He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new novel, Prodigal Son, and reported the following:
The conventional wisdom typically offered to writers of commercial fiction is to have a really strong opening ten pages. We are constantly told to “hook” the reader. And it’s certainly true. However, it’s often even more difficult to sustain that level of engagement for another 290 pages.Prodigal Son is the sequel to the award-winning Head Games and continues the story of curmudgeonly Orlando detective Mike Garrity.
I have read books (certain copycat techno-thrillers come to mind) where the opening sequence is gripping and establishes a clever and chilling premise. Unfortunately, my interest quickly wanes when the characters are revealed as two-dimensional cutouts with no real authenticity. Perhaps we are willing to accept a little more style than substance to get started, but we need that substance to carry us to the end.
Well-developed characters are the key ingredient to sustaining a narrative for the long haul of an entire novel. Establish interesting and believable characters, give them something they need, and then throw everything you can in their way.
So, when I look at page 99 of my latest crime novel Prodigal Son, I ask myself if I have delivered both style and substance. I certainly hope so. But it isn’t up to me to decide. It’s the reader’s job. I leave it up to you:
“Mike,” said Gary in a calm, even tone. “Why don’t you tell us about your client?”
So I did. I told them about meeting Debbie Watson at the support group. About her leukemia. About her request to find her son so she could meet him before she dies. I left out the sex. I told them about going to the mayor’s office (but I omitted Sally’s role). I told them about talking with Jack O’Malley and then Steven Schumacher. About surprising Debbie and how that had backfired. Then I went through the whole, detailed sequence of the night’s events that led me to this interrogation room.
“You have Debbie Watson’s phone number?” Gary asked.
“It’s in my cell phone. You guys have that. It’s her cell number.” I also described where she lived.
“Okay, Mike,” Gary said, standing. “Give us a few minutes.”
Gary and Joe exited the room, leaving me alone in the bright fluorescent lights. I glanced at my now empty coffee cup and immediately realized that I should have asked to use the men’s room.
* * *
By the time they returned almost thirty minutes later, I was close to having an embarrassing accident in my shorts. They escorted me through the stares of the bullpen to the rest room and then paraded me back through my former colleagues like a big game trophy. They returned me to the room and locked me again to the table.
“So where’s the knife?” Joe said. I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be, Garrity. Tell us where the knife is.”
“It’s up your ass. With your head,” I said.
Joe pointed his finger at me. “You’re goin’ down.”
“Here’s the thing, Mike,” Gary said. “You have a prior history of asking about the guy. You talked to him on the phone. You’ve been seen lurking around the apartment. Your fingerprints are all over the inside, including on the guy’s wallet. You were found standing in the room with the victim at three-thirty in the morning.”
Learn more about the author and his work at Thomas B. Cavanagh's website.