Thursday, May 5, 2022

"Child Zero"

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, the Michael Hendricks thrillers, and thirty-odd short stories in a variety of genres. His work has been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories, named a New York Times Editors' Choice, appeared on more than fifty year's best lists, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Holm applied the Page 69 Test to his new standalone biological thriller, Child Zero, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Even in the dim light of the squat’s lobby, Lucas looked worse than Brian remembered, pallid and dope-skinny. Truth be told, he didn’t smell too good, either, his breath and sweat tinged with the pungent scent of methamphetamine. He wore a dingy pair of matchstick jeans and a sleeveless undershirt yellowed at the edges. His lank hair had been cut into a haphazard mohawk some time ago and left to grow out. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, the flesh around them the color of a fading bruise.

“Sorry for the runaround,” he said, “but me and mine can never be too careful. We ain’t exactly paying rent on this place, and some of our business is . . . delicate.”

“Delicate?” Mat asked.

“He means illegal.”

“No, I mean delicate—but that don’t mean it ain’t both.” Lucas winked at Mat conspiratorially. “So, kid, you got a name?”

When Mat hesitated, Brian said, “Kid is fine for now.”

“Suit yourself,” Lucas replied. “You know he ain’t got no shoes on, right?”

“Gee, I hadn’t noticed. Thanks for calling it to my attention.”

“There’s no need to get snippy, dude. I thought maybe I could help, is all. What size shoe you take, kid?”

Mat looked to Brian, who nodded encouragingly. “Seven, I guess. Sometimes seven and a half.”

“But a grown-up seven, right? Not, like, kid-sized or whatever?”

“Yeah,” Mat replied. “I’m twelve,” he added, as if that clarified anything.

Lucas smiled. “Cool. I can work with that. Follow me.”
Okay, I had to cheat a little, because the opening paragraph of this excerpt straddles the page break between sixty-eight and sixty-nine, and features some table-setting that seems integral to the scene. I compensated by lopping off the last paragraph of page sixty-nine, because it likewise carries onto the next page.

That said, I’m pretty psyched with how Child Zero fares. I’ve made no bones about the fact that this book is a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton—but if you strip away the science, it’s essentially the story of a little kid with a big secret that some very dangerous people would do anything to learn.

Is that obvious from this excerpt? Probably not, but the scene provides some tantalizing hints. Who is this kid? Why is he barefoot? What the heck is he doing in some sketchy meth head’s squat?

If I have one reservation about this excerpt, it’s that it makes Child Zero sound more like a seedy noir than the mainstream thriller it actually is. Then again, I happen to like seedy noir, so I’ll take it.

Bottom line? If this passage was your cup of tea, or shot of whiskey, you’ll probably dig Child Zero… and if it wasn’t, you still might.

The kid’s name is Mateo, by the way, and he’s awesome—bright, scrappy, brave, and kind. If you wanna find out what happens to him next, you’re gonna hafta read the book.
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

The Page 69 Test: Red Right Hand.

--Marshal Zeringue