Tuesday, November 29, 2022

"Blue Like Me"

Aaron Philip Clark is a native of Los Angeles, CA. He is an ITW Thriller Award-nominated novelist and screenwriter. His novel Under Color of Law was inspired by his experiences in the LAPD.

Clark's new novel, Blue Like Me, is the second installment in the Detective Trevor "Finn" Finnegan series.

As a self-described "son of the city," Clark takes pleasure and finds inspiration in exploring the many facets of Los Angeles.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Blue Like Me and reported the following:
I can't say page 69 is a strong indicator of the plot or the novel, but it highlights one of its themes. The page explores the relationship between the protagonist, former LAPD detective Trevor Finnegan, and his ex-partner, Sally Munoz. Sally has just violently assaulted a drunk man and his friends at a bar, and while she can leverage her status as a sworn officer, Trevor can't. He fears the consequences despite not participating in the assault. I think the test does well to showcase the conflict between Trevor and Sally. He's beholden to her, and despite her erratic behavior brought on by grief, he doesn't want to abandon her. If a browser were to read page 69, they hopefully would glean this conflict, along with the additional layers of conflict within the book.

The first novel, Under Color of Law, explored trauma--specifically, generational trauma, while Blue Like Me centers on toxic relationships and how they can increasingly become poisonous. The series can be categorized as police procedurals or crime thrillers. Still, there is a strong human element at the heart of each story that will hook readers of crime and mystery and those seeking stories with emotional resonance.
Visit Aaron Philip Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: Under Color of Law.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2022


Rae Meadows is the recipient of the 2019 Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, the 2018 Hackney Literary Award for the novel, and a finalist for the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize. She grew up admiring the Soviet gymnasts of the 1970s, and in her forties decided to go back to the thing she loved as a child. She now practices regularly and can be found doing back handsprings. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Meadows applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Winterland, the second Homefront News mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Winterland is a scene with Vera, who is a neighbor/tutor/caretaker of the main character Anya. Vera is in her late seventies, and as a younger woman spent ten years in a forced labor camp in the Arctic city of Norilsk, where the novel is set. You can’t write about the Soviet Union without writing about Stalin and the gulag, and Vera allowed me a way to bring in this history. On this page, Vera has ventured outside to go to the market now that spring has arrived, but as she returns home, she recalls her family’s arrest forty years before. There is an absurdist element to the charges against her husband, and, by extension, against her and her twelve-year-old son. They are caught in a web of punishment without reason. In this flashback, Vera is about to learn her family’s fate, and she is awash in the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.

In Winterland, Vera plays a crucial role to both Anya, and in backstory, to Anya’s mother Katerina. It’s through Vera that Katerina learns the truth about the gulag camps, which begins her disillusionment with the Soviet Union, and thus sets the whole novel in motion. Vera’s stories are also important to understanding Anya’s experience in the state gymnastics program—the grueling physical demands, the cruelty, the belief in glory for the Motherland.

Vera remembers both life before the Revolution and the atrocities of Stalin’s rule. She is the holder of memories in a society that would rather forget. Although one doesn’t see into the whole novel on page 69, it gives a window into Soviet history through Vera’s experiences.
Learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Send Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2022

"Death on a Deadline"

Joyce St. Anthony was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. She is the author of the award winning Brewing Trouble mysteries set in Pittsburgh. A native Pittsburgher, she now lives in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania with her husband.

St. Anthony applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Death on a Deadline, the second Homefront News mystery, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Death on a Deadline:
She obviously hadn’t seen the same movie I had.

I told them what I knew so far. It wasn’t much, which was why I needed to go to the police department.

“Who would want to do something like that?” Mom asked. “That poor man. I feel terrible for Ava’s sister.”

“Freddie wasn’t very well liked,” I said.

“But he was a movie star,” Betty said. “No one kills a movie star.”

“Apparently someone did,” Sylvia said.

“Will the fair still go on? And the bond rally?” Betty asked. “I hope so. I have a date, and I bought a new outfit for the occasion.”

“Probably,” I said. “Which means I’d better get moving so I can get my articles written and ready for tomorrow’s paper and get to the fair.”

Mom said she’d get Sylvia settled, so I retrieved my pocket­book and headed to see my future father-in-law.

* * *
Jimmy wasn’t at the front desk when I arrived at the police depart­ment. The door to the chief’s office was open, so I went around Jimmy’s desk and knocked on the doorframe. Dad looked up and motioned for me to come in.

“Are you all by yourself?” I asked.

He nodded. “Jimmy is helping Martha and that Davis fel­low with last-minute adjustments to the program since Harrison won’t be on the schedule now. Rally is out on patrol. How are you doing?”

I sat down and opened my notebook. “I’m fine. How did Angel take the news?”

“Not how I expected.”

“What did you expect?”
Page 69 gives a pretty good view into the book. It's split between two scenes--the end of one and the beginning of another. In the first part, my protagonist Irene is talking about the victim with her mother and two friends. The evening before, Irene found the body of B-movie actor, Freddie Harrison in the dunk tank at the county fair. Sylvia and Betty both work at the factory in town. Sylvia is savvy, with a bit of a background that helps Irene out later in the book. She's moving into one of the bedrooms in the house as a boarder to help Irene's mother with expenses while Irene's dad is overseas. Betty is a bit of a ditz and provides some comic relief through the series. It's a good glimpse into the characters.

In the second part, Irene goes to visit the police chief who is her future father-in-law. They work well together (most of the time!) sharing information about the investigation. The chief doesn't always like Irene getting involved and tries to protect her. Irene has a mind of her own, however, and he realizes this. This scene is just after he talks to the victim's wife, Angel, who is an actress and sister of Ava, who owns the beauty shop in town. If you read the book, you'll learn that Angel is a bit over-the-top dramatic.

This was fun, and I hope it entices readers to pick up the book!
Visit Joyce St. Anthony's website.

Q&A with Joyce St. Anthony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

"Singer Distance"

Ethan Chatagnier is the author Singer Distance, a novel just out from Tin House Books, and of Warnings from the Future, a story collection from Acre Books in 2018. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary journals including the Kenyon Review Online, Georgia Review, New England Review, Story, Five Points, Michigan Quarterly Review, and the Cincinnati Review. His stories have won a Pushcart Prize and been listed as notable in the Best American Short Stories and the Million Writers Award.

Chatagnier is a graduate of Fresno State, where he won the Larry Levis Prize in Poetry, and of Emerson College, where he earned an MA in Publishing and Writing. He lives in Fresno, California with his family.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Singer Distance, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Singer Distance displays some tension between Rick and his friends about whether Crystal’s message to Mars will succeed. Here’s the relevant part of it:
While Priya was never prone to the same bouts of poesy as Crystal, she was the most socially adept person in the program—not the hardest crown to wear in a community of professional mathematicians, but still: she was easy to talk to. Except she had spent most of our trip looking like she had a stomachache. A certain amount of that could be written off as the travails of travel, the indignities of the road, too much time in the close-quarters company of smelly men, but something had clearly been bothering her.

“I know you’ve put a lot of planning into this. I hope you have a plan for if it doesn’t work,” she said.

“Why come all this way if you don’t think it’ll work?”

“I do think it’ll work. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t think it was going to work. But an outside observer would bet on our failure. No offense, but you’re a little lovestruck. You’re taking a lot on faith. We didn’t bring this to our professors because we know it might fail.”

“We didn’t tell our professors because we know it might succeed. No one else is going to get the credit for what she figured out.”
As an overall test, I don’t think this works well enough to be a thorough picture of Singer Distance. The question of whether Crystal has truly solved the Curious Language is important to Part 1 of the novel, but to paraphrase a character from the book, calling it representative of the novel would be like seeing one side of a pyramid and calling it the whole thing. The most important sides of the novel are the quest to measure up to Mars by solving their mathematics, the indefinable nature of physical and emotional distances, and the way love holds up, or doesn’t, over time.

I like to think of Singer Distance as equal parts quest, love story, mystery, and meditation on emotional distance. Page 69 touches on an aspect of the quest—what will its result be?—but without delving into the why behind the quest, it doesn’t connect that aspect to the others. The verdict: as a test of the novel, I wouldn’t call it inaccurate, but I would call it incomplete.
Visit Ethan Chatagnier's website.

Q&A with Ethan Chatagnier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2022

"The Lindbergh Nanny"

Mariah Fredericks was born, raised, and still lives in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in history. She is the author of the Jane Prescott mystery series, which has twice been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, as well as several YA novels.

Fredericks applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Lindbergh Nanny, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I think of Rob Coutts, how I was so sure. And so wrong. And how being wrong wasn’t a small thing; I was shattered. You’d think something that dangerous, I’d have felt it. I didn’t.

People don’t, I find.
On page 69 of The Lindbergh Nanny, Betty Gow looks out the window of a palatial summer home and sees Ellerson, the chauffeur in the swimming pool with another man. It is 1931, so she is mildly shocked, but more by his audacity in using the family pool than the gender of his companion. She worries that the intimacy is risky. How can he trust this man not to betray him? At the same time, as a servant living in someone else’s house, having no identity beyond what her employer deems suitable, she envies that joyous sense of self that comes of connecting with another person. Afterwards, she reflects on a young man she recently broke up with, the pain she experienced when she discovered she had given herself to someone she shouldn’t have trusted.

Page 69 reflects one of the key themes of The Lindbergh Nanny, even though it’s a scene I took in and out of the book as I wrote it. I worked very hard to stick to the facts of the kidnapping and the histories of those involved. One of the two significant alterations in the book was to make Ellerson a gay man. I did so because this is a story where private decisions become suddenly controversial, even incriminating, in the wake of the kidnapping. An addiction to alcohol or gambling, a love life out of the mainstream—these were no longer the personal business of the Lindbergh and Morrow staff; they were seen as vulnerabilities that might be exploited by the kidnappers or character flaws that might indicate a criminal nature. I wanted one character to have a need for privacy that would be immediately sympathetic to the modern reader. In addition, Ellerson is the one person in whom Betty confides the secrets of her past. Often, it is he who gets her where she’s going, whether it’s driving her to the Lindbergh house on the tragic night or introducing her to her next boyfriend. I didn’t want their relationship to be romantic—but grounded in a common understanding of love: its wonders and also its perils.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Death of No Importance.

The Page 69 Test: Death of an American Beauty.

Q&A with Mariah Fredericks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 19, 2022

"An Unforgiving Place"

Claire Kells is an author, a physician, and an avid open-water swimmer. She's rather obsessed with the great outdoors, even though she's scared to walk in the woods at night. Aside from wilderness adventures, her favorite things to write about are twisty plots, flawed characters, and romantic tension. She lives in Virginia with her family.

Kells applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, An Unforgiving Place, and reported the following:
From page 69:
His lips curled up in a smile as he handed me one of the spinach wraps. As soon as I took that first bite, I realized how hungry I was. It had been a grueling day, with more hard hours to come. Now that the rangers had left, I wondered if the wolves were feeling emboldened. I could still hear them howling in the distance, a lonely chatter that rolled through the valley.

When we’d finished our dinner, I looked back at the final resting place of Tim and Kelsey Greer. In some ways, it was a serene setting—the river, the white spruce, the vast Alaska wilderness. The sky was a dazzling blue.

But I’d been doing this job long enough to suspect that they hadn’t died peaceful deaths. The toxic berries. The wounds on their wrists. Their bodies prostrated on a riverbed of rock and silt.

Something sinister had happened here.

The question was, what?
I feel like I got exceptionally lucky with the Page 69 Test; it almost reads like my jacket copy! It nicely captures the “bones” of my novel: the setting, plot, and tone. First, it features the two main characters sharing a meal on some desolate backcountry trail, which they do often over the course of their investigation. I tend to have a spare writing style, which also comes across here. Setting plays a critical role in my mystery series, since all the books are set in National Parks, and I’m pleased that I managed to mention the “Alaska wilderness” on this page, too.

This page also sums up the “hook” of the story’s central murder mystery, which is important because my books tend to start with a missing person. In other words, I don’t tend to have a body on the first page. There are also some potential twists mentioned here that a reader can look forward to—the few clues that may or may not be important, the hint of something sinister.

Lastly, I like that this page shows my main character pondering the case in its early stages. This is something she does throughout the series since it’s from her perspective that the stories are told.

I do think that if a reader applied the Page 69 Test to this particular book, they would know exactly what they were getting!
Visit Claire Kells's website.

The Page 69 Test: Girl Underwater.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2022

"Never Name the Dead"

Like her protagonist Mud, D.M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah) comes from a long line of Kiowa Storytellers. After a thirty-two-year career spinning stories for Silicon Valley startups and corporations with a few escapes creating award-winning independent documentaries, Rowell started a new chapter writing mysteries that share information about her Plains Indian tribe, the Kiowas.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Never Name the Dead, and reported the following:
This was an interesting test. I’d heard of it in passing, but had never applied it to a book I was considering. I have to take a moment to enjoy the fact that I am applying the test to a novel I wrote—Surreal! Okay, back to page 69 and applying the test to my novel, Never Name the Dead.

A little background on the novel:

After ten years away and building a successful technology-driven marketing agency, my protagonist, Mud is called back to her childhood home in and around the former Kiowa, Comanche, Apache Reservation in Oklahoma by her Kiowa grandfather. He leaves a cryptic message that propels Mud into action. Expecting her grandfather at the airport, Mud is concerned when he cannot be contacted or found. Concern deepens when a tribe legislator and administrator shows up at the airport looking for her grandfather and hinting at something wrong. Taking an offered ride, Mud must later escape a tribe elder with evil intent before finally arriving at her grandfather’s house in the midst of a thunderstorm.

On page 69 Mud discovers a body in her grandfather’s work room. Browsers would read about Mud’s initial numb reaction to the discovery of the body, while also getting a hint of the Kiowa customs mixed within my mystery novel.

From the page:
Only then did I realize I was still holding what must be the murder weapon—Grandpa’s buffalo jawbone club. I threw it from me. It landed with a thump by the desk.

My hands shook.

Lightning flashed, drawing my gaze to the window’s rain-streaked pane. Without thought, I walked to the single-pane window, reached with still trembling hands to pull the lower sash upward, letting in the acrid sharp aroma of ozone while allowing the spirit of the dead man to escape. Rain splattered the window sill. I didn’t care.

Unseeing, I looked out the window, took a deep breath, mentally recited the Wind Walker prayer.
Reading just page 69, browsers would not get a sense of the story’s pace or depth. My novel is a brisk mystery. The story from beginning to end takes place in less than 24-hours. Once Mud arrives at Lawton, Oklahoma airport the adventure takes off at a rapid clip. Mud’s adventure is non-stop from her grandfather’s ominous phone call to the ending showdown at a Tribal Council meeting.

I believe that reading page 69 does give browsers a taste of the Native American mystery that awaits, just not a sampling of the pace of Mud’s adventure, or the twists and turns of the puzzle.
Visit D. M. Rowell's website.

My Book, The Movie: Never Name the Dead.

Q&A with D. M. Rowell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

"The Break"

Katie Sise is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of Open House and We Were Mothers. Her novels have been included on best-of lists by Good Morning America, the New York Post, E! Online, PureWow, POPSUGAR, and Parade magazine. She is also a jewelry designer and television host and has written several young adult novels, including The Academy, The Pretty App, and The Boyfriend App, as well as the career guide Creative Girl. She lives with her family outside New York City.

Sise applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Break, and reported the following:
“Diaper needs to come off, too,” the nurse says.

So starts page 69 of The Break, and what should be a mundane doctor’s visit encapsulates the entire mood and feeling of the novel. My main character, Rowan, is frozen with the feeling that she’s doing everything wrong, and that something is not quite right with her new family: her husband and her beautiful newborn Lila. Rowan starts page 69 by second-guessing what she’s even supposed to do with the clean diaper now that it’s no longer on her baby’s bottom. Should she throw it away? Is that what other mothers would do? Would it be strange to reuse a diaper, even if clean? She looks to her husband, who avoids her gaze.

When Rowan’s newborn Lila starts crying on the cold metal scale, Rowan is desperate to soothe her, and it feels like an eternity before she’s allowed to pick her back up again. Rowan’s maternal instinct and the intense feeling of wanting to protect her daughter infiltrates the novel, and you can feel it up close and personal on page 69 during the doctor’s visit.

When the nurse leaves, Rowan wonders what the woman thought of her and her husband. Rowan thinks to herself: Maybe she just saw new parents trying to get it right, or maybe she saw something worse.

The Break plays with the idea that the way others see us is sometimes very different than the way we imagine they do. Often, we suspect the worse. And Rowan’s paranoia over trying to get everything right has her second-guessing herself as a new mother. She often wonders where the strong, confident mystery writer version of herself has gone.

While they wait for the doctor to arrive, Rowan’s husband Gabe senses her anxiety and asks if she’s okay. Rowan tries to explain that’s feeling nervous, and when Gabe presses her, asking her why she’s feeling that way, Rowan responds, “I haven’t really stopped feeling nervous since Lila’s been born.”

“But Lila’s fine,” Gabe replies. “Are you nervous about something else?” Rowan confesses that she worries that Lila isn’t really fine, or that she’s going to do something wrong, but Gabe doesn’t understand. They argue, and Rowan accuses him of not being able to understand what it’s like for her as a new mom in charge of this tiny being whom she (and Gabe) love so desperately.

This ever-present feeling of something being not quite right is Rowan’s new reality. She can’t shake the feeling of dread. And she can’t parcel whether that’s because she’s a new mother with a tiny baby she loves and wants to protect, or if it’s something darker. At this point in the novel, Lila’s babysitter June has disappeared, and Rowan is terrified that something terrible has happened to her. Page 69 is a true representation of the dark thoughts, questions, and paranoia inside Rowan as she tries to navigate her new reality as a new mom, and as she wades through tension in her marriage and tries to get to the bottom of what really happened to her babysitter.
Visit Katie Sise's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 13, 2022

"The Verdigris Pawn"

Alysa Wishingrad spent many years working in theater, film, and TV before returning to her roots as a writer. When she’s not writing she’s probably out walking her dogs, taking a run, or seeing as much theater as she possibly can.

Wishingrad applied the Page 69 Test to The Verdigris Pawn, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I'd have thought they'd put a boy with skills like yours in the horse stable, not out here. That's just like them. Putting people down, never giving them a chance to show what they got. Why do they do that?"

"I honestly don't know," Beau replied.

"Me neither. But I'll tell you what it is--it's a waste." The boy picked something off the tip of his tongue, then flicked it away. "What do they call you, anyway? I'm Nate."

"Beau," Beau's mouth replied before his mind could stop him.

Where was a lie when he needed one?

Beau recoiled, ready for Nate to hit him.

But Nate simply shook his head in pity.

"Sorry to hear it. Lots of others over at Mastery House were named after him too.”

Nate turned and started walking toward the cow barn. "The heir be hung. You won't hear me saying that name, not til I've got him pinned to the ground begging for mercy. Beau stopped. "Mercy?"

"You don't think that goat-livered heir deserves any, do you? Wait, you're not one of those apprentices who thinks you're better than us lowly orphans, are you?"

"No," Beau vowed. "And you're absolutely right, the heir deserves no mercy."

"Exactly!" Nate flung a rock the size of his fist across the field, watching as it flew off into the tree line. "All that's done in his name, leaving us to starve while he stuffs his face!"
Page 69 of The Verdigris Pawn is a pivotal moment in Beau’s journey – he’s seeing himself through Nate’s eyes, and he’s really beginning to understand how the people of the Land see him. It’s also the moment right before he decides to throw his lot in with Nate, to run away, and dare to find his ace. It’s the jumping off point, and for Beau the real beginning of his transformation from pawn to player.

The Verdigris Pawn is in many ways a classic MG adventure, but it’s also an examination of power, what it means to hold it, lose it, and if it can ever be wielded responsibly. It’s about a boy who, even though he’s born into incomparable privilege, sees himself as powerless. It’s also about a girl who, even though she was born into nearly untenable circumstances, is willing to embrace the magical power that could endanger her very life. It’s about finding your voice, and the courage to use it for the greater good. And finally, it’s about how easily history can be distorted, and how important it is to examine our every preconceived notions about truth.
Visit Alysa Wishingrad's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Alysa Wishingrad & Cleo and Lucy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 11, 2022

"The Lava Witch"

Debra Bokur is the author of The Dark Paradise Mysteries series from 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 Lava Witch, the third Dark Paradise mystery, and reported the following:
On page 69 Detective Kali Mahoe Kali has elicited her friend Elvar Ellinsson’s help in reexamining a crime scene in a remote section of forest. She feels that she or the crime scene investigators may have missed or overlooked some small detail that might help shed light on the violent death of a young woman whose body had been discovered in the area.
She smiled, enjoying the cadence of his voice, and the slight accent that betrayed his heritage.

“Hilo’s not exactly respectful of evidence,” she admitted. “I’ll be fired or transferred to a desert somewhere if my dog destroys a crime scene.”

Elvar grew serious. “What is it that we’re looking for?”

Kali frowned. “I’m not really sure,” she admitted. “There’s been a report of some odd activity taking place in a remote area of the forest, up toward the summit of a path where there are a couple of clearings.” She looked at him, gauging his reaction. “A girl was found there a few days ago. She’d been murdered. We don’t know if these recent reports of strange events might be connected.”

He scratched his head. “I heard something about that. What should I keep a lookout for?”

“I wish I knew,” she said. She grinned, reluctantly. “That would make everything a whole lot easier. But some things to watch for are places that might have been used very recently as a campfire, or anything—words, symbols—that might be carved into tree trunks or drawn on the surface of rocks. And stay on the lookout for small dolls or carvings of figures. They could be very small, maybe just an inch or two, and made from stone or wood, or even cloth.”

He looked at her, curious. “You mean like a voodoo doll?”

She nodded, glancing up from the road to look at him with registered surprise.

“Yes, that’s actually a pretty good description. Do you know very much about voodoo practices? Is there something like that in Iceland?”

He nodded. “Oh, yes,” he said. “In the small village of Hólmavík, we have an entire museum devoted to necromancy. Some of it is quite dark, though tourists seem to find it amusing. And our history has been no kinder to witches than has yours. In the 1600s, people accused of witchcraft…
In my estimation, Page 69 of The Lava Witch is an excellent dive into the third book of the series, and captures the theme of witchcraft and mysterious happenings in the mountains of Maui. At the same time, it’s a nice moment that reveals the burgeoning relationship between Detective Kali Mahoe and Elvar Ellinsson.
Visit Debra Bokur's website.

Q&A with Debra Bokur.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire Thief.

The Page 69 Test: The Bone Field.

My Book, The Movie: The Lava Witch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

"Murder at Black Oaks"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases.

Margolin applied the Page 69 Test to Murder at Black Oaks, his sixth novel in the series featuring Robin Lockwood, ex-MMA fighter and Yale law school graduate, and reported the following:
If a reader opened Murder at Black Oaks to page 69 they would get a little idea about what half of the book is about. Murder at Black Oaks is a part legal thriller and part a salute to Agatha Christie and other giants of the golden age of mystery writing.

Robin Lockwood is hired by retired prosecutor Frank Melville who lives in Black Oaks, a replica of a cursed English mansion that sits on the top of Solitude Mountain. Melville wants Robin to free Jose Alverez, an innocent man who has been living on death row for thirty years. Page 69 shows a small part of Robin’s trial preparation. After Robin succeeds, she brings Jose to Black Oaks. When torrential rains cause mudslides, Robin is trapped in the mansion with a horribly scarred butler, a lunatic who has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane, and other classic suspects that peopled the novels of Agatha Christie’s, Ellery Queen’s and John Dickson Carr’s classic mysteries. When Melville is murdered in a cage elevator that is stuck between the second and third floor of the mansion, Robin must solve an impossible murder, because only Melville is in the car, but the murder had to have been committed by someone inside the elevator.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Woman with a Gun.

The Page 69 Test: Violent Crimes.

The Page 69 Test: The Third Victim.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Alibi.

The Page 69 Test: A Reasonable Doubt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2022

"Nightwatch over Windscar"

K. Eason lives with her husband and a trio of disreputable cats in Southern California, where she teaches first-year college students about zombies and food (not at the same time!). Her short fiction has appeared in Cabinet-des-Fées, Postcards from Hell: The First Thirteen, Jabberwocky 4, Crossed Genres, Kaleidotrope, Ink: Queer Sci Fi Anthology, and Shapers of Worlds: Volume III. She has written the On the Bones of Gods trilogy, The Thorne Chronicles, and The Weep duology, the second book of which, Nightwatch over Windscar, is now out from DAW Books.

When she's not writing or commenting on essays, she's probably playing D&D.

Eason applied the Page 69 Test to Nightwatch over Windscar and reported the following:
From page 69:
Gaer started for Notch with long strides. He shifted his perception sideways into the aether, into the layer where code lived, and fired a simple exploratory hex at Notch. The battle-rig—had it been healthy, whole, undamaged—should have snatched his code out of the aether, crumpled it up, and thrown it back at him as a warning. Instead his equation slid past the rig’s defenses.

At first glance, this passage appears a poor fit for the Page 69 Test. It’s deep in Gaer’s head, and he’s arithmancing, and a newcomer to the series might be lost. Arithmancy is somewhere between magic and coding, and Gaer’s found a break in the defenses of one of his allies. But Gaer is also a vakar--a species and a people not part of the Aedis--a quasi-religious organization devoted to defending the Confederation--to which his allies belong. Although he’s been seconded under treaty to assist the Aedis, he’s also a spy. And even if relations between his people and the Aedis are good now, well, they weren’t always, and war is an ever-present possibility.

But the passage--and the rest of the page, which follows Gaer thinking through the implications of his discovery--adhere pretty closely to larger themes in the book. Nightwatch Over Windscar is very much concerned with the liminal spaces where borders meet, clash, and rupture--not merely physical or political boundaries, but more personal ones: oaths and loyalties, what we believe about ourselves versus what is true. Gaer’s musings about his discovery in this passage echo forward through the pages, setting up what for him is a life-changing decision that also carries ramifications for the Confederation and the multiverse itself.
Visit K. Eason's website.

The Page 69 Test: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse.

Q&A with K. Eason.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2022

"City Dark"

Roger A. Canaff is a former special victims prosecutor and author of crime thrillers including Bleed Through, second in the ADA Alex Greco series and the 2020 IBPA Benjamin Franklin silver award winner for Mystery and Thriller.

Canaff applied the Page 69 Test to his newest novel, City Dark, and reported the following:
Page 69 of City Dark puts us in the tense, unsettling moment when Joe (the protagonist) and his older brother Robbie realize their mother isn’t coming back. It’s the night of July 13, 1977, and the blackout has struck New York City. It’s been nearly an hour since their car ran out of gas, and their mother Lois went off in search, telling them to remain in the car and wait. Now the darkness and heat have unnerved them both and Lois is nowhere to be found. The two boys, 15 and 10, are considering their options. They leave the car, emerge into the heavy air and eerily penetrating blackness, and contemplate for the first time striking out on their own through New York City.

Serendipitously, this page is a very accurate marker for what kind of book City Dark is. Page 69 happens to fall during one of the several flashback scenes that take the reader briefly from 2017 (where Joe, now 50, deals with late-stage alcoholism and becomes a murder suspect) to the terrifying night of the blackout that shaped both Joe and Robbie’s lives. Page 69 is the beginning of the boys’ transformation from frightened, powerless kids to apprehensive but determined young men. Their trek through Manhattan will prove brutal and harrowing; neither boy will emerge unscathed.

City Dark is a crime and legal thriller on two simultaneous tracks. The first is prosecutor Joe DeSantos’ journey through the last stages of a crippling alcohol addiction, and that coincides with his becoming a murder suspect after two bodies are found. Both have close ties to Joe, but due to his alcoholism, he is unable to remember his whereabouts on either night. The story tightens as Joe faces criminal charges and even questions his own innocence. Reluctantly, he accepts counsel from a brilliant attorney and friend, and the two seek to unravel a mystery that reaches back to his past. The second track is the night of the 1977 NYC blackout itself, where Joe and his older brother navigate the city in search of their mother and, ultimately, an escape from the darkness.
Visit Roger A. Canaff's website.

My Book, The Movie: City Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 2022

"Such a Pretty Girl"

T. Greenwood is the author of more than a dozen novels with more than a quarter-million copies sold. A two-time winner of the San Diego Book Award and LAMBDA Literary Award finalist, she has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Five of her novels have been Indie Next Picks and her twelfth novel, Rust & Stardust, was a LibraryReads selection. Her novels have been translated into five languages. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she teaches creative writing, studies photography, and continues to write.

Greenwood applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Such a Pretty Girl, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Liliana throws her arm around Sasha’s shoulder. Their heads lean in together as they walk toward the elevators, and my throat feels swollen.

Gilly and I trail behind. There were a few people milling about in the corridors, but no one I recognize. I feel suddenly, oddly, territorial. As if this is my home, and it has been invaded by strangers. I know it’s ridiculous. I abandoned Westbeth; it didn’t abandon me.

As the elevator ascends, I feel my stomach bottom out. I study the numbered buttons and resist the impulse to press 2 for Henri’s floor.

“Second floor!” Gilly used to call out in a deep, silly voice, pretending he was one of the fancy elevator operators in the luxury apartment buildings and hotels that we sometimes passed on the street. We used to pretend they were those guards with the fuzzy hats who guarded the Queen of England, and we’d always try to make them laugh. But now, Gilly just stands quietly as we keep rising. On the ninth floor, we get off, and I take a deep breath.

“It’s okay,” Gilly insists, as if he can simply manifest my wellbeing with his sheer will.
The Page 69 Test works with Such a Pretty Girl! In this scene, an adult Ryan has returned to the artists’ residence (Westbeth) in the West Village where she grew up, and where many of her most wonderful, and most painful, memories reside.

Much of the novel -- in both the past and present chapters -- takes place inside the walls of this labyrinthine former Bell Labs building. Westbeth is a real place, the first federally funded residence for artists, which opened in 1970. Ryan and her mother, an aspiring actress, move with friends into the building in 1977 when Fiona decides to pursue her dreams in NYC. In the 1970s, it was a bohemian mecca. As the city crumbled around them, this community was alive and vibrant. It is where the storied Village Halloween Parade began. It was (and is) the home to painters and sculptors, writers, and dancers, and musicians.

Henri is a photographer, a man who becomes like a father to Ryan, and she, his muse. In this scene, Henri is now gone, and the ache of his absence is acute.

Gilly is Ryan’s lifelong best friend, and the one person who can calm her when her crippling anxiety – something she has suffered from since childhood – kicks in.

This novel is, in many ways, about Ryan’s revisiting her childhood and examining it through a contemporary lens. But in this scene, like many in the novel, the past and present conflate.
Visit T. Greenwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Rust and Stardust.

The Page 69 Test: Keeping Lucy.

Q&A with T. Greenwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

"On Good Authority"

Briana Una McGuckin lives in a charmingly strange old house in Connecticut. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western Connecticut State University and an MLS from Long Island University. Among other places, her work appears in the Bram Stoker Award–nominated horror anthology Not All Monsters, the modern Gothic horror anthology In Somnio, and The Lost Librarian’s Grave anthology. McGuckin has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, a perhaps concerningly large collection of perfume oils, and a fascination with all things Victorian.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, On Good Authority, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I wiped my eyes and recommenced the massage. “You’ve been alone.”

Mother sniffed. “So have you.”

And all at once I had a feeling that, because she was my mother, I had no secrets from her—and Mr. Bornholdt was between us. Mr. Bornholdt and his claustrophobic kiss.

“Saw your Valentine.”

I jerked to attention. “What?”

“Valentine,” she said, enunciating. “The lad. I saw him yesterday.”

I put my hand to my mouth, the corners of which dragged down. I forced myself to speak calmly. “That was many years ago, Mother. Valentine’s a man now; he’s not here anymore.”

“He is,” she said, raising her voice, startling me. “He came down from the attic. He asked after you to the matron.”


“He had flowers. Purple hyacinths, he had. Good enough to eat.” She reached out and clutched my hand, and her grip was shocking in its strength. “But you mustn’t, Marian. Don’t eat them. He was insistent upon that.”

I bit my lip. But I held her close to me, saying nothing. It didn’t matter if she was going mad. The important thing was that she was here, and so was I. We were together.

Mother put her chin over my shoulder. “Will you go off with him? Once I’m gone?”

“Don’t talk so, Mother.” I patted her back. “You’re not rushing off anywhere.”
I am stunned—stunned!—by how well the Page 69 Test worked for the book, thematically! There is so much here, in a roundabout way, that gets to the very heart of the story. There is, in fact, on this very page, the one and only little “Easter egg” I put in the book for anyone of curious mind to pursue (preferably when they’re finished, so they don’t spoil anything for themselves).

But I’m being frustratingly vague. More directly, I think we see all Marian’s problems here at once: her being alone in the world, the looming danger her master Mr. Bornholdt presents in his position of power over her, her guilt and worry over her mother, and a connection to young Valentine, whom she sees as only part of her past. The gang’s all here.

Can we tell that we’re in Victorian London, here? Maybe not. But I think we get a good sense of voice, and if we don’t know precisely where we are we do know how it feels: desperate and dreary.

But there’s a bit of hope to go on, too: the boy with the flowers.
Visit Briana Una McGuckin's website.

Q&A with Briana Una McGuckin.

My Book, The Movie: On Good Authority.

--Marshal Zeringue