Thursday, September 21, 2023

"The Royal Windsor Secret"

Christine Wells is an internationally bestselling author of sixteen historical novels. Her recent novel, Sisters of the Resistance, was a Barnes & Noble and Canadian Globe & Mail bestseller and received mentions in American Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times. As a former corporate lawyer, Wells often features legal themes in her books. She lives in Brisbane and loves sharing her knowledge of the writing craft and the publishing business with other writers through workshops and private mentorships.

Wells applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Royal Windsor Secret, and reported the following:
Well, what do you know? A little bit of romantic tension on page 69 of The Royal Windsor Secret! The setting is my main character, Cleo’s debut ball, thrown by her wealthy hosts in London. Her best friend, Brodie, whom she hopes will become something more, does not belong to this world, and Cleo begins to see the widening chasm between them.
For the first time, she became acutely aware of the vast difference between them physically. Brodie was a man now, and even the formal dress of a British gentleman could not conceal the raw power of his frame. His hold made her feel delicate and unsure, when she wanted to feel bold and strong. Ugh, what was the matter with her tonight?

As she hesitated, he remarked, “You do know how to dance the foxtrot, don’t you, Cleo? I saw you doing it perfectly well just now.” He knew very well that she could dance. They’d taken an intensive course together with a dancing master Lady Grayson had hired before Brodie left for Oxford.

But the amused mockery in his tone snapped her into action. She put her hand on his shoulder and tried not to think about how solid it felt. Her feet shuffled as he drew her closer and she tried to make herself relax as they began to dance. He’d improved since they’d last danced together. That led her to wonder about his other dancing partners, which put her in a worse mood.

“Happy birthday, princess,” murmured Brodie. His warm breath tickled her ear.

She gave a start and jerked her head back. “Thank you. I, um ... It was good of you to come.”

She’d imagined this moment so often but now she was tongue-tied, behaving like an insipid bore. After a pause, she managed, “How have you been? We never see you anymore.” She hadn’t meant to sound so wistful and wanted to kick herself. Before he could answer, she added, “But I’ve met some lovely people. I’ll introduce you if you like.”

The prospect of Brodie’s meeting her friends made her review them critically, as if through his eyes. They were all rich and rather frivolous. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea.
This page is not terribly representative because the focus of the book is on Cleo’s quest to discover whether she is the daughter of Edward VIII and on her ambition to become a jewellery designer, rather than on her romance with Brodie.
Visit Christine Wells's website.

My Book, The Movie: One Woman's War.

Q&A with Christine Wells.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

"Salthouse Place"

Jamie Lee Sogn is a Filipina American author of adult thriller novels. She grew up in Olympia, Washington, studied Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Washington and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon School of Law.

She is a "recovering attorney" who writes contracts by day and (much more exciting) fiction by night. While she has lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and even Eugene, Oregon, she now lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and Boston Terrier.

Sogn applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Salthouse Place, and reported the following:
Upon turning to page 69 in my book, readers would find a scene where the main character Delia is arriving at her new guesthouse in Salthouse Place, a community on the Oregon Coast.
Petal pointed out the window, which looked like it might provide a view of the water if you pressed your face on the glass hard enough. "Imagine you'll be waking up to this every morning now." She smiled serenely. "Do you love it?"

I didn't know how to answer her or where to begin. Should I tell her I was happier not looking at the ocean on a daily basis?
After this exchange, Delia's new roommates come in and introduce themselves.

I think browsers turning to page 69 in my book would get a poor idea of the whole work by reading this page! They might be intrigued by the last sentence quoted above- Why would this character not want to look at the ocean? That is an odd thing to point out, and indeed, the character has some very specific trauma around water and that does have to do with the whole work and story. But this single page doesn't do a good job of exploring that.

What this page does do is help the browser understand that this character has some secrets (why doesnt she like the ocean...?) and introduces us to the main character's roommates at Salthouse Place, two women who will be massive influences on her during her time spent at the wellness retreat.

It's nice that this page is set at Salthouse Place, also the title of the book, as browsers may wonder about the title of the book itself. The community is called Salthouse Place and the main character finds herself there while searching for her childhood best friend who has sent her a message after a decade of estrangement. She believes this message might have something to do with an unsolved mystery of their third best friend's disappearance. What the main character doesn't know is that the women of Salthouse Place may be hiding secrets of their own.
Visit Jamie Lee Sogn's website.

Q&A with Jamie Lee Sogn.

My Book, The Movie: Salthouse Place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 17, 2023

"The Interpreter"

Brooke Robinson is professional playwright who has had her work produced at London’s Vault Festival and the Old Vic, among others. She grew up in Sydney, Australia, and has worked as a bookseller, university administrator, and playwright there and in the UK. She started writing The Interpreter, her first novel, when the pandemic ground the theatre world to a halt, and is currently working on her second novel.

Robinson applied the Page 69 Test to The Interpreter and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Interpreter, my protagonist, Revelle, is accompanying a police officer to a nail salon where he's investigating a reported instance of modern slavery. Speaking through Revelle as the interpreter, the nail salon workers won't give up any incriminating evidence about their employer but Revelle suspects this is out of fear and that the women are working under illegal conditions. She toys with the idea of misinterpreting, of giving the police officer the evidence he needs to investigate the situation further. On this page, Revelle is going back and forth about what it is she should do. If she did mistranslate the salon worker's words, would she be helping them or merely interfering? She has the power to make a difference here but can't decide what is the right thing to do. As Revelle says to herself on this page: While at work, I shouldn’t ever be uttering a single word that wasn’t fed to me by someone else.

The interpreter's role is remain neutral, to repeat the words and mimic the emotions of the person they're speaking for, but they must not have a personal opinion, and they certainly shouldn't be judging the guilt or innocence anyone they come into contact with.

The Page 69 Test works exceptionally well for my book. Revelle's inner conflict on this page is indicative of what's to come - soon she will deliberately misinterpret with grave consequences. In a lot of ways, this is a book about doing the wrong thing for the right reason and page 69 really captures that.
Visit Brooke Robinson's website.

Q&A with Brooke Robinson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 14, 2023

"Gideon's Revolution"

Brian Carso, a lawyer and historian, has studied the American Revolution and the life of Benedict Arnold for more than two decades.

Carso applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Gideon's Revolution, and reported the following:
Gideon’s Revolution is a story filled with action: ships at sea, clandestine meetings, soldiers in battle. To the contrary, however, page 69 depicts a quiet conversation between the two main characters while one of them lies flat on his back. Still, the Page 69 Test works, because their brief discussion sheds light on one of the mysteries of the novel—indeed, one of the mysteries of American history.

Page 69 finds General Benedict Arnold, the hero of Saratoga, lying on his back in a hospital bed with his shattered leg encased in a fracture box. Gideon Wheatley, a captain in the Continental Army and the narrator of the novel, has just told Arnold that British General Johnny Burgoyne has surrendered to General Gates. It is a great victory for the Americans, but Arnold is bitter. He describes the surrender ceremony that will occur, and the traditional banquet the officers of both armies will attend. He explains to Wheatley the purpose of the banquet:
“To celebrate valor and courage,” he said, flat on his back, looking upward at the ceiling. “There would be glasses set out, and liquor, probably rum. Burgoyne would offer a toast, maybe to Gates, maybe to General Washington. Gates would return the honor: I imagine he would toast the king’s health. All the officers would commingle: the British and the Germans, talking with the Americans, observing all possible niceties, complimenting the demeanor of their respective armies, outdoing each other in displaying the virtues of gentlemen—gentlemen who go to war, gentlemen who face each other on the battlefield, gentlemen who kill one another—but gentlemen who know that the battlefield is the seedbed of valor, where a man’s soul and his character are on display for the world to witness.”

He turned his head to face me. “You know this, Captain, as well as any: the battlefield is the theater of courage. As much as we fight to vanquish the enemy, we fight to establish our honor.”

Arnold turned his gaze back toward the ceiling. “Mind you, the broth suits me fine. I do not need the fancy meats, nor the pompous conversation.”

His eyes shot around the room, looked at me, then rested back on the ceiling.

“But they should know who led the fight. They should know who beat them.”

A gust of wind blew against the window.

“You did, sir,” I said. But I was only one voice.
Arnold’s quest for honor is central to understanding both his virtuous behavior and the defect of his character. Consider this: While a teenager, Arnold’s once-prosperous family suffered the death of two beloved children, followed by his father’s descent into severe alcoholism, and subsequent financial ruin. Researching this novel, I examined records of the church where Arnold’s mother and father were parishioners. Initially, the Arnold family sat in a box pew at the front of the church, obtained by their generous tithe. Over the course of several years, they forfeited this high-status seat for the regular long pews in the back of the church, which came at a much lower cost, and soon thereafter were relegated to standing in the very back of the church with the poorest families.

When we ask ourselves, why did Arnold—America’s best battlefield general—betray his cause and comrades, we have to consider how Arnold’s passionate quest to redeem his family’s good name and honor motivated his valor and courage. When these virtues went unrecognized, or were flustered by competing political interests, Arnold chose to go elsewhere for the validation he so desperately longed for. Where he went, sadly, was to the British Army.
Visit Brian Carso's website.

Q&A with Brian Carso.

My Book, The Movie: Gideon's Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

"What Kind of Mother"

Clay McLeod Chapman writes novels, comic books, and children's books, as well as for film and TV. He is the author of the horror novels The Remaking, Whisper Down the Lane, and Ghost Eaters. He also co-wrote Quiet Part Loud, a horror podcast produced by Jordan Peele's Monkeypaw for Spotify.

Chapman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, What Kind of Mother, and reported the following:
So… What Kind of Mother passes The Page 69 Test perfectly. Better than I could have anticipated, actually. First off… it actually uses the title on the page. What kind of mother! If this were a drinking game, you would flip to page 69 and have to take a shot of something.

What Kind of Mother is all about a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet as a palm reader in a small coastal town in the Chesapeake Bay area. Our main protagonist—Madi—is spending an evening with her daughter Kendra along the docks, when she has a spur-of-the-moment urge to hop in the water. Bad call.
All I can make out are the vague shapes of leaves and clusters of kelp. The shadowy outlines of freshwater seaweed. The pressure of the water pushes against my ears. I’m in a saltwater womb, the rush of blood swarming all around me. I wonder what kind of child might gestate in a watery prenatal chamber like this. What kind of mother it’d be.
See? I win!

Once she dives in, she’s immediately met by something… else. Something cold. Something slimy. Here’s a little taste:
“I feel a gentle scrape against the nape of my neck. A soft thread passes over my shoulder. Slick, slippery hair. It could be kelp, I think, just some seaweed—

Something fleshy brushes against my cheek.

Cold skin.

I yank my head back just as the blurred form of a baby floats by.

Only its head.”
Oooh… Want more? Well, I guess you’re just going to have to flip the page to see what happens!
Visit Clay McLeod Chapman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Remaking.

Q&A with Clay McLeod Chapman.

The Page 69 Test: Whisper Down the Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 10, 2023

"Dead West"

Linda L. Richards is the award-winning author of over one dozen books. The founder and publisher of January Magazine and a contributing editor to the crime fiction blog The Rap Sheet, she is best known for her strong female protagonists in the thriller genre. Richards is from Vancouver, Canada and currently makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Dead West, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dead West finds us in transition. There has been some action, but right now there is a pause to catch our breath. Having done the Page 69 Test for other books in the past, I am beginning to understand that this is one of the things that occurs in my writing, though it appears I do it instinctively. About this far in, the reader deserves a break from relentless action. A chance to breathe. And we see that here.

One of the early readers of Dead West called the book a love letter to Arizona. While I think that might be putting too fine a point on it, I get what she meant. In Dead West, setting becomes almost a character. Maybe you see this on Page 69 as much as anywhere.

We’ve only been in the saddle for a few minutes when it becomes apparent—truly—that we are in the desert. With the ranch buildings behind us, we are faced with a definite but beautiful beige. It is the season of dryness and at first everything looks the same. Closer study shows some differences, but you don’t see them at first glance. It occurs to me you have to earn the right to see beauty in the desert. If you are dismissive, it’s possible to miss it altogether, this secret desert. It is possible you might look and see only brown. But there is more here, too.

Page 69 is also where we get a really up-close-and-personal look at horses, which are so important to this book. In this scene, our protagonist is going riding, something we gather she has not often done before.

Horses feature prominently in Dead West. This happened because I was working on a non-fiction book about wild horses and, while I was doing research for that book, I was also working on the next book in the Endings series. Some of the horrifying climate that is wild horses in America today leaked into the fiction. What started as a subplot in Exit Strategy (2022) got pulled out of that book and became the main plot of Dead West. Luckily, this happened over a long enough period that I was able to have sufficient distance from the source material that the things that are compelling about Dead West are thrilling and not at all academic. Well, okay: that is my hope. You’ll tell me if it was successful!
Visit Linda L. Richards's website.

The Page 69 Test: Endings.

Q&A with Linda L. Richards.

The Page 69 Test: Exit Strategy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 8, 2023

"Come With Me"

Erin Flanagan’s new novel is Come With Me. Her novel Deer Season won the 2022 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author and was a finalist for the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery and the Midwest Book Award in Fiction (Literary/Contemporary/Historical). Her second novel, Blackout, was a June 2022 Amazon First Reads pick. She is also the author of two short story collections–The Usual Mistakes and It’s Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories. She has held fellowships to Yaddo, MacDowell, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She contributes regular book reviews to Publishers Weekly and other venues.

Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs. She is an English professor at Wright State University and likes all of her colleagues except one.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Come With Me and reported the following:
I don’t know what it is about the magic of page 69, but I’m delighted to report that once again, it captures something important in my latest book.

At the beginning of Come With Me, protagonist Gwen Maner’s husband dies suddenly, leaving Gwen and their daughter penniless. Ten years out of the work force, Gwen contacts an old acquaintance from her intern days, Nicola Kimmel, about a reference, but Nicola does much more than that. She ends up finding Gwen a job, a place to live, and the support she needs now that her husband is gone. But soon that support tightens into a vise.

Throughout the book, there are sporadic chapters from Nicola’s point of view, beginning in childhood and moving through to the present day. Page 69 follows a confrontation Nicola has with a bully on the first day of elementary school. Her older sister, Celeste, has pulled the bully aside to find out why he called Nicola a bad word.

On page 69, Nicola doesn’t speak. It’s all Celeste, cornering the other first-grade boy, and demanding to know why he did it. The fear the boy radiates reminds Nicola of when she and her sister cornered a cat between two wooden panels in the barn.
Keith had the same look of fear in his eyes right now, although he tried to hide it behind a slouch as he kicked his shiny new shoe in the dirt. Nikki was wearing Celeste’s old pair of knockoff Keds from Payless.
I’m hoping here to establish how observant Nicola is, and how aware she is of the things she doesn’t have that others take for granted.

As Celeste continues to intimidate the boy, Nicola begins to see the situation in a new light.
Nikki understood two things at once: she felt an evil glee that Keith was getting his comeuppance after being so awful to her, and simultaneously bad that he was in the position she’d been in, cowed at the hands of someone bigger and stronger. It was, she realized, the most grown-up thought she’d ever had.
So much of Nicola’s chapters are about her growing up and seeing things in this new light.

The cat comes back toward the end of the page as Celeste moves closer to the boy, and Nicola does as well.
She pictured that tabby from the barn, chest heaving as his back arched in the air.
Even though Nicola feels bad for the boy, she can’t help moving in.

This page, I hope, demonstrates where Nicola learns some of her core values as a child that have follow her in to adulthood, both good and bad: the importance of standing up for the people you love, a rigid and perhaps misplaced idea of right and wrong, and also that loving someone means taking charge of a situation at all costs.
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

Q&A with Erin Flanagan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

"Proud Sorrows"

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with
Billy Boyle
, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942.

Benn applied the Page 69 Test to Proud Sorrows, the eighteenth installment of the series, and reported the following:
Page 69 lands the reader smack dab in the heart of the mystery. We’re in a makeshift morgue in the basement of a POW facility for high-value German officers in Great Britain. The local doctor is examining a corpse in the presence of Billy Boyle, Chief Inspector Gwynne, and Colonel Cheatwood, second-in-command.
“Yes,” Bodkin said, turning the dead man’s head. “You can see where the blow landed.”

“A killing strike,” Gwynne said, squinting as he got closer. So far, the guy seemed to know his way around a corpse. He certainly wasn’t squeamish, which made me wonder how many putrefying bodies he’d run across.

“We checked for identity discs or a wallet, but found nothing,” Cheatwood said.

“Wish you hadn’t,” Gwynne said. “The less interference the better. How many people have touched this man?”
The Page 69 Test works well here on several levels. It gives the reader a clear indication that this is a classic criminal investigation, but also hints at the tension between the parties involved. My protagonist, Bill Boyle, is mainly an observer on this page, but the dialog previews the conflicts to come as the local police attempt to conduct a murder investigation involving a top-secret prisoner interrogation center. Chief Inspector Gwynne is clearly not happy with the supposedly helpful colonel’s interference.

The page concludes with a description of the various characters who were close at hand when the body was discovered, which further angers Gwynne, and he closes with this acidic comment:
“I’m surprised you didn’t sell tickets,” Gwynne said. “Dr. Bodkin, please remain here until the morgue comes for the body.”
The unidentified corpse had appeared in mysterious circumstances, and once his identity is uncovered, the investigation widens into areas none of the original witnesses to its discovery could have imagined.

Except for the killer, of course.
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The First Wave.

The Page 69 Test: Evil for Evil.

The Page 69 Test: Rag and Bone.

The Page 69 Test: The White Ghost.

The Page 69 Test: Blue Madonna.

Q&A with James R. Benn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 4, 2023

"Redemption"

Deborah J Ledford is the award-winning author of the Native American Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Series, and the Smoky Mountain Inquest Series. Part Eastern Band Cherokee, she is an Agatha Award winner, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, and two-time Anthony Award Finalist for Best Audiobooks Crescendo and Causing Chaos. Ledford lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and an awesome Ausky.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Redemption, Book 1 of the Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Native American series, and reported the following:
Page 69 hits a lot of the core tribulations for the entire Redemption novel.

The need and desire to be accepted by not only family but an entire tribe of people on the verge of completely releasing two of their members is key on this single page:
“You’re probably right. But why punish Kai? He said he hasn’t been invited here since his dad died.”

“He’s the boy of that Navajo who killed Rufina, Juliani, and Crucita. If Paloma had never met that man—” His words ceased, as if he thought finishing the sentence would take more power away from him.

“Everyone else loved Ahiga. He was a gentle giant . . . Like you in so many ways.”

At that comment, Santiago snorted his disgust.

“Santi, the crash wasn’t his fault.”

“Maybe not.”

Eva puffed out an exasperated breath. “I can’t talk to you anymore.” She stomped away, then changing her mind, strode back to him, hands clenched into fists. She warned herself to wait a beat before she said, “She’s your sister. Kai’s your direct blood. How is it so easy to turn your back? What you’re doing is shameful. Everyone on the rez follows your example. You’re a spokesman for the council... Maybe you’re the one to blame.”

He folded his arms tight across his chest, studied his boots, belligerence in his bearing.

Eva hoped she had embarrassed him. That maybe he realized this too.

“She broke my heart, Lightning Dance. Over and over.”

Eva barely heard the words. Soft, tinged with agony.
The anger and distrust Santiago holds for his sister is a visceral pain, shared by many of the characters, throughout the Redemption journey, as they attempt to redeem past indiscretions in order to be welcomed back by the Taos Pueblo tribe.
Visit Deborah J Ledford's website.

Q&A with Deborah J Ledford.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 1, 2023

"Rusted Souls"

Chris Nickson is the author of eleven Tom Harper mysteries, eight highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series, and five Simon Westow mysteries. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to Rusted Souls, the final book in the Tom Harper series, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Rusted Souls finds the end of one scene, between Tom Harper and his daughter Mary, who have met for lunch, and what he does afterwards.

While the interaction between Tom and Mary isn’t pivotal to the crime plot, it all becomes part of the change. She lost her fiancĂ© in 1917, in the war, and has been mourning him ever since, dressing black – “widow’s weeds”. Now, 1920, she’s changing. She’s already a successful business owner, running a secretarial agency and school, and she’s going on a tour of the battlefields, organised by a company, to see where everything happened and her fiancĂ© died. She’s bought herself a motor car. In the scene that closes on page 69, she’s unveiling her new wardrobe. More modern, more feminine, not the long Edwardian dresses, but something better for a woman in her 20s and more colourful, in pastels (not a flapper fashion; those hadn’t arrived yet). It’s a shock to her father, who needs to take it in, to accept her change, as he has his own, in the form of retirement. Annabelle, Tom’s wife, Mary’s mother, had seen the new clothes and called her “a right bobby dazzler.” It’s a human interlude, an illustration of the family’s closeness, and Mary now an adult with her own, busy life.

In the second scene Harper is drifting around Leeds city centre, nothing to do for once, and realizing it will soon be that way every day with nothing to occupy his time – although much of it will be taken looking after his ill wife. No chief constable’s car to take him home, and he queues for the tram with everyone else.

They’re scenes of transition and change for both characters, and that sense of change is important for the book. So yes, they serve an important role.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

Q&A with Chris Nickson.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

The Page 69 Test: The Blood Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Will Rise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

"Deep Roots"

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Woo applied the Page 69 Test to Deep Roots and reported the following:
There are eight characters on page 69 of my second Siobhan O'Brien mystery novel: Thomas and William (the footmen), Lady Mary (who hires Siobhan), Duke and Blink (the presumed heir and his friend/lover), Evie (the granddaughter) and her parents Lady Eve and Sir Nicholas. Wait, I forgot -- Siobhan herself is of course present, so that makes it nine characters total. Nine! That's got to be some kind of a record, right, for page 69?

As you can tell from the titles and the professions listed, Deep Roots takes place in the world of the one percent of the one percenters. As an unabashed fan of Downton Abbey, I relished at the prospect of creating my own embarrassingly opulent house and filling it with insufferably privileged inhabitants. Though this page features dinnertime conversation between the Ahn family, the key exchange is the one between Siobhan and Evie:
“So,” the young woman sitting to my left said, “you are the private investigator Grandpapa hired.”

Like the rest of the family, she, too, was on the tall side, and her face was so reminiscent of Phillip Ahn himself, especially her forehead, which was as wide as a billboard, that there was no mistaking her heredity. For someone her age—early twenties, I figured—she was dressed conservatively in a black gown that covered her neck and down to her wrists. If memory served, there was only one granddaughter in the family.

“And you must be Evie.”
This is the first time Siobhan meets Evie, but it certainly isn't the last, and her likeness to her grandfather plays a significant part in the novel. Furthermore, this page is an excellent showcasing of the ritualistic chore the Ahns go through on a daily basis for something as simple as lunch. As an outsider, Siobhan finds herself constantly pushed to her limit: the dress changes, the etiquettes, the mannered formalities. So once again, page 69 comes through.
Learn more about the book and author at Sung J. Woo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Asian.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

The Page 69 Test: Skin Deep.

My Book, The Movie: Deep Roots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 28, 2023

"From Dust to Stardust"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.

Rooney applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, From Dust to Stardust, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But my charmed existence at Christie Studios didn’t last. One evening, after we’d wrapped my third feature, Al—without knocking—lumbered into my dressing room. I was sitting at my vanity, about to take off my makeup, wearing only a slip. He stood behind me in his tweed three-piece suit, staring at my body in the mirror, and put a warm arm around my bare shoulders.

“You know, my dear, you’re a very nice girl,” he began, scratchy fibers prickling.
“And you’re the nicest director I’ve ever worked with,” I replied, and stood to face him.
“I’ve been thinking that you and I—”

“You’ve been so good to me, Mr. Al,’ I said, hoping that a mister-ing would make my point and that he wouldn’t get forceful. ‘If you were my own father, I couldn’t like you more.”

His ardor deflated at that. The respect I’d had for him had done the same. As giving as he was, he still wanted to take.
Page 69 of my novel From Dust to Stardust offers an accurate sense of the book as a whole. At this point, my protagonist, Doreen O’Dare, has been in Hollywood for several years, working hard in the silent film industry. Although she’s been appearing steadily in film after film, she has not yet found the stability and recognition that she’s been seeking, nor has she become the leading lady that she knows she has the talent to be.

She’s been working with the director Al Christie to develop her skills as a comedienne and has begun to think that maybe she’s landed at last with a director who respects her and will let her explore her full potential, but he lets her down and she knows that soon she’ll have to move on.

This relentless work ethic and belief in her ability to achieve her dream of stardom drives Doreen’s character and career and continues through the rest of the book as she makes her way into the cinematic firmament—and then has to figure out what to do next, once she’s finally gotten there.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 25, 2023

"The Killing Room"

Robert Swartwood is the USA Today bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife, The Calling, Man of Wax, and several other novels. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Space and Time, Postscripts, and PANK. He created the term “hint fiction” and is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. He lives with his wife in Pennsylvania.

Swartwood applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Killing Room, and reported the following:
It's difficult to go into too much detail about The Killing Room without giving away spoilers (as there's a major reveal about a third of the way in), but the setup is this: a businessman wakes up in a Las Vegas hotel room that isn't his to find a dead woman in the bathtub. Panicked, he runs. Before he can get far, two detectives catch him. They're convinced he's murdered the woman, no matter how much he tries to tell them otherwise. Finally, the businessman and detectives strike a deal: they have no substantial proof that he killed the woman so they'll let him leave Vegas, but only if he gives them all his money. Of course, the businessman can't just write them a check or withdraw cash from a bank. So that's where a young hacker who calls himself the Spider comes in. The Spider meets the businessman and detectives at a hotel near Fremont Street, where he's set up his gear so that the businessman can transfer all his money into cryptocurrency.

So on page 69, the businessman is inputting his password into a browser to access his email. But he's nervous. Keeps messing up as he's typing, which forces him to try again and again before he can get it right. And then he starts retching and tells the hacker and detective (because one of the detectives has since stepped out) that he thinks he's going to throw up. That's where the chapter ends, right there on page 69.

Now, if readers opened to page 69, would they get a good sense of the overall story? Not to be too cheeky, but I think the answer is yes and no. Why that is, I can't really get into it without giving away spoilers. But for those readers who have read the book, if they were to flip back to page 69 ... I imagine they'd get a kick out of it.
Visit Robert Swartwood's website.

Q&A with Robert Swartwood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

"In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel"

Genevieve Plunkett is the author of Prepare Her: Stories. A recipient of an O. Henry Award, her short fiction can also be found in journals such as New England Review, The Southern Review, CrazyhorseColorado Review, and The Best Small Fictions 2018. She lives in Vermont with her two children.

Plunkett applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, In the Lobby of the Dream Hotel, and reported the following:
Page 69 lands in the middle of a chapter about Theo, Portia’s love interest. It describes the circumstances that led to Theo joining a band as the band’s drummer, despite problems in his marriage.
He had been about to say no, that he did not play drums and that his life was falling apart. He and his wife had just started marriage counseling, where they discussed how often they touched each other affectionately or where in their day they might find time to practice compassion. They never spoke about the looks of pity and impatience that Theo’s wife gave him whenever he tried to talk about anything out of the ordinary, as if she knew already where he was going with it, as if she had figured him out long ago.

“I’m wondering about that sensation that you get. The sensation of falling when you’re trying to sleep,” he might say to her, and she would say, “What about it?” with her eyebrows raised.

“I’m wondering if it ever leads somewhere other than sleep. What if--” but she would cut him off.

“I’m sure it’s nothing more than what it is,” she would say. “You don’t have to make everything into something more interesting than it is.”
I think this passage does well at showing a glimpse of the novel’s central theme: characters reckoning with desires that might seem unrealistic, and the backlash they face from the people around them. A bookstore browser would get an accurate sense that this story is, at times, about sensitive people navigating relationships with less sensitive people. The only potentially misleading part of this is that it might suggest that Theo is the central character, when most chapters follow Portia’s perspective. Theo is my favorite character, so I am selfishly pleased that the test finds him here.
Visit Genevieve Plunkett's website.

Q&A with Genevieve Plunkett.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 21, 2023

"Strange Unearthly Things"

Kelly Creagh is the author of the Nevermore Trilogy, Phantom Heart, Strange Unearthly Things, and other works filled with darkness, light, and the kisses that happen in between. Her major literary influences include Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Gaston Leroux, Susan Kay, J.K. Rowling, Robin McKinley, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll, Libba Bray, Holly Black, and too many more to name. Creagh holds a Bachelor of Science in Theatre Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. In addition to writing, Creagh enjoys teaching and lecturing about subjects she loves, including creative writing and Edgar Allan Poe. She is also a silk artist, creating beautiful and colorful hand-dyed silk scarves for wear and veils for bellydancing.

Creagh applied the Page 69 Test to Strange Unearthly Things and reported the following:
A snapshot of page 69 of Strange Unearthly Things:

There’s been a fire. One started by a demon—or something akin to a demon.

Now, eighteen-year-old psychic artist Jane Reye is meeting with fellow psychic, Giovanni, who has also been summoned to Fairfax Hall, a haunted manor sequestered in the secluded countryside of Northern England. Jane and Giovanni, along with Ingrid (a now-missing third psychic), have been hired to clear the property of its oppressive forces. A meeting had been scheduled to discuss this task. But the previous night’s potentially lethal fire has now brought the dangers of the endeavor into stark relief.

At least it has for eighteen-year-old Elias Thornfield, the illusive, stoic, and enigmatic eye-patch-wearing owner of Fairfax Hall.

Instead of discussing next steps, he wants to call the whole ordeal off—a move that confirms Jane’s pervading hunch that Elias isn’t telling them everything.

Elias is adamant, though. They need to follow Ingrid’s lead and leave while they still can.

But then, Ingrid, the missing pink-haired tarot reader from London, shows up.

Her sudden reappearance shocks no one more than Elias, who until that moment was certain Ingrid was the one who had awakened him last night, alerting him to the fire.

Apparently, though…she wasn’t.

Does the Page 69 Test work for Strange Unearthly Things?

It does! Not only have the life-and-death stakes been established, but the greater mysteries of the novel officially make their appearance here as well.

Jane, our heroine, is being singled out by the dark force that, according to Elias, is supposed to be attached to the property. But if that was true, why was the entity stalking Jane before she even left the States?

It’s true Elias had warned them all repeatedly about the dangers that came with this assignment. In this scene, though, Jane begins to realize that, while Elias does seem to genuinely fear for their safety, he also seems to fear the whole truth of his dilemma coming to light.

He’s hiding something. When Ingrid’s sudden reappearance alerts everyone to the fact that there is at least one other uninvited guest—or entity—skulking about in Fairfax Hall, all players begin to grasp that there’s more at work here than ordinary ghosts.

The dark elements are too dark. Conversely, the light elements are too light.

There’s something indeed strange and unearthly afoot. There’s also far, far more on the line than mere death.

In this scene, we also get a taste of the novel’s humor, much of which is provided by the dashing and wisecracking eighteen-year-old Giovanni. His psychic gift? Reading energies through touch.

The cover lets you know there’s going to be kissing. And since the core cast is all on stage here, it’s fun, too, to wonder who in this scene will be locking lips later with whom.
Visit Kelly Creagh's website.

The Page 69 Test: Phantom Heart.

Q&A with Kelly Creagh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 19, 2023

"Ravage & Son"

Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Ravage & Son; Sergeant Salinger; Cesare: A Novel of War-Torn Berlin; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; Jerzy: A Novel; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. Among other honors, his work has been longlisted for the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award and PEN Award for Biography, shortlisted for the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award, and selected as a finalist for the Firecracker Award and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Charyn has also been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in New York.

Charyn applied the Page 69 Test to Ravage & Son and reported the following:
Turning to the top of page 69, you get right into it:
“A madman on the prowl, and you intend to catch him, Herr Detective? What does he look like?”

Lionel was baiting him, but Ben didn’t care. He invented his own portrait of the ripper.

“Some say he’s dark. Others say he has straw hair – like you.”

The roof garden turned silent. Marcus began to twitch. He snarled at Ben.

“You can’t make such accusations. You must apologize to the esteemed president of our board.”

“Shut up,” Lionel said. “We’re all suspects. Would you care to question me, Herr Detective?”

Ben bowed to Lionel Ravage. “Not today, Herr President. I do not have the resources to mount an investigation.”
This page  page 69  deals with the essential dilemma of the book – a madman on the prowl, ripping up prostitutes with the silver wolf’s head of his cane. Our hero, Ben Ravage, searches for this Jewish ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ and realizes that it is someone very close to him.

No one page can deal with the complexity of a book with any real interest. It can suggest, it can explore, but it cannot give you a genuine picture. The map is much too large. The page is much too small. But in this case, you come to the heart of the matter.

Lower Manhattan was a melting pot where Jews came from nowhere and became hardworking ghosts. They did not have a life for themselves. If I sound bleak, it was really much bleaker than anything I can say about it. Those who survived, survived with an open wound. The richer that they became, the more haunted they were.

The terrifying world we live in now, comes out of this dilemma. Violence that will never go away, violence that comes out of great suffering. Out of the fact that women had no real occupation in early 20th century New York, other than becoming seamstresses, housewives or prostitutes.

Ben understands this, knowing that he can’t really solve the problem, he still continues his search for this Jewish monster with a silver cane.

I had to write this book, because it is about my own heritage, and one of the remaining ghosts. I hope readers will see themselves and their history in the dark mirror I provide  that mirror, has its own magic.
Learn more about the book and author at Jerome Charyn's website.

The Page 69 Test: Under the Eye of God.

My Book, The Movie: Big Red.

Q&A with Jerome Charyn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 17, 2023

"The Wonder State"

Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novels The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.

Murphy applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, The Wonder State, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Wonder State, we see Iggy, the last piece of the puzzle, joining the friend group that forms the heart of the novel. Hilma and Max (the glamorous out-of-towners), Charlie (smart, ambitious), and Jay and Brandi (best friends but misfits) have already formed a group to search for mysterious houses in their Ozarks town. They’ve run into Iggy, the school quarterback, inside one of the houses they’re hunting. Jay worries that inviting Iggy into their quest will break the fragile bond the five of them created, but he’s more open to the concept of magic than the others expect.

It’s a page that shows a lot of character interactions – playful, arrogant Max making up a Latin term, and Charlie rolling his eyes; Hilma taking the lead in inviting Iggy into their group. The final sentence of this page even references the title, as Jay watches Iggy (her crush) learn the truth about the houses:
She saw the way he smiled, his pupils dilating, as if the wonder he felt were a physical change in the light.
The Wonder State is a dual timeline novel, and page 69 happens to fall in the 2000 timeline, when the characters are high school seniors. I love both timelines, but the earlier timeline has a lot of joy, irreverence, and adventure, so I’m happy to see it represented here. I also like that this page shows the circle closing, in a way. The final member of the six-person group has joined the mix, and this six-person configuration will influence both timelines in a huge way. This feels like a good depiction of what this novel is about – the bittersweet pull of nostalgia, complicated friendships, weird houses.
Visit Sara Flannery Murphy's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possessions.

The Page 69 Test: The Possessions.

Q&A with Sara Flannery Murphy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

"Bright and Deadly Things"

Lexie Elliott was born in 1976 and grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. Her first attempt at a book came in primary school, and featured a horse; sadly, that manuscript has been lost. She attended a local state high school, Dunblane High School, and spent much of her teenaged years reading and swimming. In 1994 she began a Physics degree at University College, Oxford, where she obtained a first; she subsequently obtained a doctorate in Theoretical Physics, also from Oxford University. A keen sportwoman, she represented Oxford University every one of her seven years there in either Swimming or Waterpolo, and usually both. However, she never lost her longheld desire to become a writer and always had a drawer full of private scribblings.

After university, Elliott succumbed to the need to climb out of debt and find a job and began work for an investment bank in London, where she remained for 8 years. During that time she also took up triathlon, met her husband (in a swimming pool at 5.30am, but that is another story...), got married and had two gorgeous boys, swam the English Channel solo, ran a few marathons and ultramarathons and tried in vain to carve out enough time to write. After losing her banking job during the Global Financial Crisis, she began work part-time in fund management in the City of London, and writing part-time. Her debut novel, The French Girl, was published in February 2018. This was followed by The Missing Years in 2020 and How To Kill Your Best Friend (a Richard & Judy Book Club summer pick) in 2021.

Elliott applied the Page 69 Test to her fourth novel, Bright and Deadly Things, and reported the following:
Is page 69 of Bright and Deadly Things a fair reflection of the entire novel? I’ve undertaken this exercise with two of my previous novels (The French Girl and The Missing Years) and in both cases, I was surprised to find that the answer was a resounding yes. For this book, however, I can’t say the same.

Page 69 finds our protagonist Emily, a recently-widowed Oxford fellow, on a group walk in the French Alps; she has joined a chalet party at the remote Chalet des Anglais, a rustic academic retreat. The group contains all strata of university life, from undergraduates through to senior professors, though on this page, we don’t see her anything of the broader group dynamics that are a vital theme of the book—How should a group behaved when taken out of its natural environment? Do the usual hierarchies apply? If not, what are the new rules?—as she is in conversation only with Peter, a long-time collaborator of her late husband. Grief, however, is another important theme, and we do see that on display here:
I thread my way to Peter’s side as we set off. The path is narrower here— no more than two abreast is possible— and the ground is un­even and strewn with occasional large rocks; I have to keep my eyes on my footing. “You know, Peter, I’ve never asked. Has Nick’s death left any ongoing projects in the lurch?” I’m pleased to hear that I barely stumble on death, though it’s not said without cost: on its exit from my mouth, the word trails little hooks behind it that catch and drag at my insides. “With whom was he working mainly?”
By this stage in the novel, Emily has already experienced a break in at her Oxford home and also realised that someone within the chalet party has tried to gain access to her laptop, but there is nothing of her growing unease on this particular page. Nor do we see anything of the chalet itself, whose unique atmosphere, particularly at night, appears to be having an impact on the group. We do gain a small insight into the world of academia and we also get a glimpse of Emily’s character: she is logical and thoughtful, but not passive—a natural problem-solver. Having identified Nick’s death as a potential obstacle in her relationship with Peter, she sets about devising strategies to deal with that:
“Oh.” Once again, he’s a little awkward, as if worried about upsetting me by saying the wrong thing. I will have to brazen it out, I decide. Exposure therapy. I like Peter: I like the way his mind leaps and races, the way he owns to his own flaws such that they become, as Jana put it, almost endearing. We can’t have the topic of Nick sitting as an unmentionable black hole between us; it would bleed our friendship dry. “Well, you know what Nick was like. He always had fingers in lots of different pies. You must know that— he said you proofread everything he did.” He glances at me with raised eyebrows as if it’s a question.

“Well, yes, and vice versa. God, the number of times we disagreed about punctuation . . . Nick was largely against.” My wry words pull a laugh from Peter.
Not only does this page fail to address many of the novel’s major plot elements and themes, other than grief, but it also fails to capture the ratcheting tension and growing paranoia that develops as the isolated chalet party faces danger that can only come from within. As such, Bright and Deadly Things fails the Page 69 Test—but I strongly recommend you pick up a copy and decide for yourself!
Visit Lexie Elliott's website.

The Page 69 Test: The French Girl.

My Book, The Movie: The French Girl.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing Years.

Q&A with Lexie Elliott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 13, 2023

"The Road Towards Home"

Corinne Demas is the author of 38 books including two collections of short stories, six novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, two plays, and numerous books for children. She is a professor emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review.

She grew up in New York City, in Stuyvesant Town, the subject of her memoir, Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. She attended Hunter College High School, graduated from Tufts University, and completed a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham College.

Demas applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Road Towards Home, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“I gather they’ll be busing people to this other facility, Brookfield Village, to use the pool there.”

“In that case I will take a hiatus from exercise,” said Noah. “I will not be bused anywhere.”

“I believe it’s a van, not a bus—”

“I will not be bused or van-ed.”

“I, at least, have an exercise plan that is unaffected by renovations,” said Cassandra. The exercise plan, suddenly fearing he was going to be cheated out of his walk, started tugging on his leash, and Cassandra said, “We better get moving.”

The path along the river widened and narrowed for no apparent reason, so sometimes they walked side by side and sometimes one in front of the other. When Melville looked as if it was likely he was going to be doing something unattractive, Noah dropped farther behind or hurried ahead.

“Would you like to have the experience of walking him yourself?” asked Cassandra, offering Noah the leash.

“I will forego the pleasure for now, thank you, and, I might add, forever.”

“Others have had your response initially,” said Cassandra, “but in time enjoyed the opportunity.”

“Those were others,” said Noah. “Not I.”

When they returned to Cassandra’s apartment and Melville was safely stretched out on the floor by the faux fireplace, Noah sat in the chair where he’d sat before.

“I found some wine,” said Cassandra. “I was looking for a field guide on fungi, and there they were. I’d thought the box was books, but I was wrong.”

She handed the opener to Noah. “I’ll get the glasses.” In the kitchen she looked around for something to serve with the wine. The only cheese was a dismal scrap of cheddar, and the only crackers she could find were probably stale.

“Would you like some chocolate?”
The Page 69 Test works perfectly for The Road Towards Home. Page 69 includes an important plot element, gives readers a feel for the tone of the novel, and, most important, introduces the two main characters, Noah and Cassandra, and offers a taste of their witty banter.

When Cassandra and Noah meet at Clarion Court, a senior living community, they discover that they knew each other in college, fifty years ago, and their friendship is reignited in spite of their striking differences. Cassandra is an entomologist, and Noah is uneasy with insects; Noah, a retired English professor plays the cello, and Cassandra admits to not liking music. They are two fiercely independent septuagenarians who are attracted to each other but carry baggage of their past marriages and their complex relationships with their children and their siblings. Both of them are critical of life at Clarion Court, and when renovations include closure of the pool—a favorite amenity--they are inspired to decamp and set off together to Noah’s cottage on Cape Cod.

The scene on page 69 takes place in Cassandra’s Clarion Court apartment, and her character is revealed through details like her uncovering the wine bottles when she was “looking for a field guide on fungi,” and the food she offers Noah: “The only cheese was a dismal scrap of cheddar, and the only crackers she could find were probably stale.”

The Road Towards Home relies on dialogue, and page 69 showcases the distinct voices of this unlikely pair, and how they play off each other. When Noah says he will not be “bused” anywhere, Cassandra points out that “it’s a van, not a bus.” When Noah responds, “I will not be bused or van-ed” Cassandra ignores his clever neologism and says “I, at least, have an exercise plan that is unaffected by renovations.” Her Newfoundland Melville, the “exercise plan” on a leash, is a source of humorous conflict between them throughout the novel.
Visit Corinne Demas's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 11, 2023

"Dead and Gone"

Joanna Schaffhausen wields a mean scalpel, skills she developed in her years studying neuroscience. She has a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain―how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. Previously, she worked as a scientific editor in the field of drug development. Prior to that, she was an editorial producer for ABC News, writing for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and an obstreperous basset hound named Winston.

Schaffhausen applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, Dead and Gone, and reported the following:
There is so much going on in Dead and Gone that it would be amazing if any single page gave a decent picture of the whole. Page 69 offers a glimpse of the main plot, which involves a stalker on a college campus. Quinn Vega, our heroine’s niece, is a first-year student and she’s brushed off concerns about the possible stalker until now. But when she hears a fellow student was attacked on a dark path while wearing Quinn’s jacket, Quinn fears she may have been the intended target all along. She sets out to find this other girl.
“Oh my God, it’s true.” Quinn’s jaw fell open when she saw the girl’s full face. She didn’t mean to stare, but Zach’s description hadn’t done Sienna’s injuries justice. Her left eye was ringed with purple and there was an ugly brown-green bruise down the side of her face. A cut around her temple had scabbed over, and she had a scrape across her right hand.
….

“I heard you were attacked.” Quinn licked her dry lips.

Sienna gave a slow blink. “Where’d you hear that?”

“Just…around.”

“I don’t know who said I was attacked.” Sienna shrugged one shoulder. “I got drunk and fell on my ass. Ask the campus cops.”

“Did you?” Quinn stepped closer to her, still clutching the jacket. “Is that what happened?”

Sienna folded her arms and fixed Quinn with a hard look. “You don’t even know me. Why do you care?”

“Because you were wearing my jacket.”

Surprised flickered over Sienna’s face and she dropped her defensive posture. “Wait…you think someone jumped me, thinking it was you?”

“I don’t know. Someone is watching me. My roommate got followed the other night.”
Quinn becomes determined to get to the bottom of the campus stalker situation, which leaves her Aunt Annalisa free to pursue some of the other mysteries in the story. Annalisa is facing a tough case: Sam Tran, an ex-cop turned PI was found hanged in a local cemetery, but his personal life is squeaky clean. Annalisa believes his death must be work-related. She thinks Sam uncovered a deadly secret in his private investigations, so she starts poking around in his open case files. The campus stalker is one of Sam’s last cases. Another case concerns a double homicide at a seedy motel, where the murdered couple was having an affair. The third is a missing mom who went to a New Year’s Eve party in 1989 and never came home.

Annalisa believes one of these three cases got Sam Tran killed. But which one? She has to figure it out quickly before she meets the same fate—and, it seems, keep her niece Quinn out of trouble along the way.
Visit Joanna Schaffhausen's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Best Lies.

Q&A with Joanna Schaffhausen.

The Page 69 Test: Gone for Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

"Deadlock"

James Byrne is the pseudonym for an author who has worked for more than twenty years as a journalist and in politics. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Byrne applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Deadlock, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Deadlock is sort of perfect for this test. Desmond Aloysius Limerick, known as Dez, is a guy who comes to the aid of his friends. And he’s a former “gatekeeper” — that is, a breach-expert in a foreign military. He’s capable of opening any door, keeping it open for as long as necessary, and controlling who does, and doesn’t, go through.

And on page 69, he’s helping Laleh Swann, sister of his mate, Raziah Swann. He’s picking a lock and breaking into the apartment of a man in Portland, Oregon, who’s been murdered. He’s seeking answers.

Page 69: Loyalty and lockpicks. Perfect!

So if browsers opening my book to page 69, would they get a good idea of the whole work? I think the answer is yes. They’d get a sense of Dez’s humor, and how reticent he is to talk about his past. Laleh asks him how he has the skills, and he replies. “I had an interesting sort o’ job, for a time. Developed certain skill sets. All I can tell you is this: I wouldn’t use what I know to hurt your sister, and that means I wouldn’t use it to hurt you, either. You’ve my word for that.”

And that’s all she’s gonna get out of him on that topic!

One of the fun things about this book, for me, is that I get to introduce readers to Portland, a city I call home and love. Dez comes here to help the Swann sisters, but ends up running into an international conspiracy at a high-tech powerhouse company. I intersperse descriptions of Portland, of Oregon, of the Pacific Northwest, as I lay out my plot.

The city has gotten a bit bruised, what with the pandemic, and Black Lives Matter protests, and wildfire smoke, and an economic downturn, and homelessness, and the fentanyl crisis. But I’d advise people not to count Portland out. The people, the history, the laid-back vibe, the work ethic, the can-do political sense. Portland has a way of surprising you.

Just like Dez.
Visit James Byrne's website.

Q&A with James Byrne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 7, 2023

"Dark Corners"

Megan Goldin, author of The Escape Room and The Night Swim, worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs.

Goldin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dark Corners, the second novel with fearless true crime podcaster Rachel Krall, and reported the following:
The story picks up from where The Night Swim left off. This time, after returning home from covering the controversial rape trial in Neapolis as told in The Night Swim, true crime podcaster Rachel Krall is asked to help the FBI locate a social media influencer who has disappeared from her camper van at a Florida camp site. The influencer, Maddison Logan, visited an inmate at a maximum security prison shortly before she disappeared. The prisoner's name is Terence Bailey and he is suspected of carrying out a series of abductions of young women. It's an uncanny coincidence that Maddison went missing right after meeting Bailey.

Page 69 covers part of Rachel Krall's meeting with Terence Bailey in the Florida prison. Bailey is a big fan of Rachel Krall's true crime podcasts. The FBI is hoping that he might knowingly or unwittingly divulge to Rachel what he knows about Maddison's disappearance. Any information will help because the FBI and the local police havething to go on. They are keenly aware that the longer it takes for them to find Maddison, the lower the likelihood that they'll find her alive.
He changed the subject abruptly. “Did you know that you’re my second proper visitor I’ve been here almost six years. Never had visitors excepting for my cheating lawyer. And he charged by the hour. All these years and just as I’m leaving, two pretty ladies turn up. Suddenly I’m Mr. Popularity.” He licked his chapped lips. “The good Lord does work in mysterious ways,” he said sarcastically. His unblinking gaze made his attempts at humor chilling rather than cute.

Rachel presumed the other female visitor was Maddison. She decided not to ask. Yet.

“Every man here will be jealous as hell that you’ve come to see me. The famous Rachel Krall.”

“I’m hardly a celebrity.”

“You’re better than a celebrity.” He nodded to reinforce the truth of his statement. “When the wives and girlfriends stop writing and visiting, the men turn to writing to Jesus, and to you, Rachel.”

“Why me?”

“Most of the men locked up here are lifers. The only chance they have left is if you cover their case for your podcast and get them a new trial. Like what you did for that coach.” He shifted on the metal stool.

“He went free because he was innocent,” said Rachel. “I’m betting you can’t say that about most of the men here.”

“Probably not,” he admitted.

“What about you? Have you ever written to me?” Rachel asked.

“Once. I ripped it up. Never sent it.”

“Why not?”

“Wasn’t sure I could trust you.” His eyes bored into Rachel.

He leaned forward intimidatingly. The prison guard pacing around the metal tables swung around in their direction when he heard Bailey’s manacles rattle from the sudden movement.

“Can I trust you, Rachel?” Bailey’s voice was as soft as a ghost in the night.
Page 69 introduces the reader to Terence Bailey in all his contrasts. He is a tough, tattooed prisoner who may have committed multiple murders, although that's not the reason why he is in prison. At the same time, he strikes Rachel as both tortured and sinister. She's not entirely sure whether to fear him or feel sorry for him. Perhaps the scariest part of Rachel's meeting with Bailey is that he's about to get out of jail having served his prison sentence. It's scary for Rachel because he seems to have fixated on her. That does not bode well for Rachel because if the cops are to be believed then Bailey is an incredibly dangerous man.
Visit Megan Goldin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Escape Room.

--Marshal Zeringue