Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Bridge of Sand"

Janet Burroway is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita of the Florida State University and the author of numerous novels, plays, poetry, essays, texts for dance, and children’s books. Her Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is the most widely used creative writing text in America.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Bridge of Sand, and reported the following:
It pleases me that though p. 69 carries neither high action nor luminous prose, it does hint at intrigue and carries most of the novel’s themes.

Dana has failed to connect with her black lover Cassius, and, not daring to call him at home, she’s come to scope out the paper mill where he’s a security guard. She’s morally if not literally trespassing, so “an executive-looking sleek sedan of some sort” is out of her class, while a “pink-cheeked…Kewpie cop,” is, though by definition Cassius’s colleague, not somebody she could level with.

“Fight or flight,” I see, is an image of territorial imperative, which, from 9/11 when the novel begins to Dana’s longing search for a home, is probably the novel’s most pervasive theme. “Kewpie” is a reference back to an early incident, when the discovery of an old newspaper clipping reminded Dana of her grandmother’s doll collection, and so gave her the notion of returning south. The guard makes overt and status-conscious reference to 9/11, though Cassius told her that people around here didn’t pay much attention to it, as they were “just trying to get through to payday.”

The exchange about a factory tour is idle self-justifying on Dana’s part now, but later in the book she’ll carry through with it in a more urgent attempt to track Cassius down—and will confusingly find herself very comfortable with the CEO of the mill.

I see I’ve missed a trick, though. The story is full of references to smoke and mirrors, a motif pointing to both the lies everybody in the book tells and also the way I’m working. The first word of the book is “smoke,” followed soon by a mirror in a mortuary limousine. There are sunglasses and tinted windows here on page 69, and one or the other should have been referred to as “smoky.” She should have seen the saloon first in the rear view mirror. Nobody, I trust, would ever notice this sort of thing unless I pointed it out (or unless some earnest Ph.D. student in Indiana should go to work on it), but it’s a major pleasure for me. Hint: look for devils.

Somebody told me once that all good novels could be summed up in their last word. I checked mine out. They end: pocket, all, too, ambition, me, world, peace. I’ll go with that.
Read an excerpt from Bridge of Sand and learn more about the author and her work at Janet Burroway's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Made to be Broken"

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the internationally bestselling The Otherworld series and other works.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to Made to be Broken, her second Nadia Stafford thriller, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Made to be Broken is a decent sample of the novel. My ex-cop-turned-hitwoman narrator, Nadia, is investigating the disappearance of her wilderness lodge’s teen mother housekeeper. Kids out camping on the night Sammi vanished reported hearing a cougar scream in the area, so Nadia and her mentor, Jack, have stopped at the local roadside zoo.

The page is a good mix of dialogue, action, description and introspection, not too heavy on any. It’s more descriptive than most of my writing but, in general, someone reading only this page will get a good sample of my work.

They’ll also get a good idea what the story is about, which doesn’t always happen in these tests! They can tell that the narrator is looking for an escaped cougar responsible for the death of a teenager. What they won’t get is any hint that the narrator is a woman or a professional killer, but if they’ve read the jacket copy, that’s clear.

There’s also a nice bit of character revelation here, in Nadia’s reaction to the zoo and, more subtly, with Jack, watching the aging caged cougar pace.

In sum, if someone did open Made to be Broken to page 69, I’d feel confident that it would give them a good idea whether or not it’s a book they might enjoy.

Page 69 – Made to be Broken:

Jack continued, his faint brogue swallowed as he affected what I called his “national newscaster” voice, no trace of any regional accent. “I need to talk to you about your big cats.”

“I didn’t lose no cougars.” She opened the gate and ushered us through. “Look around all you want. Tex and Mex are right where they should be. In their cage back here.” She started walking, then turned and gestured to Jack’s cast. “Watch your step. It’s the mud season. Damned slippery.”

We passed cages of monkeys, foxes and one lynx who lay draped over a branch like he’d died there. Judging by the smell, he had. All the other animals moved to the edge of their cages and stared out at us with the hardened bitterness of lifers.

People paid to come in here. In summer, kids raced along these rows, parents scurrying after them, and they had a good time. What kept them from taking one look, one sniff, and running to the nearest exit?

“Here they are,” Roberta said. “Tex and Mex. My cougars.”

One of the tawny big cats lay in the lone beam of sunlight that filtered past the heavy bars. The other paced the shadows at the back. Both were old, with rotting teeth and mangy fur, just as Meredith had said. I couldn’t imagine either having the strength to cover the twenty kilometers between here and the Potter place, let alone kill a healthy teenager.

I glanced at Jack, but he was watching the cat pace in its dirty cage. It turned to look at him, a haunted, half-mad emptiness in its eyes.

I checked the cage. No broken door bound shut with rope. No recent welds on the bars. No signs of any recent repairs. The pacing cat slumped into an exhausted heap and fell asleep almost as soon as it hit the floor.

Read the first three chapters of Made to be Broken, and learn more about the author and her work at Kelley Armstrong's website.

Read the My Book, The Movie entry for Exit Strategy, the first Nadia Stafford novel.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Darling Jim"

Born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark, Christian Moerk moved to Vermont in his early twenties. After getting his MS in journalism at Columbia University, he was a movie executive for Warner Bros. Pictures, and later wrote about film for the New York Times.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his American debut novel, the gothic Irish thriller Darling Jim, and reported the following:
Sometimes, serendipity is precise.

On page 69 of Darling Jim, the reader is put slap bang into the middle of what I’ve attempted with this book: tell a story that’s a modern folk tale, a love story, and a thriller.

The audience’s representative is Niall, a young mail carrier with artistic aspirations, who leads us through the story in the present day. He uncovers two diaries written by young women who were murdered and succeeded in mailing out their last thoughts before the end, hoping a kind soul would solve the mystery of their death; these women’s past unfolds in the near-present. But the “Darling Jim” of the title is a seanchaí – a charming bard who tells stories up and down the Irish coast – around whom the entire secret revolves.

And on my page 69, he has reached the point where his mythical tale in Ireland’s distant past begins to reveal parallels to his own present-day life. His unfolding story, you see, has to do with the nature of love and death. Will a man condemned to spend eternity as a wolf unless he finds love continue to murder regardless? And will the mostly female audience to Jim’s tale ignore the obvious warning signs and continue to let themselves be charmed by someone so obviously manipulative? Should one pay heed to moral fables?

On page 69, the mythical ascendant king Euan’s taste for preying on women is overcome by his need to hunt wolves – an appetite that will cost him dearly:

Henceforth, the castle with the black gate would forever come to be known as
Dún an Fhaoil. For what had a better ring to it than the Fort of the Wolf? He struck his family’s age-old nautical crest from the castle’s banners and shields and replaced it with a fearsome wolf leaping through a forest clearing, a sign of his own good fortune and ferocious human appetites.

King Euan lived almost three more years this way.

Until God finally decided to frown on cowardice and treachery.

So, thematically, this page represent the theme of sexual and predatory rapaciousness. But the folk tale is only one leg in the tripod the makes up the entire story. Niall’s search for clues in the wilds of West Cork and the dead women acting as his guide from beyond the grave are the two parts that showcase an unusual part of modern Ireland few people get to see. The language here is completely different and bears no resemblance to the high-toned nature of Jim’s macabre tale. But taken together, the story asks one question:

Will love or death triumph?

I hope you’ll enjoy this triptych.
Read an excerpt from Darling Jim, and visit Christian Moerk's website and the Darling Jim Facebook group.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Life Sentences"

Laura Lippman has won virtually every major award given to U.S. crime writings, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Agatha Award, Nero Wolfe Award, Shamus Award, and the Quill Award.

She applied both the “Page 99 Test” and the “Page 69 Test” to her latest novel, Life Sentences, and reported the following:
P. 69 is essential to the book and I think most women reading it would want to keep reading. I'm not sure what men would think. It's about the main character's relationship to her father, a difficult man in many ways. Please understand, I'm not being sexist. I assume some men would find this intriguing and some would not. But this, ultimately, is a very feminine book. Which means, to my mind, that it's about things that obsess women. And this hints at a vital truth, one that the main character has yet to confront fully.

P. 99 This is trickier. Life Sentences has a book within the book, excerpts of the main character's bestselling memoir, and those sections are written in what I'll call the self-consciously erudite voice of some memoir writers. So, no, I hate to contradict Mr. Ford, but page 99 does not reveal the quality of the whole. Page 98, though, is really something.
Browse inside Life Sentences and visit Laura Lippman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"The Bellini Card"

Jason Goodwin's Edgar Award–winning series--The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, and now The Bellini Card--is set in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire and features Investigator Yashim: detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch.

Goodwin applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
Bah! Smack after a chapter that delves into the life and mind of a sinister fraudster, page 69 of The Bellini Card merely cuts to an invitation. It’s a scene-setter – but what a scene!

I keep to short chapters: it’s a trick I learned from pulp fiction. It keeps things moving smartly along – and, as my optician pointed out, it means she can read a chapter or two on the train or bus to work, then close the book. We’re very film-savvy: these days we appreciate cut-aways and rapid scene changes as we read.

So here we are in Venice, at the beginning of chapter 24, and the Contessa d’Apsi d’Istria sends a footman over to invite Palewski to coffee.

Palewski? Readers of The Janissary Tree and The Snake Stone will know that Yashim’s firmest friend is the Polish ambassador in Istanbul. Now Yashim has deputed him to undertake a search for a long-lost painting by the Venetian artist Gentile Bellini. Yashim stays in Istanbul while Palewski travels to Venice, masquerading as an American art dealer. It isn’t giving too much away to say that Yashim does have to come to Venice himself, eventually.

The Contessa is a Venetian aristocrat through and through, as we learn on page 69. Her palazzo ‘contained a great deal of martial trompe l’oeil decoration, a ceiling by Tiepolo and, beyond the grand piano nobile apartments where the Contessa entertained, barely a stick of furniture.’

And that is what made The Bellini Card such fun to write. Venice is so well-known, in film and books, that it’s a challenge to find a new way of seeing it: but back in 1840 it was seedy and poor, neither the proud Republic of former days, not the tourist Mecca of our age. It survived by flogging off its treasures to visiting lords. Palewski gets fastened on by a host of art hustlers. Some, I’m afraid, don’t make it through to the end of the book.

Is the Contessa – proud, beautiful and a dab hand at fencing with a foil - among them?

The footman led Palewski up the stairs into a small vestibule decorated with frescoes of cupids pouring cornucopias of fruit into the laps of languid women.

‘I shall inform the Contessa of your arrival, signore.’

He was forestalled by the arrival of the Contessa herself, flinging back the door.

So ends page 69, on an appropriate cliff-hanger.
Preview The Bellini Card, and learn more about Jason Goodwin and his work at his website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Snake Stone.

My Book, The Movie: The Snake Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"American Rust"

Philipp Meyer's writing has been published in McSweeney's, The Iowa Review, Salon.com, and New Stories from the South. From 2005 to 2008 Meyer was a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, American Rust, and reported the following:
American Rust is told from six different deeply internal perspectives. For the most part, each chapter is told from a single character’s perspective. The thought patterns, rhythms of thought and speech, vocabulary and grammar all change. All of it is in third person, which I find much harder to write, but offers nearly infinite flexibility. You can take readers in and out of characters minds with ease, you can show the readers things the characters couldn’t know.

This is from the top of p.69, from the point of view of Billy Poe, one of the protagonists. He and his best friend Isaac English have just been involved in the killing of a homeless man, though at the moment of this passage, Poe thinks that those complications are over. He is in a bar with the woman he loves, Lee, who happens to be Isaac’s sister. At the moment of this passage, Lee has gone across the room, and Poe’s thoughts turn to death and mortality.

In this passage the “her” is a woman Poe briefly dated in high school, who joined the Army for the benefits, was deployed to Iraq and killed. As we can see, Poe can be little bit racist in his generalizations, though he is otherwise a kind person. I think there can be a tendency among writers to either soften these sorts of views or mock characters for having them. It was important to me to be accurate about these things—that these characters be real people whose minds were full of complex and often self-contradictory views, some of which they are aware of, others of which they are not.

The passage:

an IED got her, it was what got all of them over there. All she’d done was join the Reserve. He hoped the Arabs that did it were dead, hoped they’d been gutshot by some hucklebuck sniper with a deer rifle, hoped those Arabs thought they were safe and meanwhile that sniper was adjusting his windage and boom—they were holding in their guts. Christ, he thought, what happened, a second ago you were happy.

Lee handed his beer over and said: “They wouldn’t let me pay for drinks.”

The rest of the page describes an altercation between Poe and another man in the bar. That scene is primarily an action scene, so I imagine that certain readers would like it, while other readers would not.
Read an excerpt from American Rust, and learn more about the book and author at Philipp Meyer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2009

"The Little Sleep"

Paul Tremblay is a two-time nominee for the Bram Stoker Award and the author of the short speculative fiction collection Compositions for the Young and Old and the hard-boiled/dark fantasy novella City Pier: Above and Below. He has sold over fifty short stories to markets such as Razor Magazine, CHIZINE, Weird Tales, Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three, and Horror: The Year's Best 2007.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Little Sleep, and reported the following:
The Little Sleep features Mark Genevich, a small-small time private detective eeking out an existence in South Boston. Mark is narcoleptic, and he suffers from the most severe symptoms, including hypnogogic hallucinations and cataplexy (a waking paralysis). The novel opens with a young woman walking into his office with an outlandish story about a man who stole her fingers.

Pg 69 is the last page of the eleventh chapter. That clearly means something.

I slowly walk away, exaggerate my limp, maybe give the cop some Keyser Soze thoughts.

Keyser Soze is the infamous presence that hovers over the film The Usual Suspects, serving as the film’s blurred line of reality. Is Soze real or some sort of legend or boogeyman?

Mark Genevich is very much real, but The Little Sleep asks similar questions of reality, memory, and identity. What’s real and what’s a construct? How much of Mark Genevich and his reality (or anyone’s reality for that matter) is based on fact, dreams, or faulty and co-opted memory?

The last thing I need is to have to answer a bunch of Barney Fife questions downtown, and calling Mommy to pick me up at the police station would ruin the whole vibe for everyone involved. I’m more afraid of having to answer Ellen’s questions than theirs. She’s tougher.

Mark wears the garb and follows in the tradition of the superheroes of noir, but he has no special powers. Things fall apart around Mark and he can’t always put them together, and sometimes it’s his fault. He’s not a great fighter and he isn’t good with a gun. He’s smart, but he can’t melt a witness with his intellect and he isn’t going to make mind-blowing inductive leaps of logic. That said, he isn’t lucky and he isn’t mediocre. Mark achieves his bitterly fought for successes because of his will. Yeah, he’s deeply flawed, he’s still financially supported by his mother, and he is prone to bouts of deep despair, but Mark still perseveres. He doesn’t give up despite the horrors of his everyday life and the horrors perpetrated by others around him.

And yeah, Mark calls his mother (Ellen) by her first name.

The stretcher’s metallic legs are like the barren tree branches. They look dead, unfit to carry life and too flimsy to carry any weight.

The last lines of pg 69 end Chapter 11 like a noir novel should: on a suitably dour and ominous note.
Read an excerpt from The Little Sleep, and visit Paul Tremblay's website, blog, and The Little Sleep Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Peter Schechter is the author of Point of Entry, and an international political and communications consultant. A founder of one of Washington's premier strategic communications consulting firms, he has spent twenty years advising presidents, writing advertising for political parties, ghost-writing columns for CEOs, and counseling international organizations out of crises. He also owns a winery, farms goats, and is a partner in a number of successful restaurants.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Pipeline, and reported the following:
On page 69, the trouble reveals itself. You already know the book is about the energy crisis. You already know there is a connection to Russia. But on page 69, you begin to understand the main characters’ deep personal connections to the biggest issue of our future: energy dependence.

Pipeline ricochets between Russia, the United States and Peru and the fight for access to natural gas: the fuel of the future. A huge Russian energy conglomerate plots to secretly take over the natural gas fields in Peru, the largest in the western hemisphere. Once they do, Russian will then add the United States to those countries in Europe that already feel the strangle of dependency from Russia’s monopoly supply of natural gas. How America falls into Russia’s trap and how one young presidential advisor at the White House saves the day is what the book is all about.

The book is about the most pressing issue of our children’s future. It is about energy. Most of our transportation, our electricity, our heating, and our factory outputs depend on fuel sources from an increasingly nasty world. And, America’s energy dependence on foreign sources has increased from 28 percent ten years ago to nearly 70 percent today. Europe’s is even higher.

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has long advocated for a “Geo-Green” strategy. This means that reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy is both good for the environment and good for the west’s security.

As pick up the newspaper, I find Pipeline’s plot reflected on the front pages. My first book, Point of Entry, was about the spread of weapons of mass destruction just before that issue hit the front pages. Now Pipeline highlights subjects that are sure to dominate the coming years.

Ø The book is about Russia’s aggressive resurgence; just witness its recent natural gas shut-off to Europe and last summer’s war with Georgia.

Ø The book is about the sharp debate between environmental hopes and energy needs. Can you still hear campaign cries that erupted with Sarah Palin’s call to “Drill, Baby, Drill?” By the way, Pipeline has a very sexy, very tough and very Alaskan head of the CIA. General Martha Packard was already at my editor’s desk long before we got to know Governor Palin.

Ø Pipeline zeroes in on the global race to secure natural gas. All Americans have by now heard from T. Boone Pickens’ brave campaign that natural gas is the next – and maybe the last – generation of fossil fuels before a revolutionary transition to renewable energy.

I write to provide a good, entertaining story. But I also write to educate readers on some of the pressing issues of our times. Indeed, the novel is about difficult questions about America’s foreign policy, the role of Russia and the sacrifices that we, as citizens, must make to free our nation from crippling foreign energy dependence.
Read an excerpt from Pipeline, and learn more about the book and author at Peter Schechter's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 20, 2009


Jack Kilborn is a pen name for award winning thriller author JA Konrath.

Here is the entry at the Page 69 Test for his new novel, Afraid:
My name is JA Konrath, and I'm known for writing a series of comedic thriller novels about a cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. All of the books are named after drinks. The newest, Cherry Bomb, comes out this July.

But today I want to talk about another book, written under my pseudonym, Jack Kilborn. It's called Afraid.

Afraid doesn't have any humor in it. From the first page, to the last, it's sole purpose is to shock and terrify.

In this excerpt, taking from page 69 of the UK edition, a very bad man broke into a house to abduct a child. The child is trying to escape...

Bernie howled, falling onto his butt, and Duncan ran for the front door with Woof on his heels. The night was cold and dark. Duncan knew to go to his neighbor, Mrs. Teller, for help when Mom wasn’t home, but Mrs. Teller’s lights weren’t on. In fact, no one on the block had their lights on. Duncan figured the electricity was out all over. He and Woof ran to Mrs. Teller’s front door and he banged on it with both hands.

Something glowed behind him. Duncan turned around and saw orange fire flickering through the windows of his house. Bernie appeared in the doorway, lighter raised above his head, and spotted Duncan. He began to limp after him.

“Mrs. Teller!” Duncan banged harder on the door. “It’s Duncan!”

Woof began to bark like crazy. Bernie got closer, close enough for Duncan to hear his manic giggling. Behind Bernie, the fire had spread throughout Duncan’s house. He could now see flames in all four front windows, and smoke rose from the roof.

Bernie’s face stretched out in a grotesque smile. He came closer, and closer, and got within fifteen feet when Mrs. Teller’s door finally opened.

“Stop!” she commanded. Duncan looked at her. Mrs. Teller was close to eighty years old, and her back bent in the shape of a question mark, and Duncan had to help her open jars. But she looked totally scary standing there with Mr. Teller’s old shotgun.

Bernie must have thought so too, because he didn’t come any closer.

“Shoot him!” Duncan cried. “He broke into my house and burned it down and hurt Woof and wants to kill me!”

Bernie giggled. “I saw the house on fire, and tried to help.”

“He’s lying, Mrs. Teller!”

“The boy, the boy is obviously upset and confused. I saved his life.”

“You’re not from around here,” Mrs. Teller said.

“I was passing through. Good thing, good thing I did, or else he’d—the boy—would be dead.”

“Where’s your car?”

Bernie’s grin faltered. “What? Oh, there, on the street.”

“That’s the Chavez’s car,” Mrs. Teller said, and then aimed and pulled the trigger.


Unfortunately, Mrs. Teller isn't able to stop Bernie. But you probably expected that, since this is page 69, and there are 250 more pages to read.

While I wouldn't call this scene a good representation of the entirety of Afraid--Duncan is only one of seven main characters, and Bernie is only one of five psychopaths that have come to this sleepy little Midwestern town--it does represent the pace and ongoing sense of menace that pervades the book.

Scary books tend to have a cumulative effect. Building atmosphere, and drawing out suspense, adds to reader anxiety. For a longer look at Afraid, visit www.JackKilborn.com and you can read the first forty pages for free.

I recommend leaving the lights on while you do...
Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

The Page 99 Test: Afraid.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"The Laws of Harmony"

Judith R. Hendricks' books include The Baker's Apprentice, Isabel's Daughter, and Bread Alone.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Laws of Harmony, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of The Laws of Harmony, Sunny Cooper and her boyfriend Michael are driving from Albuquerque to Telluride on a beautiful fall day, anticipating a relaxing weekend of listening to music, sampling microbrews, and leisurely lovemaking. But a narrowly averted tragedy alters the whole mood of the trip.

Although the page is part of a brief flashback, and not a representative slice of the book, I’d like to think that a reader might be moved to read further, to be curious about these two people and their disparate reactions to a close call.

Sunny (the narrator and main character) has grown up on a hippie commune in northern New Mexico, where as a child, she witnessed the death of her younger sister and the disintegration of her family that followed. While this flashback doesn’t allude to that incident, it does a pretty good job of illustrating Sunny’s uneasy relationship with her memories and it touches on one of the main threads running through the story… the way life can change irrevocably in an instant.

Page 69 of The Laws of Harmony:

I felt the crunch as the front tires gripped gravel and slid, the back end swung around and stopped. Across the road, the Chevy was stopped, facing the wrong way on the shoulder next to the rocks. Michael got out, but I sat, afraid to move or even to draw breath. The other driver was running across the road, looking like he wanted to kill us.

“Is everyone okay?” Michael hollered.

I don’t think the guy even heard him. “You stupid jackass! You son of a bitch! You just about killed us all! You fucking idiot!”

Michael held up both hands. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He actually chuckled. “I swerved to miss a big rock and I sort of lost it. I’m sorry.”

Now I could see the guy was older. His hair was gray and his face was white under his tan. He started to calm down, but he stood there and lectured Michael for five minutes. He said this was a dangerous pass, that every year there was at least one fatality, some yahoo driving too fast, losing control on the curve, and going over. When he nodded towards the flimsy guard rail, I followed his gaze and my stomach came up to keep my heart company in my throat. We were so close to the edge that I couldn’t see any ground between my side of the car and the drop off. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

Finally he left, and we drove very slowly down into Telluride. I don’t know what actually happened. I didn’t see a rock in the road, but I wasn’t watching the road. What stays with me more than the near miss is the contrast of our reactions.

Michael was absolutely wired. We must’ve been up till one in the morning, him drinking micro brews, sharing a joint with some cowboy, dancing with anyone who’d dance with him, while I sat paralyzed, clutching a plastic cup of warm beer in one hand and my medicine bundle in the other.
Read an excerpt from The Laws of Harmony and learn more about the author and her work at Judith Hendricks' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"The Adversary"

Michael Walters is the author of a series of crime thrillers set in modern-day Mongolia which focus on Nergui, a senor official at the Ministry of Security, and Doripalam, the head of the Mongolian Serious Crimes Team.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Adversary, the second book in the Nergui series, and reported the following:
The concept of the ‘Page 69 test’ is an intriguing one. I suppose any given page from a novel is likely to be atypical - whatever happens there probably doesn’t happen anywhere else in the book - but characteristic, in that most novels strive for a unity of tone and style. And the sixty-ninth page is a smart choice - far enough in to ensure that characters and plot-direction are becoming established, but not so far that we’re already accelerating towards the climax.

And that’s pretty much how I’d see page 69 of The Adversary. It’s not particularly typical, in that it seems, at least initially, to be a relatively low-key moment in what I hope is generally a fast-paced, incident-filled book. But it’s a pivotal scene, which brings two key characters together for the first time in the book and so kicks off one of the main plot-lines.

Page 69 largely comprises a dialogue between Nergui, the book’s (and my series’s) lead player, and Sarangarel, the widow of a small-time crook who, since her husband’s death in police custody, has reinvented herself as a successful lawyer and now judge. She has approached Nergui – who, as Head of the Serious Crime Squad, was responsible for her husband’s arrest many years before – because she has received anonymous threats. The dialogue between the two is neutral and guarded, with both feeling their way, suspicious of the other’s motives.

Reading the page in isolation, I’m intrigued by how much it sets the scene for what is to come. It establishes Sarangeral’s abilities and current status but leaves lingering questions about her uncertain past:

There was a sense that she was protesting too much. But that wasn’t so surprising, Nergui thought. She’d no doubt had to rehearse these arguments pretty frequently over the years. He couldn’t believe that her past hadn’t at some point returned to haunt her.

Nergui points out that ‘people can be unforgiving’ - a prescient comment given how the story then unfolds. And, towards the bottom of the page, we have a hint of something more between Nergui and Sarangeral:

”After – well, after it all happened, I didn’t know what to do. I was completely lost. There was a point where I thought that maybe you and I...” She trailed off, as though suddenly conscious that she might have said too much.

Nergui was watching her intently, his dark face giving nothing away. That had been part of it, she realised. She had never known for sure what he was thinking, could never get quite as close to him as she had needed.

So, yes, perhaps not a typical scene, but a significant one - a scene that plants a number of important seeds that, I hope, gradually grow and blossom as the book proceeds.
Read an excerpt from The Adversary and learn more about the book and author at Michael Walters's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Bleeding Heart Square"

Andrew Taylor is the award-winning author of numerous novels. His first novel won the John Creasey Award, and he has also been shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and the Edgar. The only author to receive the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice, Taylor lives in England.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Bleeding Heart Square, winner of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Bleeding Heart Square begins with a woman, Lydia Langstone, returning to the rooms she shares with her father. It’s London, 1934, and she’s having a hard time learning how to be poor, as she’s never had to be that before. Her father tries to persuade her to return to her husband Marcus, from whom she’s just run away. She’s left because he hit her. Her father argues that though the violence is regrettable, she can’t throw away an entire marriage because of it. These things happen, he says.

‘Only if you let them, Lydia thought.’

Lydia is the novel’s central character, and this page reveals not only what’s motivating her - her urgent need for independence after the breakdown of her marriage, but also one of the book’s themes - the role of women in the 1930s. Lydia’s background is upper-class but that’s not much help when your marriage is in ruins and you have neither an income of your own to fall back on nor the sort of education that might help you earn your own living. Worst of all, perhaps, she lives in a historical context where domestic violence is not unusual: hitting your wife isn’t encouraged, but it’s not automatically and absolutely condemned, either.

Interwoven with Lydia’s story is another narrative strand - the disappearance and possible murder of a wealthy spinster who once owned the house in Bleeding Heart Square. Once again, it’s about a women as victim. But there’s a third element, which doesn’t appear even by implication on page 69 - the rise of the British Union of Fascists, of which Marcus is a member.
Watch the Bleeding Heart Square video trailer.

Read an excerpt from Bleeding Heart Square, and learn more about the book and author at Andrew Taylor's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Lost Witness"

Robert Ellis is a former filmmaker and political media consultant from Los Angeles. He is the author of three previous bestselling crime novels, Access to Power, The Dead Room, and the critically acclaimed City of Fire.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Lost Witness, his second novel featuring Detective Lena Gamble, and reported the following:
It was a very tough call choosing between page 69 and page 99. But the first gives you a real feel for what Detective Lena Gamble is up against in The Lost Witness. This is the second book in the series (following the critically acclaimed City of Fire), with Lena Gamble working a gruesome murder case and trying to do the impossible. The victim was dumped in the trash one block west of Hollywood and Vine. A young woman with no identification. Not even a hint of a clue. But by page 69, a witness who remains in hiding has sent Lena a message. She knows the name of the victim now, Jennifer McBride. And with Rhodes’s help, Lena has turned up a possible suspect in a mysterious doctor from Beverly Hills. Joseph Fontaine is nervous and seems unusually attached to his assistant, Greta Dietrich. On page 69 Lena and Rhodes have just concluded their interview with Fontaine and know that everything the doctor told them was a lie!

Here's page 69 as Lena and Rhodes return to their car in the dark of night …

“He’s doing her,” Rhodes said.

Lena nodded. It had been obvious the moment Dietrich followed Fontaine around his desk. Obvious the moment she spotted the matching tans. Dietrich wasn’t supporting her boss. She was standing beside her man. Even after hearing about McBride.

Rhodes held up his hand and Lena tossed him the keys. As she climbed into the passenger seat, she understood how difficult it would be to interpret Fontaine’s shaky behavior. She didn’t buy anything that he said. Fontaine knew the murder victim, looked them in the eye and lied. But he had a lot of reasons besides Dietrich to want to keep his relationship with a young prostitute hidden. He was a doctor who worked with children. McBride wasn’t much more than a girl. Even worse, she looked young for her age. Innocent.

The possibilities, the secrets, suddenly appeared more than grim.

Rhodes pulled out of the lot into a sea of cars inching their way down Wilshire Boulevard. She looked out the window at all the brake lights. The twelve mile trip downtown would probably take a couple of hours. When her cell phone vibrated, she checked the video screen, saw Lt. Barrera’s name and flipped it open.

“Where are you guys at?” he said.

The Lost Witness has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Library Journal is recommending the book for all popular collections. And I have to say that of any crime novel I’ve ever written, The Lost Witness is my absolute favorite. The story works like a roller coaster. Together we make the big climb up to the top of the first hill with Lena Gamble and Stan Rhodes in the front car. As the detectives put the murder case together, the reader gains confidence and thinks he or she has a handle on this story. And then something wonderful happens. We reach the top, see the track tumbling below, and take the shock that nothing in this book is what it appears to be. I like to think of The Lost Witness as a controlled crash, filled with thrills and chills and a big ending that will make everyone smile.
Read an excerpt from The Lost Witness, and learn more about the book and author at Robert Ellis's website.

The Page 69 Test: City of Fire.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Hold Back the Dark"

Eileen Carr lives and writes in northern California. As Eileen Rendahl, she has written four chick-lit novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut romantic suspense novel Hold Back the Dark, and reported the following:
A middle of the night phone call from the Sacramento PD delivers a shock to clinical psychologist Aimee Gannon: her seventeen-year-old patient could be a suspect in a gruesome murder. Detective Josh Wolf needs Aimee’s help to decipher the clues behind a pattern of rectangles and circles drawn in blood at the crime scene.

Page 69 of Hold Back the Dark has the tail end of a scene from the point of view of the book’s heroine, Aimee Gannon, and the beginning of a scene from the point of view of the book’s hero, Josh Wolf.

Aimee’s scene ends with her saying good-bye to her client’s aunt and leaving the police station and, she thinks, walking away from the situation.

“Aimee walked past the glassed-in booth where the sergeant sat and out to the parking lot, feeling like she was leaving an awful lot of unfinished business behind.”

I think the scene sums up Aimee’s feelings about what’s happened so far in the book. She’s done what she can to help, but the system is going to shut her out and keep her from doing anything more. She walks out of the police station feeling uneasy.

Josh’s scene begins as he interrogates what could be the last person who saw the Aimee’s client before she became catatonic. He is frustrated in more ways than one.

“Josh rubbed his hand over his face, took a deep breath and counted to ten. Again. Another teenaged girl that he’d like to shake until her teeth rattled. Did this one have a hot shrink who could distract him, too? That would make it all into just the most perfect clusterfuck ever.”

Again, this certainly sums up Josh’s mindset at this point in the book.

If I picked up the book and read this page, I’d want to read more. I’d want to know about Aimee’s unfinished business and what Josh was going to learn about what happened the night of the murder. Since it even gives a hint at the romantic entanglements to come, I’d want to learn how that progresses as well.
Read an excerpt from Hold Back the Dark, and learn more about the book and author at Eileen Carr's website.

Watch the Hold Back the Dark video trailer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 13, 2009

"The Steel Remains"

Richard K. Morgan is the acclaimed author of Thirteen, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Woken Furies, Market Forces, Broken Angels, and Altered Carbon, a New York Times Notable Book that also won the Philip K. Dick Award.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Steel Remains, and reported the following:
Meet Ringil Eskiath (something you really wouldn't want to do in real life), retired and forgotten war hero, sexual degenerate (standard issue terminology in this world for gay) and sword wielding hard man non pareil. By the time we hit p. 69 of The Steel Remains, we have already met Ringil a couple of times, but this page (the beginning of Chapter 7 in the US hardback edition) frames him perhaps as well or better than anything else in the book:

"Ringil went home, bad-tempered and grit eyed with the krin"

A state of mind Ringil spends quite a lot of The Steel Remains inhabiting, in fact. "Krin", proper name krinzanz, is a nasty, speedy drug (think Crystal Meth) and a lot of the veterans of this war have developed a taste for it (though it's more likely Gil's taste came from his earlier misspent noble youth) and he uses it a lot. The bad temper, though, cannot be considered wholly chemically induced. Home, for Ringil Eskiath, is not a particularly good place to be.

The rest of p. 69 is largely devoted to a description of the upmarket Glades district of Ringil's home city Trelayne, sunk in pre-dawn gloom and providing:

"a.....palette for his mood - low lying river mist snagged through the tortured black silhouettes of the mangroves, high mansion windows like the lights of ships moored or run aground..........The pale unreal gleaming of the paved carriageway beneath his feet and others like it snaking away through the trees."

There's a slightly creepy, slightly unreal feel to this stuff which I like, and which foreshadows the haunted places Ringil will spend quite a lot of the latter parts of the novel surviving in. And the description (and p.69) finishes with the off-hand explanation:

"this might easily have been any given morning of his misspent youth"

Might have been, but is not. Ringil is older now (though not particularly wiser), paunchier and more weary, and while the book charts his return to some of the haunts and pre-occupations of his youth, what he discovers in the process will only drive him further and more bitterly still from the place he once called home. For Ringil Eskiath, there can be no homecoming, no redemption and no happy end. In fact, he'll be lucky if he walks away from it all in one breathing piece.

Read an excerpt from The Steel Remains, and learn more about the book and author at Richard K. Morgan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Mixed Blood"

Roger Smith is an accomplished screenwriter, director, and producer.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Mixed Blood, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Mixed Blood is about the least typical page in the book! My thriller is set in the South African port of Cape Town during a heat wave, with the mountains surrounding the city ablaze with bushfires. On Page 69, though, we flash back to snowbound Milwaukee where we learn why an American, Jack Burn, is hiding out in Cape Town with his pregnant wife and young son.

Burn, a security expert with a gambling habit, got blackmailed into a bank heist. The gang hits a vault at night and gets away with a couple of million. They’re making their getaway in downtown Milwaukee when a prowl car stops them. There’s a shootout and a cop and two of Burn’s accomplices are killed, and the third wounded.

Burn vaulted the seats. He shoved the dead guy out of the van, got in behind the wheel and took off. The cop was still shooting. Burn floored the van, fishtailing, fighting to get it under control. As he drifted into a corner Burn saw the strobing lights of the cop car in pursuit. A block later it hit ice and spun one-eighty before collecting a lamppost and disappearing from Burn’s mirror.

Burn ditched the vehicle in a side street, grabbed one of the bags of money from the rear and took off into the night, leaving the van and the dying kid.

Jack Burn, his wife and four-year-old son flee the US with the dollars, choosing picture-postcard Cape Town as a hideout. But Cape Town has a flipside: millions of people live out on the Cape Flats, a ghetto where the homicide rate is off the charts. One night two meth-heads from Flats break into Burn’s house in a plush neighborhood, ready to rape and pillage. Burn protects his family, but this incident of random violence sets him on a collision course with a rogue cop who loves killing almost as much as he loves Jesus Christ.
Read an excerpt from Mixed Blood, and learn more about the book and author at Roger Smith's website, Facebook page, and Crimespace page.

Watch Roger Smith's video introduction to Cape Town, the setting for Mixed Blood.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Posed for Murder"

Meredith Cole's short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and the anthology Murder New York Style.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Posed for Murder, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic best traditional first mystery contest, and reported the following:
Posed for Murder is about a woman named Lydia McKenzie who takes murder recreation photographs. She researches historic cases of women’s whose deaths have gone unsolved, and in some cases their bodies were never identified. She convinces her friends to pose for her film noir style pictures. When Lydia finally achieves her dream of having a show in New York, she is horrified to discover that someone is killing her models just like her photographs. Lydia must figure out the identity of the killer—and stop him before he kills again.

On page 69, Lydia is examining her murdered friend’s calendar to see if she can find any clues to her death. Instead of focusing completely on the task, she gets frustrated by her friend Marie’s bad handwriting and sidetracked by photographs of Marie’s birthday party the year before. This is typical Lydia. She means to be the best sleuth possible, but finds visual images distracting. She is also personally involved with the death. Marie is her friend, and she feels somehow responsible since the murderer used her photograph as a blueprint for the killing.

Lydia, longing for happier times when her friend was still alive, is drawn deeper into the past. Nostalgically, she remembers everyone in her circle of artist friends getting along and being creative together. But in the photographs are some vital clues that will help her solve the mystery of Marie’s death, and will make Lydia ask herself if her memory of her friends and past events is at all accurate. In this way, p. 69 does give a good sense of the rest of the book, and hopefully will draw readers deeper into the story.

From page 69:

Marie’s party the previous year had been a blast. Marie had a gift for collecting creative friends, and then inspiring them to use their talents for her birthday. A designer friend decked out her apartment to resemble a giant red silk tent. It looked like it belonged more in the desert than in Brooklyn. A florist had covered every available surface with fragrant rose petals. A baker made dozens of cupcakes with portraits of Marie on them. Georgia Rae’s band had played, and although the place was packed with people, everyone danced the night away.

Her friend Marie was also a photographer, and was someone Lydia admired a lot. She did art photography and fashion photography, and was hired regularly by top fashion magazines. But Lydia keeps uncovering secrets from Marie’s life at every turn. She tries to cling to what she remembers about her friend, but has to wonder if she really knew Marie at all.
Learn more about the book and author at Meredith Cole's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The Rose Variations"

Marisha Chamberlain is a novelist, playwright, poet and librettist. Her plays have been staged all over the world: in South Africa, Germany, Australia, Turkey, Britain and Canada as well as in the United States.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Rose Variations, her first novel, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, The Rose Variations, protagonist Rose MacGregor is up in the night with her best friend, Ursula. Rose needs to talk. She’s just had an abortion and is walloped by the emotional aftereffects. But Ursula, an exhausted doctor in training, in spite of her deep bond with Rose, keeps falling asleep as Rose tries to talk to her.

Rose told her to snuggle down under the covers. She needed sleep. The story could wait.

“No. Tell me now.” Ursula got up and walked to one of the long windows and stood looking out at the hard winter sky. It was one of her most endearing traits—she could look away and yet concentrate all the warmth of her listening, and thus allow Rose to unwrap slowly whatever it was that needed telling.

Leaning against the window, however, Ursula gave a sudden jerk and started in again, mid-sentence about the triage, how blood had sprayed the team and she hadn't minded, how she, as leader, had shouted orders and they'd got the job done. She'd been good at it—really good, abso-fucking-lutely a performer. She turned and regarded Rose with puzzlement. “I'm a monster,” she said. “You had an abortion. Tell me.”

“I am.”

Ursula dug her knuckles into her forehead.

Ursula’s an apprentice healer, but she’s so carried away with her bloody initiation into the rites of healing, that she can’t hear her best friend’s woundedness. It’s a keenly miserable, unfunny moment in a novel that elsewhere has large measures of humor and joy. But in a way it’s representative of my deepest intentions as a novelist. I read and write fiction to find out the truth. And the truth often resides where pain is.
Read an excerpt from The Rose Variations, and learn more about the author and her work at Marisha Chamberlain's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Cradle"

Patrick Somerville is the author of the story collection Trouble (Vintage, 2006), and his writing has appeared in One Story, Epoch and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. He lives with his wife in Chicago, and is currently the Blattner Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Cradle, and reported the following:
It’s hard to argue that page 69 of The Cradle is representative of the novel—the page contains an unusual overload of dialogue, much of it coming from a character we barely know, and along with that, the whole scene takes place thirty (or forty, depending on your perspective) years before the book’s narrative present; this scene is therefore buried in the murky realm of flashback. Tangential at best? There’s more: Renee, who I would have to call a rather sober individual, seems to be completely out of her head on Quaaludes on this particular page. Hm. The drugs, and the party’s loud music, make this page all but nonsensical, actually.

Nothing I’ve described is normal for The Cradle. I promise you, it’s not a novel of inebriated conversations.

However, come to think of it, this page is absolutely representative of the book.

That’s because The Cradle, at its core, is about families, and as we all know, families are nonsensical. It’s about individual histories following people into their new families, no matter how they choose to cope with trauma: some people choose to conceal their pasts, some choose to forge new identities, some choose to become so strong that nothing, it seems, could ever hurt them. But if any worthwhile truth made it into the book, it’s this: you can’t eschew your past. Ever. Furthermore, you will hurt yourself by trying. You’ll also hurt the people you love.

Page 69 is a part of Renee’s past, and one she would rather forget. But it’s a very important memory, and its submersion has caused quite a lot of pain already: it’s the birth of love. It’s a mess of a conversation and a disastrous first-impression, but it’s the birth of love. It’s the beginning of a relationship that will cause her terrible pain, but…well, you get it.

If The Cradle is a story of quests, then Renee’s takes her backwards, into the caverns of her own self-deceit. This is one of her first stops: admitting that Jonathan existed, and that she met him at a party, and that at first, it didn’t seem like much of anything.

Like I said, one of her first stops. She keeps going.
Read an excerpt from The Cradle, and learn more about the book and author at Patrick Somerville's website.

Read the New York Times review of The Cradle.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"The Manual of Detection"

Jedediah Berry’s short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best New American Voices and Best American Fantasy.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Manual of Detection, and reported the following:
File clerk Charles Unwin has just crossed the boundary between two worlds. In one of them, he’s been commuting by bicycle to a detective agency desk job for the last twenty years. The other world is considerably more dangerous, and all he knows about it comes from the case reports he files for star detective Travis Sivart. But Sivart has gone missing, and Unwin’s been promoted into his place. Now all he wants to do is find the detective so that he can have his old job back.

This leads him, on page 69, to the Forty Winks, a notorious barroom Sivart sometimes visited when he was desperate for information. The Forty Winks is in the basement of a mortuary, and the bartender, Edgar Zlatari, is also the cemetery’s caretaker and gravedigger. Naturally, he keeps the liquor in shelves made from coffins.

Unwin is trying hard to fit in here, but he stumbles as soon as Zlatari asks him what he wants to drink:

There were too many bottles stacked in that coffin, too many choices. What would Sivart have ordered? A hundred times the detective must have named his drinks of choice. But Unwin had stricken them from the reports, and now he found he could not remember even one. Instead the response to Emily’s secret phrase came uselessly to mind: And doubly in the bubbly.

“Root beer,” he said at last.

Zlatari blinked several times, as though maybe he had never heard of the stuff.

Readers may not be surprised to learn that Unwin makes more missteps—he’s out of his element, and he stays that way for a long time. Of course, that’s also what makes it hard for his adversaries to predict what he’ll do next.
Read an excerpt from The Manual of Detection and learn more about the book and author at Jedediah Berry's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Dream House"

Valerie Laken's work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Chicago Tribune, Michigan Quarterly Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Antioch Review, and Meridian. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, two Hopwood Awards, and an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Dream House--which was inspired by her own experience buying and remodeling a home in which a murder had occurred--and reported the following:
Dream House is the story of a young couple whose marriage unravels when they discover that the fixer-upper they've just bought was once the site of a murder. The book interweaves their story with the story of the man who committed the murder and, recently released from prison, begins lurking around the house.

Page 69 depicts the last night Kate and Stuart spend in their rickety little apartment before moving into the house. They are still naive at this point; they have no idea what problems lie ahead. But they are both struggling already with a nagging awareness that their marriage is on the rocks. Kate believes buying the house will solve their problems; Stuart has a bad feeling about the place and knows that changing their address won't fix what's broken between them. He agrees to buy the house anyway because "he liked what she was believing. He wanted to believe it too."

...Stuart and his friends moved boxes and furniture from one place to the other in a borrowed truck, and [Kate] stayed up late cleaning the old apartment so they could get back their security deposit in full. He came home after two in the morning, a little drunk, his T-shirt torn and misshapen with sweat. "Mission accomplished," he said, then staggered toward their all-but-empty bedroom for one last night.

Kate stayed in the kitchen, wiping out cabinets and washing the floors, and collecting their last forgotten items in a big box by the door. By 3:30 the place was clean, but she was wired on NoDoz and couldn't imagine sleeping. [...] She crawled out on the porch roof and sat watching a few remaining college kids stumble home from their bars and parties and thought, This is it. I'm graduating.

One thing that's happening at this stage of the book is that Kate and Stuart are sort of avoiding each other, especially in the bedroom. The book focuses on what this particular house means to each different character, but also on the complex role that any home plays in a family. Some people take better care of their homes than of the people inside them, and even people who don't go that far still face moments when either by choice or necessity they give more time or effort to their house or housekeeping than to their loved ones. Having a good-looking, well-kept house can give the impression that all is right with the family inside it, which can be very reassuring, and very deceptive.
Read an excerpt from Dream House, and learn more about the book and author at Valerie Laken's website and at the book's Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Sean Doolittle's novels include The Cleanup, Rain Dogs, Burn, and Dirt. His short stories have been collected in Plots With Guns and The Year's Best Mystery Stories 2002.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Safer, and reported the following:
From p. 69 of Safer:

“Excuse me, your Honor?”

“I asked you a direct question. Have you been drinking?”

There’s a ripple of chatter behind me: a few whispers from the gallery, a low chuckle or two. I can hardly believe it. This is actually getting worse.

Douglas Bennett pauses as though he, too, can hardly believe it. He produces a facial expression that seems to indicate that he’s heard the question, and it has taken him aback. Or maybe bending over to pick up my case file has altered his equilibrium. Either way, he’s swaying noticeably on his feet.

He does his best to camouflage the imbalance, taking a moment to arrange his snarl of papers. He taps the file folder on the table, squaring away the edges. While he’s doing all this, he glances at the same clock above the bailiff, shakes his head like he’s heard a good joke, and says, “Judge, I think we’d agree that it’s a bit early in the day.”

“We would most certainly agree,” the judge says. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

“I believe that it goes without saying—”

“Counselor, are you, at this moment, inebriated in my court? Yes or no?”

“Absolutely not, your Honor.”

At this point, the prosecutor pipes up from the other table. “Your Honor, the People can smell defense counsel from here.”

I’d say this bit is a pretty fair yardstick for the rest of the book. Tone-wise, it’s a bit lighter than some of the later pages, but it’s certainly on the same weather map. Unfortunately for poor Paul Callaway--protaganist of the book and the “I” in this scene—it’s almost entirely representative of his situation that, on the morning of his arraignment on (presumably false) charges of sexual impropriety with the 13-year old girl next door, his defense attorney should show up late to court and half in the bag. Being page 69, it’s appropriate to assume that things get much worse before they get any better.

Would the skimming reader be inclined to keep turning pages? I guess I can’t say for sure, though if you’ve ever been drunk in a room full of sober people, it does sort of seem like they can’t help watching what you’ll do next, so here’s hoping....
Read an excerpt from Safer, and learn more about the author and his work at Sean Doolittle's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Sandra Novack’s fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, and Mississippi Review, among other publications. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, and holds an MFA from Vermont College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Precious, and reported the following:
"Sometimes in life," Natalia began, "you breathe even when you don't want to. Sometimes in life, you take the bad along with the good and rub them together until something, however small, shines." -- from page 69 of Precious.

I just read over this page again, from the fourth chapter of my debut, Precious, where mom Natalia is about to leave her two girls and husband and run off with another man. Here, Natalia is trying to tell nine-year-old Sissy a story in order to prepare her for being alone. The lines above, from page 69, have much thematic resonance. This page concerns itself with story telling: how we tell stories in order to cope with loss, and in order to remember our collective histories and those people from the past who have vanished. In telling a story, that which is gone is remembered again, and we breathe life back into the past. So the "Page 69 Test" seems to hold for Precious, as being representative of central ideas in the book.
Read an excerpt from Precious, and learn more about the author and her work at Sandra Novack's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Blood and Ice"

Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, a reformed television writer, and a bestselling novelist, whose most recent novels were the supernatural thrillers Vigil and Bestiary.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Blood and Ice, and reported the following:
In respect to page 69, there were pretty much two possibilities -- we would find ourselves either in Victorian England, or the present-day Antarctic. Blood and Ice alternates between the two.

As it turns out, page 69 takes place in the past -- in a posh, London bordello, catering to aristocrats -- one of whom is Lt. Sinclair Copley of the 17th Lancers, the cavalrymen who will later lead the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.

For most of the book, Blood and Ice goes back and forth between these two eras, these two worlds, until -- with the discovery of a pair of frozen bodies in an underwater glacier -- the stories finally intermesh at a research station close to the South Pole. It's a hard book to summarize -- the publisher took a big leap of faith, buying it on a few chapters and a very brief proposal -- because the storylines initially seem so strange and separate. But that's what intrigued me. I like trying to make the unlikely, even the impossible, seem possible, or real.

One page is seldom representative of a whole book, but in this scene, Lt. Copley does show his true colors. A wealthy wastrel, given to gambling and drinking and worse, he is so outraged at the despoliation of a young girl in the bordello, at the hands of a man he already detests, that he risks his own life to come to her rescue. (In 1850s England, there were no laws against prostitution, and the age of consent was twelve. Furthermore, a premium was placed on virginal girls, as having sex with them was thought to cure various "amatory infections.") Characters in my books, like Lt. Copley, are rarely all bad or all good, and it's here, on page 69, that we get a sense of the lieutenant's underlying decency. Although the book is generally described as a "supernatural thriller," or something like that (and yes, there is a vampire element to the tale), I think of Blood and Ice as a very unusual love story at heart.
Read an excerpt from Blood and Ice and view the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website and Robert Masello's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue