ajar. Being curious and not wanting to disappoint her teacher, who she has a crush on, she enters, only to discover her poised and self-possessed teacher being assaulted by a mysterious man in the shadows. Shocked, she falters, drops the book, and flees.

As she reflects on the event with her best friend, the world-weary and cynical Judy, she’s not sure what she’s seen. Her sexual naivety and latent feelings of same-sex attraction to her teacher muddy her perceptual waters. Has she witnessed a horrible sexual assault or rough consensual sex or something else entirely? Soon after, a classmate, Cleveland Closs, is murdered, his body washes up on the shore of the Anacostia River, and the girls begin to believe that there’s a connection between the events. The question of what she witnessed in Miss Martins’s apartment hovers over the novel, as does the theme of the slipperiness of interpretation.

This page 69 passage also suggests the close and complicated bond between Philippa and Judy. They’re beginning their journey as an amateur crime-solving team, but Philippa already doubts whether she should trust Judy. Had she “said too much” to her about what she’d witnessed? If readers were to dip into the novel at this point, they would get a sense of the relationship dynamic and, of course, a central question of the mystery. So, indeed, this test works well for The Savage Kind.
Visit John Copenhaver's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 20, 2021

"My Darling Husband"

Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including the newly released My Darling Husband and The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller. Her books have been published in more than in a dozen languages and have been optioned for film and television. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

She applied the Page 69 Test to My Darling Husband and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Come on, Baxter.” I toss the cell to the marble and gesture with my gun—a warning, a promise. He’s sucking hard on a thumb, his smooth cheeks puffing and pulling. I smile to calm his nerves. “Get on over here, son. I need you to do something for me.”

Jade’s gaze sticks to the gun like superglue. “At least let me come with him.”

“Sorry, but that’s a hard no.”

“But Baxter’s only six.”

“Exactly. Plenty old enough to help me out.”

She shakes her head hard enough that her hair whacks her in the face. “But he’s terrified. I’m terrified.” Her voice cracks, and she’s trying really hard not to cry.

“What do you think’s going to happen? What are you so scared of?”

She gives me an incredulous look, searching for words she can say out loud. Without turning her head, she darts a side-long glance at her daughter, her expression sparkling with meaning. Little pitchers have big ears—and Beatrix’s are practically flapping off her head. This is a kid who knows when to listen.

“I just...” Jade’s voice is a soft squeak. She takes a big breath, swallows. “I don’t want anything to happen to him.”
Pretty sure this is the first time the Page 69 test has worked so perfectly to capture the essence of the story in one of my novels. In My Darling Husband, Jade’s world is tipped upside down when she and her two small children are confronted by a masked and armed home invader who forces his way inside. This scene takes place in the kitchen—before the man ties Jade to a chair upstairs, before he ties up the children in a separate room across the hall, before he forces Jade to call her husband and demand a strangely specific ransom: $734,296.

Through scenes like this one on page 69, Jade learns that the invader is smart, and he’s sneaky, and above all he’s manipulative, not above using her children to fluster and frighten Jade. But why has this man targeted their home? How does he know so much about Jade and her family, and what’s up with that ransom sum? From here on in, Jade slowly comes to the realization that this kidnapping was anything but random.

Because this scene so perfectly captures the fear and helplessness Jade feels throughout the entire story, I’d say yes—My Darling Husband passes the page 69 test brilliantly.
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

"Boy Underground"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Boy Underground, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The mountains looked spooky to me, like a place I would never dare go. I remembered having camped up there. I just couldn’t remember how I’d gotten so brave.

I sprinted until the little outbuilding came into view, the heavy load bouncing uncomfortably against my hip. Then I sprinted until I got to its door.

I stopped. Panted. Placed my hand on the knob and threw the door open, stepping inside.

The trap door into the root cellar was standing open.

“Nick?” I asked quietly, squatting above the stairs and waiting for my eyes to adjust to the light. “Nick?” I asked it a little louder this time.


I climbed down the steep ladder steps, leaving the heavy load up above.

I could see Nick’s sleeping bag and pad spread out on the dirt, but empty. I felt around a little in the dark.

“Nick?” I asked again.

But Nick wasn’t there.

My heart began to hammer in my chest, wondering what had happened to him. I tried to convince myself that he had just stepped away from the cellar to relieve himself, but my mind filled with horrible thoughts. What if he had been discovered? Arrested? What if he had run away for real?

I climbed up the stairs and stepped outside. Looked around as much as I could in the moonlight. All I could see was flat, dusty land.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I let loose a shriek. I couldn’t help it. It was like having something jump out at you in a haunted house. I was primed to be startled.

Good thing we were a long way from the house.

“Shhh,” a voice said. I could hear that it was Nick.

I breathed for what felt like the first time in a long time.
I like page 69 of Boy Underground reasonably well for this test. The fact that Steven is hiding Nick, whom he is also falling in love with, is pretty key to the story. It hints at the fact that Nick is evading arrest. Though it doesn’t say so straight out on this page, if Nick is arrested, Steven will be arrested for hiding him. So you can feel the stakes of the thing pretty well. And the snapshot of Steven, terrified by what he’s doing but doing it anyway, runs pretty true to form.

So if a reader is going to open to one page, I would say page 69 is a reasonably good one.

But, of course, the book is about much more. It’s about the fact that the Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor, and one of the four friends is 17 and about to enlist. And Steven’s brother is about to turn 18, and will be inducted. And another of the four best friends is a Japanese boy who will soon be interned at Manzanar with his family. It’s a very bad time to be Japanese, and not a great time to be gay, especially in a small California farming town. On top of all of that, Steven is the son of a relatively wealthy land owner, and his friends are sons of field workers. And his mother has told him more than once to choose his friends carefully. And even at age 14, Steven has a pretty good idea what that means.

Oh, and before it’s all over we get to check in on how the friends are doing at age 94.

So hopefully that gives you a brief idea of what I do with some of the non-69 pages.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Page 69 Test: Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.

The Page 69 Test: My Name is Anton.

The Page 69 Test: Seven Perfect Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 13, 2021

"The Bone Cay"

Raised in the Detroit suburbs, Eliza Nellums now lives with her cat in Washington DC.

Her debut novel is All That's Bright and Gone.

Nellums applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Bone Cay, and reported the following:
Opening The Bone Cay to page 69 gives us the scene where the hurricane really starts to come on land. This book is set in Key West. Our heroine has decided she's not going to evacuate (somewhere in the prior 68 pages) and is planning to ride it out in the historic estate she had spent her career restoring. She is sitting there listening to the weather outside:
The rain picked up suddenly, from zero to one hundred ... after that it came in waves, slowly building in intensity the way she'd imagined labor must do. Once it reached a new level of strength, it never went backwards, but continued to climb, like someone slowly turning up the dial.
I think the page 69 test works for this book. It does give us a good idea of what the story is about - a woman and a storm. The reader will probably get a sense that the main character is out of her depth and not quite prepared for what's to come in the next 200 pages. Her love for the old house and its history is battling against the physical reality of a disaster like this.

I have to admit, I do use a similar test when I'm picking books in the book store, although I usually open it to the middle. I think testing a book in the beginning doesn't work as well, because the writer is on their best behavior at that point. Flip a little further ahead to where the action is and see if it still works for you - or, if there is no action, that could be a sign too.
Visit Eliza Nellums's website.

The Page 69 Test: All That's Bright and Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 10, 2021

"The Hawthorne School"

Sylvie Perry is the pseudonym of a Chicagoland-based psychotherapist. One of her professional focuses is in counseling survivors of narcissistic manipulation. She has a Masters in English. She previously wrote in another genre under a different pseudonym.

Perry applied the Page 69 Test to The Hawthorne School, her first psychological suspense novel, and reported the following:
“We had a sermonomy!” shouted Henry as Claudia came into his classroom…. Henry repeated, “A sermonomy. In the woods, we had it.”

These are the first words on page 69 of The Hawthorne School.

A reader, browsing and falling upon this page, would get an inkling of what is going on here. Claudia, the young mother who is so relieved to get little Henry into a school where he can be accepted, is not paying full attention to what should be words of warning, and instead is focused on pleasing the director of the school and Henry’s teacher. On the next page, Claudia looks to the teacher for an explanation for the woodland ceremony--which she is only too happy to accept. She needs to believe that The Hawthorne School will give her and Henry the support they need.

The astute reader will very likely sense that there is a problem here, and may be concerned for this young mother and son as Claudia misses red flags. As in real life, we can see trouble ahead of another; we can see a friend or loved one blindly proceeding on a path that can only lead to a bad end. We can even look back and see that we, ourselves, have at some time missed signs we should have seen—signs that others may even have warned us about.

What is behind that inability to see that one is taking the wrong path? Inexperience? Wishful thinking? Denial? Perhaps all of these, and more besides. People should know better than to fall for scams, believe fake sales pitches, and get ensnared by cults.

Intelligent people are fooled every day.
Visit Sylvie Perry's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

"Never Tell A Lie"

Gail Schimmel is an admitted attorney in South Africa, with four degrees to her name. She is currently the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board―the South African self-regulatory body for the content of advertising. She has published five novels in South Africa, with The Aftermath as her international debut. She lives in Johannesburg with her husband, two children, an ancient cat and two very naughty dogs.

Schimmel applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, Never Tell A Lie, and reported the following:
I had never heard of this test before so I was totally intrigued to see how it would work for Never Tell A lie – a book about friendship and lies and the secrets we keep.

On page 69 [inset left; click to enlarge], we learn a few important things about my main character, Mary. We learn that she has a son who worries her – and the Page 69er would probably believe that this is a bigger part of the story than it is. We meet her friend Stacey, and realise that sometimes Mary doesn’t feel that Stacey is listening to her, even though she is a good friend. We learn that Mary is embarking on a new relationship with Joshua, but on page 69 it is still early days. Finally, we learn that Mary has a new friend called April – probably the most important piece of information on the page. It is this friendship that will lead Mary into a world of lies, wondering who to believe and leaving the reader guessing till the very end.

I don’t think page 69 is the best page to entice a new reader – it is neither gripping nor hilarious, the two things that I hope to be! However, it introduces most of the cast, and hints at some of the themes. I would give it a 7 out of ten as a test for my book! I can’t wait to see how it works for other books of mine.
Visit Gail Schimmel's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Q&A with Gail Schimmel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2021

"The Deadliest Sin"

Jeri Westerson was born and raised in Los Angeles. As well as the Crispin Guest medieval mysteries, she is the author of a paranormal urban fantasy series and several historical novels. Her books have been nominated for the Shamus, the Macavity and the Agatha awards.

Westerson applied the Page 69 Test to The Deadliest Sin, the latest -- and final -- Crispin Guest mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It didn’t seem necessary. Though it stung a bit that Geoffrey hadn’t mentioned seeing him. He was beginning to feel invisible again, as he had in the beginning. ‘Nevertheless, I am glad you were so situated. And doing well, I hope.’

‘I am one of the king’s household knights. And I should have been with the king’s army in Ireland but his majesty preferred I stayed in London.’ He raised his eyes to Crispin when he asked quietly, ‘Have you heard that the upstart Hereford has returned illegally to the realm?’

Crispin bristled. Edward seemed to have hardened himself against Lancaster after the scandal. Perhaps it had been for the best. Being the squire to a traitor surely did not open doors for him as it otherwise might have had Crispin never gotten involved in the scandal. Edward had poured his hopes into the king, and how could Crispin blame him? ‘I…had heard something of the kind.’

‘Forgive me. I know how close you had been to Lancaster and his ilk.’

‘I helped to raise his ilk, as you call it. Henry Lancaster has been fair to me.’ The sword hanging from his hip told him so. Henry had given it to Crispin, incised it with the words ‘he has the right.’

‘I…I mean no disrespect Sir…M-Master Crispin. You must know that.’

He wiped the frown from his face and offered a gentle smile instead. ‘I do, Edward.’ He ticked his head. ‘I can’t quite get over the sight of you. You look like a man.’

He chuckled. ‘I am a man, sir. Have been for some years.’

‘Of course you have been. I sometimes feel suspended in amber whilst the world changes around me.’

‘And I have a wife and children.’

‘Do you now? That is good news.’

‘And you, sir? Are you…married to some gentlewoman?’

It was just then that Phillipa, dressed as a nun, but looking disturbingly fetching, crossed his path in the distance, speaking to Christopher in a covert manner. The sight of her, as it always seemed to do, froze him to the spot. As she turned, she caught sight of him and a smile passed over her face and her sleepy eyes took him in as she made a slight bow with her head, and went onward on the path to whatever business she intended.

‘Master Crispin?’
There’s much in this excerpt that gives a hint as to what is to come and what has passed before. The “Edward” that Crispin is talking to is his former squire that readers have never met before through the fourteen previous books. Because Crispin was banished from court some twenty years ago, a few of his past acquaintances have shown up in the books. Edward is the boy he had trained, the boy he had trusted is now a man, and formed by Crispin’s treason and dispossession. Luckily, he was taken in by another lord—Geoffrey Chaucer, as it happens, one of Crispin’s old friends—trained, and became a knight himself.

And then, by the last paragraph, we see that Philippa, his longtime love—dressed as a nun!—and his bastard son Christopher, are also somehow in the story of murder and intrigue.

Edward serves to breach the line between Crispin’s past and his present, someone who was an important part of his past and comes into play again as the tides turn for King Richard. So it is a good excerpt to represent the book, but only if you get to the whole book.
Follow Jeri Westerson on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her website.

The Page 69 Test: Veil of Lies.

The Page 69 Test: Serpent in the Thorns.

The Page 69 Test: The Demon's Parchment.

The Page 69 Test: Troubled Bones.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Lance.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of the Alchemist.

The Page 69 Test: Cup of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: The Silence of Stones.

The Page 69 Test: A Maiden Weeping.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 5, 2021

"Hiding Place"

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.

Holloway applied the Page 69 Test to her latest thriller, Hiding Place, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Looking back, I could not imagine being that painfully young and unaware of the world ever again. But at the time, it was our own Bacchanalia, and the laughter and highs—drug induced or not—we shared in those years were something I could still smile about, though now it was bittersweet. I had more fun with Mary in those years than I ever had.

Until the night I looked across the club. There was a gap in the writhing bodies glistening in the strobe lights. The pulse of the music was heavy and driving, and with the aid of the coke still singing in my system, it felt exciting and primal. I knew who he was. The highest level of society was a small set. He did not look away when I met his gaze, and I was caught in his stare as he placed his drink on the bar and cut through the crowd toward where Mary and I sat.

Someone bumped into him, but he never wavered from his path. When a girl danced in front of him, he grasped her shoulders and moved her aside. The entire time, I was snared by his eyes. At the time, I thought the heat of his gaze was the sexiest thing I had ever seen. Now, if someone stared at me with that amount of intensity, I would recognize him for what he was: a predator.

As he walked through the club, my breath caught in my throat. I did not have a sense of self-preservation at that point, but I remembered that moment with startling clarity. I stared at him and thought, This is it. This man changes everything.

And he did.
When I started writing Hunting Ground, I wondered who was this mysterious innkeeper who showed up on the page. She obviously had secrets. Her son was clearly traumatized. She has a small arsenal and a safe room tucked away in her home. Both my curiosity and Evelyn’s were piqued.

I was so excited to delve into Faye’s story in Hiding Place. Her tale is deeply introspective and filled with tension and twists. This scene from page 69 gives readers a flavor of her past and her struggles. She was far more damaged than I expected and far more ferocious. She surprised me, and I hope she will do the same to you.
Visit Meghan Holloway's website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Page 69 Test: Once More Unto the Breach.

The Page 69 Test: Hunting Ground.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2021

"A Counterfeit Suitor"

Darcie Wilde is the award-winning author of stylishly adventurous historical mysteries and romances, including the Rosalind Thorne Mysteries, a Regency-set series inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, as well as the Regency Makeover Trilogy. She has also written, under the name Sarah Zettel, Locus and Philip K. Dick Award-winning novels, including Fool's War, a New York Times Notable Books of the Year selection.

Wilde applied the Page 69 Test to her new Rosalind Thorne Mystery, A Counterfeit Suitor, and reported the following:
From page 69:
…Russell Fullerton also breached the crowd. His long legs carried him forward far faster than Rosalind, encumbered by her evening gown, could manage. He strode directly up to Sir Reginald, but he addressed himself to Alexi. Rosalind was too far away to hear, but she could easily interpret what he said. He was apologizing for his friend’s behavior. He would take charge of him now. The countess would not be inconvenienced again.

Alexi hesitated, clearly caught between his mistress’s instructions and the reassurances of this gentleman. Sir Reginald straightened himself up as much as he was able and assumed a swaggering air.

In the end, Alexi took the path of least resistance. He stepped back from Sir Reginald, bowed, and headed away toward the salon and, presumably, to Countess Lieven’s private box.

With every fiber of her being, Rosalind wanted to turn and run, to hide away and pretend this choice was never hers. She felt how alone she was. She felt all the fear, anger, and loss of the girl she had been.

But she could not run. She straightened herself. She set her features into an expression of gentle concern that was the furthest thing from what she actually felt. Free of the crowd, she was able to move smoothly forward. There would be no more scenes.

Of course the two men saw her. She had nowhere left to hide. Fullerton turned first. Then her father. “Ah! She returns!” Sir Reginald tugged at his jacket lapels. “The youngest of my poisonous brood!”

Rosalind bit the inside of her cheek, hard. She reached deep into her mind and her heart for a fund of old memories she had believed she would never need again.

She remembered when she loved this man without reservation and believed that he loved her.
Page 69 of the latest Rosalind Thorne, A Counterfeit Suitor, gets straight to the emotional heart of the book. Readers of the series will know that Rosalind’s deadbeat, drunken, father — Sir Reginald Thorne — abandoned her and her mother when Rosalind was still a teenager. Since then, he’s been cared for by Rosalind’s older sister.

On page 69, Sir Reginald has escaped, and vowed to revenge himself on Rosalind. Unfortunately, he also has help from Rosalind’s enemy, Russell Fullerton. On this page, the softness of the action belies the intensity of the conflict, both internal and external. What we see most strongly is Rosalind’s long buried anger and emotional conflict as she is forced to confront her father, and try to get him away from Fullerton. The ongoing dilemma between the wish to acknowledge private feeling, the need for immediate action, and the unyielding requirement to maintain public appearances is also on display.
Visit Darcie Wilde's website.

Q&A with Darcie Wilde.

--Marshal Zeringue