Sunday, July 30, 2023

"Sun Damage"

Sabine Durrant is a former assistant editor of The Guardian and a former literary editor of the Sunday Times whose feature writing has appeared in numerous British national newspapers and magazines. She has been a magazine profile writer for the Sunday Telegraph and a contributor to The Guardian’s family section. She is the author of several books, including Under Your Skin, Lie With Me, and Finders, Keepers. She lives in south London with her husband, the writer Giles Smith, and their three children.

Durrant applied the Page 69 Test to her newest novel, Sun Damage, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Sun Damage the narrator, a young woman called Ali, arrives back at a hotel and is shown to a room by the man behind reception. She describes him – ‘slight and very slim, with darts on the side of his pressed shirt’ - and they take the stairs to the first floor, at the top of which she pauses. ‘Panicked again, I bent to rub my bare foot’. She apologies for having made ‘a bit of a mess’ and tells the concierge she will find paper to clear it up. He gets ahead of her along the corridor and he opens her door and lets her in. The page ends with: ‘I got past him and closed the door.’

The page in many ways gives a good idea of the whole work. It describes an ordinary-seeming event and yet it is riven with oddities; things in this world, in the narrator’s head are heightened and askew. Ali lives on her nerves – she is constantly watching and judging, keeping one step ahead. She notices the receptionist is wearing a new shirt – it’s information she might be able to use. She pauses ‘panicked’ because he is accompanying her to a room whose location she should know but doesn’t (the corridor runs in both directions); she rubs her leg to give him time to lead the way– the room is three doors along. She counts. It’s a habit.

We learn that she is bare-foot and that her foot is bleeding; these are incidental details which she does not make a big thing of – though she is keen to let him know that she will clear it up. It is typical of the book; little drops of blood, small injuries both internal and external that need mopping. Ali is a grifter – though it’s only implicit not explicit in this scene – and she’s morally all over the place, but she has a good heart. She doesn’t want the receptionist in his new shirt to have to clear up her mess.

In Sun Damage, Ali battles to take control of events. On page 69 she is doing her best, trying to keep it all together. She closes the door in the last line on the page, and if you have read the previous 68 pages, you are aware of the emotional toll; that she is about to be alone for the first time, and that something inside may be about to break. Page 69 gives a good idea of the book as a whole, but you need the previous 68 pages to fully grasp the import of that.
Visit Sabine Durrant's Twitter perch and Instagram page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 28, 2023

"What Harms You"

Lisa Black is the New York Times bestselling author of the Gardiner and Renner Novels and the Locard Institute Thrillers featuring Dr. Ellie Carr and Dr. Rachael Davies. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office, she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she is a latent print examiner and certified crime analyst for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes. She is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and has testified in court as an expert witness over 65 times. Her books have been translated into six languages and she was named finalist for the prestigious Sue Grafton Memorial Award for Perish.

Black applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Locard Institute thriller, What Harms You, and reported the following:
There are two main characters in the Locard Institute series, Dr. Rachael Davies, a former pathologist and now assistant director of the Institute. She is divorced and raising her late sister’s toddler son. Her new friend and employee Ellie Carr, a doctor of forensic science and former FBI agent, orphaned at four and raised by various aunts and uncles in her large and loving family.

But on page 69 is only Rachael, puzzling over the fact that on her last day at work, Dr. Barbara Wright died in the supply closet. Apparently she had accidentally broken a jar of acid, then choked to death on the fumes. Difficult to believe that such a simple misstep could fell a grown, healthy woman…very difficult. So Rachael had succumbed to temptation and processed the pieces of the broken glass jar with superglue.
Rachael lifted each piece and turned it over in her fingers, searching for useful fingerprints, while unsure of what she expected them to tell her. Barbara Wright had had a heart attack and fell in the supply closet. Maybe she’d picked up the jar and dropped it, and the annoyance, the final straw when she had so much on her mind, had agitated her heart into seizure. Maybe she picked it up, then her heart began seizing and she dropped it. Maybe her heart began seizing and she pitched forward, knocking the jar from the shelf. Her fingerprints would or would not be deposited on the jar, depending on which had occurred. Did it really matter?

But why, Rachael thought as she rotated each chunk of brown glass under the bright magnifying light, are no one’s prints on the jar? It hadn’t been brand-new, since she hadn’t found a cellophane seal clinging to the lid. Even if it had been new, whoever had stocked it in the closet would have touched it, unless they were cautious enough around acids to wear gloves even for that simple action.

Rachael groaned inwardly. What was she doing? The woman had a heart attack and died. Yes, Barbara had been relatively young and apparently healthy, but anyone could have a heart attack. High school kids occasionally had heart attacks. And Rachael had perhaps ten minutes before that morning’s session should begin and she hadn’t even dumped her purse in her office yet—

Rachael had had considerable training in psychology and, not for the first time, turned it inward. This is just avoidance, obsessing over unimportant details because you don’t want to face the fact that someone you worked with every day was here one minute and dead the next. You have seven minutes until class is supposed to start. Get moving.

She scribbled Rachael *Don’t touch!* on the box and left it on an empty counter. Then she hustled back down to the anteroom on the first floor, hoping to grab a coffee before facing a room full of people expecting her to tell them something they didn’t already know.

She didn’t make it.
The page is an excellent example of Rachael in action, using her training on a piece of evidence while at the same time weighing all the intangibles of the situation. But if someone read this page only…CSI junkies might be fascinated by the details of how analysis works in real life, while readers who aren’t so into the scientific aspects of crime investigation might groan and think, if the whole book is like this, I’m out.

But they should rest assured, there’s much more to this book than forensic science. The students and staff are an eclectic mix of ages, genders, races and dedication to the cause of justice, but most importantly, one of them is a serial killer. Rachael and Ellie must use clues, questions, logic and bravery to stop someone bold enough to murder in a CSI school.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: That Darkness.

The Page 69 Test: Unpunished.

The Page 69 Test: Perish.

The Page 69 Test: Suffer the Children.

The Page 69 Test: Every Kind of Wicked.

Q&A with Lisa Black.

My Book, The Movie: What Harms You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

"The Possibilities"

Yael Goldstein-Love is the author of The Passion of Tasha Darsky and the co-founder of the literary studio Plympton. She also practices psychotherapy with a particular interest in the transition to parenthood and is working toward her doctorate in clinical psychology. She lives with her son in Berkeley, California.

Goldstein-Love applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Possibilities, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What gets called ‘mommy brain’ is really just selective attention,” Ash went on, ignoring, as usual, the general unease she was creating among the other women in the group. “Which is actually, when you think about it, another name for intelligence. We are always selectively attending. Deciding what to filter out from our sensory data, from our cognitive data. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to function at all. We’d be absolutely flooded with all the information coming in. Concentration? That’s just good filtering. New mothers filter better than other people. But we filter for the safety of our offspring, which means filtering out things that aren’t relevant to keeping our offspring safe. Mommy brain, if you insist on using the term, should be a compliment.”

“That’s an interesting point,” I said.

I was looking down at Jack eating a piece of lint he’d picked off the letter R, the jauntiest in the rug’s alphabet ring. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to reclaim my time and finish my check-in. So far the sum total of what I’d said was, “I’m having a very weird time today. You know the phrase mommy brain?” There was a whole lot more I’d meant to say, but I didn’t really have the energy and actually, Ash’s angry speech was probably the highlight of my day so far. She had been warned several times in recent weeks about this tendency to make speeches and thereby eat up other people’s time, but personally I found her speeches both informative and relaxing. I didn’t know what I hoped to accomplish by sharing anyway. I’d been so pleased when I remembered, right after finally picking up my lorazepam prescription from CVS, that I had my mother’s group coming up at 4 p.m. Driving down Telegraph, feeling the whole evening yawning open, just me and Jack, and then: A place to go! A place with other people, people who could speak. But being here was only making me feel lonelier.
On page 69, a character takes a familiar phrase (“mommy brain”) used to casually dismiss and belittle mothers and casts it in a new light, revealing it as a potential strength rather than an obvious failure. This gets close to my overall aim which was to take an aspect of motherhood used to denigrate mothers and turn it inside out to show the courage and strength hiding in plain sight.

But a browser would get a pretty lousy idea of what the overall reading experience would be from this excerpt. The page sounds like it comes from a book of straight realism about new motherhood. In fact, The Possibilities explores the psychological experience of becoming a mother by whirling readers through spacetime and multiple layers of reality in a sci-fi thriller. (It also pains me a little that page 69 reads as didactic when, in the overall context of this scene, it’s a moment of comic lightness.)

But, in a way, I love the misdirection here and what it says about the way the book is constructed. In order to get at aspects of human psychology that I think otherwise go unseen, the book makes use of a sci-fi metaphor – imagine that at the moment of birth the laws of nature briefly change so that different realities not only exist side-by-side but also affect each other. In the book, my protagonist’s child disappears from his crib at eight months old and people start forgetting him one by one – the cops who responded to the kidnap call, even his own father. It’s up to his mother alone to find him and save him, which is complicated because this involves traveling to alternate realities. You can read the book for the adventure story alone, but you can also read the whole thing as a psychological metaphor, and I think when you do that you actually go through some of the wildness of becoming a new mother on a visceral level.
Visit Yael Goldstein-Love's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 24, 2023

"Prom Mom"

Since Laura Lippman’s debut, she has been recognized as a distinctive voice in mystery fiction and named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years. Stephen King called her “special, even extraordinary,” and Gillian Flynn wrote, “She is simply a brilliant novelist.” Her books have won most of the major awards in her field and been translated into more than twenty-five languages. She lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her teenager.

Lippman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Prom Mom, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Prom Mom, Meredith, a woman who has married and devoted her life to a man despite a dark secret in his past, is working out on the elliptical at her gym on Christmas Eve while watching MSNBC. She thinks: "The news is terrible. The news is always terrible." It's 2019; she has no idea that 2020, waiting in the wings, is going to say: "Hold my beer." A native New Orleanian living in Baltimore, her thoughts drift to the way that people who believe themselves not part of the states that formed the Confederacy (Maryland was a slave state that was forced to fight for the Union) tend toward a view of American history) tend to project the USA's troubled, racist past on the South, as if racism didn't exist in the Union states at all. Meredith and I believe that this dichotomy exists to this day, that there are white people who think they are exempt from the country's racist history because they were born north of the Mason-Dixon line.

This test works beautifully for my book -- but you would have to read to the end to understand how perfectly it encapsulates the book's multiple themes. In order to avoid spoilers, I will say this much: Prom Mom centers on three individuals, all of whom have secrets and/or regrets from their adolescent years. Meredith, for example, believes that her bout with cancer spared her, but destroyed her parents' marriage. Her husband, Joe, took a girl he didn't really like to the prom, then ran off with another girl. His date, grade grubber Amber, ended up giving birth in a hotel bathroom to a baby that didn't survive. The death was ruled a homicide.

These three people are, by design, people with whom I might be friends. Meredith and I agree on almost everything, politically. Amber owns a gallery that specializes in visionary art. Joe is just one of those guys that everybody likes and, I confess, I would not be immune to his charms.

I am not particularly interested in writing likeable characters and while my characters are relatable to me, I recognize they might not be to every reader. But I am committed to not taking the easy way out. And it's too easy to write a novel where the bad guy (or gal) is a white supremacist who kicks dogs. In my fiction, I seek to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, a quote that turns out to have an extremely complicated backstory. I don't do comfort reads. I don't pat my readers on the shoulder and say, "But you, you're one of the good ones." I ask them to contemplate, as I have contemplated, what damage to which they have borne witness -- or benefitted.

I will note here, as I have before, that I am descended from slaveholders. That is an ugly truth that cannot be mitigated or excused. It is a stain on my family. But recognizing my family's villainy has made it easier for me to see the USA's foundational problems. I am literally descended from villains.
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

The Page 69 Test: Hush Hush.

The Page 69 Test: Wilde Lake.

My Book, the Movie: Wilde Lake.

The Page 69 Test: Sunburn.

The Page 69 Test: Lady in the Lake.

The Page 69 Test: Dream Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 22, 2023

"A Twisted Love Story"

Samantha Downing is the author of the bestselling My Lovely Wife, nominated for the Edgar, ITW, Macavity awards in the US, the CWA award in the UK, and the winner of the Prix des Lectrices award in France.

Her second book, He Started It, was released in 2020 and became an instant international bestseller.

Her third thriller, For Your Own Good, was released in the US on July 20, 2021 and was an instant USA Today bestseller.

Downing applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, A Twisted Love Story, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Twisted Love Story is split into the end of one scene and the beginning of another. At the top of the page, Ivy is getting ready for a dinner date with Wes. Ivy and Wes have been in a tumultuous relationship for ten years and have broken up and gotten back together many times. As Ivy gets dressed for the date, she contemplates telling Wes something that she knows will upset him. On the one hand, she knows keeping this is a secret is a bad idea. On the other, she doesn’t want to ruin their date.

At the bottom of page 69, the scene switches to Wes, who is still at work. A coworker comes into his office and asks if he wants to go to a basketball game that night, but the page only includes the beginning of the scene.

In this case, the Page 69 Test does not really give readers a good idea of the book. Instead, it gives readers some insight into Ivy. While this is not one of Ivy’s more dramatic moments, it does show the way Ivy thinks, and the rationalization in her mind when she wants to do something that isn’t the healthiest choice for their relationship.
Visit Samantha Downing's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Lovely Wife.

The Page 69 Test: He Started It.

The Page 69 Test: For Your Own Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 20, 2023

"The Bitter Past"

Bruce Borgos lives and writes from the Nevada desert where he works hard every day to prove his high school guidance counselor had good instincts when he said “You’ll never be an astronaut.” He has a degree in political science which mostly served to dissuade him from a career in law while at the same time tormenting his wife with endless questions about how telephones work. When not writing, you can usually find him at the local wine store.

Borgos applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Bitter Past, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Bitter Past is a great place in the story. Not only a great part, but a great place. We find ourselves in the middle of the hunt for a Russian assassin who has already killed a retired FBI agent and come close to killing the story’s main character, Sheriff Porter Beck, as well as current FBI agent, Sana Locke. The assassin has the high ground in a place called Big Rocks, where the desert rock formations line up like skyscrapers. It’s pre-dawn, and Beck and his team are awaiting first light to begin hunting the hunter. There’s not much chance of the Russian slipping away; he’s surrounded by hundreds of miles of open desert. Beck needs him alive. Sana? Not so much.

A browser opening The Bitter Past to page 69 would actually get a good idea of the story. The main characters are there (with one or two exceptions), Sheriff Porter Beck has figured out (for the most part) why a retired FBI agent has been murdered, and he’s got the murderer surrounded. A browser would get an excellent sense of the book’s setting—the high desert of Eastern Nevada—as well as the obstacles and limitations faced by a rural county sheriff’s department.

One other important snippet a browser would get when opening this book up to page 69 is that Porter Beck has some kind of disability. Porter is musing on this point at the top of the page, in typical self-deprecating style, and it’s enough that I’m certain the reader would immediately jump to the bottom of page 68 to get the full sense of what he deals with on a daily basis. And it’s not an affliction that bodes well for someone in law enforcement. Ultimately, The Bitter Past is a story about duty and sacrifice and asks the question: What makes us who we are? Is it where we’re born or the uniform we put on, or is it something more than that? And in the end, do we have it in us to do what’s right when everything is on the line?
Visit Bruce Borgos's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

"The Clearing"

Simon Toyne is the author of the internationally bestselling Sanctus trilogy (Sanctus, The Key, and The Tower), The Searcher, The Boy Who Saw, and Dark Objects, and has worked in British television for more than twenty years. As a writer, director and producer he’s made several award-winning shows, one of which won a BAFTA. He lives in England with his wife and family, where he is permanently at work on his next novel.

Toyne applied the Page 69 Test to The Clearing, the second suspense novel featuring forensic expert Laughton Rees, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She feels the breeze and opens her eyes, blinks a few times to make sure they are actually open, then turns her head, feeling for the breath of moving air in the darkness. It had come from her left she thinks, away from the wall with the roots snaking out of it and deeper into the unknown dark.

She listens for a moment to the white-noise nothingness of the silence then reaches out with both hands and moves her arms in small circles as she feels the way ahead. It is too cold to stay still anyway, better to keep moving, keep exploring the space and looking for a way out. Besides, she learned a long time ago that the power of the dark to frighten lies not in the absence of light but in the fear of what it might contain. Knowledge is power, she read that somewhere too, so if she can discover what this darkness contains then she will remove its power to frighten.

Her hand touches something new and she fights the urge to snatch it away.

Knowledge is power, she murmurs.

Not knowing is where the fear leaks in.

She stands perfectly still for a moment, heart hammering in her chest, then slowly she flattens out her hand until her palm is pressing against the object. It is perfectly flat and smooth, and the warmth of her skin reflects back from its surface like it’s a plank or a wooden board.

Man-made, her mind whispers, and the realization that this dark place is not entirely natural makes the fear stir again in her chest.
This extract is pretty bang on, actually, in terms of giving a flavour of the book. It comes from a chapter that takes us directly into the experience of the missing person at the heart of The Clearing. These short chapters intercut with the main investigation narrative, where my main character, Dr. Laughton Rees, works with the sister of the missing woman to try and find out what happened to her, and, by extension, what happened to all the women who have disappeared in the forest over the past twenty years.

The whole book is built around this search so this chapter gives a perfect snapshot of the central mystery and places the reader in the mind of the trapped victim. The woman in this chapter is in total darkness, which also reflects the position of the sister trying to find her. Both cannot see clearly, or at all at this early stage of the book, but both will gradually gain insight as the story progresses – as will we.

Writing chapters in the dark is also a great way to tap into our primordial fear of the darkness, and forces me to describe things through the other senses – taste, sound, touch, smell – making the victims chapters more of a tentative, sensory experience, adding to the texture and tension within the novel.
Learn more about the book and author at Simon Toyne's website, Facebook pageTwitter perch, and Instagram page.

The Page 69 Test: Sanctus.

The Page 69 Test: The Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Searcher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

"Thicker Than Water"

Megan Collins is the author of Thicker Than Water, The Family Plot, Behind the Red Door, and The Winter Sister.

She received her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and she holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Boston University, where she was a teaching fellow. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is Managing Editor of 3Elements Review. A Pushcart Prize and two-time Best of the Net nominee, her work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Compose, Linebreak, Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut.

Collins applied the Page 69 Test to Thicker Than Water and reported the following:
On page 69 of Thicker Than Water, Sienna is trying to get her ex-boyfriend Wyatt, a cop, to tell her about the suspects in a murder case (since her brother is currently the main one and she’s hoping the police are following other leads, as well), but he is reluctant to share that information. This frustrates Sienna, who already has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to cops and the justice system (and Wyatt, for that matter, who cheated on her while black-out drunk at a bachelor party).

I don’t think this page gives the best glimpse of the book as a whole. For one thing, we’re only seeing a moment in Sienna’s perspective here, but her best friend and sister-in-law Julia has her own POV chapters, in which we see her become increasingly unsure that her husband (Sienna’s brother) is innocent. While Sienna and Wyatt’s relationship (and ex-relationship) is an important subplot in the book, the core of this novel is the relationship between Sienna and Julia, who have always believed that theirs is an unbreakable bond—until now.

What this page does do is give the reader a strong sense of what matters to Sienna: loyalty and justice. Wyatt’s reluctance to provide her with insider information about the case stirs up not only the pain she felt when Wyatt was unfaithful to her, but also reminds her of how she’s always disliked that he was a cop in the first place, because she associates police and the justice system with the fact that the man who killed her parents in a drunk driving accident years ago was given a very lenient sentence. That moment in her life was formative for her, and it’s why she’s particularly triggered by what she believes is the ultimate injustice of her brother, an innocent and good man in her eyes, being named a suspect in a brutal murder—and it’s why, throughout the book, she works so hard to prove he didn’t do it.
Visit Megan Collins's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Plot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 17, 2023

"The Majority"

Elizabeth L Silver is the author of the new novel, The Majority, as well as the memoir, The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty, and the novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. Her work has been called “fantastic” by the Washington Post and “masterful” by The Wall Street Journal, has been published in seven languages, and optioned for film. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton was an Amazon Best Book of the Year, the Amazon Best Debut of the Month, a Kirkus Best Book of the Summer, Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year, and selection for the Target Emerging Author Series. The Tincture of Time was featured on PBS and NPR, and was an O Magazine/Oprah’s “Ten Books to Pick up Now."

Silver applied the Page 69 Test to The Majority and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Majority is the opening of one of the final chapters in Part 1. Recent college graduate, Sylvia, bumps into the rabbi of her youth who excluded her from certain Jewish customs that would have helped her mourn her mother’s passing more profoundly, and in many ways, helped push her to become a lawyer. When she was twelve, she was excluded from the Mourner’s Kaddish for her mother by this rabbi and she attempted to try and convince him soon after, that the laws, as they existed, were wrong and exclusionary. She even visited the synagogue weeks later to confront him about it and he barely gave her the time of day. That moment pushed her forward for years as she studied hard to prove him and society wrong. This moment, in which she bumps into the older rabbi in the park, is a long time coming, and doesn’t live up to her expectations.

Here’s the page:
One day as I was walking home from college through the park, I stumbled upon the rabbi from shiva. I was twenty-two years old.

“Rabbi,” I said, stopping him halfway between a playground and the sidewalk. He was focused, walking directly through the park in a diagonal line to the shul. I knew where it was. I had walked across this park nearly every day on my way home from school, from college, from outings with friends or dates, secretly hoping to see him. I never had. Not in the years following my mother’s death, not in the time I spent in the neighborhood (which was rare these days), studying late at the library, walking arm in arm with Earl or Leo or Ezekiel.

“Rabbi,” I said again, louder. There was no need to rush. He looked up. We were both alone. It was spring.

He was older now, too, the ratio of brown and gray in his hair reversed. I was taller than him by at least two inches, and showing more of my legs in a shorter skirt than I had ten years earlier. My head wasn’t covered.

“It’s Sylvia Olin,” I said to him. He stared at me without recognition. “Marty Olin’s daughter,” I added as a reminder. I didn’t bring up Mariana. He wouldn’t remember her anyway. Though he had given sermon after sermon about the Holocaust, he had never taken the time to get to know her.

His hand kept to his beard and he twirled the strands around his fingers over and over, thinking, until finding the right memory.
This scene is somewhat representative of the book, as it shows Sylvia in scene, confronting a person of power, and struggling with what to do with the issues presented. On the other hand, because the book takes place over four large timeframes, this is only one part of that narrative and timeframe, and shows Sylvia in her early 20s, which is only for a quarter of the book.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 15, 2023

"The Murder Wheel"

Tom Mead is a UK author specialising in locked-room mysteries.

He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Organization. His debut novel Death and the Conjuror was published in 2022.

Mead applied the Page 69 Test to its sequel, The Murder Wheel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Murder Wheel places us at the scene of an extraordinary crime: the materialisation of a corpse inside a crate onstage during a magic show, in front of an audience of shocked onlookers. How was it done? And above all, why?

The crime seems completely impossible, and the fact that it took place in front of a large crowd during an illusionist’s performance adds a further element of mystification. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Scotland Yard Inspector George Flint is puzzled. “The whole thing is quite bizarre,” he observes, “How does a corpse appear from nowhere…?”

Fortunately for Flint, the retired conjuror (turned detective) Joseph Spector also happened to be in the audience when the macabre trick was pulled. As seen in my earlier novel Death and the Conjuror, Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable. Now that the auditorium has been cleared, Spector gets down to the business of investigation, first of all by questioning the surprisingly aloof magician whose show has been brought to an abrupt and ignominious halt. His stage name is “Professor Paolini,” and he is (perhaps understandably) none too keen on the investigators riffling through his magic paraphernalia.

Does he recognise the dead man? He claims not, but do we believe him? After all, in mysteries like this – particularly those set in the world of professional illusion – we must learn to trust no one.

Watching these events unfold from the wings is Edmund Ibbs, the young lawyer whose attendance at the magic show that evening seems like a coincidence, but may in fact be part of a grand and sinister criminal design.

Even bereft of context, page 69 of The Murder Wheel is an accurate reflection of the style and tone of the rest of the book. It features several of the key players analysing one of the narrative’s many puzzles, and as such it captures the tone of pervasive mystification that characterises the story as a whole. Also, the fact that the scene in question takes place onstage is appropriate, bearing in mind the theatrical milieu at the heart of the novel.
Visit Tom Mead's website.

My Book, The Movie: Death and the Conjuror.

The Page 69 Test: Death and the Conjuror.

Q&A with Tom Mead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 14, 2023

"Half-Life of a Stolen Sister"

Rachel Cantor is the author of the novels Half-Life of a Stolen Sister (2023), Good on Paper (2016), and A Highly Unlikely Scenario (2014). Two dozen of her stories have been published in The Paris Review, One Story, Ninth Letter, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She has written about fiction for National Public Radio, the Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is writing a series of middle grade and young adult books set in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Cantor applied the Page 69 Test to Half-Life of a Stolen Sister and reported the following:
Page 69 presents the first page of a story titled “A Fishmonger’s Complaint: In Which Duty is Explained” (which in turn introduces Pt. 2, “Duty”). As the Brontë family celebrates New Year’s Eve, Aunt, who is the voice of convention, reprimands Emily, who is sixteen, for being brusque with the fishmonger. Emily will not apologize:
He merely passes the time, says Aunt, who has apparently received the complaint.

He wastes time—does he think I have an endless supply? I am there to purchase fish and be gone, so I may do my real work, which is to think.

Your real work is to be of service, says Aunt.

I serve my mind, says Em. It is a heavy taskmaster.
There are certainly ways in which page 69 might give the reader a sense of the whole of Half-Life of a Stolen Sister: it offers a characteristic example of the book’s humor and voice; it refers to each family member at least once; it offers a sense of the characters of Emily, Papa, and Aunt, and of the strong affection the Brontës have for each other. New Year’s Eve dinners, moreover, with their particular rituals, recur as a sort of touchstone, allowing the reader a familiar spot from which to assess what’s changed (who is present, who’s missing, how those present get along, what’s happening beneath the surface of their interactions, etc.).

However … Half-Life of a Stolen Sister brings the Brontë family to a contemporary setting (a North American city more or less in our time), something you can’t know from reading this page. Half-Life is also a novel in stories: it uses a variety forms and points of view to describe the life of the Brontës. This three-pager takes the form of a one-scene story told in an intimate third person, but other pieces are written as letters, diary entries, home movies, radio scripts, and so on, related by members of the Brontë family, friends, strangers even. If you only read this page, you might assume a continuous narrative told by a single, sympathetic third-person narrator. You might also assume that the book is made up of trivial family interactions whereas, in fact, two pages later everything changes—for Charlotte, for the family dynamic. I won’t say the Page 69 Test completely fails, because page 69 contains enough, I think, to capture a reader, but, sadly, it does not give a sense of the formal richness or emotional range of Half-Life of a Stolen Sister.
Visit Rachel Cantor's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Highly Unlikely Scenario.

The Page 69 Test: Good on Paper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"The Ocean Above Me"

Kevin Sites is an award-winning journalist and author. He has worked as a reporter for more than thirty years, half of that covering war and disaster for ABC, NBC, CNN, Yahoo News, and Vice News. He was a 2010 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University and a 2012 Dart Fellow in Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University. For a decade he lived and taught in Hong Kong as an associate professor of practice in journalism at the University of Hong Kong. He’s the author of three books on war, In the Hot Zone, The Things They Cannot Say, and Swimming with Warlords. He lives in Oregon.

Sites applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Ocean Above Me, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Ortiz: It’s hard to explain. This ship brought many like me and my family to a new life here. But after a few months, toward the end of the boatlift, that changed. Fidel saw a chance to poke America in the eye. Can’t really blame him, they’d tried to kill him for years. He opened up—

Landon: The jails and mental institutions.

Ortiz, nodding: Pushed the undesirables out. It wasn’t just ordinary Cubans anymore, those with “questionable” loyalties. It was criminals, troublemakers, the feebleminded. Bustamante and some of the others who had embraced the exodus early on began to see what was happening.

After a few months and a couple of bad trips—boatloads filled with predators and prey, reports of rapes and murders taking place on the ships and other boats capsizing because of overcrowding— he pulled Philomena out of the people-ferrying business and went back to work fishing.

But it was rumored never to be as profitable as it once had been, before Mariel. Bustamante sold the ship in ’85. Some claimed Miami was never the same after the boatlift either. Crime and chaos unleashed.

Landon: The damage was already done.

Ortiz: Worse—it was just beginning. But it wasn’t just the exodus causing all the problems, it was the influx of drugs too. Coke. But many of the new refugee families were victims as well. We’d simply traded one set of oppressors for another. Snitches for psychopaths.

Landon: Okay, but I don’t understand. You got through those tough times, made a life and career for yourself there. Why move to Port Royal from Miami at this stage?

Captain Esteban said with your chops on diesel engines and all the thousands of mate hours you’ve logged, you had your pick of boats down there. Could’ve captained one of your own if you’d wanted.

Ortiz nods.

Landon: So why give all that up to come here? Oh, and why a Seventh-Day Adventist making a career on shrimping boats? Can we get back to that?
What the reader sees on page 69 of my novel can be puzzling without context.

It’s a transcript of a newspaper interview between embedded journalist Lukas Landon and Lorenzo Ortiz, engineer/first mate of the shrimp boat Philomena.

Ortiz was reluctant to have a journalist on board the ship. Felt it would only add to their mounting troubles. But Landon had been persistent and seemed earnest in wanting to know their stories.

And Ortiz’s story is one of the most interesting. The Philomena where he is now the first mate, was the same ship that first brought him to the U.S. from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift when he was a child.

Ortiz sees this voyage like bookends for his life with the Philomena at either end. He’s trying to explain to Landon that there’s more than nostalgia to his story. He feels a responsibility to the ship, to cleanse it of some of the bad ghosts from the past with a new and honorable purpose.

For readers at this early point in the book it also reveals the kind of relationship Landon is attempting to establish with the crew. One of confidence and trust.

But the full extent of this exchange indicates that it’s a one-way street. Landon skillfully extracts information, but provides little of his own. It’s transactional to him and built into the profession.

Perhaps the reason he chose journalism in the first place.
Visit Kevin Sites's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Ocean Above Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

"Sleepless City"

Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the noir poet laureate in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times-bestselling author of over thirty novels—including six in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series—short stories, poetry, and essays.

In addition to his acclaimed series characters, Moe Prager and Gus Murphy, he has written the stand-alone novel Gun Church and collaborated with decorated Irish crime writer Ken Bruen on the novel Tower.

Coleman is a four time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories: Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Short Story. He is a four-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year. He has also won the Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Sleepless City, and reported the following:
“…As they approached the landing between the second and third floors, new smells—nothing to do with bacon fat or burnt coffee—scented the air. Marijuana. Urine. Feces. And something more subtle … blood. Nick Ryan was intimate with death. He didn’t have to see it to know it.”

I’ve done many of these Page 69 Tests, but none proves the point better than this. Nick Ryan has been offered the role to be essentially NYC’s fixer, a prince of the city with nearly unlimited resources who operates in the shadows. He has turned down the job numerous times, but he knows only duty and when the proverbial spit hits the fan, he answers the call. Here he comes upon a situation that has the potential to blow the lid off the simmering rage in the city.
Sprawled out on the third-floor landing was the body of a young Asian man in a dark blue NYPD uniform. His head was turned to the left, eyes open, unseeing. His hat lay upside down on the step above him. Inside were a wallet, a badge, and a college graduation ring. Nick knelt beside the body. The bullet had blown out a chunk of the young cop’s skull. The black hair around the exit wound was bloody and matted…

Nick noticed the nameplate on the dead cop’s chest. He turned to Ace. “Joon as in Chief of Detectives Joon?”

“His son.”

“He killed himself.”

“He did. The kid is only half of it. He’s shitstorm. Clusterfuck’s on the next set of stairs. Look for yourself.”
What Nick finds on those stairs is the smoldering fuse that might blow the city apart: the bodies of a young white girl and an African American teenage boy. And what Nick does to extinguish the smoldering fuse that ignites a whole series of other events that play out through the course of Sleepless City. Many of those events present challenges to Nick that would overwhelm most anyone else, but not Nick Ryan.
Visit Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollow Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Where It Hurts.

The Page 69 Test: What You Break.

My Book, The Movie: Sleepless City.

Q&A with Reed Farrel Coleman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 10, 2023

"The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn"

Sally J. Pla is the author of the acclaimed novels The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. She has English degrees from Colgate and Penn State and has worked as a business journalist and in public education. She has three sons, a husband, and an enormous fluffy dog and lives near lots of lemon trees in Southern California.

Pla applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Due to wildfire, Maudie and her Dad have just been evacuated to a coastal campground run by Dad’s old buddy Naldo. While Dad scrounges for emergency groceries, Maudie visits the gift shop, and meets the charming Begonia, Naldo’s teenage niece. Begonia tells her:

“If I can help you guys with anything, just holler. I’m working odd jobs around her all summer. And my brother Max is a lifeguard down at the beach. Uncle Naldo got us both on the payroll. He’s a pretty good uncle.”

“Yeah,” I say. “He’s nice.” I take a minute, processing everything she just told me (glitch-delay). Then I add: “We’re grateful.

“We all feel real bad for you guys – our whole family does.”

I smile and nod. And I wonder what it’s like to have a whole family. An uncle to give you a job.

A brother who’s a lifeguard. Silver rings. Curly hair. Prettiness. Boobs. Ha ha ha ha ha.

“Take your time. Look around.”

Behind the glass display counter, I notice a bin of small silver metal charms—strange, flat medallions in the shape of odd things—flaming hearts, praying hands, animals, hats, wings, body parts.

“Those are Milagros.” Begonia takes out the bin without my even asking. “Religious folk charms from Mexico. But you don’t have to be religious to carry them. They also just, I don’t know, like, kinda fun and funky to keep in your pocket or whatever.”
This is fairly decent indicator of what the book is about. Maudie is an autistic kid who spends the school year in a difficult home situation with an angry stepdad. Summers, spent with her gentle, kind biological dad, are usually a respite. But this summer is different. It’s a crucible summer, and it marks her journey from a shame-riddled Maudie of glitches, silence, and secrets, to a strong Maudie who finds her voice and her power, who learns to speak up for herself. Who finds a sense of community for the first time.

She starts to find that community right there on page 69, in striking up a friendship with Begonia. So, in that sense, McLuhan’s notion is upheld.

Also, Milagro charms. Maudie indulges in some magical thinking, which causes her problems down the line. This is the start of us seeing her do that.

This was interesting to think about. I wonder if every page of a novel could bear the weight of the page 69 experiment. Take any arbitrary page and consider it in terms of its coherent storytelling and ask: Does this page move the story forward meaningfully? How does it give us a picture of the whole? Interesting questions!
Visit Sally J. Pla's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Sally J. Pla & Leo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 8, 2023

"Night's Edge"

Liz Kerin is an author, playwright, screenwriter, and graduate of the Rita and Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She is also the author of The Phantom Forest (2019). She lives in Southern California.

Kerin applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Night's Edge, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She laughs and downs the rest of the blood. I sit up straight and clear my throat, fighting the thrash of my anxious heart. But before I can begin my impeccably rehearsed monologue, she goes to the sink to rinse her glass. She’s not waiting for me to eat. She’s got somewhere to be.

“Are you uh . . . heading to the restaurant?”

This is not how my speech is supposed to start.

“Yeah, gonna meet Luke early so we can finalize the menu.” It’s not that I don’t believe her. I know she and Luke have been working on the menu all week. And yet...

“Mom, we need to talk about the Facebook group,” I blurt. Another deviation from the speech. I’d had such a perfectly smooth ascent planned. I was supposed to speak in a slow, calming voice and maybe even reach for her hand.

“Um ... okay?” She stops in the hallway. I try to read her expression in the dim light. Does she know what I’m getting at? Is she going to play clueless? For how long?

“Sorry, just ... let me start over.” I wish she would come closer. The distance feels wrong. But I keep talking. “I-I love you and our life together is ...” Shit. What am I saying. “We’ve worked really hard to . . . I don’t want anything to come between us.”

There. Okay. Now what?

“You should go to bed. Sandy was right, you seem like you’re getting sick—”

“Mom, we need to talk about—”

“The Facebook group, right? Mia, you’re not making any—”

“I saw those DMs. About Devon.”

Finally, she moves toward me. I slide my hands into the sleeves of my sweatshirt, like I wish I could hide inside of it.

“I-I don’t usually check your messages but you know I look at the page sometimes when I need information about something and I just happened to—”

“Mia, this has nothing to do with you.” She lowers her voice: the calm before a storm.

I search her face for that flicker of aggression, a sign I should put up my shield. But she’s not here for a fight. Not yet, anyway.
Wow, I didn’t realize how potent this page was going to be! There’s a whole universe of drama on the head of this pin. Mia’s mom, Izzy, is a “Sara,” which means she has a vampiric disease called Saratov’s Syndrome that forces her to consume fresh human blood each night. Her daughter, Mia, has been looking after her and providing her with blood since she was ten years old. Now, after thirteen years of relative stability (albeit the deeply codependent kind), her mom’s been acting super shady. She’s lying constantly, missing work. . . and Mia’s just figured out what’s going on by reading her DMs. Izzy has reconnected with Devon, her ex-boyfriend, who infected her with this vampiric disease thirteen years ago. She promised Mia this terrible, violent man was out of their lives forever and would never hurt them again. But now he’s back, and Izzy doesn’t know how to say no to him. It’s a huge turning point in the story, and I can’t believe page 69 reveals so much rich information about these characters and what’s about to happen.

There’s also a nod to the Sara Facebook Group on this page, where Mia and her mom have been getting information about how to handle this disease since 2010. Throughout the Night’s Edge duology (yes, there are two books!), Saras rely heavily on social media to navigate a world that’s not built for them. So this is a great snippet for that reason, too. Definitely representative of the book (both books!) overall.
Visit Liz Kerin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 6, 2023

"Have You Seen Her"

Catherine McKenzie was born and raised in Montreal, Canada. A graduate of McGill in History and Law, Catherine practiced law for twenty years before leaving the practice to write full time. An avid runner, skier and tennis player, she’s the author of numerous bestsellers including Hidden, Fractured, The Good Liar and I’ll Never Tell. Her works have been translated into multiple languages and Please Join Us and I’ll Never Tell have all been optioned for development into television series.

McKenzie applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Have You Seen Her, and reported the following:
There are two things that happen on page 69 of Have You Seen Her:
(1) The main character, Cassie, is dealing with the fallout of her lunch with her mother (who she hasn’t seen in a long time) when her mother reveals that someone from Cassie’s past may have answered the phone. Cassie is left to decide whether that person might be able to find her now or not.

(2) Cassie also finds out that a bear has been bothering the campsite that she is responsible for patrolling.
The Page 69 Test is a good one for Have You Seen Her. It happens to encapsulate two themes and mysteries that are developed throughout the book—Cassie’s past, and one of the challenges that she’s facing in the present. Without giving too much away, the person from Cassie’s past is looking for her, and the bear that’s been bothering camp will play a pivotal role in the book in more ways than one.

I guess that means it passes the test!
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

My Book, The Movie: You Can't Catch Me.

The Page 69 Test: You Can't Catch Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

"Her, Too"

Bonnie Kistler is a former Philadelphia attorney and the author of House on Fire and The Cage. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College, magna cum laude, with Honors in English literature, and she received her law degree from the University of the Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a moot court champion and legal writing instructor.

She spent her law career in private practice with major law firms. Peer-rated as Distinguished for both legal ability and ethical standards, she successfully tried cases in federal and state courts across the country.

She and her husband now live in Florida and the mountains of western North Carolina.

Kistler applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Her, Too, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Her, Too contains the following passage:
She wanted to kill him. She never would have guessed that murder lurked in her heart, but there it was, pumping its black blood through her veins. She wanted to stab him through his gimlet eyeballs and bore like a jackhammer into his genius brain.

But she couldn’t kill him. That was too blunt, too risky, it would end his suffering too soon. There had to be other ways. There really were fates worse than death. She simply had to find the right one for Benedict.

She pivoted and paced.

It would be poetic justice if he were raped. Sodomized. Brutally. She knew people who knew people. A career spent in the criminal justice system introduced her to a lot of unsavory characters. She could hire one of them to do it.

But again, too risky. The trail would inevitably lead back to her.

She pivoted again.

What she needed was a more devious way to humiliate him. A way to destroy his reputation and his income without destroying her own in the process.
The Page 69 Test actually works! This is a pivotal scene in the novel––literally!––as Kelly McCann paces and pivots and debates what she must do.

She’s a lawyer who specializes in representing men accused of sex crimes. She defends them at trial when it goes that far, though it usually doesn’t. Whenever she gets that late night call – “Um, there’s this woman?” – she swoops in with her client’s check in one hand and a non-disclosure agreement in the other. She’s effectively silenced all the victims.

The tables are turned when she herself is brutally raped by her own client. She can’t go to the police without destroying her own career in the process, and without hurting all the people who are financially dependent upon her. So she’s been effectively silenced, too.

She tries to forget and move on, but her trauma manifests as rage, and it’s volcanic. On Page 69, she realizes that she has to do something. This is the moment she decides that if she can’t seek justice, she’ll seek revenge.

Her decision is the launchpad for the rest of the novel as she devises a plan to ruin her attacker. But she can’t do it alone. She needs the help of his other victims––the same women she’d silenced before and who have no reason to trust her.

The women finally come together to scheme to bring him down. But someone else is out to silence them all – permanently.

Her, Too is a new twist on the #MeToo novel. It considers the degree to which women themselves might enable sexual predators – by representing them as lawyers; by selling their silence as victims; and even by what they do (or fail to do) as wives and girlfriends and mothers.
Visit Bonnie Kistler's website.

Q&A with Bonnie Kistler.

The Page 69 Test: The Cage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 1, 2023

"The Quiet Part Out Loud"

Deborah Crossland (she/her) teaches English and mythology at her local community college and writes myth-based, contemporary novels with a feminist bent for young adults. She is passionate about making education accessible for everyone. She lives in Northern California with her husband and her daughter’s very spoiled, retired service dog.

Crossland applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Quiet Part Out Loud, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The Quiet Part Out Loud, Alfie recalls texting Mia about setting up their first date when Mia tells him she has to cancel because of a traditional after Thanksgiving trip she and her parents make, and Alfie jumps to the worst conclusion a teen boy can make:
Hundreds of scenarios went through my head. You changed your mind. You thought about dating a baseball player just as spring training was starting and you didn’t want any part of it. Or worse. You decided another baseball player was a better, more normal choice. Or even worse than that, a football player. After all, you came from a two-parent, church on Sundays family with a dog you walked every night around your normal block. I was a Greek kid who went to a strange church, had lots of relatives that spoke too loud and hugged too much, and roasted an entire lamb on a spit in their backyard every Easter. Of course you’d changed your mind.
Assessing page 69 is a fun test, but I don’t think this particular page gives an accurate look at the overall plot since the driving storyline is about searching for love in the after effects of a city-leveling earthquake. It doesn’t really give a good indicator of the kind of banter Mia and Alfie develop, either. This page shows when their relationship hasn’t started yet, so everyone is still on their best behavior!

What is interesting, however, is that this page does give good insight into Mia and Alfie’s relationship. Mia is typically the driving force in their relationship, and that becomes evident from their first date until the last few scenes. Alfie tends to observe situations before making any decisions while Mia tends to act first and figure things out later.

If a reader were to flip a few more pages to the next chapter with Alfie’s point of view, they’d see a little more of the dynamics in the story. There, Alfie attends the traditional trip with Mia and her parents and is submerged into the world of a Charles Dickens Christmas where he and Mia are chased by a chimney sweep equipped with mistletoe and isn’t afraid to use it. Some first date!
Visit Deborah Crossland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue