Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"From Darkest Skies"

Sam Peters is a mathematician, part-time gentle-person adventurer and occasional screenwriter who has seen faces glaze over at the words ‘science fiction’ once too often. His inspirations include Dennis Potter, Mary Doria Russell, Lynda La Plante, Neal Stephenson, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He has more hopes than regrets, more cats than children, watches a lot of violent contact sport and is an unrepentant closet goth.

Peters applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, From Darkest Skies, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Hale Wavey slips unseen through the corridors of the Tesseract. There are surveillance cameras everywhere here in the heart of the Magenta Investigation Bureau, but Hale Wavey doesn’t worry about that because Hale Wavey is wearing a Masters’ skin-suit stolen from the Gibraltar Tech-Fair three months ago. Invisibility has its limitations, like everything else, but it’s good enough for this.

Hale’s Servant cracks the access codes for the low-security level. He lets the suit do its work for the rest, tailgating the night patrols as they do their rounds, meticulously checking every room and so taking him anywhere and everywhere he could want to go. When they reach the secure zones they work in teams of three with a pair of drones watching over them, feeding back to the security citadel which towers over the entrance to the Tesseract, the only part of the building that rises more than a single storey above the ground. The deep secure bunkers will be a problem, if ever Hale needs to go where the real secrets are kept, but today’s task is a simple one.
So begins page 69 of From Darkest Skies.

Agent Keon Rause is an investigator on Magenta, a backwater colony world. As the story starts, he’s looking into the mysterious death of a minor celebrity from an apparent overdose, but that’s not where his real attention lies: Five years ago, Keon’s wife Alysha, a fellow investigator, was killed in an apparently random terrorist attack; the perpetrator has been caught and tried but Keon has never shaken the idea that there was more to it than was uncovered at the time. In trying to cope with his grief, Keon has built an artificial intelligence simulation of his dead wife, a walking talking copy of Alysha almost indistinguishable from the real thing whom he calls Liss. Almost indistinguishable, but not quite.

The story I set out to write is half SF conspiracy thriller, half SF love story and all with a noir feel. Quietly and under the radar, Keon is trying to find out what really happened to his wife while Liss is trying to find out who this woman she’s supposed to be really was under the surface. As they peel back the layers of mystery surrounding both Alysha and Magenta’s history and the lines between what is human and what isn’t grow ever more blurred, the more they both have to question both what they are to each other and how well either of them truly know the real Alysha. Underneath it all, the theme of From Darkest Skies is about not knowing the world around you as well as you think.

We’ve never met Hale Wavey before page 69, nor will we meet him again after he submerges a few pages later. He ghosts into the narrative and ghosts out again leaving only questions. He has nothing much to do with either of the mysteries Keon is trying to solve and sheds no light on Keon’s relationship with either Liss or Alysha. But as a metaphor for the story as a whole? Yeah, it works.
Visit Sam Peters's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"Mind of a Killer"

Simon Beaufort is the pseudonym of Susanna Gregory and Beau Riffenburgh when they write jointly.

Beaufort applied the Page 69 Test to Mind of A Killer and reported the following:
Page 69 of Mind of a Killer doesn’t reveal any dark secrets, but it does grab the essence of one of the book’s subplots.

The story takes place in London in 1882, when Alec Lonsdale, a junior reporter for The Pall Mall Gazette, begins to suspect there was more to a fatal house fire than a simple accident. Slowly, he becomes convinced that the victim was murdered and the house set ablaze to hide the fact. He and his colleague Hulda Friederichs investigate, and uncover a series of seemingly related murders. From the fashionable mansions of Bloomsbury to the dank lanes in Bermondsey that even the police won’t enter, the pair seek answers to give them a sensational story and help build their reputations.

Lonsdale and Hulda do this despite the police trying to suppress the investigation, and having to overcome roadblocks from another alarming place: their own editor. But were the editor’s reservations about the story actually a surprise?

At the time, The Pall Mall Gazette was a small, but politically influential, evening newspaper, the editor of which, John Morley (later the government’s Chief Secretary for Ireland), believed that its pages should be reserved for helping readers understand ‘great affairs’, such as the ‘Irish question’. Inexplicably, Morley had hired as his assistant editor the liberal firebrand W.T. Stead, who later helped bring American-style sensationalism to the British press.

Page 69 shows the interplay between Morley, who thinks a murder investigation lowers the tone of his newspaper, and Stead, who sees the investigation as part of The PMG’s moral obligation. In the middle of this debate are the dedicated Lonsdale and the impetuous Hulda, trying to put forward their points of view. Will Stead convince the editor to approve the investigation, will the pair be reassigned to write theatre reviews, or will Lonsdale have to result to nefarious means to follow the trail of a killer?
Visit Simon Beaufort's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2018

"The Saint of Wolves and Butchers"

Alex Grecian is the national bestselling author of the contemporary thriller The Saint of Wolves and Butchers, the novels of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, including The Yard, The Black Country, The Devil’s Workshop, The Harvest Man, and Lost and Gone Forever, as well as the critically acclaimed graphic novels Proof and Rasputin.

Grecian applied the Page 69 Test to The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Saint of Wolves and Butchers comes in the middle of a letter Ruth Elder has written to her adult daughter. Ruth started her life over after World War II, but she recently spotted a man she’s convinced is a former Nazi named Rudolph Bormann, and she’s concerned that her life may be in jeopardy.
I did not tell the men I worked for that I was a trained nurse. I could not bear anymore to see men who were wounded and dying. I feared I would see Dierk when I looked at an injured soldier. But I did well in my secretarial duties and was put into the guard training program at Ravensbrück, in the north of Germany. I did not know what that place was when I was assigned there, but I soon discovered what kind of camp it was.

The prisoners were almost all women, and so the guards were women, too. The administrators were men, of course, but interactions with prisoners were mostly left to us. There were female guards at other camps, but all of us went first to Ravensbrück. We were shown how to subjugate and terrify. We were given dogs and taught the commands that would make our dogs attack prisoners.

We were not taught any command to make the dogs stop attacking.
There are four main characters in this book, and none of them is featured here, but I still think this is pretty representative. Here we see how the past and present are intertwined, and how we’re powerless to escape history, an important theme throughout the novel.

Ruth’s letter is being read aloud to Travis Roan, a Nazi hunter who has travelled to Kansas to meet with Ruth, but has arrived too late. So he believes the letter is the only remaining key to help him find Bormann and bring him to justice. Ruth’s story motivates others, too, including Skottie Foster. She’s a state trooper, who is there to keep an eye on Travis, but she’s touched and disturbed by the letter. She agrees to help Travis, which ends up putting her family in harm’s way and ultimately pushes her to make some life-changing decisions.
Visit Alex Grecian's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Devil's Workshop.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Death Comes in through the Kitchen"

Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1966. She earned her BA in English literature and an MA in Spanish literature at the University of Havana, and her PhD in Latin American literature at the University of New Mexico. She is the author of twelve other works of fiction and three plays, and is the winner of the Rincón de la Victoria Award and a finalist for the Herralde Award.

Dovalpage applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Death Comes in through the Kitchen, and reported the following:
On page 69 Matt is talking to Yarmila’s best friend, an enterprising cook named Isabel. Isabel owns a paladar –a small private restaurant located in her house. When she finds out that Matt is looking for a place to stay, she quickly offers him one:
“We have a room,” she explained, turning to Matt. “Small but recently painted and renovated, with its own bathroom and everything. Eh, viejo?” she prompted her husband. “Tell him.”

Despite being called an old man, Luis smiled pleasantly and said, “Yes, it is a penthouse. It has the best views in Havana.”
The page is representative of the book in the sense that Matt, a well-intentioned, naïve American, is led to believe something that turns out to be false. A few paragraphs later, when he gets to see the room, Matt realizes that calling it “a penthouse” is quite an overstatement. This sets the tone for his entire Cuban experience.

On page 69 there is also a mention of food:
Luis and Padrino had begun to discuss food providers. “The pound of pork costs seven CUCs at the Cuatro Caminos Farmers’ Market,” Luis was saying. “But I’d rather buy it from a guy that brings it to us for eight.”
Food is a theme throughout the book, particularly in Yarmila’s blog, which contains authentic Cuban recipes.

If writing this novel didn’t make me a better writer, it did make a me a better cook. I tried all the recipes before including them. Buen provecho!
Visit Teresa Dovalpage's website.

Writers Read: Teresa Dovalpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Cut You Down"

Cut You Down, the latest novel in Sam Wiebe's series featuring Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland, is garnering rave reviews, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He's also the author of Invisible Dead and Last of the Independents, and the editor of the forthcoming Vancouver Noir. Wiebe lives in Vancouver.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Cut You Down and reported the following:
On page 69, Vancouver PI Dave Wakeland and his partner Jeff Chen approach the house of a pair of suburban gangsters, very dangerous men...who live with their parents.
"You bring your gun?"

The question surprised me. Jeff knew I'd bought a pistol last year during another case. He hadn't approved. Our security guards had firearms, and we were both licensed, but guns had never sat easy with Jefferon Chen.

I shook my head and pulled the Maglite out of the passenger's side footwell.

"You gonna swat bullets away with that?"

"We're just asking friendly questions," I told him and myself. "No need for things to escalate."

We stepped onto the ratty welcome mat and I rang the buzzer. Discordant chimes went off inside the house.

Jeff nudged my shoulder and pointed towards his feet. Beneath our shoes the letters on the mat spelled F C RIGH FF. I shifted my right foot and uncovered a K.

"Fuck right off," Jeff said.

The door was opened by an old woman carrying an axe.
Cut You Down involves a search for a college student who disappeared in the midst of a scandal involving millions of dollars. The search takes Wakeland across the Pacific Northwest, encountering people and situations that range from the absurd to the violent. This scene shows both. I'd say Page 69 offers a glimpse at what lies ahead for Wakeland, and represents both his doggedness as a detective, and the case's surprising nature.
Visit Sam Wiebe's website.

My Book, The Movie: Invisible Dead.

The Page 69 Test: Invisible Dead.

Writers Read: Sam Wiebe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"Witchy Winter"

D.J. (“Dave”) Butler grew up in swamps, deserts, and mountains. After messing around for years with the practice of law, he finally got serious and turned to his lifelong passion for storytelling. He now writes adventure stories for readers of all ages, plays guitar, and spends as much time as he can with his family.

Butler applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Witchy Winter, book two in the epic fantasy series Witchy Winter, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He didn’t want to kill the gander. But the bird seemed to be begging him. He rode hard, fighting to keep his eyes open against sudden tears that threatened to blind him.

the goose honked one last time—

it turned its neck to thrust its greased head into Nathaniel’s outstretched palm—


Nathaniel slowed and then stopped his horse, looking down in shock at the bird’s head that lay twitching in his cupped hand. “Woden’s beard, I think he did it.” George walked away from Charles toward Nathaniel, reaching up to pull down the other young man’s hand to look inside.

~ thank you.~

“Thank you,” Nathaniel repeated, feeling exhausted.

“Publish the banns.” George snorted as he took the goose’s head. “Jenny’s yours, young Chapel.”

“I guess I’ll be having goose for dinner tomorrow night.” Nathaniel tried to grin big, and a ect the bravado the others seemed to feel. Charles smiled back at him. Nathaniel’s ear tingled, so he rubbed it.

“You know, if you left your ear alone, it might not have swollen up to that ridiculous size,” Landon said.

“It’s not that young Nathaniel’s ear is large.” George grunted, climbing onto his own horse, where he swayed back and forth during the pause in his speech. “It’s that it sticks out sideways. Poor bastard looks like a windmill on his left side.”

“I’d have said an elephant,” Landon suggested.
Page 69 is representative in several ways of the larger book.

We see here the sufferings of Nathaniel, the sick young man who must become a healer if he and his sister are to survive. He is one of the three siblings who are the key characters of the series.

Witchy Winter is a book about America and its peoples, and we see here a couple of features of the Cavalier culture of the Chesapeake: intense pecking order and violent blood sports (this is the climax of a ganderpull).

Magic in the Witchy Winter setting is not some artificial game-influenced system built on colors or metals, but is rooted in real-world magical ideas and practices. Nathaniel's illness is a result of too-much openness to the sounds of the cosmos, including the voices of spirits (which appear in the fragment) and also the music of the spheres (which he hears as cacophony). His healing will ultimately come from shamanic initiation.
Visit D.J. Butler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Whispers of the Dead"

Spencer Kope is the Crime Analyst for the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. Currently assigned to Detectives Division, he provides case support to detectives and deputies, and is particularly good at identifying possible suspects. In his spare time he developed a database-driven analytical process called Forensic Vehicle Analysis (FVA) used to identify the make, model and year range of vehicles from surveillance photos. It's a tool he's used repeatedly to solve crimes. One of his favorite pastimes is getting lost in a bookstore, and he lives in Washington State.

Kope applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Whispers of the Dead, and reported the following:
Oh, a lot of fun things happen in the first 69 pages of Whispers of the Dead. After solving a brutal murder in the first chapter, the FBI’s elite Special Tracking Unit finds itself in El Paso, Texas, where Special Agent Jimmy Donovan and his partner, Magnus “Steps” Craig, are expected to unravel the story behind a rather peculiar find.

It seems someone doesn’t like Judge Jonathan Ehrlich. This is not surprising to those who know the judge, but then no one has ever expressed their displeasure by leaving a pair of severed feet on the judge’s living room floor. To sort out who might be targeting the judge, Steps and Jimmy must first figure out who the feet belong to.

What they can never reveal, not even to Diane Parker, the team’s top-tier intelligence analyst, is that Steps is a fraud. Oh, he can track like no one else in the world, but he doesn’t use traditional man-tracking methods.

When Steps was eight years old, he got lost in the Cascade Mountains and was clinically dead from hypothermia by the time they found him. After he was revived, he found that his eyes didn’t work like they used to. He could see what some might call the human aura, something he came to call “shine.” The interesting thing about shine is that it’s like DNA or fingerprints: no two are alike. It also attaches itself to everything one touches, which means Steps can walk onto a crime scene and see who walked across the floor, who turned the doorknob, and who held the knife.

The only problem is trying to figure out who the shine belongs to.

By Page 69 of Whispers of the Dead, Steps knows that the suspect, already dubbed the Ice Box Killer, has an ice blue shine. The team is also one computer search away from identifying the first victim ... and that’s about the time the next shoe drops ... so to speak.
Visit Spencer Kope's website.

Writers Read: Spencer Kope.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2018

"A Death of No Importance"

Mariah Fredericks was born and raised in New York City, where she still lives today with her family. She is a graduate of Vassar College with a BA in history. She has written several novels for young adults; her novel Crunch Time was nominated for an Edgar in 2007.

Fredericks applied the Page 69 Test to A Death of No Importance, her first mystery for adults, and reported the following:
“Page 69? That’s kind of random.”

When I first heard of the Page 69 Test, I worried that just picking a page—any page—in the book was going to reveal a stretch where the story has ground to a halt. Characters are wandering around, staring off into space, muttering about the weather. Maybe you can get away with that in other, lesser genres like literary fiction. But not a mystery.

But I steeled myself and opened to page 69 of A Death of No Importance. What I found was an argument between two maids—and a turning point for my narrator.

It is the morning after the murder. The Benchley family has returned from the Newsome Ball shattered because Charlotte Benchley’s fiancé has been found bludgeoned to death. Our narrator, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is spending a dismal morning caring for distraught Benchleys and she is furious to find that Charlotte’s ball gown is missing. She vents her frustration on a younger maid, only to find that the dress did not come home for a very curious reason. One question leads to the next until Jane realizes that what seemed like negligence on the part of a inexperienced co-worker could be something altogether more sinister.

It’s the first time Jane starts to critically analyze the events of the night of the murder. “If X did Y, that could mean Z is true.” It marks the starting point of her transformation from a servant who performs any task asked of her without complaint to a woman who reserves the right to ask questions and draw conclusions. A woman who feels her analysis and conclusions matter.

In short, she has started to become a detective.
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2018

"The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome"

Man Martin writes and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. He has been twice named Georgia Author of the Year.

Martin applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“For obvious reasons, I can’t divulge the actual names of my patients. Suffice to say, Y’s problem is very real, and by no means untypical. Y was a successful car salesman, a decent person. Wife and family. Deacon at the Baptist Church. Whole nine yards. Got it?” Bone said he got it. “So anyway, one day Y disappears. Vanishes. They put in a missing-person report, checked the morgue, the hospitals, the works. Nada. No one knows what happened. But then one day, what do you think?” Bone did not know what to think. “Someone recognizes him! He’s living in a different town! He has a different name, a new job, he’s even got himself a girlfriend. So anyway, they tried reuniting him with his family. Y tried. He moved back in with his wife. He slept with her. Helped with the dishes. Called her “Sugar Boo.” But it didn’t come back; he never remembered his old life. His wife says he was like a whole ‘nother person after he returned. It’s like he never really came back at all. The fact is, Y no longer exists. His body is still there, nothing wrong with the body, only now there’s a whole ‘nother person inside it. As far as Y himself is concerned, or the man who used to be Y, there’s no such person as Y. To this day, Y has not come back, and the man who used to be Y will swear on a stack of Bibles he doesn’t know him.”
This passage not only represents the rest of the the book; in a way, it is the book, for it describes the syndrome which gives the book its title. Dr. Limongello, pronounced Lemon Jell-O, tells his patient, Bone King, of a mysterious syndrome which has become increasingly, alarmingly, common, threatening to become an epidemic - a terrifying condition in which the “self,” the soul if you will, dislodges from the reticular formation in the brain and floats away forever.

At this juncture, an eerie “moo-ha-ha” seems called for, so I shall provide one.

Visit Man Martin's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Man Martin and Zoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Lord of the Pies"

An avid foodie and writer, Nell Hampton (AKA Nancy J. Parra) decided to finally combine her two loves. She lives in Richmond, VA.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lord of the Pies, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“But I thought they ate lemon pie,” Agnes scrolled through several pictures. “See? Here’s a lovely piece with sky-high meringue.”

“Wait, yes, that is my pie. There’s two pieces missing out of it.” I frowned. “How was there a whole lemon pie left? I thought it was in one of our pie plates. It looked like my pie. Well, I assumed it was mine since mine were the only pies in the kitchen when I arrived.”

“Do you think someone slipped a poison pie in with yours?”


“Well, if people got sick they would certainly say that on their social media.”

“And everyone would get the impression that I’m a terrible cook,” I said. “If that’s the case, we’re lucky no one else ate that pie.”

“Did you count all the pie plates when you got back?”

“No,” I said. “Why would I? Mine were the only pies served. I didn’t think I needed to check the inventory.”

“You should count them,” she said.

“I’ll do it after lunch service. I have to assume one is missing because CID identified the pie as being in a pie pan from my kitchen.”

Lunch for the family consisted of several courses, to teach the children about official dining. We kept it simple with stuffed mushroom appetizers, potato and chive soup, roasted chicken, and rice pilaf, then pudding for dessert. Well, in England dessert was pudding so they had pudding for pudding. The thought made me smile.

By the time Agnes got back from taking lunch up to the family, I had done a quick inventory of my pie pans. Two seemed to be missing.
Page 69 has our sleuth wondering how one of her pies had become poisoned and why someone might be trying to frame her. It’s a great little peek into daily life and gives a hint of what it’s like for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children. Carrie Ann is an American in the royal kitchen and takes delight in the things that are different from life as an American chef. Things like pudding for pudding.

That was a fun exercise as I had never looked at a random page to see how it fit into the theme of the book.
Visit Nell Hampton / Nancy J. Parra's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Nancy J. Parra and Little Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"Devils Unto Dust"

Emma Berquist grew up in Austin, Texas and sunburns easily. She currently lives in New Zealand and avoids the beach.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Devils Unto Dust, and reported the following:
From page 69:
The heat hits me like a solid wall when I step out into the sunshine. I breathe in the scorching air and the heat sears my lungs, clearing out the smoke and noise from the bar. I don’t know how folk can stand to live in there, crammed together with no space to think.
This is the beginning of a chapter where Willie escapes a crowded bar and starts on her way back home. Growing up in a small town in the middle of a desert, she’s not comfortable being in small spaces with lots of people. (In this instance, her inner monologue would probably match my own thoughts!) It’s not just the crowd that makes her uneasy, though, it’s the fact that Willie has trouble trusting anyone but her closest friends and family. It’s doubly a relief for her to get out of that situation and be alone with the one person she trusts the most.

Page 69 is fairly indicative of the rest of the book; Willie is introspective, and we spend a good amount of time in her head.
Visit Emma Berquist's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Just Between Us"

Rebecca Drake is the author of the novels Don't Be Afraid, The Next Killing, The Dead Place, which was an IMBA bestseller, and Only Ever You, as well as the short story "Loaded," which was featured in Pittsburgh Noir.

Drake applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Just Between Us, and reported the following:
I hadn’t heard of this test before, but it’s interesting, and in this case page 69 is representative of all of Just Between Us and I hope a reader skimming this page would read on. It happens to fall on the opening of a chapter, and right after a big reveal, and it really epitomizes what the book is about—the friendship between four women and their concern for one of them:
There are certain moments in life that you can remember with all the clarity of a photograph—where you were and who were with and how the place looked or sounded or smelled. I can see us just as we were, the four of us sitting in Alison’s living room, Heather hunched over on the sofa, hands cradling her midsection as if holding a child, Julie in the chair closest to her, unconsciously tearing a napkin to shreds in her lap, and Alison, so startled that she’d stopped talking, her mouth falling open. Everyone so shocked by what Heather had revealed that for a long minute the only noise you could hear in the room was the faint hiss and pop of logs burning in the fireplace. These are the things I remember with perfect clarity: The slight smell of woodsmoke, the taste of cabernet, dark and dry, the table lamps casting shadows on the walls. The light from the fire illuminating the wine as I refilled my glass, a gush of liquid splashing, deep red, like blood pouring from a wound.
I wanted to explore female friendship, and how women communicate with and about one another. The book is told in four, first-person POVs, with each of the women—Alison, Julie, Sarah, and Heather—taking turns discussing what happens after they discover that Heather is being abused by her husband. It was challenging to write in four different points-of-view, because I wanted to make each character distinct, but also make sure that they had some shared vocabulary, the way we do with those closest to us. In order to avoid any confusion for readers, I asked my publisher to put the character’s name as a header on each page in their individual chapters. So page 69 falls on the opening of a Sarah chapter, and if readers forget that, they only have to glance up to remember who’s speaking. The unspoken question on this page and throughout the entire book is this: How far would you go to help a friend?
Visit Rebecca Drake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue