Saturday, April 13, 2024

"The World Entire"

Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and has published articles, book reviews, and poetry. In 2019, Perry was the first female writer invited to speak at the venerable Men of Mystery Event. Her short story, "The Kick The Bucket Tour" made the Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2018 list in The Best Mystery Stories.

Perry lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The World Entire, and reported the following:
On page 69 of The World Entire, Ascher Lieb–protagonist, narrator of the novel, orphan, student of mortuary-science, and reformed liar is being led through the back corridors of a mortuary. A mortuary technician friend of Ascher’s boyfriend, Isaac, leads her to the room in which Ascher will spend the next six to eight hours performing shemira–the Jewish ritual of watching over the dead–in this instance––the body of the woman Ascher and Isaac found murdered the day before.

Ascher arrives at the mortuary unsettled and unsure. As a former Jewish burial society volunteer, she’s bathed and prepared the dead for burial, but Ascher has never shared a huge chunk of one-on-one time with a dead person. And she and Isaac had an ugly argument: Isaac is sure the bloody dog they found next to the ravaged woman killed her.

Ascher is sure that the dog is innocent. Now the officious woman leading Ascher through the mortuary is behaving more like a rival than the casual friend Isaac said she was. Are Isaac and this woman closer than he told Ascher?
The woman gestures at two doors with “Biohazard” and “Keep These Doors Closed At All Times” signs screwed into them at the hallway’s end as if she is about to tell me something important about them––then she elbows the wall-panel.

One of the doors gasps open to another hallway.

“I should have mentioned that the restroom is in the back where you came in. The plumbing’s old, so make sure not to flush any tampons or menstrual products.”

Is she joking? Or do I give off a menstrual-product-flusher vibe?

… I follow her past the door to the lounge/kitchen and three more doors, and she speaks again.

“Use of electronics is forbidden when you’re with the decedent––but I’m sure you know that. Just make sure your phone is turned off before you enter, and don’t leave the memorial candle burning if you step out––even for a minute. It’s a fire hazard. And don’t forget to sign in and sign out when you leave. Okay?”

“…Blow out the candle before I leave to do some tampon and menstrual product-flushing. I think I’ll be able to keep all this straight.”

“And make sure to remember that the door on the left is yours––” Isaac’s acquaintance is already walking away, her sharp elbow raised and aimed at the touchless control panel that will free her from me––“and the one on the right is the morgue.”
Things that matter intersect on page 69, which is a sort of precipice for Ascher: Facing the murdered woman alone begins Ascher’s search for a human murderer and her efforts to save the dog, may reveal that Ascher’s relationship with Isaac is beyond repair, and will demonstrate if Ascher has what it takes to accomplish all the above alone.
Visit Jo Perry's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jo Perry & Lola and Lucy.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Better.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Best.

The Page 69 Test: Dead Is Good.

The Page 69 Test: Dead is Beautiful.

The Page 69 Test: Pure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny"

Mark Cecil is an author, journalist and host of The Thoughtful Bro show, for which he conducts author interviews with an eclectic roster of award winning and bestselling writers. He has written for LitHub, Writer’s Digest, Cognoscenti, The Millions, Reuters, and Embark Literary Journal, among other publications. He is Head of Strategy for A Mighty Blaze and he has taught writing at Grub Street and The Writers Loft.

Cecil applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny, and reported the following:
I’d never heard of the Page 69 Test till you brought it to my attention, but I love the idea of it—the notion that the part will contain the whole in its microcosm. In the case of my book, the test just happens to work phenomenally well.

In my novel, Bunyan and Henry; Or, The Beautiful Destiny, Paul Bunyan has not become a lumberjack yet. Instead, he is stuck in a miserable life in a mining hamlet called Lump Town. His life is prosaic, brutal and nasty. Long ago, when he was a child, he always heard stories about a magical figure called a Chilali, a mythic being who helps guide a person along his or her “Twisty Path” to the “Beautiful Destiny,” a kind of higher, more authentic kind of life. But as an adult, Bunyan has dismissed his childhood dreams and idealism, and decided that Chilalis aren’t real. He has grown too cynical to believe in such a thing as the “Beautiful Destiny.”

However, when his wife grows ill and his life has begun to fall apart, one day an actual Chilali appears to him. At first, Bunyan is afraid of the idea of following the Twisty Path of the Chilali. It seems dangerously naïve. He thinks he’s going crazy. But on page 69 of my book, he has a change of heart. He seeks out the Chilali in the woods, and on this very page, he decides to begin to follow the Twisty Path.
Suddenly, he heard a voice.

“So, you have decided to embrace your true gift?”

The voice of the Chilali came from behind and above him, cool and ironic as it had been the day before.

“The straight path has failed,” said Bunyan. “But I cannot do this alone.”
To find the Chilali, Bunyan has climbed an enormous, petrified tree. Lump Town itself is covered in ash and soot—a kind of protocapitalist hellscape. But up here in the tree, for the first time in years, Bunyan finds fresh fruit growing. This passage on page 69 not only shows the fantastical setting of the book, but also demonstrates the rewards of beginning to chase the Beautiful Destiny. Now that he has sought out the Chilali, his life has become renewed.
A smell soon struck Bunyan’s nose. A strange smell. A delectable smell.

“What is that?” Bunyan eagerly looked about, his mouth watering.

Moments later Bunyan saw, growing from a crack in the branch, something he had not seen in years: soft, fresh, green, living . . . life. It appeared to be a vine of grapes.

They were strange-looking grapes—small, withered, hard. But they were growing nonetheless, fighting for life here in the smallest of crevices.

He knelt and took one in his hand. A tiny, perfect green sphere. He placed it in his mouth and pressed his teeth down upon it. He felt a cool eruption of juice, followed by overwhelming sweetness. For years, what had he eaten? Crumbly bread, smoked and salted meats, beans out of the tin. He found another, this one misshapen like an eggplant. He ate. More juice. It was ecstasy.
In the following pages, Bunyan will leave Lump Town for good and set out on his grand adventure. But the pivot point of the story happens to occur on page 69, when he finally says yes to the Beautiful Destiny.
Visit Mark Cecil's website.

My Book, The Movie: Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

"Mal Goes to War"

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mal Goes to War, Antimatter Blues, Mickey7 (now a motion picture directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Robert Pattinson), Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a nine pound killing machine named Maggie, and the world’s only purebred ratrantula, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, he enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

Ashton applied the Page 69 Test to Mal Goes to War and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test is a little tough to apply to Mal Goes to War, for the simple reason that page 69 is the end of a chapter, and only contains a couple short paragraphs of text. So, I’m going to cheat just a bit and include a couple of paragraphs from page 68 to round things out:
With that accomplished, Mal has the opportunity to explore the sensory systems that are now available to him. First, he checks for a direct link to infospace. He doesn’t expect to find one, so he’s not particularly disappointed that none exists. That’s a minor issue. He’s in an aircraft now rather than a human skull, and he’s confident he can find a functioning tower before he runs out of power and crashes. The only actual data connection he finds is through a low-power directional transmitter. Presumably, this connects the drone to whoever had been controlling it prior to Mal’s arrival. He’s also receiving a steady stream of input from an array of onboard sensors, including a visible-wavelength camera mounted on his underside.

He taps that feed, and finds that he’s orbiting directly over a rusty white pickup truck. The bed is full of armed men. As he watches, it comes to a halt.

It comes to a halt in front of a house that he quickly recognizes as the Andreous’ home.

Mrs. Andreou is leaning out of an upstairs window, frantically waving a white pillowcase over her head.

“Kayleigh?” Mal sends. “Are you awake? If you are, please tell Asher that you are about to have visitors.”

There’s no response, of course. Kayleigh can only transmit using her mouth-hole. There’s no way for her to let him know whether she’s heard him or not. Someone is leaning out from the passenger-side window of the pickup, gesturing with one arm toward Mrs. Andreou. He turns his head then, appears to speak to the men in the back. Mal checks to see whether his new body carries any armaments, and is pleasantly surprised to see that in fact there is an air-to-surface missile strapped under each wing.

He is less pleasantly surprised to learn that, in his space-making, he’s deleted the control systems needed to launch them.

“Kayleigh?” Mal sends again. “If you can hear me, you may want to pick up your bat.”
If you were looking for a single page in this book to tell the reader what they’d be in for if they picked it up, you could do a lot worse than this. From this page we can glean that our protagonist isn’t human, that he’s an entity that moves from host to host, not much caring whether he’s currently inhabiting a human body or an armed drone or a network-enabled toaster. We also learn that he has friends, and that they’re trapped in the middle of an a war. They’re obviously in a bad spot at the moment, which also describes the bulk of the book.

The thing we’re missing from this section, though, is the rest of the cast. Mal Goes to War is science fiction, but like most of my work, it’s character-driven science fiction. The main thread of this book follows the efforts of a mismatched band of refugees as they try to find some modicum of safety in the midst of chaos, and much of the fun comes from the ways in which they bounce off of one another. Kayleigh is a genetically modified woman in the body of a child. Asher is Kayleigh’s prisoner-turned-maybe-friend. Pullman is a rich doofus with a set of cerebral implants that turn out to be a perfect vacation home for Mal after Pullman’s dog steals and eats the severed head that Mal had been hanging around in previously. They’re not anyone’s idea of the A-team, but when the world is coming apart at the seams, you take whatever friends you can find.

At the end of the day, I’d probably prefer a page with a bit more dialogue and maybe a laugh or two to this one. This is a funny book, and I’m not sure this page really conveys that. You don’t have to take my word for it, though—you can read the rest of the book and find out for yourself.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

Q&A with Edward Ashton.

The Page 69 Test: Antimatter Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 7, 2024

"A Killing on the Hill"

Robert Dugoni is a critically acclaimed New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and #1 Amazon bestselling author, reaching over 9 million readers worldwide. He is best known for his Tracy Crosswhite police series set in Seattle. He is also the author of the Charles Jenkins espionage series, the David Sloane legal thriller series, and several stand-alone novels including The 7th Canon, Damage Control, The World Played Chess, and Her Deadly Game. His novel The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell received Suspense Magazine’s 2018 Book of the Year, and Dugoni’s narration won an AudioFile Earphones Award. The Washington Post named his nonfiction exposé The Cyanide Canary a Best Book of the Year.

Dugoni applied the Page 69 Test to his new thriller, A Killing on the Hill, and reported the following:
Page 69 opens with the line, “Well, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, the guy’s bleeding to death on the floor. So I took out my handkerchief and tried to stop the bleeding, but then Millier says, ‘Leave him be and get the hell out of my club.’”

The speaker is a witness, a boxer who went to Miller’s Pom Pom Club with the murdered boxer, Frankie Ray. He’s recounting what happened to Chief Detective Ernie Blunt. The lines reflect the overall book because this witness soon changes his story and it becomes clear to William Shoemacher, the reporter from the Daily Star newspaper that everyone in Seattle can be bought for a price, and no one can be trusted.
Visit Robert Dugoni's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Wrongful Death.

The Page 69 Test: Bodily Harm.

My Book, The Movie: Bodily Harm.

The Page 69 Test: Murder One.

My Book, The Movie: Murder One.

My Book, The Movie: The Eighth Sister.

The Page 69 Test: The Eighth Sister.

My Book, The Movie: A Cold Trail.

The Page 69 Test: A Cold Trail.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Agent.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Agent.

Q&A with Robert Dugoni.

The Page 69 Test: In Her Tracks.

Writers Read: Robert Dugoni.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 5, 2024

"The Not Quite Enlightened Sleuth"

Verlin Darrow is currently a psychotherapist who lives with his psychotherapist wife in the woods near the Monterey Bay in northern California. They diagnose each other as necessary. Darrow is a former professional volleyball player (in Italy), unsuccessful country-western singer/songwriter, import store owner, and assistant guru in a small, benign spiritual organization. Before bowing to the need for higher education, a much younger Darrow ran a punch press in a sheetmetal factory, drove a taxi, worked as a night janitor, shoveled asphalt on a road crew, and installed wood flooring. He missed being blown up by Mt. St. Helens by ten minutes, survived the 1985 Mexico City earthquake (8 on the Richter scale), and (so far) has successfully weathered his own internal disasters.

Darrow applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Not Quite Enlightened Sleuth, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’d decided on a frontal assault once I’d seen Dennis’s smug expression.

He paused and assembled his features into what passed for humility—with most people, that is. His eyes reminded me of a hound I’d known—a conniving creature who was always stealing his sibling’s food.

“I loved your mother very much, and God knows why, she loved me back. I would never harm a hair on her head. Truly.”

“I’d like to believe you, but what you said back in your hospital room was alarming,” I told him.

“Look,” he began, leaning forward, “I can see you’re sharp, and you know I put up a front sometimes. It’s hard for me to let people in—let them see who I really am. But I’m leveling with you here. I did not kill your mother.”

“But you think someone else did? Is that what you were saying yesterday?”

He leaned back again and crossed his arms. “I said I’m taking care of that, and I will.”

“You think there was foul play?”

“I do.” He kept his face studiously neutral.

“And you think you know who it was?” I asked.

“I do.”

“Why not just go to the police—or tell me, at least?” I asked. “Don’t I have a right to know?”

“It’s complicated. I need you to trust me.”

“Dennis, you’re the person I trust least in the world right now. Everything about you seems to be inauthentic.”

He wasn’t offended. In fact, he didn’t seem to care at all.
My page 69 definitely passes the test. Although several basic elements aren’t revealed—the narrator is a former Buddhist nun, for example—the interplay between this insightful protagonist trying to get the truth out of non-truth tellers is typical. Throughout my mystery, it’s hard for Ivy to know who she can trust, who isn’t who they purport to be, and who is a possible suspect. Her Buddhist precepts both help and hinder her in her search for the truth.

In this scene, Ivy is trying to brace the stepfather she’s never met after her mother may have been murdered. Her bi-polar sister certainly has thought so from the outset, and now it appears she is right. Unfortunately, shortly after page 69, Dennis is murdered as well and his background as a smuggler comes to light, complicating the case.
Visit Verlin Darrow's website.

Writers Read: Verlin Darrow (May 2023).

My Book, The Movie: Murder for Liar.

The Page 69 Test: Murder for Liar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

"An Inconvenient Wife"

Karen E. Olson is the winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award and a Shamus Award finalist. She is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries, the Tattoo Shop mysteries, and the Black Hat thrillers. Olson was a longtime editor, both in newspapers and at Yale. She lives in North Haven, Connecticut.

Olson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, An Inconvenient Wife, and reported the following:
Page 69 is from one of the chapters from the point of view of Anna, Hank Tudor’s fourth wife:
She could hear Hank and Tom talking on the back porch below Lizzie’s room, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. It was best she didn’t know, anyway. There were a lot of things it was best not knowing. That’s why she never asked Caitlyn about Alex Culpepper.

Anna closed the drawer and picked up the laundry basket. Lizzie was leaning against the railing at the top of the stairs, her red hair escaping from the French braid to form little tendrils around her face. Anna was struck again by how solemn her expression always was. The girl rarely smiled, although when she did, it lit up the whole room.

“Daddy’s leaving.”

Anna felt a surge of maternal love and reached around to hug her.

“He’ll be back,” she whispered.

“I know.” Lizzie pulled away and stood up straighter, her head high. She was a tough one, but sadly it was because she had to be. “He says you and Joan will keep us safe.”

Anna nodded. “That’s right. We won’t let anything happen to you or Teddy.”

Lizzie cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “But it’s really Will and Murph who are protecting all of us, right?”

Leave it to Lizzie to know what was what. “That’s right.”

“They couldn’t protect that woman, though, could they? So how safe are we, really?”
This page is a good snapshot of Anna’s character. “There were a lot of things it was best not knowing” is a theme throughout the book, indicating the secrets tucked away among Hank’s relationships and how Anna knows she has to keep those secrets close to the vest. This page also shows the deep relationship between Anna and Hank’s daughter Lizzie, and Lizzie’s feelings about her father, who is mostly absent from her life.

The sense of foreboding at the end of this passage adds to the suspense that weaves itself throughout the novel.
Visit Karen E. Olson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 1, 2024

"The Monstrous Misses Mai"

Van Hoang’s first name is pronounced like the “van” in “minivan.” Her last name is pronounced “hah-wawng.” Hoang earned her bachelor’s in English at the University of New Mexico and her master’s in library information science at San José State University. She was born in Vietnam; grew up in Orange County, California; and now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, kid, and two dogs.

Hoang applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Monstrous Misses Mai, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Nothing good comes for free,” Audrey announced in a voice so full of doom, they all turned and stared at her. “What? It’s true.”

“On the contrary,” Callum said, “all the best things in life are free.”

Tessa snorted.

“You don’t believe me?” Callum stood up. “All right, it’s time to show you ladies that I mean business. Come on. We need”--he looked around the apartment–”candles. A bowl. Some of your most sentimental items.”

Cordi finished the last of her sandwich, wishing she had more.

“Come on, chop-chop.” Callum clapped twice, and despite herself, she got up from the table. The others did as well, looking mildly amused. Callum rubbed his hands together. “Let’s make some magic.”
This is actually a perfect moment to browse the book because it’s a pivotal plot point that doesn’t give away too much. The main characters have just discussed all their goals for their lives, expressing how much they long for their wishes to come true, when Callum offers everything they’ve ever wanted through a simple magic spell. It seems too good to be true. But they take a chance, and are about to embark on a magical adventure, their hearts full of hopes and dreams for the future.

I also really love this page because it’s the first time the Misses Mai all hang out as friends--and the first moment that they realize they’re in this together. They’re about to become accidental witches, all just to pay rent, but at least they have one another, no matter how bad things are about to get.
Visit Van Hoang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 29, 2024

"The Waves Take You Home"

María Alejandra Barrios Vélez is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of Manchester and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and scruffy dog, Gus.

She was the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fiction Fellow, and her stories have been published in Shenandoah Literary, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, El Malpensante, Fractured Lit, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Offing, and more. Her work has been supported by organizations such as Vermont Studio Center, Kweli, Caldera Arts, and the New Orleans Writers’ Residency.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Waves Take You Home, her debut novel, and reported the following:
If readers open The Waves Take You Home on page 69, I believe they’ll get an accurate sense of the book. This is a very emotional passage, where my main character, Violeta Sanoguera, encounters her past love, Rafa, in the kitchen after she burns herself. This is the first time she has been in her family kitchen in many years, and the grief of her Abuela passing, and trying to have everything perfect for the reception has really gotten to her.

After many years, Rafa is now a doctor who enters the scene rushing to help. The pain of the burn and all the feelings from seeing him again are pretty accurate to the emotional turmoil in the book. There is also the lingering intrigue of what will she do with the ghosts of her past?
His name burned on the tip of my tongue. A name I had swallowed again and again back home in New York. The name that tasted bitter like regret. Bittersweet like a secret. Rafa.

This couldn’t be, I hadn’t seen him since that night. Hadn’t heard from him, apart from the gossip that the mellas told me sometimes when I was home.

He ran to me and took my hand between his. What was Rafa doing here? My vision was blurring from the pain, and although I wanted to focus on reality, my head felt woozy and I couldn’t form any real thoughts.

“Ay, Vi,” he said, examining my hand. “This looks bad; did you press your hand on the pan?”

I nodded, my cheeks wet even though I didn’t know when I had started crying. “Vi,” he said.

The word cut me like a slap, after all these years. I had pictured this encounter many, many times in my head, but I couldn’t have imagined that it would be like this. “What…?” I shook my head, trying to wake myself up. “What are you doing here?” Rafa smiled; I could see the concern in his almond eyes. “I’m here to pay my respects. Anton, wait, do you know if Doña Emilia kept an emergency kit in the kitchen?” Anton looked at him for a couple of moments, as if he couldn’t fathom what Rafa possibly could be doing in his kitchen.
In this case, page 69 works well in showing one of the places where the book takes place: a kitchen in the Caribbean and the relationship between one of the main love interests, and the main character. If readers are into the longing of this scene, and second chance romance, I think they’ll love The Waves Take You Home!
Visit María Alejandra Barrios Vélez's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

"The Vineyard Remains"

Addison McKnight is the pen name for Nicole Moleti and Krista Wells. After over a decade of writing nonfiction, their common interests in women’s emotions and the cultural obsession with perfection sparked an idea for their debut novel, An Imperfect Plan. With six jobs and six children between them, they wrote their first book on Saturday nights and on the sidelines of their children’s games. They reside in West Hartford, Connecticut with their families.

Moleti and Wells applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, The Vineyard Remains, and reported the following:
If readers open our book to page 69 they will get an accurate idea of one side of the book. The story is told via two POV’s and on this page the reader will see a glimpse of one of our two main characters, Angela, who underwent childhood trauma and experiences a secondary trauma that has her mind spiraling. This section of page 69 gives you an extremely accurate sneak peek into the emotions she struggles with for the rest of the book. It is unclear to Angela what exactly happened in the moments following the birth of her child and that is the driving force of her journey throughout the book.
Angela remembered seeing the monitor dropping, but she also worried she was blocking something else out. She thought back to the crying sounds, but the memory was clouded with uncertainty. Angela felt a combination of detachment and apathy, secretly relieved not to be bringing a baby home, yet simultaneously feeling an overwhelming sense of emptiness alongside her genuine grief. Maybe the overwhelm was just her mind playing tricks, but she feared she unconsciously harmed her baby before her gram went away.

“I think I hurt her,” Angela said, her anxious admission further terrifying her.
The Page 69 Test worked in terms of revealing the book theme as well as one of the characters struggles as she wakes up in a psychiatric hospital, reflecting on her stillborn baby, and the emotions that the incident provoked. Right away, it lets the reader know that this isn’t a typical Martha’s Vineyard beach read, it’s a book about the darker underbelly of these islanders’ lives and would have them wanting to know more. The Vineyard Remains contrasts an idyllic setting with the complex family secrets, which makes for a pacey and intense read.
Visit Addison McKnight's website.

The Page 69 Test: An Imperfect Plan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2024

"Murder Marks the Page"

Karen Rose Smith is the author of the Jazzi Swanson Mysteries, the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mysteries, the Caprice De Luca Home-Staging Mysteries, and the Tomes & Tea Mystery Series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Murder Marks the Page, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Murder Marks The Page, book 1 in my new Tomes & Tea cozy mystery series, is representative of the cozy as far as its setting. This series is located in the lake resort town of Belltower Landing in New York State. The page gives a hint into my sleuth, Jazzi Swanson’s, free time paddle boarding with her bookstore and tea bar partner and best friend, Dawn. Page 69 reveals the friendship between them. They’re exploring a lake channel on their SUPs, spotting red-winged blackbirds, watching the sun sparkle on the blue water before a busy day at their store, Tomes & Tea. Jazzi is also worrying about a date she accepted for that night, unsure it was the right thing to do.

Since my novel is a cozy mystery, the browser who is reading page 69 would not catch a glimpse of the murder mystery. Jazzi Swanson, daughter of Daisy Swanson, the sleuth in my Daisy’s Tea Garden series, was adopted. She is now twenty-five years old and finding a life of her own. She was introduced to another adoptee who is searching for her biological father. Brie made contact and consulted with Jazzi on how to handle her first meeting with him. In addition, deciding it’s time to get serious about dating and starting a family, Brie is using a dating app. When Brie is murdered, strangled with her paddle board leash, Jazzi is drawn into the investigation. There are elements on page 69 which would lead the reader to guess the sport of stand-up paddle boarding could be somehow involved in the murder plot.

So does the Page 69 Test work with my cozy? Possibly…if the browser understands cozies and can unearth a few elements running through the novel from a single page of Murder Marks The Page. My readers have followed Jazzi growing up in Willow Creek, Pennsylvania in my Daisy’s Tea Garden series. They met her when she was fifteen and searching for her birth mother. They followed her through that search and how she and Daisy juggled mom, birth-mom and Jazzi’s relationships. She matured in that series and was prepared to go off to college at the end of it. On page 69 of Murder Marks The Page, my readers will recognize her name and will possibly want to read about this young adult Jazzi who owns a bookshop and tea bar with her best friend in a resort town on a lake.
Visit Karen Rose Smith's website, Facebook page, and Instagram page.

Coffee with a Canine: Karen Rose Smith & Hope and Riley.

The Page 69 Test: Staged to Death.

The Page 69 Test: Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

"The Inheritance"

Joanna Goodman's novels include the #1 national bestseller, The Home for Unwanted Girls, which was on The Globe & Mail’s Fiction bestseller list for more than six months, as well as The Forgotten Daughter and The Finishing School, both national bestsellers. Her stories have appeared in The Fiddlehead, B & A Fiction, Event, The New Quarterly, and White Wall Review, as well as excerpted in Elisabeth Harvor’s fiction anthology A Room at the Heart of Things.

Originally from Montreal, Goodman now lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Inheritance, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“It looks like a crime scene,” Arden says, turning on the lights.

“It probably is a crime scene,” Tate reminds her.

Virginia’s bedroom is still exactly as it was left the night of the assault. The duvet and sheets are still in a heap on the floor, with pillows and clothes strewn everywhere. Also on the floor are the lamp from her bedside table, some books, the portable phone and base, and shards of broken glass stained with red wine. There’s still blood on the sheets and mattress.

Arden’s been here once to collect a bunch of her mother’s things, but she didn’t have time to clean up. It was the day after the assault and Arden was still in a daze. She grabbed as much as she could for her mother and fled. It’s the first time Tate is seeing it.

“I’m going to wash all the bedding,” Arden says, bending down to collect the pieces of glass on the floor.

“Do you think you should?” Tate says. “What if his DNA is on it?”

“Really? This isn’t an episode of CSI.”

“Seriously, Arden. Who knows? Just put the fitted sheet in a plastic bag. You can wash everything else.”

Tate puts the lamp back on the table, gathers the books in a pile. “What the hell do you think happened here?”
Interestingly, the Page 69 Test worked perfectly for the back story of my novel. The page actually thrusts the reader right into the heart of the drama unfolding alongside - but secondary to - the main story, which is the courtroom drama surrounding the inheritance case. I do think reading this page would set the reader up to expect a novel about a sexual assault and specifically about elder abuse, but ultimately it doesn’t say much about the main storyline or about any of the primary themes of the novel. In that sense, I would have to say in that sense, the “test” is not a great indicator about the book as whole.

What I do love about how this experiment works for The Inheritance is that the first line stands alone as an exciting entry point into a juicy suspense novel. It looks like a crime scene. What a great first line to set up a mystery/crime novel, which is definitely a key component in The Inheritance, if not the primary one. I think the rest of the page also builds on the suspense of the first line, establishing a compelling mystery about what happened, who did it happen to, and who did it? I also love that there is mention of DNA on page 69, and ultimately, DNA will prove to be the crux of the entire inheritance case. In that way, it does drop a significant clue and foreshadow what’s to come in the main story as well.
Visit Joanna Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2024

"The Swan's Nest"

Laura Rhoton McNeal holds an MA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and has worked as a freelance journalist, a crime writer, and a high school English teacher. She is the author of the novels Dark Water, a finalist for the National Book Award, The Practice House, and The Incident on the Bridge. She and her husband, Tom, are the authors of Crooked, Zipped, Crushed, and The Decoding of Lana Morris.

McNeal applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Swan's Nest, and reported the following:
If you turned to page 69 of The Swan’s Nest, you would be in Jamaica, in a carriage, with Lenore Goss and her brother, Andrew, who are arguing. Andrew has suggested that Lenore marry one of Elizabeth Barrett’s brothers so that the two families can have a large enough sugar plantation to offset the cost of paid labor (rather than slave labor, which was still used in Haiti, the United States, and Brazil, making sugar from those places cheaper on the world market).

Lenore responds,
“I can’t marry one of them, even if they asked me. I don’t want to stay here for the rest of my life.”

“Why not? There is so much for you to criticize! So much reform for you to recommend.”

“You don’t do any of the things that I recommend.”

“Because I have been here much longer than you have, and you recommend the silliest things.” When she had told Andrew about her grand scheme, a utopia in which the races were equal and Little Egypt was held in common, he had laughed. “You couldn’t kill and cook a goat, Nora. Or wash clothes in the river and wring them out with your soft little hands. Or cut the heads off our dinner fish. And if you say that you could, which I can tell you’re about to do, believe me when I say you couldn’t cut cane for a single week without killing yourself."
The scene represents the nature of the book quite well: a brother is arguing with a sister about what is economically practical. All of the sister-brother relationships in the book have that tension—who is the smart, rational one, and who is absurdly reckless, and what will come of that?

I think this page also reveals what is un-Victorian about my book. In the novels of Jane Austen and the Brontes, which I love and admire, the West Indies are always off-stage. What happens there is unknown to the female protagonists, and money just appears from that place to change their lives for the better. But Elizabeth Barrett knew what happened on her family’s sugar plantation, and she loathed being inextricably dependent on what it earned. She wished the money in her family had come from somewhere else--anywhere else. She was unable to travel, as her brothers did, to see Jamaica and try to behave humanely in an inhumane business, so I invented a female character who could and did: Lenore.

I think of the woman on the cover of the book as Lenore, in fact. So I thank Marshall McLuhan for his weird but bizarrely effective tip.
Visit Laura McNeal's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Laura McNeal & Link.

The Page 69 Test: The Incident on the Bridge.

My Book, The Movie: The Incident on the Bridge.

My Book, The Movie: The Swan's Nest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2024

"The Scream of Sins"

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

Nickson applied the Page 69 Test to The Scream of Sins, the newest Simon Westow mystery, and reported the following:
A part of page 69 of The Scream of Sins:
‘We’ve sent word to your parents.’

She hung her head. ‘They’ll hate me.’

‘No they won’t,’ he said softly. ‘They’ll be overjoyed to have you home again. Did you manage to sleep?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The guilt licked at her face. She was here in comfort while her sister….

He asked a few things, hoping for some sort of clue that might identify the man who’d bought Harriet or where he lived. But Emma had been too scared to notice much. They were in a barn or a stable. The air had felt wide and open, maybe a farm, not near a town. The man had worn good clothes. He seemed very old, but she couldn’t guess at his age. What would be old to a girl of eight? A big man, she thought, but no idea how tall or broad.

Simon listened, never pushing, absorbing every scrap, trying to build a picture. But in the end there was little.
This gives a teaser of one of the strands of the book. Simon Westow is a thief-taker in Leeds. Emma is a girl of eight who’s asked Simon’s young assistant Jane to help her find her younger sister, Harriet. The two were kidnapped, and Harriet has been purchased from the kidnappers by an old man.

It gives little away and makes no mention of the other strand of the plot. Do they intertwine in the end? In that regard, it gives a reader a good idea of one part of the book, and starts the journey into a very dark and violent tale that, in someways, overshadows the rest of the book – and no apologies for that. This strand is really Jane’s story, one that brings her into sharp relief, both in her relationship with Simon as well as others. It makes her realize she’s no longer the person she’s long believed herself to be, and that helps introduce another important new character.

Who are Emma and Harriet? You’ll need to read the book for that. Will there be any kind of happy ending? Not for many, maybe not even for Jane, at least in the normal way. But much of it pivots around the contents of page 69.
Visit Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

The Page 69 Test: The Hanging Psalm.

The Page 69 Test: The Molten City.

The Page 69 Test: Brass Lives.

The Page 69 Test: The Blood Covenant.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Will Rise.

The Page 69 Test: Rusted Souls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

"The Romanov Brides"

Clare McHugh is the author of two historical novels, A Most English Princess and The Romanov Brides. After graduating from Harvard College with a degree in European history, she worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and later magazine editor. The mother of two grown children, she currently lives with her husband in London and in Amagansett, New York.

McHugh applied the Page 69 Test to The Romanov Brides and reported the following:
On page 69 of my book, one of the two main protagonists, Ella, princess of Hesse, is visiting her grandmother, Queen Victoria, at Windsor Castle in spring 1883. Ella is contemplating becoming the wife of Grand Duke Serge, of the Russian Romanov family. Her grandmother fiercely opposes this match. Ella’s uncle Leo, who has recently defied the Queen’s objections to marry himself, is sitting down to chat with Ella about her future.

On page 69, readers will be immediately immersed in the atmosphere of my novel, and presented with the stakes of the narrative. The central question is this: Should members of Queen Victoria’s family—including the two young princesses of Hesse, Ella and Alix—follow the monarch’s sometimes capricious direction as to who they should, or should not, marry? Uncle Leo is about to line himself up on one side of this question. Also, on this page, a central reality of these princess’ lives—a reality they are ironically unaware of—is mentioned. Uncle Leo, it is revealed here, suffers from bouts of uncontrolled bleeding. Readers will recognize that this in the hereditary disease hemophilia, which Alix of Hesse will bring into the Romanov line, with tragic consequences.

I love how, on page 69, we are awaiting Uncle Leo’s input on the most important decision of young Ella’s life, should she marry Grand Duke Serge or not? On this choice so much of history turns, as the novel will reveal. I wrote the book as a kind of prequel. We all know how Nicholas and Alexandra’s story ended: assassinated in a basement in Yekaterinburg. How did it begin? With Ella—and the fateful choice that a young woman had to make with very little understanding of the world.
Visit Clare McHugh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"Fruit of the Dead"

Rachel Lyon is author of the novels Self-Portrait with Boy—a finalist for the Center for Fiction's 2018 First Novel Prize—and Fruit of the Dead. Lyon's short work has appeared in One Story, The Rumpus, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. She has taught creative writing at various institutions, most recently Bennington College, and lives with her husband and two young children in Western Massachusetts.

Lyon applied the Page 69 Test to Fruit of the Dead and reported the following:
By page 69 of Fruit of the Dead, Cory has just agreed to work for a few weeks as a nanny for Rolo Picazo's two children, Spenser and Fern. She has signed his NDA, and he's driven her from all she knows to the rocky coast of Maine. It is nighttime and, far from any electric lights, Rolo seems particularly menacing to Cory: "In the fog and dark, with a child’s sleeping head on each of his broad shoulders, he is very other. She knows he is a big man, but he looks bigger here, more sinister. The contours of his face seem unstable somehow, as if his outlines have been drawn with thread." However, a boat appears, shining its light across the sea...:
In its illumination the beach and dock take on their familiar textures, sand and splinters. The water shines opaque as foil, and Rolo goes dimensional again at last, just some fattish aging dad holding his tired daughter, sweat darkening his pits, fog-demon no longer.

Under the lamppost in the boat’s nose stands a hooded figure, dwarfed by a massive lifejacket and anchoring the craft with a ferry pole. A cigarette glows in the shadow of its hood. It raises its unoccupied hand in eerie salute and, in a wry, time-sanded voice, greets them all: Ahoy.

Sherry, Rolo says. How’s tricks?

Business is booming, the captain replies, deadpan, and secures the boat with a length of rope to a piling. Hey, kids.

Spenser says, I went to sleep-away camp.

You’re a big boy now, the captain observes.

Snared a new sitter for the kids, Rolo says, indicating Cory.

Great, says the captain without interest, and pulls open a door in the gunwale: All aboard.

Spenser climbs in, followed by Rolo, balancing Fern. The boat rocks. Where the smooth wall in the hull hinges open there has been secured a handmade mechanism: the head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. As they pass, the captain pulls it open, and the dummy’s weighted eyeballs roll, the better to watch as Spenser, then Fern, deposit their tokens in its mouth. The coins clatter within, metal against metal. When the captain releases the head it snaps shut again, cartoon eyes bobbing.

Rolo extends a hand. Cory hesitates.

His outstretched fingers beckon impatiently, slapping his palm. Come on, he says. Sherry doesn’t have all night.
This scene is a particularly surreal one. Sherry (our counterpart for Charon, who ferries the dead across the river Styx), and her tricked-out boat, are written with intentional campiness, and campiness is not for everyone. While the book is semi-satirical in certain ways, and can be campy from time to time, I wrote from both Cory and Emer's perspectives with minimal irony, because I feel strongly that too ironic a tone will minimize a character's humanity. This is a long way to say that, while this scene is crucial—Cory is making her final decision, whether or not to enter Rolo's isolated world—I don't feel that Fruit of the Dead passes the Page 69 Test. Tonally it contains only one facet of the overall book, and plot-wise, there are more telling scenes.
Visit Rachel Lyon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Self-Portrait with Boy.

My Book, The Movie: Self-Portrait with Boy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 8, 2024

"Sisters of Belfast"

Melanie Maure holds a Master’s in Counselling Psychology and lives in central British Columbia. She is second generation Irish and spends a great deal of time in Ireland, which is an enduring source of inspiration for her work.

Maure applied the Page 69 Test to Sisters of Belfast, her debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Fresh air,” she says, “the best medicine.” She slips into her coat, reaches into the pocket, and feels to familiar loop of beads nestled, waiting.

“Mrs. Doolin, would you mind if I stepped out for a breath of sea air?”

Gabby is seated on the floor with the twins. Aelish is not sure how she got down there and even less certain how she will get up.

She waves Aelish off. “We’re right as rain here, Sister. Tide’s out—it’s a good time to treasure hunt,” she say, clutching the babies’ round bellies. They squeal with glee, and the sound sends Aelish out the door with tiny bubbles coursing across her skin.

Arriving at the water’s edge, she turns into the wind, glances down at the small crabs skittering about. A penny-sized triangle of amber glass twinkles among the rocks and swaths of kelp crisping in the sun. It has been worn smooth, made matte from sand and salt.

“Izzy will like this.” Aelish drops it into on her wellies.

The fishing community’s old Catholic church sits at a precarious angle, clinging to the hillside. I promise to get there and receive communion after a visit with Isabel today, she vows before perching on a large stone for morning devotions. Crabs dart like tiny thieves between rocks, and gulls drift overhead. She ponders Declan’s question about Isabel, whether she mentioned “not doing so good.” Although Izzy did not write of any struggles, Aelish intends to broach the subject on today’s visit now that her sister is stronger.

Halfway through the third decade of the rosary, she hears shouting. Aelish continues to pray, assuming the fishermen on the pier to be the source of the noise. The indecipherable ruckus becomes more precise. Aelish is startled to hear her name.
While I don’t think this test gives the browser a whole idea of Sisters of Belfast, it is a page that could pull the reader in, primarily based on the final line. It might also give the browser a sense of foreboding—a peaceful scene with questions about secrets looming at the edges. Maybe because I know the story, I could, in fact, say this page encapsulates the novel by saying Aelish is always seeking peace and safety. Still, it remains precarious, mostly due to the connection with her twin sister.

From the time the girls were orphaned during the Belfast blitz, this has been their core struggle. They long to keep each other safe and have very different and deep-seated beliefs about what that safety should look and feel like. For Aelish, the church and the life of a nun is the answer. Meanwhile, for Isabel, the church is the most significant source of threat and danger. What binds them is also what tears them apart--their love for one another.
Visit Melanie Maure's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 7, 2024

"The Devil and Mrs. Davenport"

Paulette Kennedy is the bestselling author of The Witch of Tin Mountain and Parting the Veil, which received the prestigious HNS Review Editor’s Choice Award. She has had a lifelong obsession with the gothic. As a young girl, she spent her summers among the gravestones in her neighborhood cemetery, imagining all sorts of romantic stories for the people buried there. After her mother introduced her to the Brontës as a teenager, her affinity for fog-covered landscapes and haunted heroines only grew, inspiring her to become a writer. Originally from the Missouri Ozarks, she now lives with her family and a menagerie of rescue pets in sunny Southern California, where sometimes, on the very best days, the mountains are wreathed in fog.

Kennedy applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Devil and Mrs. Davenport, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Loretta turned to look. It was the Robberson house. The bare-bulbed porch light cast a shallow cone of yellow across the sagging porch and overgrown yard. The house's dark upper windows winked forebodingly. "I don't know about that one, Char."

"Why not?"

Loretta remembered Phyllis's gossiping and conjecturing about the man who lived there--that he might have had something to do with Darcy's kidnapping and murder. She thought of the man--she didn't even know his name, only that he was the Robbersons' nephew--tall, pale, thin, and balding. The few times she'd seen him, he'd put her in mind of an undertaker. Might he be capable of the crime? As a light came on upstairs, and she saw the man's shadow move behind the curtains, Loretta felt ashamed that this unkind part of herself had reared up. She reasoned with herself to slake the shame. She was only being protective. Not judgmental like Phyllis.

Pete would be home soon. They needed to hurry. She took Charlotte's hand and gently coaxed her forward. "There are three more houses on this side of the street. We'll go to them and then head home. You need a proper supper before you eat this candy. How about tomato soup and grilled cheese?"
I think the Page 69 Test works well for the The Devil and Mrs. Davenport in that it conveys the undercurrent of suspicion running through the fictional Missouri town of Myrna Grove following the murder of a young woman. Even though there's a lot of nostalgia for the 1950s, paranoia was rampant in America at the time, tucked away under the congenial facade of suburbia. Readers opening to this page, which takes place on Halloween night, would get a sense of the overall feel of the entire novel. Prying neighbors, families with dark secrets, the nature of good and evil--and how closely they intersect, even in the actions of well-intentioned people--are all central elements to the plot of The Devil and Mrs. Davenport. This scene may only be one small part of the whole, but it gives readers a taste of what they can expect from the rest of the story.

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport is about a young midcentury housewife and mother, Loretta, who begins hearing the voices of the dead after a short illness. Wondering if this new ability is her longed-for calling from God, Loretta seeks counsel from her husband, an ambitious Bible college professor, who says her gifts are only fevered hallucinations, or worse yet--delusions of Satan. Unable to ignore the messages from beyond, Loretta finds support and encouragement through Dr. Curtis Hansen, a parapsychologist who helps Loretta embrace her abilities and hone them, leaving Loretta at a turning point. She can either heed her calling, in defiance of her husband's wishes, or ignore the pleading spirits and return to her dutiful, isolated life.
Visit Paulette Kennedy's website.

The Page 69 Test: Parting the Veil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

"Murder at la Villette"

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 21 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, and two World War II-set novels featuring American markswoman Kate Rees. Black has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime.

Murder at la Villette, the 21st installment of her mystery series featuring Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc, is Black's new novel.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Murder at la Villette and reported the following:
From page 69:
Aimée could do this. Couldn't she?

"Unrelated. But can you tell me what Melac requested?"

Emile expelled air from this mouth. "He wanted crimes in the nineteenth for the years 1986-1994. Homicides specifically related to le Balafré."

The serial killer. Again.
Page 69 in Murder in La Villette would show a vital clue in my detective's investigation. Her ex, the murder victim, was looking for information on le Balafré, the serial killer who'd eluded the police for thirty years.

Page 69 to me plays fair to the reader since we find a clue, a breadcrumb that Aimée Leduc will follow to find more crumbs and lead to her unmasking the serial killer and who's responsible for her ex's murder. She's a suspect, the stakes are high for her if she doesn't find the real perpetrator so here, and throughout the book she's finding bits and pieces, crumbs, trying to figure this out and exonerate herself.
Visit Cara Black's website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

My Book, the Movie: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

The Page 69 Test: Murder below Montparnasse.

The Page 69 Test: Murder in Pigalle.

My Book, The Movie: Murder in Pigalle.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Champ de Mars.

The Page 69 Test: Three Hours in Paris.

The Page 69 Test: Night Flight to Paris.

Writers Read: Cara Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 3, 2024

"Knife Skills"

Wendy Church is the author of the Jesse O’Hara and Shadows of Chicago Mysteries series. The first book in the Jesse O’Hara series, Murder on the Spanish Seas, was named one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Mystery/Thriller novels of 2023, and received a starred review.

Church's newest books are Murder Beyond the Pale, the second Jesse O’Hara mystery, and Knife Skills, the first Shadows of Chicago mystery.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Knife Skills and reported the following:
On page 69 of Knife Skills, the main protagonist, Sagarine Pfister, is trying to get listening devices installed in a restaurant, while a Russian mobster is there doing the accounts. Sagarine’s worried that she’ll be caught.

This is a pretty good indication of the book’s main plot: A chef reluctantly helps the FBI take down a dangerous Russian gang, where much of the action takes place in a restaurant, and there is an element of suspense.

Of course there are other storylines, and characters, including Sagarine’s roommate who works for the Chicago PD, and writes ‘female centered pleasure books’ in her spare time, as well as a creepy stalker, and a romance between Sagarine and one of the Russian gang members. But page 69 lays out what Kirkus summed up in their review: “Audiences who wish the TV series The Bear could make room for Russian mobsters are in for a treat.”
Visit Wendy Church's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

Q&A with Wendy Church.

My Book, The Movie: Murder on the Spanish Seas.

The Page 69 Test: Murder Beyond the Pale.

Writers Read: Wendy Church.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2024

"The Haunting of Velkwood"

Gwendolyn Kiste is the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, Reluctant Immortals, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Pretty Marys All in a Row, The Invention of Ghosts, and Boneset & Feathers. She's a Lambda Literary Award winner, and her fiction has also received the This Is Horror award for Novel of the Year as well as nominations for the Premios Kelvin and Ignotus awards.

Originally from Ohio, Kiste now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, their calico cat, and not nearly enough ghosts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Haunting of Velkwood, and reported the following:
From page 69 of The Haunting of Velkwood:
“What’s it supposed to be?” I asked, gazing up into the neon glow.

“Anything you want,” she whispered, her hand suddenly entwined with mine, her touch softer than velvet. I remember staying that night at her apartment, a weird little warehouse loft in the Strip District, and how we drank too much rosé. I slept on the couch as always, one room and a million miles away from her. Even when Brett and I were in the same place, there was always an unbreachable chasm between us. She was right there, but she still felt like just another ghost.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” she said the next morning, but I pretended not to hear her as I walked out the door.

I’m still thinking about her, as Jack and I climb into the car so he can drive me back to Velkwood Street. There’s no welcoming committee joining us this time—it’s just the two of us.

I hear Brett’s voice again, echoing inside my head. Why do you bother with boys like him?

Except Jack’s not quite like the other guys I’ve known. He’s certainly not normal, that’s for sure. Nobody ordinary has ever been this obsessed with ghosts. As we turn out of the driveway, I notice something on him. A necklace dangling over his T-shirt, a charm at the end of it. A titanium compass. Only it’s bent a little in the middle so that north doesn’t quite point in the right direction anymore.

“From your aunt?” I ask, and it’s a total guess, but Jack smiles, and I know instantly that I’m right.

“You asked me before what she would think about all this,” he says. “And I think she’d love it. This neighborhood. Everything we’re doing here.” He hesitates before adding, almost sheepishly, “She always wanted to prove that ghosts were real.”

“And you told her you would try, right?” I gaze at him. “At the end of her life, you told her you’d find her again?”
This is definitely a great page to get a feel for The Haunting of Velkwood. My book has already been described more than once as a character-driven story, and this page in particular definitely conveys just how much this is a tale about the people involved with this ghostly mystery rather than only about the ghosts themselves. We come into the page during a brief flashback where our main character Talitha and her sometimes best friend Brett are at an art installation that Brett helped to organize. Brett and Talitha’s friendship—and all its many complications—is so critical to the novel overall, and this page shows a bit of their backstory that illuminates just how emotionally fraught their relationship really is. Then, in the present day, we see Talitha about to return to the haunted neighborhood of her past, all while she’s bonding with the lead researcher Jack who’s desperate to learn more about ghosts. Their back-and-forth dialogue is indicative of their budding relationship and shows the different reasons why someone might want to pursue a neighborhood filled with phantoms. Perhaps most importantly, Talitha’s voice is also on full display here on page 69, which helps to give readers a taste of what they can expect from the book as a whole. So I’m very pleased to report that in my opinion, The Haunting of Velkwood very much passes the Page 69 Test!
Visit Gwendolyn Kiste's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 29, 2024

"Where They Lie"

Claire Coughlan has worked as a journalist for many years, most recently for publications such as BookBrunch and the Sunday Independent. She was a recipient of the Words Ireland National Mentoring program, funded by Kildare Arts Service and the Arts Council. Coughlan has an MFA in creative writing from University College Dublin, and she lives in County Kildare with her husband and daughter.

Coughlan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Where They Lie, and reported the following:
On page 69 Nicoletta attempts to interview Charles Creighton, a well-known local jewelry business owner at his residence at Seaview House in Dublin, where the bones of missing actress Julia Bridges have been found after twenty-five years. He tells Nicoletta: “I’m sure you understand, this is a private matter for all concerned.” Nicoletta and Barney, her colleague, take their leave of Creighton and make their way to the end of the garden, where they hope to knock on the door of the mews house and interview John Dawkins, the man who found the human remains, and his wife Delia, Charles Creighton’s daughter. According to Barney, Dawkins is “an artist of some sort. The neighbors have made dozens of complaints to the Guards about loud parties, and he’s said to be smuggling dope on the ferry.”

If a browser opened page 69 of Where They Lie, they would certainly find an accurate snapshot of the story; this page is absolutely pivotal to the novel’s progression. Although the seemingly unflappable Charles Creighton, who we are previously told has a “tight, practised smile,” tells Nicoletta that the story is a private matter and essentially none of her business, he can’t quite bring himself to show her the door. He is very taken with Nicoletta and keeps her talking longer than necessary. She is so overwhelmed by everything that has been happening, including the glamor of this old house, which is unlike anything she has ever experienced, she doesn’t question his motivation. However, Charles is actually quite an important character in the overall plot development, and he will have greater significance towards the end, without giving any spoilers. When Nicoletta and Barney make their way towards the mews at the end of the garden to ‘doorstep’ John and Delia Dawkins, they are unwittingly stepping further into the tangled maze of this story, beyond which there is no turning back.

All the action on page 69 takes place at Seaview House. This house is central to the story: a spooky, turreted Victorian seaside mansion in Dublin with brick “the colour of dried blood”, where human remains have been found, and whose inhabitants are all keeping deadly secrets.
Follow Claire Coughlan on Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

"At Any Cost"

Jeffrey Siger is an American living on the Aegean Greek island of Mykonos. A former Wall Street lawyer, he gave up his career as a name partner in his own New York City law firm to write the international best-selling, award recognized Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series of mystery thrillers telling more than just a fast-paced story. The New York Times described his novels as “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales” and named him as Greece’s thriller novelist of record.

Siger applied the Page 69 Test to his latest Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis mystery thriller, At Any Cost, and reported the following:
Here is page 69, plus a dozen words in brackets from preceding page:
[“I sensed he didn’t want to alarm me with what he thought] might be the most chilling scenario. It’s an academic thing not to guess but wait for the facts. That’s why he wants to see Syros.”

“When do you think he’ll come to Athens?”

Andreas shrugged. “The tickets are on us as an engagement present, but Anna has school obligations, and Jack has a business to run. They might not be able to change their plans. Besides, Jack’s given me enough leads to likely keep us busy until he gets here as planned.”

“Get some sleep.”

Andreas leaned over and turned off the lamp on his nightstand. “Good suggestion, because it looks as if my real time life, starting first thing tomorrow morning, will be all about figuring out how to kick some big time international digital butt back to the stone age.”


New York City’s East Village has hidden treasures that more likely than not survived gentrification efforts by two simple means. One, they delivered desired and appreciated services, and two, there’s no landlord to boot them out in favor of higher paying tenants, or to sell out to a developer. A prime example was the oldest continuously operating Italian restaurant in Manhattan.

The massive mound of white candle wax at the back of the restaurant’s rear dining room, close by a pair of ever-swinging kitchen doors, has been growing (and getting shaved back to manageable proportions) since 1908. Its tin ceilings, tiled floors, and walls adorned in frescoes of rustic Italian scenes, frame a white-linen-tablecloth candlelit intimacy that’s launched many a memorable evening, and continues to draw crowds of loyal clientele packing its simple bar while patiently waiting for a table.

That early 20th-century, Roaring-‘20s ambience has made this East 12th Street restaurant a popular setting for memorably dramatic scenes in some of America’s best known gangster films and TV series. But its celebrity was not why Jack had picked it for dinner with Anna. He found its southern Italian cooking and reasonable prices hard to beat elsewhere in the city.

They sat at a corner table by the kitchen, facing toward the front room. A waiter swiftly brought menus and what remained of the half carafe of red wine they’d ordered at the bar.

Jack ordered the restaurant’s famed garlic bread and house salad to share.

Once the waiter left, he said, “I had a wonderful talk with your uncle this afternoon.”
Page 69 of At Any Cost captures the essence of what differentiates this 13th novel in my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series from its brethren. It introduces new core characters, existential technological threats, and a US locale in a supporting role. The scene opens with Andreas confiding in his wife, Lila, his take on a just concluded telephone call to New York with his niece Anna’s fiancé, Jack.

Jack is an expert on all things metaverse, and Andreas sensed his future nephew trying not to alarm him over a threat to world order posed by a consortium of powerful, wealthy and ruthless autocratic nations seeking to establish a European beachhead on the Greek Cycladic island of Syros in the coming battle for metaverse dominance. Page 69 concludes with Jack and Anna having dinner close by where she attends university in New York City’s East Village, as Jack’s about to share with her his concerns over what’s confronting her uncle and explain why Andreas wants him on Syros ASAP.

Here’s a bit more of the story line:

In the aftermath of Greece’s horrendous wildfires that claimed three unidentified victims, Kaldis and his engaging cast of characters find themselves immersed in a fast-paced, mystery-thriller confronting the ethical, political, and societal challenges of a race for metaverse dominance.

Syros, the Grande Dame of the Cyclades, once served as the commercial and shipyard center for the region, but the rush of tourism bringing unimaginable prosperity to Cycladic islands such as Mykonos and Santorini largely passed it by.

Syros’ desire to resurrect its glorious past without sacrificing its soul to tourism is offered precisely that in a proposal it must immediately accept or mourn what could have been…be it a deal with the devil or not.

It falls to Andreas and his team to connect the seemingly unrelated dots and corral the ambitions of those willing to stop at nothing to assure the success of the consortium’s plans for Syros and beyond. Not even Andreas’ family is safe.
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The Page 69 Test: Murder in Mykonos.

The Page 69 Test: Prey on Patmos.

The Page 69 Test: Target Tinos.

The Page 69 Test: Mykonos After Midnight.

The Page 69 Test: A Deadly Twist.

Q&A with Jeffrey Siger.

--Marshal Zeringue