Wednesday, January 26, 2022

"The Torqued Man"

Peter Mann grew up in Kansas City. He teaches history and literature at Stanford and is a past recipient of the Whiting Fellowship. He is also a graphic artist & cartoonist and draws the online comic The Quixote Syndrome

Mann applied the Page 69 Test to The Torqued Man, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Torqued Man:
“Who’d’ve thought? Bleedin’ heart Frank Pike gone off to make Spain red, and now he’s living under the swastika? I hope the colors didn’t confuse you.”

“They call me Finn now, Seán.”

“Finn? Larger than life now, are you—the great Fionn MacCumhaill?”

“Precisely. Finn McCool in the bowels of Teutonia.”

“Bowels of Teutonia. Ah, that’s a good laugh, that. Speakin’ of, I’ve got an appointment.”

Russell stood and went to the hallway toilet.

He came back some minutes later.

“What do you make of the German shelf toilet, Seán?” asked Finn, the emptied saltshaker safely back in his pocket.

“Foul business. I’ve streaked it something dreadful.”

“Can’t be avoided. It’s designed to keep the memory of the past alive.”

“They’re a queer lot, these Germans.”

“What can you say? They’re fixated on their own history.”

Finn reached for the tray of drinks. “Come, Seán, try the cider. Apfelschorle, they call it.”

“Better not. Damn ulcer’s put the bag clean out of order. He won’t stand for even a nip.”

“Well, then, this Apfel’s ‘shorely’ your man—nary a drop of spirit in it.”

“You don’t say.... Well, alright, then.... My, that does have a refreshing tingle to it.”

“They add a touch of ginger to it, I’m told. A salutary burn.”

“I’ll say. Well, I’m told ginger’s good for the bag.”

“Yes, Seán, and so it is.”

“Say, Pike—er, rather, Finn—I do hope there are no hard feelings about that whole bit of bad business in ’34. We were fraying at the seams, and I was just trying to hold things together.”
And the results are... not too shabby! Our hurried browser has flipped to a page that gives a pretty decent sample of the book’s overall flavor and a pivotal moment in the plot, though perhaps requiring a bit of context.

The conversation is between one of the main characters, the Irish spy Frank Pike, aka Finn McCool, and his old comrade-turned-nemesis, Seán Russell. The two old IRA fighters have just been reunited in Berlin, on the eve of their return by U-boat to Ireland, where they are to help rouse their countrymen for the planned German invasion of Britain.

What luck that right off the bat we have Russell orienting the reader: Pike went off to fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War, but he now finds himself in rather peculiar circumstances for an anti-fascist—living abroad in Nazi Germany. Pike informs him that here in Berlin he goes by his newly adopted alter ego of Finn McCool, the legendary hero of Celtic myth. The banter moves swiftly from shelf toilets to stomach ailments and finally to the troubled past between the two men, back in 1934 when Sean Russell oversaw the expulsion of Pike from the IRA for his socialist sympathies.

But there’s more than idle conversation afoot. The very last line on page 68 tells us that Finn has pinched a saltshaker full of rat poison from the kitchen pantry—the very same saltshaker he now empties into Russell’s apple cider while the latter is emptying his bowels. So, in fact, the reader has serendipitously flipped to the moment when Pike, as Finn McCool, commits his first act as a “secret death-dealing ambidexter.”

The consequences of this extra-spicy Apfelschorle will play out in the following chapters aboard the submarine in spectacularly graphic and foul-smelling fashion. And thanks to its rippling effects, Finn will return to Berlin—"the bowels of Teutonia”— to continue his murderous exploits, as well as develop a complicated, life-changing friendship with his German spy handler, Adrian de Groot.
Visit Peter Mann's website.

Q&A with Peter Mann.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

"The Death of Jane Lawrence"

Caitlin Starling is the nationally bestselling author of The Death of Jane Lawrence (2021), as well as the Bram Stoker-nominated and LOHF award-winning The Luminous Dead (2019). Her other works of genre-hopping horror and speculative fiction include Yellow Jessamine and a novella in the Vampire: The Masquerade collection, Walk Among Us.

Starling applied the Page 69 Test to The Death of Jane Lawrence and reported the following:
From page 69:
He sounded so disturbed by the idea that she fell back a step. “You wouldn’t really send me back to Larrenton in this storm, would you?” she asked. “It’s only one night. I-”

“Of course I wouldn’t,” he said. But he kept a distance between them that felt different from his unease that first night at the Cunninghams’, and different from their calculated dance after their kiss. “I’m sorry, Jane. I’m not myself just now. Lindridge Hall is not the best for my nerves. A howling storm isn’t wonderful for them, either, when you’re not sure if all the windows will hold through the night. But my room is safe, regardless; you’ll stay here, and in the morning if my regular carriage doesn’t come, I’ll see if I can’t borrow Mr. Purl’s horse and ride out and see how bad the damage is.”

“I called for you,” she said. “You didn’t answer.”

He ducked his head. “I thought- I thought I was dreaming,” he said.

Dreaming. She’d caught him half awake, confused. Of course. That made all the sense in the world. Relief loosened the tight knots of her shoulders a fraction of an inch. “You’re not dreaming,” she said. She reached out to touch him, but he evaded her smoothly. “Perhaps- perhaps my presence will make you feel a little safer tonight?”

He laughed, though it was weaker than he usually sounded. “Lindridge Hall cannot be fixed by company and good cheer alone, I’m afraid.”
Page 69 drops us smack in the center of The Death of Jane Lawrence going full gothic. Jane has just arrived at her new husband’s house, Lindridge Hall, in the middle of a disastrous storm, even though he’s made her swear never to step foot there after sunset. And she’s found her husband acting… a bit strange. The first signs of fracture in an otherwise whirlwind romance, and the first indication that Lindridge Hall isn’t just crumbling and inconveniently far from town, but actively unwell in some way.

That line I’ve ended the excerpt on, “Lindridge Hall cannot be fixed by company and good cheer alone, I’m afraid,” is almost a thesis for the rest of the book. Jane, as I’m sure we all expected, winds up staying at the house for far more than this first night, and in the process, unearths all the dark secrets of her husband and his past. Bloody mistakes, occult magic, buried bodies…

Moreover, the house itself becomes, if not fond of her, certainly possessive– and she of it. Jane’s eventual obsession with the house could easily be likened to addiction (and so can her husband’s). And the deeper she goes, the more reality becomes unmoored.

It certainly would be nicer (easier, safer) if it could have all been just a dream.
Visit Caitlin Starling's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Luminous Dead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 24, 2022

"Under a Sky of Memories"

Soraya M. Lane graduated with a law degree before realizing that law wasn't the career for her and that her future was in writing. She is the author of historical and contemporary women's fiction, and her novel Wives of War was an Amazon Charts bestseller.

Lane lives on a small farm in her native New Zealand with her husband, their two sons and a collection of four legged friends. When she's not writing, she loves to be outside playing make-believe with her children or snuggled up inside reading.

Lane applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Under a Sky of Memories, and reported the following:
From page 69:
After three weeks of almost-daily flights, the longest days Vita could have imagined, and a bone-deep tiredness that had them all falling asleep into bed each night as soon as they’d eaten, everything had come to a grinding halt.

Vita stretched and looked out at the endless expanse of water from their villa window, suddenly feeling like a bird in a gilded cage. In the beginning, she’d have done anything for some time off to spend lounging around and resting, but after days of doing nothing, she was bored. Not to mention she hated to think of all those troops in desperate need of being airlifted; how many would suffer or die just because they couldn’t get to them?

“Surely this weather can’t last,” she muttered to no one in particular.

“Want to play another game of cards?” Dot asked.

Vita turned and sighed, crossing the room and sinking into a chair at the table. “Alright, nut not rummy again, can’t we play something else?”

Dot shrugged. “Cheat?”

“I suppose so.” She wasn’t particularly enthused about playing any card game, but it beat pacing back and forth, staring out the window at the rain and the thick cover of clouds.
This is such a fun test! For my novel, page 69 is representative of the book, because it’s the start of a new chapter and it sets the scene for where the main characters are. My book was inspired by the true tale of a group of American nurses and medics who crash land behind enemy lines in Albania during WWII, and page 69 is them impatiently waiting for the weather to clear so they can board a plane. Their job is to transport injured soldiers from front line field hospitals, and they’re anxious to get back to work and save lives. What the characters don’t realise on page 69 is that the moment they board that plane, their lives will change forever, and they will end up very different characters by the end of the story, compared to the women they are before the crash. It’s a story of survival against all odds. So actually page 69 is a turning point in the novel - not that the reader knows it at that point!
Visit Soraya Lane's website.

Q&A with Soraya M. Lane.

My Book, The Movie: Under a Sky of Memories.

Writers Read: Soraya M. Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 22, 2022

"The Librarian Always Rings Twice"

USA Today best-selling author Marty Wingate writes The First Edition Library series (Berkley) set in Bath, England, about the curator of a collection of books from the Golden Age of Mystery. Book one, The Bodies in the Library, concerns murder among an Agatha Christie fan-fiction writing group, and in book two, Murder Is a Must (October 2020), an exhibition manager is found dead at the bottom of a spiral staircase.

Wingate applied the Page 69 Test to the third novel in the series, The Librarian Always Rings Twice, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Librarian Always Rings Twice drops the reader into a scene that takes place during the second Wednesday open afternoon at the First Edition library, a well-attended event. Not only are there fans of the Golden Age of Mystery, but also board members of the First Edition Society, and curator Hayley Burke’s nemesis, Charles Henry Dill, nephew of the late Lady Fowling, founder of the Society and its library.

“He frowned at me and I frowned back. I shouldn’t leave him alone, or soon he’d be telling people the First Edition Society had been his own idea. But if I policed him, how would I talk with the real library patrons?”

The Page 69 Test works for this book amazingly well. In addition to the exchange between Hayley and Charles Henry there is brief conversation with, two of the elderly board members who ask if “that young man” will be dropping in. “That young man” refers to recent visitor John Aubrey. He claims to be the grandson of Lady Fowling, who had no children. Or did she?

Page 69 gives the reader a good idea of what’s going on in both the main and the subplot. Characters are mentioned that carry throughout the book. The scene is in the library, an integral part of the story. The murder doesn’t take place for another few pages, but this helps set the stage.

The scene is also part of a series arc: Hayley’s attempt to pump some energy into the Society and call more attention to the library. Lady Fowling died three years before book one (The Bodies in the Library) at the age of 94, and her longtime personal assistant (and now Society secretary), Mrs. Woolgar, believes nothing should change. Hayley, who may know Lady Fowling only through the stories she’s heard and the woman’s portrait on the first-floor landing, believes otherwise, but can only chip away at Mrs. Woolgar’s resistance one book at a time.
Visit Marty Wingate's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2022

"At First Light"

Barbara Nickless is the Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts bestselling author of the Sydney Rose Parnell series, which includes Blood on the Tracks, a Suspense Magazine Best of 2016 selection and winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence; Dead Stop; Ambush; and Gone to Darkness. Blood on the Tracks and Dead Stop won the Colorado Book Award, and Dead Stop was nominated for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence.

Nickless applied the Page 69 Test to At First Light, the first novel in a new series starring Professor Evan Wilding, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Evan said, “If memory serves, the Prose Edda refers to dwarfs as maggots festering in the flesh of the primordial being Ymir. Also sexual predators who hunger to bed goddesses.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Diana looked disappointed, then brightened. “You should check it out the club anyway. I’ll be your bodyguard.”

He made a noncommittal grunt. “Let’s back up to that comment about me coming down from my castle. What are you implying?”

It was her turn to blush. “You’re a man of the people, Evan. I didn’t mean it that way. Just that maybe you should live a little. You know, get out once in a while.”

“I get out.”

“With your hawk.”

“Ginny is good company. Better than most humans.”

She let his words hang in the air. He glared at her.

The moment ended with Evan’s phone blaring “I Am Woman.” It was his ringtone for Addie.

He answered with, “I’m still working on it.”

“You haven’t translated the runes yet?”

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Her sigh came over the phone. “Anyway, I’m downstairs in the lobby. I’m also kind of double-parked behind your fancy sports car.”

“I wouldn’t advise that. Campus police are notorious.”

“I won’t be there long. I need you to go on a little drive with me, Evan. We’ve got another murder.”
What an intriguing test! I intend to apply it to novels I’m reading, as well as to my own work.

Readers opening randomly to page 69 In At First Light might find themselves confused. The page concerns a bit of dialogue provided mostly without attribution—and without an introduction to any of the three characters involved (since they’ve all appeared in the book multiple times).

However, page 69 does do two critical things, which is what makes the test so interesting. One, it highlights one of the book’s themes of how easy it is to let our perceived shortcomings lead us to avoid interacting with other people. And, as the end of a chapter, it provides a hook in the ongoing mystery investigation by bringing in the discovery that there has been another murder. This discovery will ultimately lead to the revelation that the police and their consultant are dealing with a serial killer.

At First Light was written during the first year of the pandemic and during a time of great grief for my family. Badly needing distraction, I dove headfirst into the research, returning to my long-ago love of Old English poetry, Nordic literature, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Viking culture. As writers, we’re taught to only show the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our research (as well as other aspects of our fiction). But my editor was kind enough to tell me to leave all the research in and we’d work on it during the developmental edit. A lot came out, of course. But a good amount stayed in.

The novel features a unique protagonist—a forensic semiotician (someone who studies the signs and symbols left at a crime scene by the killer) who is also a dwarf. Thus, Dr. Evan Wilding’s view of the world is different for many reasons. It was wonderfully distracting to move through my fictional Chicago and see it through his eyes.
Visit Barbara Nickless's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

"The Good Son"

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels for adults and teenagers, and the recipient of Great Britain’s Talkabout prize, The Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson awards, and named to the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, with more than 3 million copies in print in 34 languages. It was later adapted into a major feature film starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

Mitchard applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Good Son, and reported the following:
On page 69, a reader would see a pretty important statement of a theme in The Good Son — which is an essential question: How do you love and support your child, knowing your child has done something unspeakable? On this page, Thea, the mother of Stefan, the boy convicted of murder, is talking with her husband Jep about how difficult it is to be supportive after Stefan is released from prison, because she has her own misgivings about her son. Finally, Jep says, “'You know, whatever doubts we have, we’re the counterweight. Against what anyone else says. We have to be the one thing he can count on. The thing is, how?’"
Visit Jacquelyn Mitchard's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 15, 2022

"The Shattered Skies"

John Birmingham is the author of Emergence, Resistance, Ascendance, After America, Without Warning, Final Impact, Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice, and other novels, as well as Leviathan, which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts, and the novella Stalin’s Hammer: Rome. He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Playboy, and numerous other magazines.

Birmingham applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Shattered Skies, the sequel to The Cruel Stars Palms, and reported the following:
Here’s a weird turn of the roulette wheel. The Shattered Skies is a ‘band of five’ story. But none of our five heroes appear on the 69th page of the book, or the chapter containing it. Instead we visit with Jonathyn Hardy, father to Lucinda, recently promoted in battle to the command of the Defiant, the last surviving warship facing off against humanity’s implacable enemy, the Sturm, as extreme a bunch of species-purist space Nazis as you’re ever likely to find.

There are no massive space battles, no super intelligent machine minds at work, no weird gene-modded rhino-man hybrids with big honking guns anywhere near this page or this chapter - Which does make a change from the rest of the book.

But oddly enough, I think the Page 69 Test sort of works in this instance. In The Shattered Skies, the follow-up to the origin story of The Cruel Stars, we spend a bit more time with the enemy. We begin to understand, if not to share, their motivations and part of the way I did this was to rescue Lucinda's dad from a debtors’ prison on a colony world run by one of the worst corporate empires within human space.

As Jonathyn Hardy shambles through a pleasant and comfortable refugee camp run by the supposedly inhuman Sturm, we get a close look at the consequences of ceding unfettered power to private capital.
He guessed there were a few hundred people inside, mostly freed prisoners, like him. They all wore new coveralls stenciled with the words 'agronomy services', but they also had the look of ragged scarecrows about them as they moved through long lines of plantings. It was hot and most of the workers had either rolled up their sleeves or even peeled down the tops of their coveralls to expose army-green T-shirts, dark with sweat. Their arms were thin. Their cheeks sunken. But they stood up straight, too, and walked with confidence, not the cowering, anxious half-step of somebody who expects to be whipped at any moment.
For a space opera which is otherwise full of exploding stars and murderous robots, it’s an oddly quiet, mournful scene. But it cuts to the bone of a question I wanted to ask in this second book. Is humanity worth saving?
Follow John Birmingham on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to his column.

My Book, The Movie: The Cruel Stars.

Writers Read: John Birmingham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 13, 2022

"Palms, Paradise, Poison"

John Keyse-Walker practiced law for 30 years, representing business and individual clients, educational institutions and government entities. He is an avid salt- and freshwater angler, a tennis player, kayaker and an accomplished cook. He lives in Ohio and Florida with his wife. Sun, Sand, Murder, the first book in the Teddy Creque mystery series, won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award.

Keyse-Walker applied the Page 69 Test to Palms, Paradise, Poison, the latest Teddy Creque mystery, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A freshly painted blue wooden ketch, the old retractable centerboard style like my dada used to sail, moved smoothly into view. The boat heeled over in the light breeze, its shadow visible on the bottom twenty feet down in the gin-clear sea. From where I lay in bed, I could see two figures on deck, a man and a woman. The woman reclined, trailing her hand in the water. It was hard to believe it was the same water which had roiled with hurricane ferocity a short month ago.

“Are you awake, Teddy?” Jeanne Trengrouse sighed, only half awake herself.

“Yes. Just listening to the wind.”

“I’m surprised you’re awake so early,” she said. “After your performance last night.” No more sighs now. Jeanne had that the-Devil-made-me-do-it spark in her glorious blue eyes, the eyes around which a man could make a life. The eyes of a woman around whom I had made my new life, blending my family of two children, Kevin and Tamia, with hers — her remarkable son, Jemmy, and Sir Winston Churchill, scarlet macaw and burglar-alarm-cum-doorbell.

“Since you’re not tired, come here,” she said. She pulled me against her, enveloping me in a tangle of lithe limbs and frowsy hair. Playful nipping kisses turned to passion, and we …
Well, I suspect you can guess the rest of what happens on page 69. Does it give the reader a good idea of what the entire book is about? Hardly. Page 69 is link or bridge between the action at the start of the book and the pursuit/quest which makes up the balance of the story.

The book begins with my series main character, Royal British Virgin Islands Police Constable Teddy Creque, the sole policeman on the BVI out-island of Anegada, struggling to protect his home island against a monstrous hurricane. In the course of performing a rescue of a sinking boat, he captures an escaped prisoner, the formidable Queen Ya-Ya, and places her in a cell. He leaves his side-kick and another islander to guard her while he moves on to another rescue, only to return to find Ya-Ya gone from the locked cell, her islander guard dead, and Teddy’s side-kick in a confused state and unable to explain what happened.

Page 69 only alludes this early action, instead showing the reader the peaceful domestic life which the hurricane interrupted and to which Teddy seems to have returned. But in the pages beyond 69, Teddy pursues Queen Ya-Ya to Cuba, forming an alliance with a police officer who is also a Santeria priestess, and finding himself thrust into an occult world for which he is woefully unprepared.

While it hardly gives the reader a complete sense of the story, Page 69 does give a taste of the idyllic setting of the series, and a glimpse of Teddy’s domestic life, a life he longs to live undisturbed and which forces from the outside world are always certain to disrupt.
Visit John Keyse-Walker's website.

My Book, The Movie: Sun, Sand, Murder.

My Book, The Movie: Beach, Breeze, Bloodshed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

"The Second Shooter"

Nick Mamatas's novels include The Last Weekend, Love is the Law, The Damned Highway with Brian Keene, Bullettime, Sensation, Under My Roof, and Move Under Ground.

Mamatas applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Second Shooter, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my speculative thriller The Second Shooter a cell phone has been hacked, conspiracy theories are bandied about across a dinner table, and an eight-year-old girl cages a sip of beer. This certainly captures the vibe of the book, which is a novel of technology, the politically eccentric and marginal, and sudden outbursts of transgression. As one character says at the very bottom of the page "It's just interesting to hear what weird people think."

The Second Shooter was a tricky book to write, as a lot of near-term science fiction is. I conceived of it before pizzagate, before Qanon, before lab leak hypotheses, and before hundreds of people lined the streets of Dallas waiting for the return of JFK Jr. from the dead. In 2016, a novel about conspiracy theories surrounding the phenomenon of the second shooter—ever notice how many early news reports of mass casualty events describe a team of two, only for it to finally be revealed that the carnage was the work of a single killer?—seemed interesting, even cool. Life got in the way and I put the 25,000 words and four-page synopsis I had down in February of 2017 to work on other projects. By the time I sold the book in early 2021, right after even simple voting became the locus of conspiracy theories, the notion was far more treacherous.

Luckily, I didn't like my synopsis anyway, so I was able to throw it away. I introduced a new subplot into the second act, one based on an infamous mass shooting event that occurred in early 2018, and I turned the third act into something far more mystical, and radical, than I'd ever could have imagined. My protagonist is a radical journalist and occasional lowlife who l designed to personify the Hunter S. Thompson maxim-cum-directive, "“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!”, which is pretty fun but ultimately was insufficient to carry the whole book. So while page 69 captures the vibe of the book, and the stakes of the book, it does not prepare you for the final third, at all.

But the final third of The Second Shooter may well prepare you for the next five years. Stay sharp! We have you in our sights!
Visit Nick Mamatas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

"Down a Dark River"

Karen Odden received her Ph.D. in English literature from New York University and subsequently taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her first novel, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today bestseller, and A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit have won awards for historical mystery and historical fiction.

Odden applied the Page 69 Test to her latest mystery, Down a Dark River, and reported the following:
From page 69:
[I] knew it was more than fair, Ma asking me to keep Harry for a while, after she’d kept me for years. For most people in the Chapel, sleep and food and safety and work were like four aces, held close to take a fat pot in a fast-paced game. But from the first night I entered her house, Ma had made it clear that game wasn’t played at her table. She’d dealt all four aces into my palm, the same as she dealt them to Pat and Elsie and Colin, never once making me feel like she regretted taking me in, no matter how many times she had to reuse the leaves for tea. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, Ma. I’ll figure out something.” I set aside the cup and saucer and stood to retrieve my coat from the rack.

She stood as well, looking up at me with a face full of affection. “Thank you, Mickey. I wouldn’t ask, if I could think of summat else.”

“When do you want to send him?”

“Tomorrow, around midday.” She hesitated. “Mind you, he ain’t much to look at, but he’s a good sort, once you talk to him.”

“Don’t worry, Ma,” I said again. I settled a kiss on her cheek and opened the door. “We’ll be fine.”

***

When I arrived back at the Yard, there was a messenger, just arrived, with a note addressed to me:

Quiet but better. Was expecting you today. James.

I heard the rebuke and let out a groan as I checked the clock. Half past six. How was it so late? And I still needed to find Anthony Thurgood at his club.

In that moment, I made a decision. The case of Madeline Beckford was officially solved; she’d been found. All that remained was to wait for her to talk. No doubt it would be best if I visited her regularly, convinced her to trust me. But with Vincent pressing me on the Albert murder, I had no time. My eyes sought Stiles. He was just the person for such a task. Pretty young maids and old harridans, they all unbent for him. James had met him several times and found him a smart, likable young man.

“Stiles,” I said. “Come outside for a minute.”

Obligingly, he set aside some papers and took up his coat.
Somewhat to my surprise, page 69 is remarkably representative of my book! It captures some of the core dualities and themes, for it shows Corravan in two separate “scenes”: first, visiting with Ma Doyle, his adoptive mother, in seedy, dangerous Whitechapel (representing Corravan’s past) and second, working at Scotland Yard (representing his present). The page alludes to two separate mysteries that preoccupy Corravan, mentions two different characters who are “foils” for Corravan (Harry Lish and Inspector Stiles), and illustrates several key aspects of Corravan’s character, including his tendency to take on too much and thereby disappoint people (here, James), and the compassion that Corravan learned from Ma Doyle, which will be crucial later on.

At this point in the book, Corravan’s thoughts are occupied by two different mysteries: the murder of the wealthy, young Rose Albert, who was found dead in a boat floating down the Thames, and the bizarre muteness of Madeline Beckford, whom Corravan has just rescued from a madhouse. On the top half of this page, Corravan visits with Ma Doyle, who asks him to take in her recently orphaned nephew, Harry Lish. Corravan is not paternal, but he knows what he owes Ma Doyle, and he agrees. Harry and Corravan have a good deal in common, for just as Corravan left Whitechapel thirteen years ago with next to nothing, Harry Lish leaves Whitechapel with one satchel. Like Corravan, Harry is clever, and he fiercely resents the idea of being a burden to anyone. Unlike Corravan, however, Harry has a proper education, which comes in handy later. In his role as a foil, Harry helps Corravan remember aspects of his own boyhood.

On the second half of page 69, Corravan returns to the Yard, where he receives a note from his friend Dr. James Everett that refers to Madeline Beckford, who later provides a clue that helps Corravan unravel the mystery of the murdered Rose Albert. Corravan hears “the rebuke” in James’s note, and this suggests one problem Corravan wrestles with: he tries to do too much on a given day. One lesson Corravan must learn over the course of the book is that he cannot save everyone; there are limits to what he can accomplish—and this is a truth he fiercely resists.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Odden and Rosy.

Q&A with Karen Odden.

My Book, The Movie: Down a Dark River.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 6, 2022

"The Murder Dance"

Sarah Rayne is the author of many novels of psychological and supernatural suspense, including the Nell West & Michael Flint series. She lives in Staffordshire.

Rayne applied the Page 69 Test to The Murder Dance, the most recent novel in the Phineas Fox series, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Arabella stared at him. ‘You think there’s something peculiar about the almshouses? That they weren’t real? That they were – what? – a smokescreen?’

‘I can’t really see what they could be a smokescreen for, though.’

‘There could be masses of things,’ said Arabella, promptly. ‘How about if Walter was storing smuggled goods – no, Reivers is a bit far from the coast for that, isn’t it? Or wait, he might have had a printing press in there and a gang of forgers working for him. Or an illicit still for brewing hooch and flogging to The Daunsen . . . Oh, and here’s a lovely one – maybe he was a member of one of those furtive organizations for assassinating kings and heads of states, or getting pretenders on to thrones. Like the Black Hand crowd who assassinated the Archduke in Sarajevo and triggered the Great War, or those earnest little groups drinking to the King over the Water and trying to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie. Or what if he was part of a Black Magic sect like that one in the nineteenth century – the Golden Dawn, was it called?– with Aleister Crowley trying to summon the devil – no, that’s a bit off the wall, isn’t it?’

Phin said, slowly, ‘How about the almshouse set-up being a cover for someone shut away in a barred room?’
Until I looked at page 69 of The Murder Dance, I hadn't realised how useful a signpost this part of the book could be.

There are, of course, points in any plot where it's helpful to give the reader an update on where the story has reached - not to mention the author, who is probably utterly confused by that time, and may well have lost the synopsis, flow chart, and chapter precis all so optimistically started around Chapter One. Not that I ever do lose such things, of course. Well, not often. Hardly ever, really.

In the case of The Murder Dance's page 69, I'd like to think the reader is being reminded that there's a sinister room tangled up in the story - a room that seems to contain all kinds of macabre secrets. Also - and this is always important - it flags up that there will be intrigue and sinister events ahead.
Phin put his arm round her. ‘It’ll probably turn out to be all perfectly ordinary and innocent,’ he said. ‘Don’t let it give you nightmares.’

‘I’ll try. But if I wake up screaming, at least you’ll be there tonight, won’t you?’

‘Yes,’ he said, very quietly. ‘I always will be.’
With this, the reader might get a reminder of the developing relationship between the two main protagonists in this series - Phineas Fox, the rather scholarly music researcher and historian, and the volatile and disastrously accident-prone Arabella.

With a series, it's always a difficult decision as to when - even if - you resolve what's usually called unresolved sexual tension, and allow the two major players to go happily hand-in-hand into the sunset. Because once you've done that, where do they go in future books? Do you keep them happily together, letting cosy domesticity into the plots, so that they solve murders or disinter ancient mysteries while shopping or washing up, or uncover the truth about strange legends in between choosing new bedroom curtains and worrying about the central heating boiler?

But with this snippet from the foot of page 69, I'd like to think the reader will see that Phin and Arabella's relationship is moving to a new level.
Visit Sarah Rayne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Chord of Evil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 3, 2022

"Death under the Perseids"

Teresa Dovalpage is a college professor and author of three theater plays and twelve novels. The last four belong to the Havana Mystery series published by Soho Crime.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Death under the Perseids, the most recent novel in the series, and reported the following:
69 happens to be the last page (half a page, actually) of a chapter, right in the middle of a dialogue between Mercedes, the Cuban-born narrator, and literary agent-turned-writer Javier. They have just met aboard the cruise ship Narwhal, a surprise encounter for both. Last time they saw each other was nine years ago, in Cuba, when Javier announced that Las Perseidas, a novel written by Mercedes’ then boyfriend, Lorenzo, was a runner up for a prestigious literary award in Spain.

A lot has happened afterwards. Mercedes is now married to an American college professor and living in Gainesville, Florida. Lorenzo is dead. The novel has been published under Javier’s name.
“Believe me, I really wish I hadn’t—” Javier sighed. “But it is over. Lo pasado, pisado, don’t you think?”

Let bygones be bygones. Spanish is more colorful: step on the past.
The scene offers a hint about the past. Javier regrets having stolen the novel after Lorenzo’s mysterious death. Confronted by Mercedes, he admits his misdeed. But his intentions may be somewhat shady in the present too, despite his apparent remorse.
“Let’s get together again. I’d like to meet your husband.”

Maybe you already have, I thought, but didn’t say it. Why the insistence, anyway? I still didn’t trust Javier.
From that moment on, Mercedes’ suspicions continue to rise because not only Javier but also other former friends (and enemies) of Lorenzo happen to be on board too. And then, they begin to disappear…

I would say that the test works for Death under the Perseids. Readers learn about the stolen novel, which is a key element in the story. They also figure out that the action happens aboard a ship:
Before I could make any comment, an alarm went off.

“All passengers, please collect your lifejackets and proceed to your muster stations as indicated on the back of your stateroom door,” said a voice from the ship’s loudspeakers. “The mandatory safety drill will start in ten minutes.”
Something else that works well with page 69 is the interjection of Spanish phrases. This is a good indicator of what readers will find throughout the novel. Yes, there are several idioms, curses and sayings en español. I blend the two languages to reflect Mercedes’ inner world. And to add sandunga.

Don’t worry, though. Like in the example above, explanations follow in English so they can be easily understood.
Visit Teresa Dovalpage's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Teresita Dovalpage & La Niña.

Q&A with Teresa Dovalpage.

--Marshal Zeringue