Saturday, December 16, 2023

"Hop Scot"

Catriona McPherson was born in Scotland and lived there until 2010, then immigrated to California where she lives on Patwin ancestral land. A former academic linguist, she now writes full-time. Her multi-award-winning and national best-selling work includes: the Dandy Gilver historical detective stories, the Last Ditch mysteries, set in California, and a strand of contemporary standalone novels including Edgar-finalist The Day She Died and Mary Higgins Clark finalist Strangers at the Gate. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Crimewriters’ Association, The Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, of which she is a former national president.

McPherson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hop Scot, and reported the following:
From page 69:
So I spat on my hands, hefted the axe pointy end to the wall, lined it up like a croquet shot and gave it my all.

‘Ouch!’ I said, reeling away. The difference this time was that the pick-axe, unlike the sledgehammer, stayed stuck in there.

‘Yay!’ said Devin. ‘My turn again!’ He doesn’t have a macho bone in his body, as far as I’ve ever seen. He stepped up and wiggled the point of the axe free. Then he concentrated hard, with one eye shut, and did his best to make the little hole a bit bigger. The axe bounced off the middle of a brick and clattered to the floor.

‘Me again,’ I said. This time I heard a grating sound when I hit the mortar and a few lumps of it fell out. The brick now looked like a loose tooth.

‘Try and snag it,’ I said, handing the axe over again. ‘Pull it.’

Devin hung off the axe handle and grunted like the old man in the story trying to pull up the ginormous turnip, but he didn’t dislodge the brick or even make it grate again. ‘Bang it hard,’ he said, as he handed over to me again. ‘See if you can knock it straight through.’

I squared up the sledge hammer, did a practise shot and walloped the brick smack in the middle. It disappeared, leaving a black hole like a letterbox. We both heard it hit the floor on the far side.

‘Teamwork!’ I said. ‘You howk out a few more, till we can scramble through. ‘It should be easier now.’

‘Are you kidding?’ Devin said. ‘You’re going to delay gratification on this? Not me.’

He plucked his phone out of his back pocket, turned on the torch app and crouched until he was peering through the hole in the wall. Then he froze. He even stopped breathing. He’d been panting from the exertion of wielding a medium-sized hand-tool three times, but now he was silent.

‘Dev?’ I said. ‘What can you see? Have you been turned to stone by an ancient curse?’

He didn’t answer.


Slowly, in a series of jerks, he stood up straight again. ‘Take a look and tell me that’s an old decoration left over from Halloween.’

‘Oh ha ha,’ I said. ‘Come on. Let’s burst through. If we do the other one too we can surprise Taylor.’

‘Just look, Lexy,’ Devin said. ‘Look through that hole and tell me what you see.’
Well, look at that! Actual plot! Page 69 of Hop Scot turns out to be a perfect teaser about the meat of the mystery, instead of what I was expecting: either the narrator/protagonist, Lexy Campbell enthusing about Christmas in Scotland; the Californians kvetching about Christmas in Scotland (No sugar cookies! Terrible water pressure!); Judith and Keith Campbell doing their level best to keep up with the sudden explosion in diversity in their lives; the children fretting about Santa finding them in their temporary home; ornithologist Taylor swooning about the winter birds of Northern Europe . . . Because, in this book, my fictional found family have left the Last Ditch Motel in Cuento, CA, and decamped en masse to spend the holiday with Lexy’s bio-family, in the kind of country house where all Christmas mysteries should take place (right?). It’s perfect, except that the brick wall in the cellar isn’t one brick wall at all. It’s two with a space in between, as Lexy and Devin are finding out on this page.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

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The Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide.

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--Marshal Zeringue