His most recent book is Nightlife, to which he applied the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
I have no doubt that Ford Madox Ford could discern most of what needed to be known about the quality of a book by reading only page 99. He wrote over eighty, at least five of them (The Good Soldier and the Parade’s End books) masterpieces. As for the rest of us, it’s probably best if we take a larger sample before making any pronouncements.For more about Nightlife, see this post on "the thriller that scared Stephen King."
I do agree that a reader should be able to open a novel to any page and find something sensible and fluent that increases his understanding of at least one character and advances the story a bit. If things are going well, he’ll also find an observation or two about the way something in the fictional world looks, feels, sounds, or smells. It should not be boring.
As you asked, I just took a look at page 99 of my most recent book, Nightlife. While the page isn’t a climactic scene (Those tend to come later in novels.), it is a fair sample of the things that go on in Detective Catherine Hobbes’s investigation. She has flown down to Los Angeles trying to find a young woman who was at the scene of a murder in Portland. A Los Angeles police detective is driving Hobbes to the young woman’s last known address, hoping for an arrest. The San Fernando Valley that morning feels alien to Hobbes — all heat, glare, and traffic. She’s feeling growing tension as they approach the address, and we overhear a bit of the banter Hobbes habitually uses to keep the male cops around her at arm’s length so she can do her work. As she talks we learn some of her thinking about the deceptiveness of visual identification of suspects. As for whether a reader would be drawn into the novel by this page, I can only hope so. It’s too late to ask Mr. Ford to decide.
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