Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Black Ship"

Carola Dunn is the author of several previous mysteries featuring Daisy Dalrymple as well as numerous historical novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Black Ship, the latest Daisy Dalrymple mystery, and reported the following:
...Madge laughed. "True. I'm not so choosy. I'll be there. Shall I be Lady Margaret, do you think? Are they that sort of people?"

"I don't think so," Daisy said doubtfully. "I suspect they'd be less likely to invite you. But I don't know them very well yet."

"Then Mrs Pearson it is."

"Bring Robin too, if you like. There's to be nursery tea as well."

"Heavens, darling, you are becoming positively domesticated."

"It's all right, we don't have to watch feeding time at the zoo. There will be nurses aplenty to scrub their jammy faces. But the little Jessup girl adores the twins, and Mrs Jessup—Mrs Aidan Jessup—is very motherly so I thought it would please her."

"You want to please Mrs Aidan Jessup? What are you up to, Daisy?"


"Aidan? Isn't that Irish?"

"I believe so. The elder Mrs Jessup was Moira Callaghan when she was on the stage."

"A chorus girl?" Madge sounded amused.

"Shakespearean," Daisy said severely.

"And Irish. Have you moved in next door to a nest of Republicans?"

"Not at all! Aidan is frightfully English in spite of his name. So is his father, in spite of all his travels on the Continent. It's the younger son...Irish Republican—I hadn't even considered that possibility. I think he's in America, not Ireland."

"I'll come early and you can tell me all about it."

"Right-oh. Yes, I'd better ring off now or Alec's going to be asking nasty questions about the telephone bill. Cheerio, darling."

Hanging up, Daisy went down to the kitchen to discuss the tea-party with Mrs Dobson. The cook-housekeeper was delighted at the prospect of showing off her baking skills....

Page 69 of Black Ship is a telephone conversation between my protagonist, Daisy Dalrymple, and a friend who plays very little part in the story. Nonetheless, it's remarkably revealing.

For a start the tone of the book is clearly not "noir," but a nice, cheerful little murder story. The period is pretty obviously 1920s, and the place is clearly England. Daisy belongs to a class that takes servants for granted.

The passage even contains strong hints--both clues and red herrings--about the mystery side of things. Daisy, who has a tendency to be "up to something," has recently moved to a new house and her next-door neighbours have Irish and possibly American connections. This is the era of Prohibition in America, when organised crime was becoming a large-scale operation. It's also a time when the Irish Republicans might stir up trouble. In fact, busy fighting among themselves, they had only recently stopped blowing up English policemen. At least temporarily.

What page 69 doesn't tell you is that Daisy's husband, Alec Fletcher, is a detective chief inspector at Scotland Yard. Nor does either Daisy or Madge mention the American acquaintance who recently turned up on the Fletchers' doorstep, announcing that he's now a Prohibition agent. The hapless Lambert has been sent to find out which British merchants are shipping wine and whisky to the US. And Daisy's new neighbours are an old-established firm of very high-class wine merchants.

In the circumstances, it's not altogether surprising that, early one morning, the Fletchers' dog finds a body hidden in the bushes in the garden!
Learn more about Black Ship at the St. Martin's Minotaur website.

Visit Carola Dunn's website and the the group blog of which she is part, The Lady Killers.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Queen of the Road"

Doreen Orion's new book, Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own, was published in June, and has been chosen as Borders’ Featured Book Club Selection, a Celestial Seasonings Adventures at Every Turn Book Club pick, as well as a Target Breakout Book. It is already in fifth printing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
I’m not terribly pleased with my page 69 test, as I don’t think it represents the rest of the book. In this selection, which occurs in the third chapter, I describe our bus “with a will of its own.” I suppose it does set up one of the major changes we went through during “the bus thing,” which was discovering we had spent too much energy and time supporting a lifestyle. We went a bit overboard in the design of our bus, and over the year we spent living in it, realized just how much we could do without.

In the prior two chapters, the reader gets to know the characters – me, a former Princess from the Island of Long (now reluctantly promoted to Queen of the Long Narrow Aisle), and my polar opposite husband, Tim (aka, Project Nerd: Domestic Superhero – he does more before 9 am than I’ll even think about doing the entire week. I never did understand that Army commercial: Is getting up at the crack of dawn to work your butt off really supposed to be a selling point?) Obviously, page 69 does not provide any clue as to all the adventures (and misadventures) we would have in our travels, nor the diverse people who would become a part of our lives. It also doesn’t portray what many readers have told me is the best part of the book: our relationship with each other. Tim and I are about as different as spouses can be, and during our bus trip this is underscored when we visit our respective families from New York City to small town Arkansas. As I observe, “In WASP families, if you don’t get along with someone, you have as little to do with them as possible. In Jewish families, if you don’t get along with someone, you move next door to make them as miserable as possible.” Hmm. Wish this was a page 51 test.

of our worldly possessions that we could not possibly live without for a year. Thankfully, the bus had a lot of closet and storage space in the living areas, and there was even more underneath in the bays, although two of the three were taken up with the heating/cooling systems, fresh, gray, and black water tanks, and generator.

Upon entering the bus, my buddy seat was immediately to the left, custom-made double-wide, both to accommodate the bus butt I planned on growing (I intended for my husband to learn that living one’s dream could have its nightmarish aspects) as well as one or two cats sitting up front with me. Across the aisle was Tim’s driver seat and behind that, a coat closet. Above the windshield was storage for all the stereo/TV equipment and just adjacent, folded up and hidden precariously (or so it seemed to me) in the ceiling over my seat, was our 42-inch flat-panel plasma TV. A coffee table that could extend into a dining table was behind the buddy seat, with a reclining sofa on the other side. Behind the sofa was a desk (which housed the satellite Internet system) and behind that, a breakfast bar which delineated the start of the kitchen.

For two non-cooks, that kitchen (not even counting the Blue Bahia granite) was a slight bit of overkill: side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, dishwasher drawer, combination microwave convection oven, sink, pullout pantries, pullout cutting boards, wine rack, appliance garage, and the Comb-o-matic 6200, aka Frankensudser - an unholy joining together of a washer and dryer into one space-saving unit. Further back, a stainless steel pocket door separated the kitchen from the bathroom, which included a toilet, the over-the-counter (and over-the-top) glass sink whose faucet was mounted on a stainless steel tile backsplash, and finally, a fairly large shower (to accommodate one human washing one standard poodle), also done in stainless steel tile.
Read an excerpt from Queen of the Road and learn more about the author and her work at Doreen Orion's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Forever Changes"

Brendan Halpin is author of How Ya Like Me Now and Forever Changes, both novels for young adults; the novels Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Long Way Back and Donorboy; and the memoirs Losing My Faculties and It Takes a Worried Man.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, Forever Changes, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Forever Changes features an argument between Brianna, the main character, and her father. Brianna's going out to a party and her dad is annoying her by telling her to be careful.

"And don't sleep with anybody who doesn't deserve you."

"Aagh! You don't have to say that every time I go out!" Like anybody was even going to notice her, much less want to sleep with her if she was standing next to Melissa and Stephanie. They hadn't invented beer goggles powerful enough to make that happen.

"I know, I know, I just--"

"I know, you got drunk and did something dumb and you've been stuck with me ever since."

Dad's face turned red. "You know what? I tell you this stuff because I love you and I care about you. It's a really shitty thing to use that against me."

I suppose this page is pretty representative of the relationship between Brianna and her dad--they love each other a lot and occasionally drive each other nuts. Tone-wise and character-wise, it's a pretty good indication of what's in the rest of the book. What I really like about this page in relation to the novel as a whole is that it really shows the way the Brianna and her father have, despite Brianna's illness (she has cystic fibrosis), forged a loving and relatively normal relationship. Her dad doesn't tiptoe around Brianna because she's not well, and though her dad is really her anchor, Brianna doesn't hesitate to let him know when he's pissing her off.

Since the book is really concerned with how to live with the knowledge of your own mortality, I think this little fight shows that, at least in terms of this area, Brianna's already got it figured out.
Learn more about the book and author at Brendan Halpin's website and MySpace page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"The Black Tower"

Louis Bayard is the author of the national bestseller The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable book. A staff writer for, Bayard has written articles and reviews for the New York Times, the Washington Post,, and Preservation, among others.

Last year, he applied the Page 69 Test to The Pale Blue Eye; now he has tried out the test on his new novel, The Black Tower, and reported the following:
This time around, page 69 turns out to be decently representative. The detective character -- Vidocq -- is not present (though he's waiting in the wings), but the narrator -- an earnest, fumbling medical student named Hector Carpentier -- is present and accounted for. We establish that he's 26 and that he's edging into dangerous territory. In only the second line, someone asks him, "Were you followed?"

The speaker, we soon find, is a baroness, elderly but once beautiful, with a dazzling smile "whetted against a million drawing rooms and antechambers." She lives in isolation, her only companion a cat. Uncharacteristically, she suggests a walk in the nearby Luxembourg Gardens, which are shrouded with fog -- always apt meteorology for a mystery. As we reach the end of the page, the baroness is about to explain her connection to a Monsieur Leblanc, a connection that goes back a quarter century and has a distinct bearing on current events.

Yes, all in all, a decent introduction to The Black Tower. I found myself actually turning the page, even though I know what happens.
Read an excerpt from The Black Tower, and learn more about the book and author at Louis Bayard's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"The Forger's Spell"

Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Rescue Artist, and Madness on the Couch. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest book, The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century, and reported the following:
The Forger's Spell is the true story of an astonishingly nervy forger who made tens of millions of dollars in the 1930s and '40s by peddling fake Vermeers. But there's a twist in the tale that sets this story of forgery apart from all others -- these forgeries fooled the world, but they are dreadful paintings that never should have fooled a soul. The book is about art and art history, but it's just as much about psychology and how our beliefs and expectations can lead us astray.

I wanted to give an insider's view of how forgers work and think, so I visited a modern-day forger who took me behind the scenes in his studio. John Myatt lives in a farmhouse a few hours outside London. Every surface in his house is cluttered with art. Paintings sit in a pile on a chair, they stand in stacks in a corner of the living room, they hang only a few inches apart on every wall. Mondrian, Chagall, Matisse, Renoir. While I watched, Myatt took up his pencil, sketched a bold and instantly recognizable face, and handed me a drawing. "To Ed," he wrote, "from Picasso." Then he added a date: "May, 1940."

On page 69, we're following Myatt around his studio:

The strangest feature of Myatt's career was that his successes turned out to have scarcely anything to do with his skill as a painter. Buyers want to believe they have found something extraordinary; the forger's task is to find ways to bolster that belief. Myatt did this (more accurately, his partner did this) by creating unquestionable credentials for each fake. Those perfect pedigrees imbued the paintings with virtues they did not truly possess, much as a fortune or a title can transform a troll into a heartthrob. "Some of my Giacomettis," Myatt says, "are just embarrassingly bad. You flip through a Christie's catalog or a Sotheby's catalog, and there they are, but you just cringe." Those paintings sold for prices as high as $250,000.

Early in his forging career, Myatt goes on, "I had to teach myself, and in the process of teaching myself, I did some really appallingly bad paintings, all of which we put on the market. Because I didn't know that they
were appallingly bad until about two or three years later, and then I thought" -- here Myatt moans in mortification -- "'Oh no, everything about that's wrong, it's all wrong.' But you find yourself in the unbelievable situation where other people are saying, 'Oh, isn't it wonderful!' It was like being in a Monty Python film."
Read an excerpt from The Forger's Spell, and learn more about the author and his work at Edward Dolnick's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart"

M. Glenn Taylor's stories have been published in such literary journals as The Chattahoochee Review, Mid-American Review, Meridian, and Gulf Coast. He teaches English and fiction writing at Harper College in suburban Chicago.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book comes near the start of a chapter entitled “Folks Will Dust You Quick as Look at You,” and isn’t it the truth. I hope that you will believe me when I say that I’m not trying to dust or bamboozle you with what follows. You have my word.

As I pondered Mr. Zeringue’s welcome request, I also worried about what the Page 69 project might produce from my occasionally off-color first book. And, low and behold, when I turned to page 69, there before me was a first sentence that told me I should turn Mr. Zeringue down, that I should never, under any circumstance let this page see the light of day without the 68 pages that precede it and the 207 that follow. I reconsidered after consulting my wife, who is a strong, decent woman with a solid code of ethics.

What I’m getting at is this: the first sentence on page 69 of my book involves a particular thing that young Trenchmouth does when he finds himself in a position to engage in such activity with older women. It is a thing Jim Comstock might call “unmentionable.”

As I said, I’m not looking to con anyone, nor do I wish to be too crude, but I wonder how many of the authors solicited for the 69 can claim such 69-ish things?

Is the following ironic? I don’t know and don’t care to take much time to figure. What’s important is that a project such as this one aims to get folks reading, and there aren’t many aims that can equal such importance, in my estimation. So, I’ll only preface my one page excerpt with this: Dear reader, please realize that the teenaged boy about which you are to read was orphaned in 1903 and grew up hard in the hills of southern West Virginia. For a time, he found his way as best he knew how, and that involved a whole lot of moonshine and false religion, and when those two things get together with a few suppressed women, only naughtiness can ensue. Only trouble can come. And so it does:

Trenchmouth had even started to forge his tongue-talking while in a woman’s nether-regions. The genuine article, the God he’d found down there on Independence Day, had ceased to draw out holy babble. He’d had to fake it after the six or seventh time. All part of the act. What had been, at least that first time with Anne Sharples, an awakening, had transformed into a job. They never let him kiss their mouths or dip his wick. Some had even worried so heavily on the contagiousness of his disease that he’d procured a medical almanac to show them it wasn’t contagious. Ewart wouldn’t set foot in his hideout anymore, much less speak to him on account of his newfound tendency to avoid her, ignore her even. But, between the women and the small fee he charged J.B. Smith for his services in church every Sunday, Trenchmouth’s coin sack was getting heavy. He was saving up for something, he just didn’t know what.

On a particularly cold Sunday afternoon, Trenchmouth sat at the kitchen table in silence with Clarissa and the Widow. They hardly spoke in these days of awkward adolescence. Brother and sister went so far as to avert contact of the eye. But all hands touched when the Widow said the blessing.

“We give thanks O Lord for the food before us and the family beside us.” They all said Amen. They all ate. Wet wood cracked and hissed at them from the heating stove, alongside small chips of coal and coke stolen from slag heaps and found on railroad tracks. The sheet steel pipe hadn’t stayed air tight. The Widow coughed. The windows fogged over thick and milky.

Clarissa knew that her mother knew that Fred Dallara was after her cherry. Trenchmouth knew that his mother knew he was taking up serpents and making a fool of himself at a temple of blaspheme. But, she believed that adolescents would make their mistakes, with or without her warnings against them, so she kept quiet.
Read an excerpt from The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, and learn more about the book and author at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Lisa Black is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and has been certified by the American Board of Criminalistics.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Takeover, and reported the following:
I’m happy to report that page 69 of Takeover is, in my humble opinion, fairly representative of the rest of the book. The basic plot has been presented: forensic scientist Theresa MacLean starts out investigating the early-morning murder of a man who worked at the Federal Reserve in Cleveland (one of only 12 in the country). When her homicide detective fiancé goes to the Fed to find out more about the victim, two men break in to rob the place and take her fiancé hostage along with the other employees. Theresa sticks close to her fiance’s partner when the police set up a command center in the public library across the street and is dismayed to meet the crisis negotiator, a showy and possibly self-aggrandizing Chris Cavanaugh. Her fiancé’s life is depending on a man who just might care more about his own persona than the human lives he’s trying to save.

On page 69, we have all three of the major players in this book: Theresa, Chris, and the dominant criminal, Lucas. This is the first conversation between Chris and Lucas, with Theresa sitting nearby, biting her nails.

“It’s so nice to be talking with you today, Chris. My name is Lucas. I’m going to want some things, and I’ll need a yes or no from you. Can you do that, or should I be talking to someone else? I don’t intend to repeat myself.”

“I’m not trying to argue with you here, but all the conversation is going to go through me. That’s the way we do it. How’s everybody doing in there? Anyone hurt?”

“Let me tell you how I do it, Chris.” The man’s derision came over the speaker loud and clear, but with a slight wobble. He probably wasn’t as tough as he liked to sound, but Theresa knew enough about the psychology of criminals to know that that would not be a help. Any insecurities would only make him more desperate. “I talk to the guy in charge.”

“How are the people in there? Is anyone hurt?”

“They’re going to be if I don’t talk to the guy in charge.”

Theresa let her breath release from aching lungs. Sixty seconds in, and already they could not meet a demand, couldn’t produce the person in charge, and all because Chris Cavanaugh had acted prematurely in order to keep the limelight directly on himself.

Theresa is both right and wrong, it will turn out, in her assessment of Chris Cavanaugh. He definitely likes the limelight, yes, but he is also operating according to established protocols. In any hostage negotiation, the person responsible for making the ultimate decisions about the taker’s demands will not be the guy on the phone. There are a number of reasons—because the negotiator can’t afford to be distracted long enough to debate points with the other powers that be, or because, after hours of conversation, the negotiator might become sympathetic toward the taker and give in to their demands too easily. So every hostage negotiation team has a number of people—at a minimum, the negotiator, the decision-maker, the researcher (who runs around in the background checking out details and trying to get information, the scribe (who takes notes throughout the ordeal, especially of what the taker says or does), and the assault team leader.

I hope this page would make people want to keep reading, if only to find out who comes out on top of our three way heap—Lucas, Chris, or Theresa?
Learn more about Takeover and the author at Lisa Black's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2008

"The 19th Wife"

David Ebershoff is the author of the novels Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a short-story collection, The Rose City.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The 19th Wife, and reported the following:
When I opened The 19th Wife to p. 69 I honestly did not know what I would find. The novel is in some ways two novels – one about Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young’s 19th wife. In 1875 she divorced her powerful husband, left the Mormon Church, and went on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. The second narrative is told by Jordan Scott, a present-day young man who grew up in a polygamous community in a remote part of the Utah desert and whose mother has been arrested for killing his polygamous father. On top of that, much of the book is narrated through several historical “documents” (I use quotes because I wrote them, although they are presented to the reader as archival texts). So when I turned to p.69 I didn’t know if I would find a scene from Ann Eliza’s narrative, or Jordan’s. As it turns out, it’s from Jordan’s story and it passes the test: this page represents the quest Jordan is on to find out who killed his dad. Out of curiosity, I turned to p. 99: there I found a part-title page, introducing a section from Ann Eliza’s story. And so for The 19th Wife, when taken together pages 69 and 99 give the reader a quick glimpse into the book’s expansive story.
Read an excerpt from The 19th Wife, and learn more about the author and his work at David Ebershoff's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Volk’s Shadow"

"Brent Ghelfi writes like Dostoevsky's hooligan great-grandson on speed," said Lee Child of Ghelfi's widely-acclaimed debut, Volk's Game.

Ghelfi applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Volk’s Shadow, and reported the following:
Three themes drive the story in Volk’s Shadow. The opening scene finds tortured hero Alexei Volkovoy contemplating all of them as he helicopters into the aftermath of an apparent terrorist explosion. Defend the motherland, secure Russia’s southern flank, and protect the innocents.

The last of those themes is illustrated on page 69.

Once again enlisted in Russia’s war against Chechen terrorists, and already investigating the brutal murder of a Russian army captain, Volk is asked by his friend Masha, an aging babushka, to search for a missing 12-year-old girl. Preoccupied, lonely without his lover, Valya, Volk prefers to decline. Instead, he agrees to help.

His decision plumbs the depths of his character, and provides a sense of the entire novel.

From Page 69:

“Things like this usually end badly. If Semerko took her a week ago, it’s probably over.”

I didn’t mean to sound so harsh. But I don’t have time for fairy tales, and I can already envision the sad scene when I tell the girl’s family a whitewashed version of the truth and watch their hopes shatter.

Masha’s blue eyes are moist. “You think I don’t know that she’s probably already dead?”

I feel small enough to crawl under the door. I start to say something, but Masha hunches over her knitting again, and I close my mouth. Thinking back, I realize that when Valya left I disengaged in a way that I never had before. Even in Chechnya I distinguished predator from prey, and acted accordingly, and my willingness to help those who were worthy was one of the things that brought Valya and me together in the first place.

I look up to see Masha watching the emotions at work on my face. She points a needle at the shelves behind me. “I have pictures that might help you make up your mind.”

Two unframed photos are laying flat on the shelf. I reach back and take them down. The top one shows an old woman hunched in a rocker, wrapped in so many blankets it is impossible to judge her size or shape. The skin of her face sags, and her white hair is so wispy that her freckled brown skull shows clearly beneath it. Behind and above her is a shrine on a makeshift shelf made from a board painted white. Thin church candles stand at each end of the board, stuck in a base of their own melted wax. Between them, plastic flowers frame a picture that I think is the same one as the second in my hand—a pretty girl in an over-the-shoulder pose that makes her appear very young.

Galina has laughing hazel eyes, curly brown hair, and skinny, little-girl legs poking from her flared polka-dot skirt. She looks nothing like Valya, either now or as I imagine Valya would have looked at the same age. Galina is soft-brown innocence compared to Valya’s smoky-white brilliance. And yet the association is impossible to resist.

I shut my eyes against the memories of the stories Valya has told me of her childhood. Stories I can’t bear to recall, stories that make me feel helpless, powerless to prevent the spreading stain of evil. When I open my eyes again, Masha’s gaze meets mine.

“Do whatever you have to do, Alexei. Please. Just find her.”
Read "Volk's Dossier," and learn more about Volk's Shadow at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Good People"

Marcus Sakey is the author of The Blade Itself and At the City's Edge.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Good People, and reported the following:
This is my third time running this test with Marshal, and the only conclusion I can draw is this: either the Page 69 test is flawed, or my books are. Probably the latter.

Or rather, maybe it's all in how you look at it. If the question is whether Page 69 is representative of the book as a whole, the answer is not particularly. It does feature major characters, and some emotional connections that are important, but I wouldn't say that the extreme closeup gives a good view of the larger piece.

But if the question is whether it would intrigue a reader and make them want to read on, I hope so. Because Page 69 of my new book, Good People, is the beginning of a sex scene:

He floated on the edge of dream, the world blurry, as something rubbed against him. Drifting, body here, consciousness there, sensations rolling through him. Skin against his own in a slow wriggle, neck to ankles. He could smell Anna, the faint homey hint of musk. The night air was pleasant, and he'd kicked the blanket off hours before. The sheet was soft as bathwater.

Tom mumbled sleep moans, thought about opening his eyes, didn't. He felt her back against his chest, a gentle dancing touch, warm and complete where she moved, cool and wanting where she pulled away. The press and arc of her bottom. A heat growing inside him, familiar and forgotten. He didn't know what time it was, hadn't opened his eyes to check, but it seemed late, somewhere in the lonely hours of the night when the world disappeared. She moved again, arched against him, and this time his moan wasn't from sleep. He felt himself taut in his briefs, rigid against the curve of her.
Tom opened his eyes.

Anna's head was turned to the ceiling, her features faint against the dark, eyes just a glimmer of reflected light. He saw her smile; then she pressed backward again, the cleft of her ass grinding against him.

Hopefully, yeah, a reader would turn a page. After all, the good stuff happens on Page 70. And Page 71.

Sorry about that.
Read an excerpt from Good People, and learn more about the author and his work at Marcus Sakey's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2008


Sydney Bauer is the author of a series of novels featuring Boston based criminal attorney, David Cavanaugh. The first in the series, Undertow, is out now in the U.S. Gospel, the second title in the series, is already available in Australia.

The author applied the Page 69 Test to Undertow and reported the following:
A long time ago, when I was an enthusiastic English student in high school, my much respected English teacher told me that painting the character of the villain in your writing was key to a piece’s success.

She also taught me the importance of ‘showing’ not ‘telling’ and the beauty of what a ‘back story’ could do for you, in developing your story’s plot.

Well, in a nutshell I guess that is what page 69 does for my novel Undertow.

Undertow features the adventures of my recurring protagonist, Boston criminal defense attorney David Cavanaugh, and his main nemesis, in this, my first novel, is a powerful US Senator by the name of Rudolph Haynes.

On page 69 we take a journey back to the day Haynes meets his prodigy – a Secret Service Agent named Vince Verne who is actually key to driving the book’s show stopping courtroom finale.

Their first meeting shapes the future of their relationship and lays the foundations of Verne’s loyalty to the senator. It gives the reader a sense of what David might be ‘up against’ as he tries to free his client – an African American woman accused of murdering the senator’s seventeen-year-old daughter.

As the book eventually shows, blind loyalty can be a dangerous thing – especially when an instruction is misinterpreted, and page 69 introduces this issue which drives both the tragedy and the triumph in the book.

What a great test!!!

Oh – and as far as I am concerned…it works!
Listen to an excerpt from Undertow, and learn more about the author and her work at Sydney Bauer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Until 2006, Anisha Lakhani taught English at the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Soon after she started teaching, she was named chair of the Middle School English Department. Lakhani received both her B.A. and M.A. degrees from Columbia University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Schooled, and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 69:

"Ms. Taggert. That was me. I was a teacher at Langdon Hall. This was my dream job and I was not going to suck."

I am providing the last line on page 69 as it concludes chapter 7 of Schooled. In many ways this line is indicative of several plot points / themes in my book. The need for my character to constantly re-affirm her role and position as a teacher conveys an insecurity she feels for much of the novel -- does she fit in? Do the students like her? Is she a capable teacher? A student has just told her that while her class did "suck," the Frost poem that was read did not. Anna's usage of the word "suck" hints at the future mistakes she will make in the novel, especially when trying too hard to fit in with her students -- dressing like them, using their "lingo" and trying to please their every whim. It's one line, the last one on page 69, but an interesting experiment indeed because yes, the line on many levels does capture the heart of Schooled. But you'd only know that if you wrote the book, or kept reading...
Learn more about Schooled and its author at Anisha Lakhani's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Envy the Night"

Michael Koryta's debut novel Tonight I Said Goodbye earned an Edgar nomination for best first novel and won the Great Lakes Book Award for Best Mystery. He is also the author of three Lincoln Perry novels.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Envy the Night, a standalone, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Envy the Night is an intriguing sample of the book because it features a shift from one point of view to another, and yet neither is the point of view of the protagonist, Frank Temple III. Frank, whose father was once a highly regarded U.S. marshal before an FBI investigation revealed that he'd made a series of contract killings for an organized crime figure, has returned to a secluded lake cabin that was once sacred ground for his family. In the first point of view on page 69, we see Grady Morgan, the FBI agent who brought Frank's father down and then attempted to push the case farther with some questionable methods, dealing with guilt over the past and fear for how it will impact the future. In particular, Grady is afraid that Frank III is responsible for a recent murder.

"I should have asked about the wounds," he said aloud, talking to his empty apartment. That would have settled it. Because if there'd been more than an inch or two between those bullet holes, then Frank Temple III hadn't been pulling the trigger.

In the second point of view, we jump from Chicago to the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where Ezra Ballard, an old family friend of the Temples and former combat partner with Frank's father in Vietnam, is reflecting on his work with the hunting dogs who are now his only companions.

The dogs were Ezra's family. More than pets, more than friends. And when the air turned chill as fall began to lose its early skirmishes with winter, and the dogs bayed long and loud in the dark woods, Ezra with gun in hand as they chased their prey? Then, the dogs were something altogether nearer to his heart: comrades.

While the page doesn't address the main plot of the book or even show the protagonist, I do think it gives a glimpse of the book's engine, the themes of legacy and how the actions of one generation reach out to tamper with the next. I'd like to think a reader would be interested enough to continue.
Read an excerpt from Envy the Night, and learn more about the author and his work at Michael Koryta's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine"

Ben Tanzer is the spokesperson for This Blog Will Change Your Life and author of Lucky Man.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, and reported the following:
If one were to open Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine to page 69 would they find it representative of the rest of the book? And would a reader skimming that page be inclined to read on? Well that depends, do you ever skim novels looking for the sex scenes like I do? I mean like I’ve heard people do? Because this chapter is all about sex, sex as part of a new relationship, sex as a transaction and even as manipulation. Is it graphic, slightly, but is it also sexy sex, and fun to read? I think so. Does this make you want to read more? I hope so, sex sells right? Still, I don’t think that’s all the book is about. What it’s about is my interest in exploring how a couple comes together quickly, in this case Geoff and Jen, how they implode just as quickly and then maybe, possibly how they try to come together again. More than that though, it’s using such a relationship as a vehicle for riffing on a variety of themes I find interesting - New York City in the early nineties, a version of it any way, fractured families, porn, compulsions, literature, cynicism, fathers and sons, siblings, pop culture and shooting pool - some of which readers of my first novel Lucky Man may associate with my writing - which by the way I invite people to buy as well, and as many copies as they want at that. The reader will also more specifically get to learn my thoughts on break-ups, rebound dates, Matt Dillon, Judy Blume, Dallas’ clear superiority over Knots Landing, Tony Danza’s rightful status as America’s greatest living entertainer and Fun Dip. Oh yes, and there will be sex, did I mention that, you the reader will definitely get some sex, and that’s good, yes? I think it is.
Learn more about the author and his work at Ben Tanzer's MySpace page and This Blog Will Change Your Life.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Babylon Rolling"

Amanda Boyden was born in Minnesota and raised in Chicago and St. Louis. Formerly a circus trapeze artist and contortionist, she earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she now teaches writing. Her first novel, Pretty Little Dirty, was published in 2006.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Babylon Rolling, and reported the following:
Babylon Rolling follows the lives of a group of diverse neighbors living on a fictional Orchid Street in Uptown New Orleans. Several of the characters are on a collision course; two of them appear together—separated only by a space break in the middle of page 69—before they’ve really become acquainted. Beyond the pretty obvious juxtaposition of their very different characters, both Fearius, a 15-year-old African American who’s been in and out of juvey, and Ed, a white, Buddhist, stay-at-home dad, are right in the middle of some rather pivotal personal moments. Hurricane Ivan (Katrina’s precursor by a year) is on its way, and Ed and Fearius are in opposite preparation modes.

Muzzle, Fearius’ older brother, has been in an accident and is strung up in traction at the hospital. Muzzle’s boss, Alphonse, and Fearius are visiting, and Fearius learns that he’ll be stepping into Muzzle’s crack-dealing shoes: “A hurricane be great for the business. Fearius know he be breaking sale records when he get back out in the morning, all the peoples lining up. They gone have to stockpile if a hurricane coming… Alphonse give Muzzle a sign and go out the door. ‘Keep hangin,’ Fearius tell Muzzle and leave. Fearius happy he not in his bros place. And he happy Alphonse be his boss. Today, he just happy.”

Ed, on the other hand, having been recently transplanted from Minnesota, has no real idea what to make of an approaching hurricane or how to prepare for one. He’s piled many of his family’s belongings on the living room floor, wondering what to do with them all, considering what might happen to the city: “Ed thinks of the footage he’s seen before. Flopping palm trees, huge breakers on the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans has a few palm trees, some quite mature ones around the casino, a couple in the neighbors’ yards. Here-and-there palms. And then there’s Lake Pontchartrain. When they debated whether or not to move here, Ed researched New Orleans. The big flat shallow lake, a pancake really, never struck him as a natural weapon, but that’s what those in the know seem to deem it.”

Both Fearius and Ed stand on their respective precipices on this page. Fearius will come to regret his new position, and Ed will never be able to undo what begins to unravel with his evacuation. In some ways, page 69 is quite significant. Is it representative of the rest of the novel? Sure, although it only contains two of the five narrators, so it’s a partial representation at best. Still, it captures the clear disparity between the neighbors’ attitudes and approaches to the world at large, something I try to explore throughout Babylon Rolling.
Read an excerpt from Babylon Rolling, and learn more about the book at the Pantheon website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Evening Is the Whole Day"

Preeta Samarasan was born and raised in Malaysia, and moved to the United States in high school. After spending several years ostensibly working on a dissertation on gypsy music in France, but all the while writing fiction, she decided to switch tracks. She recently received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Evening Is the Whole Day, and reported the following:
My novel, Evening Is The Whole Day, is about an ethnic Indian family in Malaysia. It is a meditation on the immense role of race and class in Malaysia, and in that sense it is an attempt to tell a national history through the lives of individuals. Everything that happens in this novel stems from the inevitable trajectories that race and class impose upon these characters. Because the narrative is related largely backwards, a reader who opens to page 69 will not be able to draw these connections; the disappointments that chronologically precede the scene on this page are revealed only in a subsequent chapter, and so are not mentioned or alluded to here.

Yet in other ways, page 69 is quite representative of the novel. On this page, the parents -- Appa and Amma -- have left to attend the grandmother's funeral, and the three children -- Uma (18), Suresh (11), and Aasha (6) -- are fending for themselves for the afternoon. The relationships between these siblings are central to the plot and themes of my novel, and here we catch a vivid glimpse of those relationships. The siblings are eating their lunch: an omelet that Uma has had to make them, though she does not speak or otherwise interact with her brother and sister in any other way. Inaccessible, impassive, she reads a book at the dining table, moving only to flip her Simon and Garfunkel cassette tape every time it ends. Suresh insulates and distracts himself with humour of all kinds: gothic, dry, slapstick. He imagines the reaction of Chellam the maidservant if his mother had asked her to prepare the children's lunch, and his comic speculation hints at dark secrets that preoccupy him despite all his efforts at nonchalance: "You!" Chellam screeches at his mother in his fantasy. "How dare you ask me to feed your lying children! What-what evil you can do, but you can't break your own bloody eggs, is it?"

But it is little Aasha's anxious yearning that pervades this entire scene, just as it does much of the book. Like Suresh, she gags on the omelet, but "hers is not a pretend gag for comic relief." All she can see and hear and feel is her sister, and "the crucial question of Why Uma Made the Omelet" consumes her. This moment in the children's lives is tense, melancholy, and yet hopeful. You, dear reader, might lean towards Suresh's realistic answer to the crucial question -- "that Uma made the omelet primarily because the process took far less time, effort and thought than resisting Amma" -- but you will turn the page because you want to believe, like Aasha, that there could be another, better reason; because there is always the possibility that on the next page, her "infinite, illogical hope" will be borne out. Disillusionment and cynicism may not have destroyed everything in this family; there may be -- oh, what if there is! -- tenderness lurking under the afternoon's quiet surface.
Read an excerpt from Evening Is the Whole Day, and learn more about the author and her work at Preeta Samarasan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"Matters of Faith"

Kristy Kiernan's first novel, Catching Genius, was published in March of 2007 and has become a book club favorite.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Matters of Faith, and reported the following:
Oddly enough, page 69 of Matters of Faith starts at the beginning of a sentence and ends at the end of a sentence. Serendipity? Or remarkable planning on the part of the author, who, hoping she would be asked to contribute to The Page 69 Test, worked out exactly what page of her manuscript would be page 69 of her finished novel? Oh yeah, I'm that brilliant.

Anyway, I'm more pleased with page 69 in Matters of Faith than I was in my first novel, Catching Genius. Here we have Marshall, a confused young man, in search of faith, in search of God, in search of love, in search of anything. He's just leaving the hospital where his little sister, Meghan, has been brought after going into anaphylactic shock from eating a cookie containing a bit of peanut, to which she is highly allergic.

Ada, the young woman he's with, has been the catalyst for this horrifying event, and convinced Marshall that they could pray for his sister's recovery, rather than seeking medical attention.

Page 69 shows Marshall's struggle to reconcile the feelings he has for Ada, both emotional and sexual, with the horror and guilt he feels over what happened to Meghan.

What we don't see on page 69, is the point of view of Marshall's mother, Chloe, who alternates chapters with Marshall throughout the book. Chloe has to figure out if she wants to hold her marriage to her husband, Cal, together through this crisis with Meghan, as well as work through her own feeling of guilt and confusion over how she raised a son who could harm his own sister so grievously.

This was a successful Page 69 Test for me. Aside from only showing one point of view, it does accurately represent the secondary protagonist's tone and main conflicts. Thanks for the opportunity to apply The Test again, and I hope you enjoy Page 69 of Matters of Faith:

He'd found Ada sitting in a chair in the corner of the emergency room waiting area, crutches leaning on the table beside her, her legs bandaged. When she saw him, he could do little more than shake his head at her before saying gruffly, his voice foreign to himself: "Let's go."

He'd allowed her to make her way alone across the parking lot on her crutches and started the car watching her hobble toward him in the rearview mirror, wishing he had the guts to put it in reverse and extinguish her from his view.

She worked her crutches into the backseat and got in the car, groaning as she bent her legs, and finally slammed the door shut with a sigh. She was clutching a sheaf of papers in her left hand and as they brushed the hairs of his arm he recoiled as if singed.

She didn't speak until they had pulled out of the parking lot. "Is she--is everything okay?"

He rolled to a stop at a red light and looked at her, really looked at her. Her tiny face was pinched in pain, her mouth drawn into a tight line, a mouth he'd placed his own lips on. The lines of her delicate shoulders he'd run his hands across, small, perfect breasts he'd caressed, the first he'd held, kissed, her slender hips tucked back into the seat cupping her perfect bottom that fit right in his hands as if sculpted just for them.

He hated her.

And he hated himself for wanting her so desperately at the same time, for feeling his cock stir while his sister lay dying. If he had the guts to cut it off right then he would have.

She glanced at him and then down at her lap. When the light turned green and he moved forward she reached over and placed her hand on his leg. He shifted gears and then gingerly, not trusting himself to touch any more of her skin than he had to, picked her hand up and dropped it back on her lap.
Read an excerpt from Matters of Faith, and learn more about the author and her work at Kristy Kiernan's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: Catching Genius.

My Book, The Movie: Catching Genius.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Hell Hole"

Chris Grabenstein won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery" (given at Bouchercon 2006) for his debut novel Tilt A Whirl—the first in a series of John Ceepak stories to be set "Down The Shore" in a New Jersey tourist town called Sea Haven. The second book, Mad Mouse, arrived in June 2006 and the third, Whack A Mole, in June 2007.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest John Ceepak novel, Hell Hole, and reported the following:
My newest John Ceepak mystery Hell Hole passes the Page 69 Test in a raging blaze of glory!

Once you read that page, I think you will want to read on.

Here’s how page 69 begins:

Long live the code.

Ceepak has just found our angle. Possession of stolen property here in Feenyville is definitely within our jurisdiction, so Saul Slominsky may be forced to share his forensic evidence with us. Who knows? Maybe these two knuckleheads are the ones who did it. Maybe they killed Smith and staged it to look like a suicide. Motive? I don’t know. Heavy metal envy.

Okay. It’s a flimsy case. But, we officially have out foot in the door, or, more correctly, the toilet stall.

Hell Hole, the fourth book in my Jersey shore series, is my “locked-toilet-stall-door” mystery. A soldier just home from Iraq named Shareef Smith is found sitting atop a commode in a locked toilet stall in the Men’s Room of a Garden State Parkway rest stop with a pistol in his lap and the lid of his skull blown off by a single shot to the roof of his mouth.

The county CSI guys say it’s an open and shut case: suicide.

Our narrator Danny Boyle, the 26-year-old rookie cop, and his partner John Ceepak, the by-the-book ex-MP (who also served in Iraq) don’t buy it. They think Smith may have been the victim of foul play. However, since the rest stop is about fifteen miles down the Parkway from Sea Haven, the crime took place outside their jurisdiction and they have no official standing in the investigation, which everybody else seems eager to shut down fast.

The dead man’s car, however, was vandalized in the parking lot of the rest stop and, right there on page 69, Ceepak and Boyle make a link between that crime and some low level chop shop hoods who operate out of a trailer park called Feenyville in their home town.

They now have at least some official standing in the investigation of what happened to Shareef Smith and his vehicle when the young soldier pulled off the Garden State Parkway and into the rest area.

It is an investigation that will take Ceepak and Boyle on their darkest journey to date.

As Lesa Holstine put it in her review: "This is the darkest of the Ceepak mysteries, the most complicated, and the best. Hell Hole is a complex story, revealing not only how much Danny has changed, but how much it takes for Ceepak to be the man he has become. Grabenstein continues to develop, writing darker, more ambitious stories. He hits his stride with Hell Hole, a dark crime story of politics, drugs, and family."
Watch the Hell Hole trailer and read the first chapter.

Learn more about the author and his work at Chris Grabenstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and reported the following:
In this scene, Richard Tremblay, the leader of the motorcycle gang The Saints of Hell, and a major player taking over the drug world in Toronto is talking on the phone to Sharon MacDonald. Richard and Sharon were a couple twenty years earlier when he was a small-time dealer who actually rode a motorcycle and she was a stripper in Montreal. Now she’s turned a whole floor of the apartment building she lives in into a grow op and sells a lot of marijuana, but she’s under house arrest for an assault and the cops have discovered the grow rooms (though they don’t yet know she operates them). She’s asked Richard to front her some dope until she can get a new operation up and running.

He said, “Your daughter, she met a guy a couple of times trying to sell a large supply.”

“Yeah, she mentioned something. A farmer maybe.”

“Right. So, I’d like to know who he is and where he’s getting it.”

Sharon thought, yeah, some poor punk-ass kid tired of watching his old man go broke growing tomatoes out in Leamington, just enough margin in tobacco to barely survive another year, plants himself a little crop and now Richard and his boys have to come down hard on him.

“Why don’t you just pick him up?”

Richard said, “You want me to front this for you or not?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Look, Shar, I’m trying to do you a favour here, you don’t have to take it.”

“No, no, I’ll do it. Who he is and where he gets it.”

“Sounds easy when you say it. Let me know,” and before he could hang up, she had to say, what about my supply?

“Oh yeah, I guess you can’t very well come get it. I’ll send it over.”


“Aren’t you going to thank me?”

Mostly she was pissed off at herself for getting into this situation. She said, “Thanks, Rickie, I’ll let you know.”

He laughed and hung up.

She lit another cigarette and sat on the couch with the phone in her lap. Now she was going to have to call Bobbi, get her to call Becca or one of the massage girls the farm kid approached, get a number on him and get him over. He’d have to spill, he was so naïve, walking into Toronto telling everyone who’d listen what a big supplier he could be.

Guy that dumb, she was almost surprised the cops hadn’t picked him up.

Then there was a knock on her door and it was the cops.
Read an excerpt from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and learn more about the author and his work at John McFetridge's website and his blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Nancy Kress is the author of twenty-three books, including the critically acclaimed Beggars in Spain, Probability Moon, and more recent, Nothing Human, which addresses the outcome of climate change.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dogs, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Dogs relates how Jess Langstrom, Animal Control Officer for the small town of Tyler, and Tessa Sanderson, a newly retired FBI agent, pick up a collie and her puppies for transport to a CDC holding facility. The reason they do this -- which is also the reason that the Centers for Disease Control is present in Tyler -- is that an outbreak of some kind has turned up there. Pet dogs are suddenly turning vicious and attacking people. Children have been torn apart. The CDC suspects a canine brain pathogen, and is searching for it desperately. FEMA has thrown a quarantine around the town. The press has gathered. The FBI has its own, so-far covert suspicions about the outbreak. Townspeople are either vocally for rounding up all dogs, even those that don't yet seem affected, or vocally for telling the government to leave their beloved pets alone.

Page 69 is thus both typical and not typical of Dogs. It's typical in that Jess and Tessa are the main characters, and in the first part of the book they spend time rounding up dogs. It's not typical in that this particular pet owner freely allows the pick-up (although her small great-grand-daughter protests). If everything went as smoothly for Jess and Tessa as in this scene, I would have had no story. But page 69 occurs between two scenes of much greater action and desperation, and one of the patterns of successful fiction is variation in scenic intensity. Too many quiet scenes in a row and the reader gets bored. Too many frenetic scenes in a row and the reader feels you're shouting at him all the time.

Now, if you had picked page 39, or 89...
Read excerpts from Dogs, and learn more about the author and her work at Nancy Kress' website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Michelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller The Tunnels was an IMBA bestseller.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Boneyard, and reported the following:
I feel that in some ways page 69 of my debut thriller The Tunnels was more representative of the book as a whole than its counterpart in Boneyard (the curse of writing a series, I suppose). Still, the scene in question introduces readers to my main character, FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones (think Clarisse Starling a decade into her career, but more jaded and socially awkward.) It also depicts Monica Lauer, my brassy blond homicide investigator from Vermont, at her finest. In another day and age she would be referred to as a “broad,” and she’s one of my all-time favorite characters: a brash single mother with a smart mouth and a fierce sense of justice.

In this scene Kelly and Monica are interviewing a suspect in his home:

Even by the standards of Williamstown the house was a stunner, tucked along a quiet lane surrounded by other mansions. Hard to picture a kid like Randy Jacobs at home here, Kelly thought to herself.

The investigative team has recently identified Randy’s remains, which along with four other bodies were found strewn across the border between Massachusetts and Vermont. My idea for the book stemmed from the jurisdictional issues a cold case like this creates, when no department wants to add to their homicide tally. There’s a great scene at the beginning of season two of The Wire where cops are pushing a body through the water from one side of a bridge to the other so they won’t have to deal with it. That kind of thing intrigues me, since the vast majority of cop shows depict something very different, police passionately devoted to solving a crime no matter the cost. I think we want to believe this is true, but with funding tied to homicide solve-rates, sadly it’s not always the case.

Sommers leaned against the sofa armrest without inviting them to sit down. She (Kelly) cast a glance at Monica, who stepped forward and plopped down on the nearest armchair. Sommers winced slightly as she curiously lifted a stone statue off the end table. “Whatcha got here?” She turned it over in her hand.

“Could you not…” He asked, attempting to retrieve it.

Monica examined it closely; it was a phallus with a mounted pair of wings. “Now that’s something you don’t see every day, huh?”

“It’s a Dionysian fertility symbol, and quite a valuable one.” He said, clearly miffed as he snatched it back.

“Whoa, easy.” Monica held both hands up. “I wasn’t going to break it.”

Don’t you just love her? I’m trying to figure out a way to bring Monica back in future books, but it’ll be tough unless I set something else in Vermont. Right now I’m writing a thriller with a more national scope, involving hate crimes, domestic militias, and terrorism, so unless Monica undergoes a radical transformation I’m not sure I’ll be able to work her in. Still, she’s a lot of fun in Boneyard.

What was most interesting for me in writing Boneyard was delving into the minds of my serial killers, who are engaged in a cat and mouse game with each other while simultaneously evading law enforcement. It all stemmed from a study I stumbled across regarding the true number of active serial killers operating in the United States at any given time. The estimate fluctuates wildly, and one researcher posited that if you took the number of people reported missing every year, deduct child custody cases and people who might have disappeared themselves, we’re still left with an astonishingly high statistic. This same researcher theorized that if a serial killer was smart enough to target people who wouldn’t be missed (aka the “missing missing”: prostitutes, illegal immigrants, anyone whose disappearance would likely go unreported), and took the time to dispose of their bodies where no one would find them, a killer could seize victims in a small area for a long period of time without attracting attention. Which is exactly what one of my killers did. He’s living in the Berkshires region of western Massachusetts, a place where astonishing wealth rubs shoulders with grinding poverty, with a transient population that ranges from wealthy vacationers to Appalachian Trail hikers to deadheads in beat up VW vans. Unfortunately for my killer, someone with a grudge follows him, discovers his secret, and (being a little off himself) starts digging up the bodies so they’ll be found. That brings in Kelly, who is assigned to supervise an ad-hoc task force comprised of homicide investigators from different states who can’t stand each other. And the race is on…
View the video trail for Boneyard and listen to an excerpt.

Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Gagnon's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 4, 2008

"The Ashes of Worlds"

Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than ninety novels, 43 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Ashes of Worlds, and reported the following:
“Desperately alone aboard the warliner — far from Earth, far from Ildira, far from anyone — Jora’h struggled to remain sane. Huddled in his private quarters, he had no idea how many days had passed. He felt only the gulf of emptiness extending forever.”

The Ashes of Worlds, the seventh and final volume in my science fiction epic “The Saga of Seven Suns,” is set on a stage of many planets and vast space, with alien empires and dozens of characters (human and otherwise). Jora’h (in the sample above) is the leader of the Ildiran empire, a race of people who are faintly connected by telepathy and who are terrified to be cut off and alone. But he has been taken as a prisoner of war in the galactic conflict by the human military...and the worst thing they can do to him is to isolate him, seal him alone in a space ship in the emptiness between stars.

Of course, it’s impossible to summarize the previous six volumes here, all the characters, the space battles, the clashing races, the star-crossed lovers, the lost civilizations and strange technological relics. “The Saga of Seven Suns” contains everything that I love about science fiction. I hope you’ll take a look.
Read an excerpt from The Saga of Seven Suns: The Ashes of Worlds, and learn more about the author and his work at Kevin J. Anderson's website, WordFire.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"The Untelling"

Tayari Jones' first novel, Leaving Atlanta, won the 2003 Hurston/Wright Award for debut fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her acclaimed novel, The Untelling, and reported the following:
I listed anything that would make me more attractive to employers of “personal traits”: self-starter, creative, great people skills, mature. I’d spent more than three hours checking it for errors, consulting the real dictionary when I doubted the accuracy of my computer’s spell check. As an extra flourish I’d spend an additional ten cents a page for heavy papers the color of pigeons.

The recruiters reclined in their chairs, waiting for an irresistible candidate to show herself. They all had that slightly bored, cocky attitude like obviously rich or handsome men in nightclubs. They spoke to each other with knowing looks as they sipped soft drinks. I handed a lady from Coca-Cola my résumé; she nodded and put it on the bottom of a stack of other people’s histories, and shoved a red and white brochure in my direction. I repeated this scenario at a few other tables—Georgia Power, Delta Airlines, BellSouth. Hi, my name is Aria Jackson. Here’s my résumé; I look forward to hearing from you. And, true to the nightclub model, they all promised to call.

Here on page 69, we find Aria Jackson looking for a job at an employment fair in Atlanta. This is representative of the novel in that it is important to me that my characters work for a living. (Often when reading American fiction, I find myself distracted by the nagging question: How are they paying for this lifestyle???) Questions of class are essential to this work.

Other characters that live in Aria’s world are Atlantans from all over the socio-economic spectrum. Aria’s circle includes: Keisha, a seventeen year old literacy student who hopes to pass the GED before her baby is born; Rochelle, Aria’s co-worker and roommate who is planning a fifty-thousand dollar June wedding; Aria’s sister, Hermione, who fled the misery of their childhood home by marrying their dead father’s best friend; and Dwayne, Aria’s fiancé who makes a good living as a locksmith, but lacks champagne manners.

In addition to the class issues, central to The Untelling is the question of acceptance, which is raised on page 69 at the job fair. As a twenty-five year old woman, Aria is constantly putting herself up for evaluation. The questions of the body, sexuality, and reproduction weigh heavily on her as she worries whether or not her fiancé, Dwayne, will accept her. The world for people in their mid-twenties is laced with juries and Aria finds herself again and again laying herself at their mercy.

How does she fare? The real struggle at the heart of The Untelling is facing the challenge of an adult life. To win acceptance of the people around her, Aria conceals heartbreaking truths about herself. Of course she must eventually come clean, but this is not a fairy tale. Doing the right thing has tremendous consequences; being an adult means absorbing these blows and still managing to survive.
Read an excerpt from The Untelling, and learn more about the book and author at Tayari Jones' website and her blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Fuzzy Navel"

J.A. Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels mysteries: Dirty Martini, Rusty Nail, Bloody Mary, and Whiskey Sour.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the new book in the series, Fuzzy Navel, and reported the following:
I had a lot of fun with the premise for Fuzzy Navel. A criminal from Chicago Homicide Lieutenant Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels's past breaks into her house to kill her and everyone she cares about. Meanwhile, Jack is working on a sniper case, and the three snipers follow her home and surround the house. Mayhem ensues. In this scene, the criminal is playing a little Russian roulette with people Jack loves. While the book has a lot of comedy in it, I decided to play this part straight...

Page 69 of Fuzzy Navel:

“Wrong.” Alex holds up the revolver. “Who do you want me to shoot, your mother or your fiancee?”

My stomach falls to my ankles. “Give me another chance. You’re smarter than I am.”

“No. Choose.”

I’m tempted to say please, but begging Alex won’t help the situation. She feeds off of weakness. I promise myself I won’t beg, no matter how bad it gets.

I look at Mom. She doesn’t meet my eyes. I wonder if she’s being strong, or if she’s gone someplace in her head. Then I look at Latham. He nods at me. My sweetheart is giving me permission to shoot him.

“I refuse to decide,” I say.

“Fine. Then I’ll do both.”


Alex points the gun at Latham and fires, then turns it on Mom and fires.

Two empty chambers, but something inside me breaks. The panic worms its way to the surface, and a soft whimper tears loose. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to let Alex see it, but some tears make it out anyway.

“Hmm,” Alex says. “What were the odds there? A forty percent chance one of them would die? Looks like you got lucky, Jack. Now try again. How did I convince the authorities that Dr. Panko was me?”

I have no idea. My brain is mush, scrambled eggs. I’m being forced to watch the people I love get killed. Alex will keep going until they both are dead, then she’ll start on me. How am I supposed to be able to think?

“The clock is ticking, Jack. You have five seconds.”
Learn more about the book and author at J.A. Konrath's website.

The Page 99 Test: Dirty Martini.

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

--Marshal Zeringue