Monday, July 15, 2024

"Come Shell or High Water"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she recently retired from connecting children with books at the public library.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Come Shell or High Water, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Come Shell or High Water is part of a getting-to-know-you type conversation between two characters. Here’s the page:
“The shell is older. I was a merchant by vocation and a conchologist by avocation.”

“A shell scientist? That’s similar to my profession. I specialize in freshwater mussels. But not just the shells. The animals that create them, too.” Wait, did I believe this conversation? What were the odds of a conchologist ghost appearing to a malacologist concussion victim?

“Fancy that connection,” he said. “I trust your experience with shells is happier than mine. I lost my life in my pursuit.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” he said with a somber half bow. “I died pursuing this magnificent helmet shell.” He reached into the case—through the glass—and stroked the shell. “The situation gives new meaning to the word attached, for I now seem to be attached to the shell.”

“Do you mind if I ask how old you were?”

“Thirty-seven. I was the younger of three brothers who left our father’s home in Rhuddlan to seek our fortunes.”

In defense of the insensitive question I asked him next, I had never heard anyone, in real life, say We left our father’s home to seek our fortunes. “To seek your fortunes? Like the three little pigs?”

His face went from confused to annoyed.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “That wasn’t meant to be an insult, either. It was a reference to a children’s story that might not be as old as you are. Not in its current form, anyway. It’s a fun story. Exciting. It has a wolf.”

“Apology accepted. I like a good literary reference, myself.”

“Did Allen Withrow know about you . . . being here?”

“Oh, yes. Allen and I were great friends. Friends of a philosophical nature, that is, meaning that we enjoyed each other’s company, but often disagreed.”

I’d put my hands in my pockets, and the doorknob was dig- (the last line continues on page 70)
Applying the Page 69 Test, readers will guess they might be in for a ghost story. But the reader also learns that the second person suffered a concussion and isn’t sure the ghost exists. Readers learn several things about the two characters from their exchanges—they have (or had) similar professions, they like literary references, they’re polite. From those observations, and if the ghost is real, the reader might guess this isn’t a horror novel. The two talk about a third person, Allen Withrow, in the past tense. Nothing in their conversation suggests there’s been a crime or murder, though, so unless readers know they picked up a mystery, page 69 alone won’t clue them in.

The second person in the conversation is Maureen Nash. Over the past twenty-four hours, she’s had a bit of a rough time and she doesn’t remember all of it. She knows she arrived on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina, at the end of a hurricane. That the park ranger who gave her a lift to the island warned her not to tell anyone about the favor. That she went to the beach . . . and from there her memories are muddled or missing. Except she knows she tripped over a dead body in the woods, somehow ended up unconscious on the floor of the shell shop in Ocracoke Village, and she heard someone with a beautiful tenor singing about drunken sailors. And now, on page 69, she’s met the owner of that tenor, and her life is about to get a little more muddled. Page 69 does catch the flavor of Come Shell or High Water. I also hope it piques a reader’s interest enough to make them want to flip back to page 1 and read all the way through.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Scones and Scoundrels.

My Book, The Movie: Scones and Scoundrels.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

The Page 69 Test: Heather and Homicide.

Q&A with Molly MacRae.

Writers Read: Molly MacRae.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2024

"All This and More"

Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, New York, and Mexico City.

Her second novel, The Cartographers, became a national bestseller, was named a Best Book of 2022 by The Washington Post, and received a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her debut, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a best book of the year by Amazon, Elle, Refinery29, and The Verge, as well as a best book of the summer by the Today show and NPR’s On Point.

Shepherd applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, All This and More, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“You’re looking very starry-eyed.” Jo chuckles as she appears and hands her a glass of bubbly. “The victory’s finally hitting you?”

Marsh finally stops staring at the cake and toasts her as nonchalantly as she can manage. “Used up all my steely veneer in court,” she says.

Jo takes an appreciative sip. “I’ll say. I’ve never seen a jury come back so fast in my life. I hadn’t even finished my lunch when we heard they were filing back in, and I had to stuff my face and run. I was still chewing a bite of sandwich as I slid into one of the pews!”

Marsh bursts out laughing as Jo mimes how she tried to hide her mouth as she huddled in the last row of the courtroom earlier that afternoon.

“I can’t imagine what Judge Chopra would have thought if he’d seen me, but I wasn’t going to miss the verdict for anything,” Jo finishes, still chuckling. “I’m so proud of you, Marsh.”

“We all are,” a familiar voice says, and Marsh turns to see Dylan standing behind her.

What’s Dylan doing at Mendoza-Montalvo and Hall? She gasps.

Her left thumb darts furtively forward to stroke her ring finger, to confirm there’s no ring there. How could there be? In this episode, because Marsh put her career first over everything else, her path would have followed Jo’s much more closely than it followed her original life. She and Dylan would have divorced just after Harper was born, and she would have gone on to finish law school and become a lawyer, like she’d always wanted.

Already, her head’s starting to spin a little keeping track of the details. When she and Dylan split up in each reality, how old Harper is, if there was ever a Ren. Marsh is glad that Talia has the Show Bible to make sense of it all.

“Our woman of the hour,” Victor Mendoza-Montalvo declares, then a friendly thump lands on Marsh’s shoulder as he joins their little circle. “Ah, a visitor?” Victor asks, seeing Dylan.

Marsh freezes for a moment, unsure of how to introduce him, because she still doesn’t know who Dylan is to her in this reality, but Dylan is already shaking Victor’s hand.

“I’m Dylan, Marsh’s ex,” he says casually, as if he’s completely comfortable with it.

“Oh, yes,” Victor replies, as if he faintly recollects this information—Marsh’s suspicion that she and Dylan have been divorced a long time must be correct, then. “The two of you have a daughter, right?”
The Page 69 Test works beautifully for All This and More. On this page, our main character Marsh has just jumped back in time to a moment in her past, so she can make a different choice and alter the course of her future life. She’s early in her quest to fix her mistakes, and is still marveling at the sheer miraculousness of this incredible power she’s been granted—is she really here, with the amazing career she’s always wanted, living the perfect life she’s always dreamed of? Can she make it stick for good?

But there are also the first hints of something more sinister going on just under her nose. Why, despite Marsh’s best efforts, do each of her decisions seem like they’re being manipulated by someone or something else? Why is it that every time her situation improves, her estranged husband Dylan’s fate worsens in some way? And why, out of everyone else involved, is he the only one who’s able to tell that the reality they’re all in might not be the original one?
Visit Peng Shepherd's website.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (June 2018).

Q&A with Peng Shepherd.

Writers Read: Peng Shepherd (July 2024).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

"A Darker Mischief"

Derek Milman is the author of Scream All Night and Swipe Right for Murder. A graduate of Yale Drama School, Milman has performed on stages across the country, and appeared in numerous TV shows and films, working with two Academy Award-winning film directors. He lives in Brooklyn.

Milman applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Darker Mischief, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Darker Mischief is the first page of Chapter 8, entitled Black Roses. It's a very good window into the world of the book, its tone, atmosphere, and all its inherent dangers. Browsers would definitely get a good sense of the book from the page. The page places Cal, our MC, in class the following morning after a mysterious and fairly luxe secret society gala, where he really meets and connects to a fellow sophomore transfer student named Luke Kim for the first time. It's the first time the two boys have really actively flirted, and Luke, a troubled street artist, draws his tag on Cal's hand. But it was dark out, so Cal didn't see what it was. In class, sitting across from Luke, Cal examines it and sees it's a dead baby in a womb. This is the first time we actively see Luke getting underneath Cal's skin and piercing his thoughts on a deeper level, parallel to the rush process of the secret society, which is doing the same. As the page progresses we see Cal begin to formulate a dark plan to impress the secret society, The Society of Seven Eyes, or SoSE, since they've urged him to take more risks with his initiation rituals. Being accepted is key to Cal's survival at Essex Academy, since he's a poor kid from a small Mississippi town and has had a hard time fitting into the affluent world of Essex, surrounded by the children of America's elite.
Visit Derek Milman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Scream All Night.

The Page 69 Test: Swipe Right for Murder.

My Book, The Movie: Swipe Right for Murder.

Q&A with Derek Milman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 6, 2024

"The Curators"

Maggie Nye is the author of The Curators. She is a writer and teacher whose work has been supported by MacDowell, Tin House, and the St. Albans Writer in Residence program.

Nye applied the Page 69 Test to The Curators and reported the following:
"Well, if she was going to disobey, she might as well do it right."

That's the last sentence on page 69 of The Curators. On this page, my protagonist, Ana Wulff, has broken off from her group of close-knit friends (the self-named "Felicitous Five") to make good (in her own, meddlesome way) on a dare. Specifically, she is leaving her wealthy, Jewish neighborhood to travel to a poorer, largely Black part of town on the (deeply misguided) suspicion that she will find a “voodoo woman” there to help her pull off a feat of magic.

Sadly, I think if my book were to be judged blind on page 69 alone, the reader would have absolutely no idea what was going on, as the page begins smack in the middle of a remembered (past) conversation with no dialogue tags. Thankfully for you, reader, the whole book is available to you, and you needn't be confused, for there are many pages that precede this one, and many that follow it!

In spite of the Page 69 Test's failure to work super duper accurately. This page (and chapter) marks a significant break in the book. Up until this point, Ana has operated largely inside the collective, as one member of her friend group, but here, we see the beginnings of a fracture. She has struck off along, taking matters into her own hands, and not without some resentment. For example, halfway down the page is the line, "She would make them regret taking her for granted." and on the very next page, she contemplates what her departure from the others means:

There was the word itself, solitude. How very different it was to think herself a solitary adventurer instead of a girl alone. One word imparts “sole” and “only” and “solid,” and the other: “lone,” “lonely,” a frightened girl’s word. Today, she decided, she would not be frightened. (70)
Visit Maggie Nye's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Curators.

Q&A with Maggie Nye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

"Over the Edge"

Kathleen Bryant inherited a love of travel from her parents, who bundled her up for her first road trip when she was only six months old. Originally a Midwestern farm girl, she’s spent the past decades thawing out in the West, hiking its deserts and mountains, bouncing along backcountry roads, and sometimes lending a hand at archaeological sites. After writing numerous travel guides and magazine articles about Sedona, Grand Canyon, and the Four Corners, she’s returned to her first love, writing novels. Today, Bryant lives with her musician husband in California, where she continues to seek out new adventures, finding them on hiking trails, at farmers markets, and in the pages of a good book.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Over the Edge, and reported the following:
A reader opening Over the Edge to page 69 would land in the middle of a conversation between two key characters, Jeep guide Del Cooper and Ryan Driscoll, a Forest Service law enforcement officer. The browser test is only partly successful, with hints and misses.

To summarize, on page 69, Del has left work to find Ryan waiting for her outside. They discuss a specific angle of the case, the possibility that Franklin was dealing drugs. She tells Ryan she saw Franklin hand something to the landowner during a heated encounter at a party.

Ryan counters that his main concern is fire danger, especially near homeless encampments on tinder-dry Forest Service land. Franklin, a camper, may have hidden a meth lab somewhere on the forest and may have been selling drugs. Franklin’s companion Jane is in jail, but she’s a flawed witness, as well as a possible suspect.

A reader would need to flip back a few pages to catch up on key plot points: While guiding a tour in a remote canyon, Del found a dead body. Franklin, the victim, was murdered. Two days before her gruesome discovery, Del attended a party celebrating a proposed Forest Service land trade. Once the trade is finalized, the ranch owner and a local developer stand to gain millions.

By page 69, Del has already begun to wonder if Franklin knew something about the trade—knowledge that got him killed. Flipping ahead to page 70, the reader might also pick up on the attraction between Del and Ryan, who was her teenage crush.

But flipping pages back and forth would be cheating, right? Who does that?

Are the clues on page 69 enough to guess the end of the story? Or will readers, like Del, begin to suspect everyone after her witnesses go missing and rumors swirl faster than Sedona’s famed vortexes?
Visit Kathleen Bryant's website.

My Book, The Movie: Over the Edge.

Q&A with Kathleen Bryant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 1, 2024

"Man in the Water"

A past President of the Private Eye Writers of America, David Housewright won a prestigious Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and three Minnesota Book Awards for his Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor private eye novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new novel is Man in the Water: A McKenzie Novel.

Housewright applied the Page 69 Test to Man in the Water and reported the following::
It turns out that the Page 69 Test works very well in giving the reader an understanding of what my new book is about.

That’s because this is exact part of the book where the protagonist, an unlicensed private investigator named McKenzie, agrees to help Nevaeh, the daughter of Man in the Water – it comes at the end of Chapter Four.

It begins with a warning: “Something else, and this is important – you might not like what I discover. You might learn things you’ll wish you didn’t know. Have you thought of that?”

The page also suggests that Nevaeh’s stepmother and her lawyer might be involved in the death of her father.
“I need you to call the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office. I don’t have the number, but you can probably find it on their website. I want you to call and ask them to send you a complete copy of your father’s autopsy report. I can’t do it myself because I’m not a family member.”

“Bizzy’s lawyer has a copy; I know he does.”

“Let’s not involve either of them for now. We don’t want them getting in the way.”

Nevaeh paused again.

“If my stepmother…” she said.
And it offers a brief insight into the character of McKenzie.
“It’ll be our little secret,” Nevaeh told me.

Secrets, my inner voice said. As if you don’t have enough already.
So, yeah. I’ve taken the Page 69 Test for several other of my novels and the results weren’t that spectacular. But for Man in the Water it works just fine.
Learn more about the book and author at David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Kind Word.

The Page 69 Test: Stealing the Countess.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Leave Behind.

The Page 69 Test: First, Kill the Lawyers.

The Page 69 Test: In a Hard Wind.

Q&A with David Housewright.

Writers Read: David Housewright.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 29, 2024

"Lake County"

Lori Roy’s debut novel, Bent Road, was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. Her work has been twice named a New York Times Notable Crime Book and has been included on various “best of” and summer reading lists. Until She Comes Home was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.

Let Me Die in His Footsteps was included among the top fiction of 2015 by Books-A-Million and named one of the best fifteen mystery novels of 2015 by Oline Cogdill. It also received the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, making Roy the first woman to receive an Edgar Award for both Best First Novel and Best Novel—and only the third person ever to have done so. Gone Too Long was named a People magazine Book of the Week, was named one of the Best Books of Summer 2019, and was excerpted by Oprah magazine.

Roy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lake County, and reported the following:
In Lake County, page 69 is only half a page. It is the last page of a chapter, which is told from the point of view of the protagonist’s love interest. In these few paragraphs, we learn Truitt is waiting for a man named Wiley to return with Truitt’s mother. Upon hearing Truitt was in trouble, Wiley stormed out of the house to go find Truitt’s mother without learning the gravity of Truitt’s trouble. Truitt wasn't caught running a bolita game, as Wiley assumed. Truitt had killed a man. Truitt regrets not making Wiley slow down enough to let Truitt tell him the whole story. After waiting several hours, Truitt fears something terrible has happened to Wiley and his mother.

Because page 69 is only half a page, readers dropping into this spot would have little context to understand the plot that is well in motion. That said, the section demonstrates the tension, suspense, and high stakes that drive the novel. Readers would get a sense of the novel's voice and its genre.

The Page 69 Test is an intriguing exercise. In the few paragraphs on that page, I find elements of storytelling that I regularly try to incorporate as I write a novel. We get a ticking clock because Truitt has been waiting for hours. We get escalating stakes because Truitt regrets not giving Wiley the whole story. The story Wiley didn’t get is that Truitt killed a man. Murder has much higher stakes than running a bolita game, which is what Wiley thinks Truitt has done. And lastly, the passage ends with a cliffhanger. The clock has been ticking for so long, that Truitt fears something has gone very wrong for his mama and Wiley.
Visit Lori Roy's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 27, 2024

"What Fire Brings"

Rachel Howzell Hall is the New York Times bestselling author of The Last One; What Never Happened; We Lie Here; These Toxic Things; And Now She’s Gone; They All Fall Down; and, with James Patterson, The Good Sister, which was included in Patterson’s collection The Family Lawyer. A two-time Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist as well as an Anthony, Edgar, International Thriller Writers, and Lefty Award nominee, Hall is also the author of Land of Shadows, Skies of Ash, Trail of Echoes, and City of Saviors in the Detective Elouise Norton series. A past member of the board of directors for Mystery Writers of America, Hall has been a featured writer on NPR’s acclaimed Crime in the City series and the National Endowment for the Arts weekly podcast; she has also served as a mentor in Pitch Wars and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Hall lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, What Fire Brings, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Do not leave this place. But trust your gut. But if my gut tells me to bounce, then I will bounce forthwith.

But if you leave, you can never come back. It’s over.

Which means I may never find Sam.

Which means Avery will then have to take this part on herself.

Which means that I’ll lose a chance to broaden my training in these types of undercover investigations.

Which means that I may not pass the licensing test.

Maybe I’m not ready to be a private investigator, not if I’m already thinking about leaving.

Murder. Manson . . .

And brushfires
. It is California, and like drought, the Santa Ana winds, and earthquake swarms, fire is one of our seasons.
I must find Santa Ynez Falls before someone looks too long at the dry hillsides and the world goes up in flames.
This page truly captures the story driving What Fire Brings.

On page 69, our heroine, Bailey Meadows, is at the “debate” part of her journey – trying to figure out if she’ll stay at the writing retreat in Topanga Canyon to continue her search for Sam, her missing friend. If she leaves, then Sam may never be found, which may ultimately mean, she may not receive the hours she needs to become a fully-licensed private investigator. But in addition to worrying about the people who may have harmed Sam, Bailey is also worried about her environment. Though it’s not fire season yet in the canyon, she senses… something. Wariness, yes, but something deeper than that.

Bailey is trying to balance duty against her need to survive, knowing that she needs to face danger for her career of choice and that California weather can often be more dangerous and unpredictable than the people she’ll be investigating.

All she knows is this: she needs to find Sam before the world around her catches fire.
Visit Rachel Howzell Hall's website.

The Page 69 Test: They All Fall Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


Meg Gardiner is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over sixteen novels. Her thrillers have won the Edgar Award and been summer reading picks by The Today Show and O, the Oprah magazine. Called “Hitchcockian” (USA Today) and “nailbiting and moving” (Guardian), her books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Gardiner applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel in her UNSUB series, Shadowheart, and reported the following:
FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix hunts serial predators. She ventures into twilight lands and drags UNSUBs—unknown subjects—into the daylight. In Shadowheart, she carries an extra-heavy load. Convicted killer Efrem Judah Goode confesses to a dozen new murders—and draws eerie portraits of his unidentified victims. Then another layer begins emulating Goode’s murders. Caitlin must track this new murderer: a copycat, a psychopath… a competitor.

The families of missing women desperately hope that Caitlin can tell them whether their loved ones are Goode’s victims. On page 69, eighteen-year-old Finch Winter dis for evidence that her birth mother is among the dead. Finch’s adoptive family was her away from the case.

So she snoops. She and her high school boyfriend find a lockbox hidden among her adoptive mom’s belongings.
She hesitated. Zack reached for it.

“No.” She pushed his hand away. He was too eager. This wasn’t some Disney adventure film. “Let me.”

She sat cross-legged on the floor and lifted the lockbox from the cabinet. Set it on her lap, wiped the sweat from her palms, and pressed the latch.


The box contained a faded snapshot of three young women leaning against a wall outside a diner. Finch picked it up. Her hand trembled.

She didn’t know any of the people in the photo. Why would her mom keep an old photo that didn’t even include herself?

But that wasn’t the thing [MC1] that made Finch’s stomach knot.

One of the young women resembled Goode’s Brooklyn Jane Doe drawing. The resemblance wasn’t just clear—it was uncanny.

Zack’s Scooby-Doo enthusiasm collapsed. His voice turned deadly serious.

“Call the FBI agent,” he said.

Finch shook her head.

“This is what she wants. This is it. Proof. The first evidence you’ve found. This is no coincidence, Finch.”

Finch stared hard at the photo. The streets in the background looked like New York. The three women in the photo were young, leaning together, not that much older than Finch was now. Eyes vivid, full of snark and something dark, despite their smiles. The one in the middle had blond hair, crooked teeth, something eager and hungry in her look.

Zack squeezed her shoulder. “She wanted evidence. What else could this be?”
Well. If it isn’t an actual clue.

Shadowheart is a thriller. It has action, chase scenes, a gunfight, and—I hope—enough suspense and tension that readers will hold their breath and bite their fingernails as they flip the pages. It also has a twisting mystery. Finch Winter and the scene on page 69 are at the heart of that.

Not bad!
Visit Meg Gardiner's website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirty Secrets Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory Collector.

My Book, The Movie: Meg Gardiner's Evan Delaney series.

The Page 69 Test: The Liar's Lullaby.

My Book, The Movie: Meg Gardiner's Jo Beckett series.

The Page 69 Test: The Nightmare Thief.

The Page 69 Test: Ransom River.

The Page 69 Test: The Shadow Tracer.

The Page 69 Test: Phantom Instinct.

The Page 69 Test: UNSUB.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Black Nowhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Corners of the Night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 23, 2024

"The Last Note of Warning"

Katharine Schellman is a former actor and one-time political consultant. When not writing about mystery, history, and other improbable things, she can be found in her garden or finding new ways to skip steps while baking. She currently lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her family and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering. Her books include Last Call at the Nightingale and The Last Drop of Hemlock.

Schellman applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Last Note of Warning, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Bea’s hands tightened around the slim cover of the book. “You gonna tell me what’s going on?”

“Yeah,” Vivian said, staring down at her lap. “It ain’t good.” Taking a deep breath, not meeting Bea’s eyes, she told her what had happened at the Buchanan mansion. Her words stumbled over each other more than once, as she hurried past what she had found in Buchanan’s study and tried to explain what the police had said and thought. She kept her voice quiet, not wanting to risk the neighbors overhearing. But she still felt exposed, as though at any moment someone would swoop in and haul her away.

When she got to the commissioner’s surprise visit, Bea sucked in a sharp breath. “God almighty,” she breathed. “Girl, you are in so much trouble.”
I can’t quite decide whether the Page 99 Test does or doesn’t work for The Last Note of Warning!

On the one hand, the setting is more generic here than it is in most of the book. It's set in New York City during the Jazz Age and centers around a speakeasy known as the Nightingale, which is critical to both the plot and the feel of the book. Most of the characters are working class, and the Nightingale provides them a glamorous escape and a place where they can be themselves in a demanding and unequal world. But it also brings danger into their lives, given the criminal underworld in which it exists thanks to Prohibition.

On the other hand, Vivian and Bea are two central characters, and their friendship and support of each other is a key part of both this book and the series as a whole. It also gives readers a hint of what the main character, Vivian, is up against. There’s a murder charge and a ticking clock, and she’s going to need her friends’ help if she wants to beat it.

So, while a scene in the Nightingale would probably give readers a stronger sense of the book as a whole, I think this one isn’t too bad! Hopefully, it would persuade a reader or two to pick up the book and see what else is going to happen.
Visit Katharine Schellman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 21, 2024

"Assassins Anonymous"

Rob Hart is the author of The Paradox Hotel, a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award that was named one of the best books of 2022 by Kirkus and NPR.

He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages around the world.

He is also the author of the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, the novella Scott Free with James Patterson, and the comic book Blood Oath with Alex Segura.

Hart applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Assassins Anonymous, and reported the following:
From page 69:
It may not be the field of war, but the man on the balcony, the other men in the room, they were Triad. They were in the game. The potential for death in this life is assumed. This man wasn't in the game, but he decided to join. The knowledge he put up for sale could shift geopolitics and end a lot of lives. Painfully.
Page 69 of Assassins Anonymous finds Mark, once the world’s deadliest assassin and now in a recovery program for killers, in the middle of killing a whole bunch of people! It’s a flashback sequence, to his first official job for the mysterious organization that employs him.

It’s brutal and bloody and I think gives a good feel for what the action in the book is like. I spent a lot of time outlining and designing this set piece. It takes place in a hotel room in Singapore, and Mark has been sent in to kill someone who’s about to do something very bad, but the intel he got was off—there are far more men in the room than he expected.

Cue the mayhem. I wanted it to be cool and slick, but also make it clear how utterly terrifying it must be, to be on the other end of this man’s wraith.

But it shows how good Mark is at his job, and hints toward the things he’ll come to struggle with. Just because it’s not a substance doesn’t mean it’s not addictive. Sometimes it just feels really good to be good at something. And Mark is very good at killing.
Visit Rob Hart's website.

My Book, The Movie: Potter's Field.

The Page 69 Test: Potter's Field.

The Page 69 Test: The Warehouse.

The Page 69 Test: The Paradox Hotel.

Q&A with Rob Hart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 19, 2024


A Korean-American sf/f writer who received a B.A. in math from Cornell University and an M.A. in math education from Stanford University, Yoon Ha Lee finds it a source of continual delight that math can be mined for story ideas. Lee’s novel Ninefox Gambit won the Locus Award for best first novel, and was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Clarke awards; its sequels, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun, were also Hugo finalists. His middle grade space opera Dragon Pearl won the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature and the Locus Award for best YA novel, and was a New York Times bestseller. Lee’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Audubon Magazine, as well as several year’s best anthologies.

Lee’s hobbies include composing music, art, and destroying the reader. He lives in Louisiana with his husband and an extremely lazy catten.

Lee applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Moonstorm, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Moonstorm opens with a discussion of state worship of the Empress and the heroine reiterating her desperation to become a lancer pilot instead of getting some scut job cleaning mold out of hydroponics as a refugee evacuated by an Imperial fleet. It took me several moments to remember what the heck was going on in this passage, and I wrote the dang thing!

Browsers looking only at this page would accurately be able to tell that (a) we’re in space (b) there’s a military (c) the heroine cares a lot about becoming a pilot. Most of the wider context or my heroine’s relationships to the other characters, not so much! Moonstorm is science fantasy rather than hard science fiction, for instance; gravity is caused/affected by religious/state ritual, space is filled with temporarily breathable aether; but you can’t tell that from page 69. So at least the browser would be in the ballpark for genre, and have a sense that at least some of the characters are space Koreans from the names (Hwa Young, Ye Jun, Geum).

Browsers would, on the other hand, get an accurate sense of the prose. I was asked to simplify this for the target audience, or to gloss terminology that YA readers might not be familiar with, such as IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) or C2 (command and control). I’m used to assuming that readers in adult quasi-military science fiction will have a handle on a lot of terminology that YA readers legitimately may not know off the top of their heads.
Visit Yoon Ha Lee's website.

The Page 69 Test: Revenant Gun.

Writers Read: Yoon Ha Lee (June 2018).

My Book, The Movie: Ninefox Gambit.

Q&A with Yoon Ha Lee.

The Page 69 Test: Fox Snare.

Writers Read: Yoon Ha Lee (October 2023).

My Book, The Movie: Moonstorm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 17, 2024

"The Memo"

Rachel Dodes is a freelance culture writer. She’s a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, and her work has also appeared in Town & Country, Elle, Esquire, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Buzzfeed among other publications. She was a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal where she covered fashion and film. She lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog.

Lauren Mechling is a senior editor at the Guardian US and has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The New Yorker online, and Vogue, where she wrote a regular book column. She's worked as a crime reporter and metro columnist for the New York Sun and as features editor at the Wall Street Journal. She is also a young adult novelist. A graduate of Harvard College, she lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two children.

Dodes and Mechling applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Memo, and reported the following:
If book browsers open to page 69 of The Memo, they will find our protagonist Jenny Green at a kickoff party for her 15th college reunion where she is struggling to put the best spin on her lackluster life. A classmate who remembers Jenny as the cool, carefree rebel she used to be, asks her whether she is married (no) or has kids (no). Jenny tells him she has a boyfriend (who is cheating on her, though she doesn't mention that part) and that she works at a feminist nonprofit (a dead-end hellscape overseen by a raving narcissist, but she leaves that out too). She thinks she might be rescued from the awkwardness when class president Allie Dourous, who now goes by Alessandra D'Ouros, elbows her way in and starts babbling about a gala that she is chairing at the Museum of Modern Art. A gala to which everyone–except Jenny–seems to be invited.

We had never heard of McLuhan's observation about page 69, but when it comes to our book, the test did not disappoint! Page 69 of The Memo is a set piece that is filled with uncomfortable conversations that encapsulate Jenny's powers of observation and emotional state: she definitely missed the memo. However, to understand the Sliding Doors elements of the book–time travel and wormholes and second chances–you'll have to make it to the next chapter, when Jenny actually gets the memo, and the chance to undo her biggest mistakes. On the whole, though, we are on Team Page 69. The Memo's (comedic) tone and (bittersweet, awkward) flavor definitely come through here. It's a nice amuse bouche before the meal that is The Memo.

Because The Memo is essentially a romantic comedy wrapped in a time-travel novel, the plot unfolds in two parallel timelines: One shows Jenny stuck in her real, regret-filled life, while the other reveals what her days and years would have been like had she received a magical Memo. Because of the compare-and-contrast aspect of the book, the Page 69 Test is, of course, limited in its ability to offer the full magic carpet ride of the book, but we feel it does a good job setting the tone and enabling readers to understand Jenny's central conflict. But we urge readers to stick around and skip through a portal or two.
Visit Lauren Mechling's website and Rachel Dodes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 14, 2024

"Same Difference"

E.J. Copperman is the nom de plume for Jeff Cohen, writer of intentionally funny murder mysteries. As Copperman, he is the author of the Haunted Guest house series, the Agent to the Paws series and the Jersey Girl Legal mysteries, as well as the brand-new Fran and Ken Stein mysteries. As Cohen, he is the author of the Double Feature and Aaron Tucker series; and he collaborates with himself on the Samuel Hoenig Asperger's mysteries.

A New Jersey native, Copperman worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, magazine editor and screenwriter, before his first book was published to critical acclaim in 2002. In his spare time, Cohen is an extremely amateur guitar player, a fan of Major League Baseball, a couch potato and a crossword addict.

Copperman applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Same Difference, and reported the following:
When I spent a college summer working in the deli department of a local supermarket, there was a guy working there who delighted in watching the ticket numbers (you took a ticket and were served when your number came up) until he could call out, “Sixty-nine! America’s favorite number!”

That doesn’t really have anything at all to do with my new book, Same Difference, the second Fran and Ken Stein (yes you read that right) mystery. On page 69 in this novel, Fran has been hired by a man to find his missing 19-year-old trans daughter and she’s coming up short. That’s not typical for Fran because she’s very tall, and there’s a reason for that, but you have to read the book to find that out. I’m just talking about page 69.

She’s gone to Eliza’s (the woman she’s looking for) apartment with her dad and lying on the bed in her room, trying to get into Eliza’s mindset because she thinks this is an example of a person who wasn’t so much taken as who wanted to be somewhere else, and not answer her phone. And Fran’s not coming up with much:
This search was turning out to be a bust. But I needed to know more about Eliza’s friend Rainbow.

Having searched the room one and a third times, I knew where to find the one indispensable source of information for a recent high school graduate: Eliza’s yearbook. I pulled it off the shelf over her desk and started to scan through it thoroughly but as quickly as I could. It’s not that easy to pull off but I’m good at what I do.

A fairly painstaking scan of the class found no student named Rainbow, but Brian had suggested that person might be someone Eliza had met at New Amsterdam. I still had Laura Rapinoe’s phone number and I used it, trying not to picture the wince on her face when she saw who was calling.

Give Laura credit: She answered. “I don’t know where Eliza is,” she said. “Did you find Damien?”

Dammit. She didn’t know.
I don’t know if this page is indicative of the whole book. It’s pretty static and there’s a lot of action in this novel. It does show you something about Fran’s attitude and her tenacity but her humor isn’t wildly on display and that’s a big part of her character.

I’d recommend reading the other 215 pages to get a better feel for it.
Visit E. J. Copperman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Thrill of the Haunt.

The Page 69 Test: The Thrill of the Haunt.

My Book, The Movie: Ukulele of Death.

The Page 69 Test: Ukulele of Death.

Q&A with E. J. Copperman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

"Burn It All"

Maggie Auffarth is a lifelong book obsessive and crime fiction enthusiast. She holds a degree in creative writing from Wheaton College and she was a finalist for the Helen Sheehan Book Prize in 2018. When she isn't plotting fictional crimes, she enjoys baking, running, and binge-watching Lifetime movies. She lives in Atlanta.

Auffarth applied the Page 69 Test to Burn It All, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I nod, doing my best imitation of sympathy. People like Scott – handsome, talented guys, even the ones hovering toward the bottom rung of middle-class – they can’t fathom a life where those things have always mattered. Where the first chance might be the only one you get. And, for a second, I wonder what it must be like to live a life assuming the world will undress and lay itself bare before you, splayed and ready.

“I need another drink,” I tell him, my voice rough. “You want anything?”

Scott pops the whole s’more into his mouth and talks around it. “I think I saw a cooler underneath the deck,” he says, and then he’s charging forward and I’m following.

Sure enough, there’s a spare cooler tucked up underneath the deck and Scott digs two ciders out from the ice, popping the top off one and handing it to me. I take a swig, cringing at the sweetness of it on my tongue and down my throat, like pure, fizzing sugar.

Scott leans his shoulder against one of the wooden support beams and looks at me. It’s dark here, the only light falling from between the small gaps in the deck, but I can still make out the path of his eyes as they sweep up and down the length of my body.

“You’re a cool girl, Thea,” he says – whispers, really, and I can feel my mouth falling open in shock, which makes him laugh. He reaches out and tucks a loose curl behind my ear and the smoothness of the gesture surprises me, like he’s done it before – like he’s been waiting to do it for a long time. “I always had kind of a crush on you.”

“Shut up,” I say reflexively, and he laughs, unfazed.

He takes a step toward me, and it feels like all the air around me is sucked up by the vacuum of his presence. “Okay,” he says and then, suddenly, he kisses me. I go stiff, my back pressed into the wooden beam. Paralyzed by the shock of it, even though this is exactly what I wanted to happen.

I swallow hard and force my lips to move. Force my tongue to engage with his. He tastes like chocolate.

I’d like to say that I’ve always had a thing for Scott – that this kiss is a real fairy tale, full-circle moment for me. But that would be a lie. The truth is a lot simpler, and a lot harsher.
Hmmm, this is a tough one, but I’d say that Burn It All doesn’t quite pass the Page 69 Test. While the scene above does give us some key insights into Thea – her disdain for people who seem to go through life effortlessly, and her lack of self-confidence – it’s ultimately not indicative of her character. In fact, this high school flashback is the only scene in the book where Thea does something purely to win the approval of others. Though she knows she isn’t interested in Scott, she also knows that associating with him is the quickest way to raise her social standing. Normally, this isn’t something Thea cares about, but she can feel her best friend, Marley, drifting away from her and falling in with the popular crowd, and Thea’s desperate to win her back.

I do think this scene is a good example of the mind games Thea and Marley are constantly playing with each other. Though Marley isn’t mentioned on page 69, she’s the motivation behind Thea’s actions here, and the two are perpetually locked in a battle of wills, each trying by turns to one-up and impress the other.

This scene also introduces us to the character of Scott, who goes on to play a critical role in both Thea and Marley’s adult lives. Lastly, it serves as the catalyst for one of the book’s darkest plot points, which I won’t spoil, but which sets the stage for the present-day story’s main action.
Visit Maggie Auffarth's website.

My Book, The Movie: Burn It All.

Q&A with Maggie Auffarth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 10, 2024

"Just Like February"

Deborah Batterman is the author of Just Like February, a finalist in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, 2018 Best Book Awards, International Fiction Awards, and American Fiction Awards. A story from her collection, Shoes Hair Nails, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2012 she published Because My Name Is Mother, a chapbook of essays linked by the reminder that every mother is a daughter, too.

Batterman applied the Page 69 Test to Just Like February and reported the following:
Just Like February is the story of a girl’s love for her charismatic gay uncle and her coming of age in the ‘80s. As the idea for the novel formed, I asked myself how did we get from the sex/drugs/rock ’n’ roll ’60s to the sex as death ’80s? Rachel, the young narrator, emerged as the voice of a time of profound innocence lost.

A reader who lands on page 69 would find Rachel reflecting on a telling conversation with her best friend. It’s July 4th, 1976, which happens to be her birthday. She’s at a Bicentennial celebration with her parents on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Being the only child among adults gets her thinking about her best friend, Laura, who had begged her to come to her family’s barbecue. There would be other children, “stupid little cousins and the Brat,” in the words of Laura.
She never called her one-year-old sister, Ricki, by her name, just complained a lot about how much better life was before the Brat. She hated the baby drool and the baby talk, made fun of the way her parents clucked at the Brat all the time when she was an infant. “You don’t want a baby in your house, Rachel, believe me. They turn your parents into chickens, clicking their tongues, making strange noises all the time. And when they’re not clicking or clucking, they’re oohing and aahing at every stupid little thing she does.” She pinched her nose. “The Brat can stink up a room like nobody else, then smile, like she’s proud of what she’s doing. If you had a younger brother or sister—and believe me, you don’t know how lucky you are not to—you would understand.” I told her I did have a “brother,” but he died. Of pneumonia.

When she asked me his name, all I could think was, Baby Baby Baby. “Bobby,” I blurted out. “His name was Bobby.”

“So you know what I mean.” The conversation between two seven-year-olds doesn’t go much further except for Laura to repeat, “You don’t know how lucky your are, Rachel. No babies, no brats.” A perfect segue for Rachel to take in the adults around her, especially her grumpy father.
There’s no page 69 without page 68, and a quick peek reveals that Rachel’s mother recently had a miscarriage. As the discord in her parents’ relationship grows, her affection for an uncle who opens up worlds to her takes center stage in her life.
Learn more about the book and author at Deborah Batterman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"The Paris Widow"

Kimberly Belle's new novel, The Paris Widow, “continues the author’s winning streak” according to Publishers Weekly. Her previous novels include The Marriage Lie, a Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Mystery & Thriller, and the co-authored #1 Audible Original, Young Rich Widows. Belle’s novels have been optioned for film and television and selected by LibraryReads and Amazon & Apple Books Editors as Best Books of the Month, and the International Thriller Writers as nominee for best book of the year. She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Belle applied the Page 69 Test to The Paris Widow and reported the following:
Page 69 is smack in the middle of a pivotal scene, when Stella is being questioned by a lieutenant colonel of the Paris Police Force. Two days ago, her husband Adam disappeared after a bombing in a Parisian square, and now, the lieutenant colonel has come to deliver some troubling news about Adam and his business.
“…While Architectural Elements might be a legitimate business, it is only a very small part of how your husband makes his money. Monsieur Knox’s real business, the one that brings in a great deal of income, is dealing in looted and stolen artifacts.”

The accusation is so out of left field, so absurd, that I laugh. The sound is sharp in the tiny room, and loud in my own ears. But the lieutenant colonels’ expression doesn’t change. He stares back at me across the table.

I sit back abruptly. “No. that’s not true. Adam sells decorative wall panels and, and…antique mirrors. Cast-iron balcony railings like the ones here in Paris. He doesn’t steal these things. He buys them.”
While she fights it at first, this is the moment the realization really sinks that her husband hasn’t been entirely truthful, and it is very much at the core of what the story is about: secrets that can destroy a marriage, the sale and trade of blood antiquities, a highly lucrative—and highly illegal—enterprise. It’s a pivotal moment for both Stella and the novel, as it sends her on a mission for the truth despite the danger swirling all around her.
Visit Kimberly Belle's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dear Wife.

Q&A with Kimberly Belle.

The Page 69 Test: My Darling Husband.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 6, 2024


Kasey LeBlanc (he / him) is a queer, trans, Jewish and neurodivergent author who writes stories for young people. His debut young adult novel Flyboy tells the story of a closeted trans boy, his
Catholic high school, and the magical dream circus where he can finally be seen for his true self.

LeBlanc applied the Page 69 Test to Flyboy and reported the following:
By day, 17-year-old Asher Sullivan is a closeted trans boy just trying to survive senior year at his new Catholic school; by night, he soars through the air as a flying trapeze artist in the magical dream circus where he is seen for his true self.

…Or at least he will once he figures out how to free himself from his assigned role as a clown.

If a reader were to pick up Flyboy for the first time and flip to page 69, they would find Asher at the circus, having just finished another unsuccessful attempt at training to be a clown. As he sits outside the main tent, a memory comes to mind of the black-and-green bike he asked his grandparents for for his seventh birthday.

Towards the end of the page 69 into the top of page 70, Asher recalls the moment at his birthday party (having until that moment pretty much only received stereotypical “girl” gifts) when he waits for his grandparents’ gift.
When the big moment came, my grandparents made me close my eyes as they wheeled out my gift and set up the video camera to record the big moment. It’s one of my grandparents’ favorite videos of me, and one of my least. There’s a moment as I’m pulling off the wrapping paper and thanking my grandparents profusely, that I always think they’ll notice, but they never do, so blinded are they by their own perceptions of that day. It’s just a small moment, as I spot the first flash of color on the bike–bright pink and sparkly, rather than lime green and black–when my face falls, before I recover and plaster on a new smile, fake this time.

Being a clown at a magical circus is a lot like that pink bike. Almost perfect, yet completely wrong.
Even though it’s technically on page 70, I love that final line because I think it captures so much of Asher’s journey in Flyboy. In a world that wants to put him in a box and see him in a certain way, his story is one of finding the strength to break free and the confidence to live life on his own terms.
Visit Kasey LeBlanc's website.

Q&A with Kasey LeBlanc.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

"The Stranger in the Library"

Eva Gates, also known as Vicki Delany, is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers and a national bestseller in the U.S. She has written more than forty-five books: clever cozies to Gothic thrillers to gritty police procedurals, to historical fiction and novellas for adult literacy. She is currently writing four cozy mystery series: the Catskill Summer Resort mysteries for Penguin Random House, the Tea by the Sea mysteries for Kensington, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series for Crooked Lane Books, and the Lighthouse Library series (as Eva Gates) for Crooked Lane.

Delany is a past president of the Crime Writers of Canada and co-founder and organizer of the Women Killing It Crime Writing Festival. Her work has been nominated for the Derringer, the Bony Blithe, the Ontario Library Association Golden Oak, and the Arthur Ellis Awards. Delany is the recipient of the 2019 Derrick Murdoch Award for contributions to Canadian crime writing. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

The latest Lighthouse Library mystery is The Stranger in the Library, the eleventh title in the series.

Delany applied the Page 69 Test to The Stranger in the Library and reported the following:
From page 69:
“He likes the work,” I said. “And he believes deeply in the importance of democracy and having properly elected officials making the important decisions, particularly at the local level. But he doesn’t care for the campaigning and the dark side of that, plus he genuinely misses full-time practice.” Connor was a dentist; he kept an office in Nags Head at which he worked on a part-time and pro-bono basis during his terms as mayor.

Josie dried her hands on a tea towel and then headed for the door at the back of the kitchen. “Have you been here before?” she asked me.

“Here? You mean in this building? Never.”

“I’ve catered events here quite a few times. It’s nothing special inside, but the gardens are really nice, so people have anniversary parties and small simple weddings and the like here. This property’s the only place in all of the Outer Banks high enough and rocky enough to have cliffs.”

We walked slowly through the gardens. Flagstone paths were laid between neat rows of boxwood and beautifully maintained flowerbeds. The scent of the flowers had been released by the rain, and fresh drops still clung to leaves and petals, glowing in the soft light from the fairy lights strung between the trees. In the distance we could hear the sound of the surf crashing against the shore as the tide came in. The storm clouds had moved on, and high above us the sky was a blanket of stars.

It truly was a beautiful night.

“Let’s go see the fish,” Josie said. “Then I need to get back.”


“A small koi pond.”

“Do fish sleep?” I asked. “You know, I’ve never thought about that before. Louise Jane, do fish sleep?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Because you’re normally a font of knowledge.”
I fear the page failed the test. Page 69 is rather mundane. The characters are attending a party marking the opening of an art exhibition, and at the end of the evening have gathered in the kitchen. It’s a beautiful night and they decide to go for a walk to see the fish pond. By this time, it’s been established that one of the organizers of the art show has failed to show up.

No prizes for guessing what will be found in the fish pond. The only thing of significance that happens here is the mention that “This property’s the only place in all of the Outer Banks high enough and rocky enough to have cliffs.” That cliffside location is extremely important when it comes to the climax of the book.

However, as this is a cozy mystery page 69 does reflect some of the mood of the book. A nice evening, good friends, the seaside setting. Even a little joke that says something about the relationship between the main characters in the series.

Otherwise, page 69 has little to offer in the way of insights into the book. In each of the Lighthouse Library books, the novel the Bodie Island Classic Novel Reading Club is reading is reflected (very loosely) in my book. In The Stranger in the Library, that book is Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith. I have attempted to recreate Tom Ripley as a cozy character. That he doesn’t appear at all, or is even mentioned, in page 69 means that to me the book fails the test.
Follow Eva Gates on Twitter and Facebook, and visit Vicki Delany's website.

The Page 69 Test: Death By Beach Read.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2022).

The Page 69 Test: Death Knells and Wedding Bells.

Writers Read: Eva Gates (June 2023).

Writers Read: Eva Gates.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 2, 2024

"Deep Beneath Us"

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, Deep Beneath Us, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Chapter 10


She seemed like she was going to walk right into Davey’s house but now she’s bottled it on the doorstep.

‘What?’ he asks her, peering over her shoulder. ‘Aw, naw!’

He’s never been in this way before. Davey always used the back door and so Barrett and him did too whenever they came in for a feed after a long day on the hills, whenever they made a night of it with the cribbage board. The door to this wee pantry or scullery or whatever it is has always been closed. But now it’s obvious Davey was sleeping in here. Just as obvious that he died in here. No wonder she can’t make her feet step over the threshold. Gordo’s legs aren’t feeling too steady either.

The single bed is pushed against the far wall, but the room’s so small the glass from that copper breaking in has left spangles on the grubby sheet. Jesus Christ, that sheet. It’s royal blue, to match the duvet cover and the case on the single pillow, but it’s black with grime in the middle where he’s been lying and there’s a smaller patch of greasy black in the pillow dent. There’s no wee table by the bed or even a chair. Just a paperback and some screwed up tissues on the floor, a lip salve with no lid and marks from coffee cups all over the beige vinyl like Olympic rings. That’s not the worst. The worst is syringes and ampoules and ripped blister packs of something or other that the paramedics must have left behind. And it’s not the weirdest. The weirdest is a Bible there by the bed. Gordo remembers everything Davey ever said about ‘corporate superstition’ and ‘state-sanctioned magic’ and yet right there on the floor is a well-thumbed leather-bound Bible with a bookmark about halfway through.
Well, look at that! Deep Beneath Us passes the Page 69 Test with flying colours. This page is ideal. We find out who the POV character is – Gordo. Other chapters are in the first person voice of Tabitha (the “she” here) and the close third-person voice of Barrett who is being protected from the pitiful sight of the room where Davey’s life has just ended. See? All the characters. Even the dead one. And we find out that Gordo, Barrett and the late Davey spend time together out on the hills around their home, and that their idea of “making a night of it” involves cribbage. I think we get a good sense of this trio of gentle misfits.

Also, plot! Page 69 tells us that Davey died suddenly, that police came, that paramedics came. It really is an efficient page. I can’t quite believe I didn’t cheat to get such a good one.

Besides that, I think page 69 lets readers who would be annoyed by informal Scottish English style save themselves the bother of ordering the book from the library and then giving up on it. There are two “wee”s on the page. I have to do a wee-ectomy on every book to get the count down from realistic to bearable. It’s a wee bit extra work, but it’s worth it.

As if that wasn’t enough, right at the end of the page there’s a clue! A bona fide clue that’s one of about seven that will bamboozle Tabitha, Gordo and Barrett right to the end of the book. Why would a man like Davey have a Bible by his bed? You’d need to read the book to find out.
Visit Catriona McPherson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Go to My Grave.

My Book, The Movie: The Turning Tide.

The Page 69 Test: The Turning Tide.

My Book, The Movie: A Gingerbread House.

The Page 69 Test: Hop Scot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

"The Seminarian"

Hart Hanson is a novelist and TV writer, best known for creating the Fox Television Networks longest-lived scripted hourlong program Bones. He also created The Finder and Backstrom, neither of which lasted as long as Bones to Hanson’s shame and chagrin.

Before moving to Los Angeles from his native Canada, Hanson created the multiple award-winning Global Television Network program Traders. Before Traders he wrote and produced, amongst others, several Canadian TV series, including Beachcombers, The Road to Avonlea, and North of 60.

After making the move to Los Angeles, Hanson started his American TV career writing and producing TV series Cupid, Snoops, Judging Amy, and Joan of Arcadia before creating Bones.

Hanson’s first book The Driver — a crime novel set in Los Angeles — was lauded as one of The New York Times’ Best Crime novels of 2017.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Seminarian, and reported the following:
Marshall McLuhan (and the Page 69 Test) might be onto something!

Page 69 of The Seminarian features my legal investigator, Xavier Priestly, trying to get some info out of his frenemy, Cody Fiso, a literal giant who owns the most successful Security and Private Investigation Agency in Los Angeles.

Priest is doing something he hates and resents: asking Fiso for a favor. Priest tries to brush past that as quickly as possible hoping that Fiso won’t notice.

“I don’t want to waste your time here, Fiso,” Priest said, because Fiso was wasting his time.

Priest thinks that Fiso is wasting his time because Fiso has beat Priest to the punch by asking for a favor of his own. Priest is even more irritated that Fiso doesn’t seem to mind asking for favors.

Page 69 also calls into questions Priest’s ability to evaluate the deeper motivations of human beings in general.

Is Priest as difficult a person as Fiso suggests? Or is Fiso just trying to get under Priest’s skin?

Is Fiso – as Priest suggests – tight-assed and withholding? Or is Priest projecting his own motivations onto Fiso?

If Priest hates Fiso so much (the reader can insert “humanity” in place of “Fiso” in that phrase) then why does Priest feel a burst of pride when Fiso assumes that Priest behaved valorously when he was attacked by a contract killer?

Could these two, underneath it all, actually be friends?

(Again, what applies to Fiso could apply to all of Humanity.)

The Page 69 Test is good! If the reader enjoys the transactional back-and-forth between these two characters then that reader may very well enjoy the book.

Yes, page 69 combines, plot, character, tone, and some of the most important underlying themes of The Seminarian.

Well done, Marshall McLuhan.
Visit Hart Hanson's website.

Q&A with Hart Hanson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 26, 2024

"Through a Clouded Mirror"

Miya T. Beck is a native Californian who always had a deep interest in the Japanese side of her heritage. Though she tried and failed to become fluent in Japanese, her studies did introduce her to the myths and fairy tales that inspired this novel. A former daily newspaper reporter and magazine writer, she lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Beck applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Through a Clouded Mirror, and reported the following:
In Through a Clouded Mirror, 12-year-old Yuki Snow escapes the difficulties of being the new kid in town by passing through a magic mirror to meet Sei Shonagon, the celebrated Japanese writer who served as an imperial attendant a thousand years ago. Page 69 lands in the middle of a tense scene at the imperial court. Yuki has just come to the defense of a page boy who has been sentenced to a harsh punishment for a minor infraction by the petulant emperor (the text in brackets is from the page before):
[“Might she also be the stranger in the most recent prophecy?”]

Yuki turned to see a man in a boxy black tunic with a leaf pattern sweep into the hall, trailed by a group of aides. He had the craggy good looks of an aging movie star.

“Which prophecy are you referring to, Regent Fujiwara?” the emperor asked sullenly.

“When the master of divination looked for auspicious days for the Chinese delegation to visit, he foresaw a stranger who would offer wise counsel,” the regent said.

“Yes, that’s right!” the empress exclaimed. “And Yuki is correct. You can change the rules.”
Having the regent and the empress agree with her is a pivotal moment. Yuki has spent the past few months at her new middle school feeling either invisible or misunderstood. But now, during her first audience with the power players at court, her opinion carries weight. One paragraph later, on page 70, Yuki experiences the validation that she’s been seeking:
As the guards released Nobu, he shot Yuki a dazed smile. She couldn’t believe it. They had listened to her. Back home, nobody ever listened to her. Not her mother. Not Julio. Certainly not her English teacher. She felt her shoulders relax as she stood a little straighter. She liked this feeling of being an influencer. Already Shonagon’s world was way better than Santa Dolores.
Unfortunately, page 69 does not include Shonagon, a colorful, witty character who plays a critical role in Yuki’s journey. She appears on page 68. Though I hate to take a hard line like the emperor and fault the Page 69 Test based on a few paragraphs in either direction, those are the rules that I have been given. If I had to grade the Page 69 Test, I would give it a B for this novel.
Visit Miya T. Beck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue