Sunday, September 30, 2007

"God of Luck"

Ruthanne Lum McCunn is the author of the classic Thousand Pieces of Gold, which has sold over two hundred thousand copies, as well as the novels The Moon Pearl and Wooden Fish Songs.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, God of Luck, and reported the following:
Perhaps because 6 and 9 are lucky numbers, page 69 is pivotal: Ah Lung, who has been kidnapped from his village in southern China, is being forced into the between-decks of the devil-ship that will carry him and his fellow captives across the Pacific for labor in Peru. Can Ah Lung and his fellow captives yet overcome the armed devils? How?

Before Ah Lung was stolen from his home, he shared a passionate relationship with his wife Bo See, and she is as determined to find her husband and restore him to their bed as he is to escape and return to her. Missing from page 69 is her voice, their passion and devotion to each other — and the role luck plays in their struggles from opposite sides of the world to reunite.

But, then, that’s the reason God of Luck has 236 pages, not one!
Learn more about the novel and its author at Ruthanne Lum McCunn's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2007

"The Devil, The Lovers & Me"

Kimberlee Auerbach is a writer and storyteller.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her just-released memoir, The Devil, The Lovers & Me: My Life in Tarot, and reported the following:
From page 69:

Zach left the next morning, kissing me good-bye on the forehead.

I was expecting him to send me flowers, leave me a voice mail message, something to acknowledge what had just happened. When I hadn’t heard from him by Monday night, I called.

We met up at a coffee shop near Washington Square Park the next day and he explained that he didn’t want to give “the sex thing” too much power. He didn’t want things to get weird between us. But things were weird. He was being a dick and I was upset. He didn’t apologize. But he did kiss me. That’s all it took. That’s all it ever took with him.

We had sex a few more times before he left for the summer. He tried to be better about keeping his eyes open, and I tried not to talk as much.

When Zach flew home, I wanted to go with him. I was dreading having to spend the summer by myself in Katonah, New York, where my parents were moving because they couldn’t afford the city, or Dalton, the private school where my brother and Dustin Hoffman’s kids went. Zach, on the other hand, had lots of friends, a whole life waiting for him back in Denver. I envied his long-standing history with a place. I wished I had friends from kindergarten and that my parents would stop moving.

I got a job at the local deli in Bedford Hills, where I made turkey sandwiches for hungry passersby — a far cry from modeling in Cologne and Paris. And at night, I listened to “Riders on the Storm” while staring at Zach’s red

First, let me just say that I love The Page 69 Test. I remember reading somewhere, I think in Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe, that if you cut a piece of a hologram, it will contain the entire picture. Page 69 is kind of like a cutout hologram piece.

When I read page 69 of my book, I was bummed. I wanted it to be funnier. My book is funny, goddammit! Then I read it again and was startled by how much it revealed of my overall story.

If you only read this page, you’d know I wasn’t very good at honoring myself. You’d know I looked to love and sex as a way of escaping feelings of deep loneliness and disconnectedness. You’d know I moved around a lot as child. You’d know my family used to have a lot of money. You’d know I used to model. Most of all, you’d know I was dramatic, young and melancholy. All true, and all of it connects to the bigger picture.

If you only read this page, you wouldn’t know that a tarot card sparked this memory, The Lovers card in particular. You wouldn’t know that this is a flashback book, in which I retrace my journey from childhood to adulthood, using a single tarot reading as the frame. You wouldn’t know that my book takes place in 2005, when I am 33, in a relationship that isn’t fulfilling my needs, once again, having a hard time honoring myself, looking to someone else for the answers, looking to someone else to save me. You also wouldn’t know I got crabs from an Argentine painter a few years after Zach and I broke up.
Learn more about the book and its author at the The Devil, The Lovers & Me website, Kimberlee Auerbach's MySpace page, and the Crucial Minutiae blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Steve Brewer is the author of the Bubba Mabry mystery series and the Drew Gavin mystery series in addition to a handful of stand alone crime novels.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Cutthroat, and reported the following:
From Page 69:

Chapter 11

Michael Sheffield's hangover was easing. Every day he spent in this dusty outpost, he woke with the most excruciating hangovers, the only available remedy liberal application of Bloody Marys.

His host, General Erasmus Goma, Supreme Military Commander of the Republic of Niger, insisted every night on toasting everybody and everything. Some nights, they got all the way down to favorite cows Goma remembered from his youth before the fat general toppled from his chair.

Diplomacy required that Michael match the general drink for drink, and manhood required, apparently, that the drinks be shots of Chivas Regal. Nothing else would do. Michael was more of a wine man, that was one reason he loved Northern California. But Goma had declared, "Wine is for women! Men drink whiskey!" End of discussion.

The protagonist of Cutthroat, corporate troubleshooter Solomon Gage, doesn't appear on page 69, but the page is representative of the book. The point of view shifts from chapter to chapter, and this is the first POV chapter for Michael Sheffield. It's also the first time the reader "visits" Niger, the African country that plays a vital role in the story.

Michael and his brother, Christopher, are the sons of billionaire Dominick Sheffield, Solomon's employer. They're up to no good in Niger, and it falls to Solomon to ferret out their scheme, even though it could cost him his job. On Page 69 and the rest of Chapter 11, the reader learns what an absolute crap-weasel Michael can be.

Page 69 also introduces General Goma, who's bent on taking over the government and lining his own pockets. The dialogue on wine vs. whiskey comes directly from a dinner party I attended with some officials from Nepal. I took the Nepali's drunken opinion and put it right in Goma's mouth. I love it when everyday life helps out like that.
Learn more about Steve Brewer and Cutthroat at his website and his blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Southern Fatality"

A freelance writer for more than ten years, T. Lynn Ocean has published in magazines nationwide. She is the author of the novels Fool Me Once and Sweet Home Carolina.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Southern Fatality, and reported the following:
It's a question I've never considered before: is one page in Southern Fatality — specifically page 69 — representative of the entire novel? Hoping that it would be, since every page should add something to the story, I quickly found my advance copy of the book. The page in question is a scene between celebrity financier Samuel Chesterfield and the main character, Jersey Barnes. Chesterfield's son has just been kidnapped. While I'd probably select a different page if given the chance, I do think that a reader who happened upon page 69 would want to read more. Perhaps they'd flip back to page 21, where Jersey tells her long lost father that she had a boob job, compliments of U.S. taxpayers, to enhance her undercover abilities. Or maybe the reader would jump forward to page 99, a great fight scene where Jersey and her best friend Ox take down some bad guys at Wilmington's Water Street Restaurant.

My books aren't overly deep reads and I'll quickly tell anyone who asks that I write to entertain. It's my goal not only to pique a reader's interest, but make them laugh as they keep turning pages from a desire to know what happens next. It's also a personal goal to make each new book better than the last. So thanks, Marshal, for giving me the one page challenge. What a great reminder to eliminate any lackluster pages that a reader might want to skip over! Southern Fatality is the first of a new mystery adventure series featuring Jersey Barnes, and I'm in the process of going back over the manuscript for the second in the series, Southern Persuasion. Perfect timing.

Page 69:

This was a tough situation. Since it involved Samuel Chesterfield, the Feebies should be called, but as much as they tried, they couldn't be invisible. A professional would spot FBI boys in a second, and might just carry out the death threat that was in the note. Although any kidnapper who killed their captive would lose their bargaining chip, so it was probably an empty threat. On the other it may not have been an ordinary kidnapping. The murder, and now the missing son, were most likely tied to the computer data that Soup was working to decode. People, even billionaire financiers, just didn't keep a database of United States residents' Social Security information in a gym bag lying around on the floor of their penthouse condominium.

"I can't give a recommendation until you level with me."

"There's nothing to level with you about. My son is missing. He's a good boy and he wouldn't just disappear like this."


"I don't know who killed him, or why. It had to have been a random thing."

"Lolly's suspicions?" I didn't want to let on that I was formulating several of my own suspicions.

"Groundless. She may think I've been acting odd, but she doesn't know me well. We've only been married less than a year."

"You have several options," I said carefully. "The local police, the sheriff's office, the SBI — State Bureau of Investigation, private investigators… or all of the above. I can't really say until I see the note, talk to some people and get a line on who may have taken him. If in fact it really was a kidnapping."

"Whatever your rate is, I'll pay it. I'm a smart enough man to know when I need outside help, and this is one of those times."

"Problem is," I said, "I only work for the good guys. And, while I am sorry that your son appears to be missing, I'm not so sure that you're the good guy in this scenario. I think you're giving me a Reader's Digest condensed version of the story."
Read an excerpt from Southern Fatality and learn more about T. Lynn Ocean and her writing at her website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Why Kerouac Matters"

John Leland is a reporter for the New York Times and former editor in chief of Details magazine. He is the author of Hip: The History.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of ‘On the Road’ (They’re Not What You Think), and reported the following:
The page begins with a jazz scene from On the Road. The room is a convivial mix of whores and hootchy-kootchy sounds. But the horn player, Prez, is holding back. “You see man,” says Dean Moriarty, the book’s cowboy muse, based on Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, “Prez has the technical anxieties of a money-making musician, he’s the only one who’s well dressed, see him grow worried when he blows a clinker, but the leader, that cool cat, tells him not to worry and just blow and blow – the mere sound and serious exuberance of the music is all he cares about. He’s an artist.”

Whenever a jazz musician appears in On the Road, he is a surrogate for a writer, teaching the narrator, Sal Paradise (based on Kerouac), how to find his voice and tell a story. Sal begins the book unable to tell a story – on his first trip he imagines himself in his friends’ eyes, “strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!’” By the end he is given his prophecy, by a tall old man with flowing white hair who tells him, “Go moan for man” – in other words, go write On the Road. The musicians help him find this voice.

Page 69, which falls in a chapter called “Sal’s Guide to Work and Money,” looks at the lesson the musicians – especially the “cool cat” leader – teach Sal (and readers) about art and finance. Kerouac admired the work ethic of jazz musicians, who labored at their craft and accepted poverty in return. As I spell out in this chapter, he had a similar work ethic, often overlooked. In the six years it took to publish On the Road, he kept producing manuscript after manuscript, even as these were also rejected. The lesson in the club scene is not to let money get in the way of authentic, productive work. On the Road is not about running from work, it’s an embrace of authentic work.
Read an excerpt from Why Kerouac Matters, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Blood and Soil"

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies, and the founding director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University. His books include How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur, and reported the following:
The central argument of Blood and Soil is that millennia of global history offer rich evidence of genocide’s essential features, which are often recognizable in advance of a catastrophe. Therefore, during the gestation of new outbreaks, these features may be identifiable early enough to spark timely interventions that may prevent future tragedies. Over many centuries and across the globe, most perpetrators of genocide and extermination have exhibited similar ideological preoccupations underlying their wide political disparities. Four common features of genocidal thinking, often expressed well before the worst violence breaks out, are: racial or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, agrarian romanticism, and revivalist cults of antiquity glorifying ancient purity and power. Their combination is explosive.

Page 69 of Blood and Soil demonstrates how three of these ideological elements, present during a dark period in the history of ancient Rome, re-emerged among ruling circles in late seventeenth-century England. Chapter 1 of the book, entitled “Classical Genocide and Early Modern Memory,” documents the Roman genocide of the Carthaginians in 146 BCE, a campaign conducted at the urging of Marcus Porcius Cato, the Senator and Censor who relentlessly reiterated: delenda est Carthago (“Carthage must be destroyed”). Much of the ensuing catastrophe was forgotten for more than a millennium, but during the Renaissance, the ‘rise of antiquity’ and the rediscovery of classical texts made the ancient Carthaginians’ tragic fate much better known, and in some cases it became a new precedent for violent repression. In sixteenth-century colonial Ireland and Mexico, some commentators considered the victimized indigenes to be descendants of dispersed Carthaginian survivors. Page 69 of the book opens with another link between this ancient genocide and early modern exterminations:

Perpetrators even quoted Cato directly. During the English conquest of the Scottish Highlands, London’s secretary of state for Scotland, Sir John Dalrymple, wrote in 1691 of the MacDonald clan of Glencoe: “[T]here is no reckoning with them; delenda est Carthago.” Dalrymple meant what he said. He described the Catholic MacDonalds as “the only popish clan in the kingdom, and it will be popular to take a severe course with them.” He instructed the authorities in Scotland to use “fire and sword and all manner of hostility; to burn their houses, . . . and to cut off [kill] the men.” Dalrymple termed this “rooting out the damnable sept [clan].” King William signed orders to attack the clan leader MacIain of Glencoe “and that tribe” and “to extirpate that band of thieves.” Dalrymple urged “that the thieving tribe in Glencoe may be rooted out in earnest.”

These genocidal orders passed down the chain of command. When they reached Scotland, the commander in chief there, Sir Thomas Livingstone, knew that MacIain had surrendered two weeks earlier and sworn an oath of loyalty. Yet Livingstone told Lieutenant Colonel James Hamilton that “the orders are so positive from Court to me not to spare any of them that have not timely come in,” that he should “begin with Glencoe, and spare nothing which belongs to him, but do not trouble the Government with prisoners.” Dalrymple insisted that despite its surrender, the “thieving tribe” must be “rooted out and cut off. It must be quietly done.” Hamilton informed Major Robert Duncanson: “The orders are that none be spared.” Duncanson instructed Captain Robert Campbell “to put to the sword all under seventy.” It was “the King’s special command” that “these miscreants be cut off root and branch.” Attacking Glencoe in a snowstorm, troops killed MacIain and 37 of his men in their homes, and some women and children, but most of the clan escaped. Days later, when Hamilton reported taking prisoners, Livingstone ruled it “a mistake that these villains were not shot,” and he ordered all prisoners “dispatched . . . where they are found.” Dalrymple wrote: “All I regret is, that any of the sept got away.”(122)

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler termed Roman history “the best mentor” and Carthage the most appropriate example of a victim, because of what he called the “slow execution of a people through its own deserts.” Blood and Soil also shows the importance to genocidal thinking of agrarian romanticism, along with racism, expansionism, and cults of antiquity like that of classical Roman imperialism.
Read an excerpt from Blood and Soil, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"Bad Thoughts"

Dave Zeltserman's dark short crime fiction has been published in many venues. His first novel, Fast Lane, received numerous praise, including Ken Bruen calling it one of "the most entertaining debuts since Jim Thompson" and Poisoned Pen Bookstore including it as one of their top hardboiled books of the year.

applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Bad Thoughts, and reported the following:
Bad Thoughts is a mix of horror and crime, written in a tense, fast-paced style. The book focuses on Bill Shannon, a cop from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who is plagued by nightmares stemming from his mother's brutal murder. Each year as the anniversary of her death approaches, Shannon's nightmares get progressively worse until he blacks out and disappears from sight. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his mother’s death and women are being killed in the same grisly manner, and for reasons not yet fully disclosed their murders are effecting Shannon very badly. Page 69 is from a chapter from Shannon’s wife’s POV, and details her anxiety over what she knows is coming:

It was all starting up again. A week ago he jolted up in bed at four in the morning, moaning, his body soaked in sweat. It took her almost a half hour to get him out of it. Since then, the nightmares had come nightly. After the nightmares came the moodiness, the depression, his just staring into space. She didn’t have a clue if he’d gone to work today. She had tried calling home a half dozen times and no one answered, but that didn’t mean a thing. If he was home, he’d just let the phone ring. Probably wouldn’t even be aware of its ringing.

Stylistically this page is representative of the rest of the book, and it hints at the noirish characteristics and psychological unraveling that is going to occur. The book is very violent with a high body count, and there is a paranormal (or metaphysical element depending on how you view things), and page 69 helps set the groundwork for what’s coming.

Yeah, I’d say it’s representative.
Read more about Bad Thoughts at the publisher's website and at Zeltserman's website and his blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2007

"The Spanish Bow"

Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Among her nonfiction works are travel and natural history guidebooks to Alaska and Mexico, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja's Desert Coast.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her just-released debut novel, The Spanish Bow, and reported the following:
“I lifted the lid on the grand piano and pressed one of the white keys. To my astonishment, there was no sound. I tried a few more keys and then banged out a chord: nothing.

‘Broken,’ Alberto said as he entered the room, coughing. ‘And scavenged for parts. But for dinner parties, it seats six or more – with the lid closed, of course.’”

A soundless piano, a depressed teacher with a suspicious past, no sign of a cello: this is what my main character finds when he arrives at the home of his first cello tutor in anarchistic Barcelona. Not a very promising start for a young boy arriving in a new city, hoping to find music and light and life.

It occurs to me now that silence and people’s various responses to it is, in fact, a recurring motif in The Spanish Bow. The novel tells the story of three musicians struggling to develop their art – and to discover the purpose and power of art – at a time when Europe is descending into poverty, nationalism, and war.

Ultimately the cellist, Feliu, will take his cue from Alberto’s broken piano and become silent himself: unwilling to perform anymore, given the fact that music has proven unable to help the Spanish Republic, save loved ones, or make the world a perfect and just place.

But another character, the flamboyant pianist Justo Al-Cerraz, deals with decay and despair another way. When he encounters broken pianos in small, dusty Spanish villages (page 256) it only goads him into more stunning performances: “If keys were missing, it only increased the suspense as Al-Cerraz improvised around them, aping consternation, his black shock of hair more unruly with each passing hour.”

Which is not to suggest that Al-Cerraz – a womanizer, opportunist, and politically irresponsible collaborator – is the hero of this story. Or is he?
Read an excerpt from The Spanish Bow, and learn more about the book and author at Andromeda Romano-Lax's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Head Games"

Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites. His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors which appeared in 2006, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, a second collection of interviews to be published by Bleak House Books.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his just-released debut novel, Head Games, and reported the following:
Head Games centers on Hector Lassiter, a legendary Black Mask Magazine-era crime writer turned novelist and screenwriter.

The line between Hector’s crime fiction and his life is at best, blurry. Hector also exerts a kind of treacherous pull on those around him. As one pivotal character introduced on page 69 of my novel later remarks on being in Hector’s presence: “You find yourself warped or transformed by his writing. You find yourself speaking in the cadence and language of his characters. In his presence, you sometimes feel like a character in one of his books.”

Hector is 57 when Head Games opens. He has recently lost a child and, a short time later, his wife. (Rumor has it Hector may have contributed to his own widowing…)

Head Games opens in a cantina in Juarez, Mexico where Hector and a young poet-cum-freelance writer sent to profile Hector for True Magazine gain possession of the long-ago stolen head of Francisco “Pancho” Villa.

Legend has it Villa’s skull was filched on orders of the grandfather of U.S. President George W. Bush for the Yale fraternity Skull & Bones.

Head Games
mixes fact and fiction and brings Hector into contact with several historical personages. Some key scenes unfold on the set of Orson Welles’ noir classic Touch of Evil. On page 69 of Head Games, Hector is reunited with his old friend (and sometimes bedmate) Marlene Dietrich. Hector and Marlene are united/divided by their vexed relationship with author Ernest Hemingway. Their ensuing exchange eventually inspires some lines from the film:

The trailer door opened a crack — opened with a squeak. This dark face with chiseled cheekbones was peering at me; disarmingly dark hair and burning eyes. Marlene turned her head a bit; considered me through the cracked door.

I was taken aback by her hesitation. It had been a few years, granted. We hadn’t crossed paths since Paris, during the liberation…staying in touch by phone. It had been a few miles and a few too many drinks, maybe. But, Jesus Christ, had I truly slid that much? I said, “Christ, Kraut, don’t you know me? I’m Hector Lassiter.”

Marlene Dietrich smiled. She feinted a playful swing at my chin. She held her thumbs just like Papa had taught her to so she wouldn’t break them on impact. Gutturally, she said, “Ah, Hec’, you look like hell, sweetheart.”

Within a few pages, a machine gun attack breaks out on the set of Welles’ film, and a chase ensues that stretches across the desert southwest and several decades of American history, eventually resulting in Hector crossing paths with a Yale alum named “George W.”…
Read an excerpt from Head Games and learn more about the novel and author at McDonald's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Parnell Hall is the author of the acclaimed Stanley Hastings mystery novels, the Steve Winslow courtroom dramas, and the Puzzle Lady mysteries. He has been nominated for the prestigious Edgar, Shamus, and Lefty awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Hitman, and reported the following:
Here are the first lines of page 69:


"I’m not a criminal attorney."

"I thought you liked homicide cases."

"I like representing defendants. Not pain-in-the-ass, meddling incompetents. I got a client on the other line. You get charged with this thing, give me a call."

A black sedan fishtailed to a stop as close to my feet as it could come without actually running them over. I was about to curse out the driver when MacAullif growled, "Hop in."

What's happening here? Stanley Hastings, the world's most put upon private eye, is being refused representation by his employer, attorney Richard Rosenberg . Stanley needs a lawyer because the hitman he was working for killed the mark right after Stanley had his cop friend Sergeant MacAullif run background checks on both of them, and MacAullif is picking Stanley up to take him to the crime scene to turn him in to the detective in charge of the case. Complicating the issue is the fact Stanley didn't tell MacAullif who these people were, so there is some confusion of who's who ("You're quibbling over words." "Yeah, the words are killer and victim.") Also complicating Stanley's life is the fact he followed the killer and victim to the address of the crime scene the night before, and the doorman can identify him under the name he gave: Rollo Tomassi. (Though the last actually happens on page 70)
Read an excerpt from Hitman and learn more about the book at the author's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Grave Imports"

Eric Stone is the author of the novels Living Room of the Dead and, due out this month, Grave Imports. Additionally, he wrote the non-fiction book Wrong Side of the Wall.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Grave Imports and reported the following:
From Page 69 of Grave Imports:

Warner’s got superb connections. Within a day I have a letter on stationary from one of Hong Kong’s top law firms granting me the proxy to bid up to two million U.S. dollars on behalf of one of its clients who wishes to remain anonymous. And another from Heng Seng Bank affirming that the funds are available.

I’ve also got firm instructions not to use the letters for anything other than gaining entrance to the auction. I’ll be in very deep shit if I actually enter a winning bid.

Friday night I feel underdressed in my finest tailor-made suit when I walk into the Mandarin Hotel’s Chinnery Bar. It cost me nearly seven hundred bucks, U.S. bucks. That’s about what the guy who greets me spent on his shirt. He looks at my shoes. I’m glad I polished them. It was a last minute decision.

The Chinnery is where we’re all meeting. The plan is to then whisk us off to a secret location for the auction. It’s all very hush hush. I can hardly see the assembly of men through the thick blue haze of Havana cigar smoke. I’m sure it’s only the finest tobacco, but it takes all I’ve got to keep from doubling over in a fit of coughing. I’m not sure who’s here for the auction. I’m the only one who isn’t in a tuxedo.

A waiter - at least I think he’s a waiter, he’s in a white tux - comes up with a tray of rich, golden brown liquid in snifters.

“What is it?”

“It is our finest house stock Grande Fine Champagne XO cognac sir. I am certain it will meet with your approval.”

“Would it be too much to ask for a beer?”

“What beer would you prefer sir?”

“Whatever you’ve got on draft will do.”

“I’m afraid, sir, that we only have bottles of beer.”

Page 69 doesn't tell you a lot about the story of Grave Imports, other than that an auction fits in somewhere and that some of the book takes place in Hong Kong. But it does give you a sense of the protagonist, Ray Sharp. He works for a corporate investigations firm and is very much an "everyman," not any sort of "superman." Ray's a guy who knows at least a little something about the finer things in life, but who prefers the simpler pleasures. He doesn't quite fit in, in the swank surroundings. But he's got a wry way of looking at the world that allows him to be comfortable anywhere. I would hope that a careful read of page 69 would also let the reader know that I like to develop the traits of my characters with dialog, both internal and external in the case of Ray Sharp.

One of the running themes of my Ray Sharp series of books is the conflicts inherent in the rapid economic modernization of traditional Asia. While page 69 doesn't illustrate that, it does show Ray in conflict, mildly in this case, with his surroundings, which is an important aspect of setting up the tension and suspense throughout the book.
Read an excerpt from Grave Imports and learn more about book and author at Eric Stone's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Mark Billingham's first crime novel Sleepyhead was published in 2001. Featuring London-based detective Tom Thorne, it was an instant bestseller in the UK. The second novel in the Thorne series, Scaredy Cat was published in July 2002 and was followed by Lazybones, The Burning Girl, Lifeless and Buried. The newest Tom Thorne novel Death Message was published in the UK in August 2007.

Billingham applied the Page 69 Test to Buried and reported the following:
This is a tricky one. Page 69 of the US edition or the UK? Hardback or paperback? Maybe I should just go for the Latvian edition and admit that I haven’t the first idea whether that page is representative or not. Always good to have tough decisions to make. Anything to put off starting a new book. In the end … it’s the US hardback edition of Buried. As luck would have it, it’s only half a page…

It’s actually the start of Chapter Five and sees some of the investigating officers visiting the school attended by the kidnapped boy Luke Mullen. As it turns out, another boy at the school will prove central to a very different case. The book is, on one level, about how dangerous it can be to make assumptions. The school, Butler’s Hall, is private and expensive and it leads many officers to draw conclusions as to the character of the children and their parents, which will prove to be a terrible, and potentially fatal mistake.

“It’s a fair bet that if you can afford to send your kids here, you can afford to cough up a decent ransom,” Parsons said. “These kids might as well have targets on their backs.”

“Wouldn’t be allowed,” Holland said, lifting the brochure. “There’s a very strict uniform code.”

Parsons looked back towards the school. “There’s a very strict everything code…”

Buried is the sixth Tom Thorne novel and was probably the trickiest to write in terms of its subject matter. The police have been very helpful in the past when it came to writing about murder. Kidnapping though, is a subject about which they were very tight-lipped. It’s a crime they take even more seriously than homicide and with good reason. In a kidnap case, there is still a human life at stake. It’s this life, and the possibility of saving it, that drives Thorne throughout Buried. Of course, there are murders in the book, but the victims in Buried are not necessarily the ones you might have expected them to be…
Download the first chapter of Buried and read more about the book.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 14, 2007

"For Liberty And Glory"

James R. Gaines is a longtime journalist, magazine editor, publishing executive, media consultant, and author. His books include Wit's End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table and Evening in the Palace of Reason.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions, and reported the following:
I guess I'm lucky, because the page 69 test gets right to the heart of the Washington-Lafayette relationship. It deals with the first time they were introduced, just a few days after the 19-year-old French noble had set foot on American shores for the first time. He had just been given the sash of a major-general in the Continental Army by a representative of the revolutionary Congress. (Washington had little say in who his top officers were. Giving young Lafayette his wholly undeserved commission was a tactical PR move, recommended by Benjamin Franklin, aimed at drawing the French into our war against the British.) Washington had been complaining about the many French officers being foisted on him by the Congress, and his biographers have always found it remarkable that he and Lafayette became so close. The following begins at the top of page 69:

The fact that he [Washington] invited Lafayette so quickly into his small military "family" ... may suggest that he saw something of himself in this ambitious young general with no battlefield experience who harbored dreams of his own division. When he was Lafayette's age ... he too had gone after a position for which he was completely unqualified.... The military disaster that attended in his success in getting that [post] was reason enough for Washington to keep Lafayette close beside him in the first few months. The fact is, too, that Lafayette was enormously likeable, immediately appealing even to his fellow generals, who had every reason to resent the presence of one so young at their councils of war.....

There are many reasons Washington took to Lafayette, and vice versa. It is a lot more complicated than the simplistic father-son model of myth. In fact, they were a very odd couple, but for all their differences, they had the gift of greatness in common. It's well known that their revolutions changed the world -- Washington's in 1776, Lafayette's in 1789 and later -- but it's less well known how much they had transform themselves to lead those revolutions and how many of their victories were over their own characters.
Read an excerpt from For Liberty and Glory and learn more about the book and author from Gaines's website and the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Anarchy and Old Dogs"

Colin Cotterill is the author of The Coroner’s Lunch, Thirty-Three Teeth, and Disco for the Departed -- all featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun -- and other works.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new "Dr. Siri" novel, Anarchy and Old Dogs, and reported the following:
There had been others. They arrived on my computer, sent by people with nothing better to do. “If you stare at this icon for eleven minutes your left eye will drop out,” “scroll down, answer the questions, and discover that your IQ is less than that of a toenail.” But the ‘Page 69 Test’ was something else. What magic would page 69 of the latest Dr. Siri novel weave? Would the entire novel be encapsulated there rendering the remainder of the book superfluous? Would we see a publishing revolution, entire bookshops restocked with nicely bound page 69s? I nervously thumbed to the sixty-ninth and this is what I found:

…was perhaps why the Vietnamese revolution had taken shape so efficiently and why Civilai had aged rapidly over the years. The rain shower had exhausted itself even before the baguettes. They’d finished their lunch, these purveyors of frustrating politics, and sat still and silent on their log. Crumbs lay at their feet like wood shavings around a completed carving. Neither wanted to voice his feelings but Siri could tell what his friend was thinking. Avoiding a well organized coup at this juncture in history could very well prove impossible. If that weren’t the case, he knew Civilai would have headed straight off to his office to set wheels in motion. Instead he stared dully at the river.

“I’m off to Pakse this evening,” Siri said.


“Some fool electrocuted himself in the bath.”

“Hmm. Well worth traveling four hundred miles to see, I’d say.”

“Two birds, one stone.”

“The dentist’s letter?”

“It was postmarked Pakse.”

“You want to get your hands on the Devil’s Vagina.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“You’re interfering in something that could get you killed, you know?”

“I’ve dodged bullets, escaped exploding buildings. I’ve even eaten in the hospital canteen for over a year. If I can survive that, I can get through anything. I’m starting to believe I’m invincible.”

“You’re not.”

“Then I’ll go down kicking and screaming. One day, during this or the next junta reign, they’ll remember me as…

My God, it was absolutely true. The whole book was there; the tender relationship between the protagonists, the political intrigue, the red herring simmering away in its bath water, the heroic background, the wry, quaintly British humour and the teasers at beginning and end. My word, even the DV was there making an appearance. The DV that had caused so much angst and grief. The DV that was banned from Canada on moral grounds and had caused a hairline fracture in the relationship with one's publisher. You see, Anarchy and Old Dogs was originally titled The DV (I am still loath to write it in full for fear of causing more misery to the ‘good’ people out there). For the full story you may refer to my banished blog, but suffice it to remark how fitting it should be that our cheeky little DV sits here unashamedly on page 69.

Once again I have caused shame to myself and my family by perverting a perfectly fine academic exercise into a quagmire of smut and irreverence. And for that I apologize to Mr. Zeringue and all the fine writers who have applied ‘the test’. There is, of course, more to The Dev … sorry, to Anarchy and Old Dogs than meets our eye on page 69. There is, for example, a transvestite fortune teller who predicts the coming of the cell phone, a blind dentist who receives coded messages at the post office, there is even, dare I say it, carnal knowledge, albeit of a muted, Lao variety. For those of you not interested in s*x there are betrayals, spies, horrible deaths, people over seventy who aren’t typecast into Zimmer frames, and love. A little something for everybody.

Caught up in the fun, I started to apply the 69 test to other pages to see whether I slipped out of my genre. It became an obsession. I have since gone back over all the books in the series and scarred the pages with my edit pen. What would readers think of me if they were only allowed access to, say, page forty four? Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever be able to write again as I am now fixated on making every page representative and rich. I could use counseling.

You may turn to page eleven of my website to get an overall sense of what kind of person I am.
Visit Colin Cotterill's website and his Crimespace page, and learn more about the "Dr. Siri" novels at the Soho Press.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Forever Dead"

Suzanne Kingsmill is the author of four non-fiction books and a new novel, Forever Dead.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following:
Forever Dead’s page 69 actually starts at the beginning of a sentence and ends at the end of a sentence. How lucky is that? Is it representative? Not sure. It could go either way. It begins by raising lots of hurdles and questions and ends in a mini climax, which is representative of the book. It doesn’t have any physical action though and my book is a murder mystery with lots of action.

It begins with the discovery of a bear-ravaged body abandoned in the wilderness, some killer rapids, a fumigated lab, stolen research disks and a stalled career. All this coalesces into the ripening madness that hauls zoology professor, Cordi O’Callaghan, into some very wild, very dangerous places. While the police label the wilderness mauling an accidental death Cordi realizes that the theft of her disks is somehow related to the body in the woods. She must unsnarl the mess to salvage her career. Cordi’s athletically ingenious and hair-straightening solutions to deadly encounters keep her one stumble ahead of a murderer, as she follows a path littered with motives. But nothing can prepare Cordi for the final shocking twist that leaves her with a wrenching dilemma that no one with a conscience should have to face.

Along the way Cordi has the help of 3 sidekicks in her lab: technician Martha Bathgate, her pathologist friend Duncan McPherson and her brother Ryan, not to mention her guarded love interest, Patrick Whyte.

One of the tricky things about murder mysteries is that they are full of clues, or at least they should be. Which could make page 69 problematic; if there is a clue on page 69 that refers back to something earlier it could give the game away. It’s the reason why I tend to read the first chapter if I’m asked to do a reading – that way there’s no tripping over clues. But my page 69 doesn’t give anything away. It just invites a whole lot of questions. Here is page 69 – my sleuth, Cordi O’Callaghan, is narrating from her office at the university zoology building shortly after finding the body in the wilderness:

I looked at the mail piled high on the desk, sorted through it quickly — nothing from the NSERC grants people yet. God, how they kept me waiting and hoping, second guessing myself and my competence ten times a day. I was almost out of funds and without the grant I wouldn’t be able to fund a graduate student next fall, and without a graduate student, the department might not be interested in granting me another year. Jesus, life could be a bitch. I stashed all the mail in a big box for some future free moment, and then I returned a dozen calls, put off the lecture planning people another two weeks — how could I give them the synopsis of my course when I had no material? I’d have to fudge it and hope the Dean didn’t call me in and grill me.

I gazed out the window, wondering how to pick up my career, feeling the dark cobwebby entrails of depression reaching out for me. My heart lurched at the horrible feeling and I struggled to rid the thoughts from my head. I’d never get tenure if I couldn’t control my periodic depressions.

There was a quick step and heavy breathing and I was thankful for an interruption until the round, wrecked face of Martha reappeared in the room. I read disaster in every nuance of the wobbling, shivering flesh on her face.

“Jesus, Martha, what happened to you? You look like a squashed spider.”

It was true. Every ounce of flesh on her face seemed to be sagging into a puddle and her skin was as white as milk. Martha took in a great deep breath and grew rounder, like a balloon. “It’s your lab, Cordi.” It came out in a screech that set my nerves to grinding.

“What is it? What’s happened?” I asked, moving quickly around my desk, the pit of my stomach lurching like a tug in a jar full of hurricanes.

Page 69? Representative? Not bad. Although I’d rather it was page ___ whoa! Can’t tell you which page or it will give the entire climax and ending away!
Listen to the Prologue from Forever Dead and learn more about the book at Suzanne Kingsmill's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2007

"A Consumer’s Guide to the Apocalypse"

Eduardo A. Velásquez is Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University. He is the editor of Love and Friendship: Rethinking Politics and Affection in Modern Time and Nature, Woman, and the Art of Politics, and author of the just-released A Consumer’s Guide to the Apocalypse: Why There is No Cultural War in America and Why We Will Perish Nonetheless.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new book and reported the following, beginning with the full text from page 69:
Page sixty-nine:

the flesh made word

At first glance, x and y looks like an attempt to work through some of the conundrums that riddle the previous two albums. But first glances do not tell the whole story. In a highly tentative effort to project hopefulness, we here find Coldplay transforming the puzzles of despair, extending the operative scientific metaphor beyond geometric figures, and finding solace in songs, poems, and words. In x and y there is a concentrated effort to get at the meaning of meaninglessness, to capture in intelligible speech that which defies all speech, including song.

We begin at the beginning, again. Set aside capital letters. “square one” begins at “the top of the first page,” and then again on “the first line on the first page.” The book referred to in the song is scientific but not exclusively geometric. The absence of capitals means that no word is given prominence and this includes the first word of each sentence. This practice reveals a closer affinity to the eternal return than to the Judeo-Christian (and perhaps scientific idea) of a world with a beginning and end. “under the surface trying to break through / deciphering the codes in you / i need a compass draw me a map / i’m on the top, i can’t get back.” What does going below in the context of science mean? The album cover is revealing. We need not delve into the system devised by Emile Baudot in 1870 that is represented on the cover; the work of solving that not-so-mysterious mystery should be left to the reader. Let us approach the cover by appearances only. When I ask my students what the cover and inserts amount to, they tend to speak of spectra and DNA codes. Welcome to the genome. Is the meaning of life to be found in that code?

By less than orthodox means A Consumer’s Guide to the Apocalypse: Why There is No Cultural War in America and Why We Will Perish Nonetheless captures the collision between science and theology in the American experience. If not an oversight on my part, no one has told the story of that collision by focusing almost exclusively on artifacts of popular culture. And perhaps for good reasons. Few would give the artifacts chosen any philosophical weight. Dave Matthews, Chris Martin, Tori Amos, Tom Wolfe, Chuck Palahniuk, and Michael Frayn are not philosophers (though the latter’s recent book The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of the Universe makes a good case for the playwright’s philosophic credentials). Before dismissing these authors’ failing to rise to Platonic heights, or my failure for supposedly attributing to them more than they merit, consider that I simply follow a long-standing practice that sees artists as cultural bellwethers.

Page sixty-nine opens a new section on the music of Coldplay with attention to their latest album x and y having just traversed the moral and intellectual geography of their previous two albums Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head. Coldplay, perhaps as no other popular, contemporary band, sings with feeling and eloquence about our yearning to know about and to locate our place in the universe. This yearning is borne of two principal questions that riddle our existence. Are we the animals depicted by science, that is, beings who are here accidentally, without any discernible purpose save the desire to preserves ourselves and in so doing maximize our pleasure? Or can our faculties of discernment and discrimination move beyond the numbers, planes, and figures with which science constructs an image of the universe to arrive at some more comprehensive understanding that speaks to our common sense experience of beauty, awe, wonder, and love?

The prominent place Coldplay gives to science – understood broadly as a way of looking at and being in the world – seems to indicate that our rational faculties should be sufficient to come to terms with the questions of our physical and spiritual existence. Consider some of the song titles: “The Scientist,” “Speed of Sound,” “x and y.” But science cannot on Coldplay’s reading supply us with answers to life’s most pressing questions. It might answer the “how” of things but it cannot by its own admission answer the “why” of things. What then? Chris Martin and his fellow band members seek refuge in feeling or sentiment. To their credit, however, they acknowledge no simple “mind-body” dichotomy. Our feelings shape our thoughts and our thoughts shape our feelings. In the midst of a bout with despair, for example, the consoling words of a friend can alter the way we think and thus feel. For Coldplay then there is an awareness that we are as much a self or soul as body. There is no unadulterated refuge in our feelings. Our imagination is always mingled with them. Images and words intrude. We thus arrive at x and y and to the attention given to words when so much of the sentimentality of the previous two albums proves insufficient.

Words do not emancipate however. We are caught in a vicious cycle moving from feelings to word, around and around. Metaphysics, asking about what lies beyond, courting transcendence, thinking about death, all become mingled with Coldplay’s larger meditation on the limitations of science. How do we escape? Who or what can fix us? Who put this perverted machine together in the first place? Beautiful ballads belie desperation and even rage. Love is solace. But Coldplay seeks permanence as much as love. Human love is fleeting. So much of their music is of lost love. Coldplay returns to the scientific metaphor and elaborates on a universe gone awry. Perhaps by going back to the beginning we can see “how it all began,” Martin and his band ponder. We discover evolutionary themes. Consider the pictures on the final pages of Coldplay’s “Twisted Logic” tour program: four members of the band, each representing one stage of evolution, the first member (Chris Martin) on all four and finally one standing erect reading a newspaper.

Coldplay is one of the protagonists in a larger story I tell in A Consumer’s Guide. In a chapter on Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons I explore the former Washington and Lee University student’s preoccupations with neuroscience’s challenge to the self and by extension soul. A reading of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen explores the ways in which science arrives at its own limitations now that we know that Newtonian certainties alone do not explain the constitution of matter. Together with Coldplay, these chapters constitute my larger rumination on our fascination with and reservations about the capacity of science to account of the breadth of human experience. The second part of the book deals explicitly with metaphysics through the music of Dave Matthews and Tori Amos and the cult-classic novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Under scrutiny here is the towering presence of Christianity, the source of great loathing for each of these artist who try dispense with the old “God the Father” and erect a new mythology for our apocalyptic age.
Read an excerpt from A Consumer’s Guide to the Apocalypse and learn more about the book at the official website.

Check out -- and perhaps even contribute to -- the on-going discussion at the book's blog. The latest entry: "Richard Dawkins on Christopher Hitchens (w/ a note from Tocqueville)."

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2007

"Silence of the Songbirds"

Bridget J. M. Stutchbury is professor of biology at York University and author of Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
“Given the large amount of forest loss in the tropics, it is probably true that most hooded warblers heading south for the first time will find themselves in a hot, dry patch of scrub looking at cattle all winter rather than flitting among the branches of a towering mahogany tree while jaguars pass by below them.”

This passage on p. 69 of Silence of the Songbirds captures the essence of how humans have drastically altered the natural world, and why we should care. Most of “our” songbirds in North America do not spend the winter here, but instead head south to tropical countries as they have done for thousands of years. Massive human population growth in Central and South America in the past few centuries has robbed “our” birds of their safe winter homes. Bird watching is one of the most popular past-times in North America, and we spend billions of dollars on it, but we cannot take for granted that our songbirds will return in the spring. We all need to think more globally in terms our impact on the nature and migratory songbirds help us to make this connection. “Not in my backyard” suddenly takes on a different meaning since we all share the same giant backyard.

How do we know that migratory birds suffer when they no longer have thriving forests to live in? Silence of the Songbirds explains the research that I, and my colleagues, have done over the years on migratory birds. I make the science easy to understand and fun to read (well, most of the time!). One passage on p. 69 describes a study that my Ph.D. student Francisco de los Santos did in Mexico and Belize:

Next, Francisco asked the birds which habitat was best for them…. He measured levels of the hormone corticosterone, which is an indicator of chronic stress. Birds will become stressed out if they are chronically short of food, living under the constant threat predation, or frequently chased and harassed by other birds….. Parents of young children and people who commute in heavy traffic every day have high levels of corticosterone, while retirees who spend their time on photography and golf likely have low levels…. The birds living in the scrubby field edges in Mexico had very high stress levels, a result of the daily challenges of finding food and staying alive in a poor habitat.

The serious decline of migratory songbirds is not merely an opinion or a gut feeling, but a fact easily seen in the careful and long term studies carried out by volunteers and professional scientists. The weight of evidence for the extent and cause of songbird declines is overwhelming, and will spur readers into action by buying shade grown coffee, recycled paper products, and crops that are relatively bird-friendly in their pesticide use.
Read an excerpt from Silence of the Songbirds and learn more about the book and its author at the official website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2007

"Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration"

Charles Griswold is Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, and reported the following:
Nearly everyone has wronged another. Who among us has not longed to be forgiven? Likewise, nearly everyone has suffered the bitter injustice of wrongdoing. Who has not struggled to forgive? Revenge impulsively surges in response to wrong, and becomes perversely delicious to those possessed by it. Personal and national credos anchor themselves in tales of unfairness and the glories of retaliation. Oceans of blood and mountains of bones are their testament. Consequently, the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation are of intense concern to us both as individuals and as communities. Not surprisingly, the discussions of forgiveness, apology, and reconciliation in theology, literature, political science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy are innumerable. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been forging powerful new approaches to age old conflicts. Ground breaking work in conflict resolution, international law, the theory of reparations, and political theory pays ever more attention to forgiveness and the related concepts of pardon, excuse, mercy, pity, apology, and reconciliation.

Every instance of such efforts assumes an answer to the question "What is forgiveness?", and it is the purpose of my book to work out the answer philosophically. Forgiveness is not simply a matter of finding a therapeutic way to "deal with" injury, pain, or anger -- even though it does somehow involve overcoming the anger one feels in response to injury. Forgetting through hypnosis or amnesia or taking a pill can't count as forgiveness.

What then are the conditions that qualify a person for forgiveness, and those which the person must meet? Is forgiveness obligatory if the offender has met all the requisite conditions? The first two of these questions are answered in the pages preceding p. 69, and discussion of the third is launched on the same page under the title of "praiseworthy conditional forgiveness." Still further ahead lie questions as to whether any act or person is simply unforgivable, whether the idea of "moral monster" makes any sense, the role of shared humanity and sympathy in forgiveness, not to mention the complicated nature of "self-forgiveness," forgiving the unrepentant and the dead. Having analyzed them all, I turn to the role of forgiveness in politics, and offer a controversial view about its relation to apology, truth-telling, and the ideals of personal as well as communal life.
Read an excerpt from Forgiveness and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2007

"The Tunnels"

Michelle Gagnon's first novel is The Tunnels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
“She followed Jerome down a staircase, sliding her hand along the banister as a flood of memories returned…”

I’m amazed at how well the page 69 test suits my debut thriller The Tunnels. On this page my heroine, F.B.I. Special Agent Kelly Jones, is on the verge of entering the abandoned tunnel system where two girls were found murdered. As she descends into the maze beneath a prestigious college campus, the reader observes the details of the crime scenes through her eyes. We follow her into the darkness, experiencing the ritualized nature of the murders firsthand, witnessing the puddles of candle wax dotting the floor and the dark images scrawled in blood on the tunnel walls.

This page also establishes Kelly’s link to the university where the crimes took place, a school that she once attended: “She’d been to a party here herself, her freshman year. A keg was packed in an ice-filled trash can and set in a shower stall in the boys’ bathroom. She’d worn her new Levis. Kelly turned to Morrow, ‘Check with [the victim’s] roommates , find out if there was a party in this dorm around when she disappeared.’” Here the reader sees how her past as a student at the university informs her role as an investigator more than a decade later.

Also detailed here is the increasingly antagonistic attitude of the university administrators, who are desperate to avoid the negative attention and panic that will ensue once news of the crimes reach the world at large. The aura of tension in this closed environment is palpable, as Kelly notes, “They passed sleepy-looking students on their way to class, bags slung from one shoulder, who turned and stared after them ... despite the fact that it was Tuesday and classes were in session, the halls were oddly hushed.”

So in a lot of ways page 69 perfectly illustrates the tension in the book, from the fear and suspicion that results when heinous crimes are committed in a closed environment, to the internal struggle of my heroine, a woman trying to reconcile her past with her present role tracking down some of the worst of humanity. As Kelly descends into the tunnels for the first time, we enter the darkness with her, and don’t see light again until the final chapter.
Read an excerpt from The Tunnels, and learn more about the book and author at Michelle Gagnon's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

"When One Man Dies"

Dave White is a crime writer with numerous stories to his credit; his debut novel When One Man Dies is due out this month.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
I was afraid that page 69 would be one of those short chapters that only served to transition one scene to the next. However, it is the beginning of a scene where private detective Jackson Donne meets someone who can help him with his case on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. The scene really plays up one of New Jersey’s former famous landmarks, now breaking down because of age and poverty.

Donne notices the closed down amusements before talking to Tracy, a jazz musician.

“Not playing the Stone Pony?”

She tilted her head, crossed her eyes, like saying, “Come on.” “I think only Springsteen plays there. Rehearses just before he plays twenty straight nights at Giants Stadium or whatever it is.”

“Not a fan?”

“Please. I’d take Sinatra and Bon Jovi as New Jersey’s signature musicians before I’d take Bruce.”

While not much happens on the page, I think this section represents what parts of the Jersey shore has become and does a nice job setting the scene. People used to flock to the Stone Pony to see Bruce, the Asbury Jukes and whoever else used to play there. It was a very famous music club back in the day. However, with the decline of the city, the Stone Pony also fell apart -- opening and then going out of business several times.

At the same time, this scene also plays up some of the banter between Donne and Tracy, which will help strengthen their relationship later in the novel. Tracy is the lead female character in the book and the back-and-forth she has with Donne was going to have to be believable.

And the conversation is one you can hear at almost any bar in New Jersey.
Read more about When One Man Dies at Dave White's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2007

"A Nation of Counterfeiters"

Stephen Mihm is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Georgia.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States, and reported the following:
Flip open A Nation of Counterfeiters to page 69 and you’ll find yourself back in the fall of 1811, just months before the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain. The hero – or villain, depending on your point of view – of this particular page and chapter is a man with the curious name of Seneca Paige, who is running from Montreal to New York City, then on to Baltimore, and then back to Canada, all the while outwitting law enforcement officials who were in hot pursuit.

Paige was a counterfeiter. Like others in this book, he lived at a time when the phrase “making money” had a curiously literal meaning. Prior to the Civil War, private banks printed and circulated thousands of different kinds of paper money of their own design, which became the building blocks of the nation’s credit system. The chaos of the currency opened the door to money makers of a more mischievous bent, including Paige. For the most part, men like him operated with impunity, and his escapades on this page are pretty representative of the ease with which counterfeiters dodged prosecution. Their success had much to do with their many sympathizers. Paige, who died in the 1850s, alluded to this fact in fashioning the epitaph for his gravestone: “He was truly the poor man’s friend.” Those poor people looked out for him.

Much of the first two chapters detail the cat-and-mouse games played by entrepreneurs like Paige, many of whom settled in remote areas on the nation’s borders, where they might ply their trade without interference. Paige opted for the rugged and otherwise wild borderland between Canada and Vermont. This proved to be an especially hospitable locale: the simmering hostilities between the United States and British Canada made the locals more than happy to indulge people like Seneca Paige, who preyed on the hated Americans south of the border. Indeed, page 69 ends with the outbreak of war, and Paige’s return to Canada, where he began counterfeiting anew, building a criminal empire that stretched from a small village in the wilderness to nearly every city and town of importance in the United States.

Succeeding chapters follow other, equally colorful characters: counterfeiters, brilliant engravers, and shady bankers. The characters all belong to what one financial writer of the time described as “a nation of counterfeiters,” by which he meant anyone obsessed with making money in this era. It didn’t matter whether they did so in clandestine workshops of the frontier or in the chambers of a marble-columned bank in the nation’s burgeoning cities: they shared a common impulse to conjure wealth out of thin air. While these money makers are longer with us, their spirit lives on in the speculative bubbles and credit manias of the twenty first century. We remain, even today, a nation of counterfeiters.
Read an excerpt from A Nation of Counterfeiters and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue