Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Judith Cutler's "Cold Pursuit"

Judith Cutler is a prolific U.K.-based crime novelist. Among her books are one series featuring amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers and another starring Detective Sergeant Kate Power.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Cold Pursuit -- the second novel featuring Fran Harman, a Detective Chief Superintendent from Kent -- and reported the following, starting with the text from page 99:
St Philip’s. Brick-built, it sat round-shouldered with hardly even a token tower to give it dignity. It couldn’t have been much fun being a pre-war Anglican church growing up alongside the historic non-conformist chapels for which she dimly recalled the area was famous.

There, another topic for post-retirement study [for Fran]. Not just local history, industrial history too.

So what made a man give up his career to dedicate his life to running a sad, graffiti-covered place like this? His career, and an attractive, adoring young woman.

Assuming, of course, that he had.

Stephen Hardy – it seemed he preferred the full version of his Christian name these days – sat her in a chilly office at the back of his church. He explained at some length that the four-bedroom detached house that he gave as his address was really his wife’s, and with two children it was hard to find a spare room for confidential business – which she’d stressed this was. To save the parish money, they’d rented out the proper vicarage.

‘Of course, the children are at college and university these days,’ he said, biting his lip, as if catching himself out in a lie. Or was it simply worry about the expense? He seemed the sort to worry. Slender to the point of thinness, he hunched his shoulders not so much against the cold as against life itself. Could Dilly really have fallen passionately in love with this man, painted in watercolours, not oils?
We see the events of page 99 through the eyes of Fran Harman, a detective chief superintendent with Kent Constabulary. Of course someone of her rank shouldn’t be dabbling in a routine enquiry – her pre-retirement days should be spent in meetings or directing policy, not hurtling off to the Midlands to question a suspect. But Fran loathes administration, and is never happier doing what she does best – detecting. She’s more interested than ever in what makes people and their relationships tick, since she’s enjoying a middle-aged romance with another senior officer.

The relationship she’s currently exploring is between TV journalist Dilly Pound and the ex-lover whom Fran suspects is stalking her, Rev Stephen Hardy. (I named him after Thomas Hardy, whose novels are nothing if not fate-driven, and St Stephen, the first martyr.) He leads ‘a life of quiet desperation’. His brief fling with Dilly has ruined his emotional and spiritual life; by the end of the novel his physical existence is under threat.

Dilly, however, seems to have moved on. She has changed career, moved south and is in another relationship. Will she live to enjoy it? Her stalker is becoming increasingly worrying in his antics. What is Dilly concealing and why? Will she cooperate in time to stop the stalker bringing his crime to a horrifying conclusion?

And what is Fran’s usually dependable friend DCI Jill Tanner concealing? Is it, as some colleagues suspect, a drug habit? Whatever it is, it’s preventing her doing her CID job properly: the investigation she’s supposed to be heading into happy slapping and a string of minor sexual assaults is getting nowhere. When Jill ends up in hospital, Fran jumps in to find out what’s wrong with her and also to take over her case. She’s got a vested interest, after all – she’s just become a crime victim herself.

That’s Fran for you. She’s not Superwoman - just a decent overworked woman in her fifties subject to the ups and downs that beset us all, from diets to house-hunting. Now you’ve made her acquaintance I hope you’ll like her enough to try her other adventures.
Read more about Cold Pursuit and Judith Cutler's other writing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Deborah Moggach's "Tulip Fever"

Deborah Moggach is the author of 16 novels and two collections of short stories as well as, most recently, an adaptation of the Diary of Anne Frank for the BBC.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her bestselling novel Tulip Fever and reported the following:
I've just opened my copy of Tulip Fever at page 99 and find, to my fascination, that it's a pivotal moment in the novel -- in fact, the pivotal moment. Sophia, the heroine, has fallen in love with the young painter who has painted a portrait of herself and her elderly husband. They plan to run away together. She has also discovered that her maid Maria is pregnant -- Maria has been carrying on with the local fish-seller Willem. This is the moment when Sophia has the great idea of pretending that it is she who is pregnant. She will die in childbirth -- feigning her death, of course -- and thus be set free.

Maria stares at me, her eyes as round as platters. All day she has been dozy but now she's wide awake. We are in the parlour. Above her hands a canvas of a slaughtered hare; it is my least favourite painting in the house. Hooked up by its bleeding hing leg, the hare hangs upside down. Its eye, glazed by death, rests on us with indifference as I tell her my plan.

Maria claps her hand to her mouth. "But madam - but you can't"

"I can, but what about you?'...

That moment between the two young women, the slaughtered animal presaging the horrible tragedy to come ... it's the hinge of the plot. How fortuitous that it was on page 99! But then that might be the secret of your website....
Visit Deborah Moggach's website and read more about Tulip Fever.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ken Kuhlken's "The Do-Re-Mi"

Ken Kuhlken’s stories have appeared in Esquire and other magazines.

His novels include: Midheaven, chosen as finalist for the Ernest Hemingway Award for best first novel; The Loud Adios, a Tom Hickey story set in 1943, winner of the St. Martin's Press/PI Writers of America Best First PI Novel award; The Venus Deal, a Tom Hickey mystery set in 1942; The Angel Gang, a Tom Hickey novel set in 1949; and The Do-Re-Mi, a Clifford and Tom Hickey mystery set in 1971, which has been named a finalist for the 2006 Shamus Award.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Do-Re-Mi and reported the following:
From The Do-Re-Mi page 99:

A path rutted with motorcycle tracks led across a field to River Road. At nine a.m., the traffic crawled along River Road and into the parking lot. The grounds were already crowded as a refugee camp.

I worried that upon our arrival at the commune, Quig would interrogate me about the Hound Dog incident. Unless I could lie like the pro I wasn't, he might dash to a phone, call the Cossacks and evict me into their custody. But to deliver me to the bikers, Quig would have stand against Pop. A challenge as arduous as debating Socrates.

The gatekeeper Ava called Whitey broke from a horseshoe game to peer into our car. Ava waved, he waved us through. Mama and Pop, sitting close together in back, gawked at the yurts, lean-tos, A-frames, tarp-covered geodesic domes and tents, and at the residents, blond men with Chinese pigtails, topless nymphs watering the garden, naked toddlers caked in river mud. The residents gawked at Pop’s car. Last year, most of them would've gathered to welcome the newcomers, Cadillac or no. Now they held back, sullen and suspicious.

We parked beside Ava's yurt. I walked with Mama and Pop to the riverbank. We sat on the grass while Ava hustled around until she found a couple who agreed to rent their A-frame for $10 a night. For as long as we needed or until the October rains came, they would stay in a tent across the river. Ava walked us to the A-frame.

Looking this over, I found on page 99, either singly or as part of a group, nearly all the book’s characters. The page also touched on the happenings that led to the story’s creation.

In the early ‘70s, I spent about a week on each of two succeeding summers in a small Oregon town where friends had bought a couple acres. Hundreds of hippies had come to the area and were living on “communes” the more capitalistic among them had bought. The place was as close to the hippie ideal as I ever encountered. A community garden where pretty girls stood alongside the road passing out veggies to whomever came along. Open parties with talented acoustic musicians entertaining. Lovely bodies skinny dipping in the rivers and streams. Plenty of land where folks could camp or build shelters without getting hassled by building inspectors (if the town even had any). And lots of marijuana, with which hippies supported their easy living.

But a year passed, and the place turned into a nightmare, like I imagine Tombstone, Arizona around 1880.

Bikers had moved in, and were poaching the hippie’s cash crop. They wore side-arms, bandoliers, and carried rifles in holsters strapped onto their Harleys. Most of the hippies went around armed, at least with sheath knives.

Observing that, I started to doubt hippie ideals could stand up to reality. Later, I started thinking of that time and place as emblematic of the flaw in human nature Christians call original sin. So, a story grew.
Visit Ken Kuhlken's website to learn more about The Do-Re-Mi and read an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Joshua Clark's "Heart Like Water"

Joshua Clark, founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, edited Louisiana in Words, French Quarter Fiction, and other books, and his writing and photographs appear in many newspapers and magazines. He covered New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath for Salon.com and National Public Radio.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone, and reported the following:
Ford was dead on. I’m looking here at page 99 of my memoir Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone, and it drives home one of the major themes. The book is about my personal experiences laced through the many oral histories I recorded starting the day before the storm, and continuing through the two months after. It includes not only the courage, camaraderie, and insanity of the French Quarter holdouts who never left, but residents all over the city, as well as every outerlying region the storm affected, as those residents returned to their homes for the first time. The page begins when the military was forcefully evacuating the remaining citizens a week after Katrina:

And when they did drag us out of here at the tip of a gun and throw us on a bus out of town, we made a pact that we’d simply get out at the first rest stop, and start walking back. Likely that would be Baton Rouge. We estimated that at three miles an hour, it would only take about 27 hours.

This was our home. And no one was going to make us leave it. One thing staying through the storm’s aftermath taught me is that our home was not contingent on running water and electricity. She (New Orleans) took care of us who stayed, those few of us that depended on her and not her government. Heart Like Water is about this, about her feeding us, bathing us, moving us with music and light when it was most needed, and above all, keeping a smile on our dirty faces when laughter was the only available bandage. We were subsisting on the only thing we had left: our culture, which has always put a smile on the face of death.

On that note, my girlfriend Katherine and I dealt with the disaster very differently. Her reaction was perhaps more realistic than mine. While Katrina’s aftermath tore our city apart, we held together, and as our city mended itself and its levees, we felt like we might break apart. It was tough, some of Heart Like Water is about choosing between the city you love and the person you love. Page 99 ends,

“You know, this city, our home, I feel like Katherine’s crying for it, and me, I’m smiling, trying to smile for it,” I said.

“We need both right now,” said Ty.

“And it’s like we’re standing on these opposite cliffs and we’re all pissed and disappointed at each other’s reaction to this thing, appalled even, we each think the other’s pathetic, and there’s New Orleans busted in the abyss between us.”
Read more about Heart Like Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ken MacLeod's "The Execution Channel"

Ken MacLeod is the author of many acclaimed SF novels, including The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, Newton’s Wake, and Learning the World, which won the Prometheus Award (his third) and was a finalist for the Hugo Award.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, The Execution Channel, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Execution Channel we catch the end of a conversation, and the beginning of a blog post.

The conversation is among a trio of conspirators: Bob Cartwright, Anne-Marie Chretien and Peter Hakal. They're having an after-work drink at the sidewalk table of a cafe in Boston, discussing - obliquely - the disinformation they've spent the day putting out. An apparent tactical nuke has just levelled a USAF base in Scotland, and everyone's scrambling to claim or deny responsibility. Cartwright et al are freelancers for Homeland Security, who astroturf 'the line' in online fora. The offical line itself includes several levels of misdirection: some interventions blame the Russians, others terrorist groups, and so on.

And they've just received an urgent action request to take over the blog of a British soldier, Alec Travis. He (we know by this point) is the son of one of the major characters, James Travis - a French spy on the run. James Travis's daughter, Roisin, was at a peace-protest camp outside the base, and she's on the run too - having seen, but not identified, what it was that really exploded.

The blog is that of a conspiracy theorist, Mark Dark. While Bob and Anne-Marie are setting up their evening's work, Bob checks it out. Mark Dark is quite influential, and Bob has been feeding him disinformation: supposedly secret USAF documents about mystery aircraft. But Mark Dark hasn't risen to the bait. Instead, he's speculating about the condition everyone is in, as a result of not knowing the real reason for the explosion:

'We're living through a very odd moment, folks. Until we know who or what was behind the Leuchars explosion, we won't know what world we're in.'

On the next page, we discover that we're in a slightly different world to the one we thought we were in, and just why this cafe on the corner of Newbury and Fairfield is - as we've seen a couple of pages earlier - 'so close to Ground Zero'.
Read more about The Execution Channel at the publisher's website, and visit Ken MacLeod's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Min Jin Lee's "Free Food for Millionaires"

Min Jin Lee has received the NYFA Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize from The Missouri Review for Best Story, and the Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer. Her work has also been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and anthologized in To Be Real (Doubleday, 1995) and Breeder (Seal Press, 2001).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new novel, Free Food for Millionaires, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Free Food for Millionaires, my main character Casey Han is smoking on the roof of her friend Ella Shim’s apartment building. It is Sunday morning, and Casey can’t decide whether or not she is going to accompany Ella to church. From the roof, she catches a glimpse of Ella’s cousin, Unu Shim who has just moved into the building across the street. Her cigarettes smoked, Casey goes downstairs to Ella’s apartment and tells Ella that she will go to church after all. Ella is horrified, because though she had wanted Casey to come to church with her and her fiancĂ© Ted, Ted has just told her that he informed Casey’s ex-boyfriend Jay that Casey is staying at Ella’s apartment. Casey does not want Jay to find her, and Ted knew this. Ted has betrayed Ella’s confidence, and now, Ella has to conceal something from her friend Casey as they head off to church. Presently, Unu will meet them after church ends, and he will witness Casey and Jay’s first encounter since Jay’s sexual betrayal of Casey.

Even as I type this elaborate summary, I realize there are five people mentioned in this one critical page: Casey, Ella, Ted, Unu and Jay. What is interesting to me, in light of Ford Madox Ford’s quotation, is that Ford is right. Hot damn. The quality of the whole can be expressed by these five characters, because these are the principal young players in the book, and their relationships: Casey-Ella; Casey-Jay; Casey-Unu; Casey-Ted, and very importantly, Ella-Ted are altered materially by the events of this page.

I read The Good Soldier two years before beginning this book. It is, for me, one of the most accomplished uses of first person narration in a novel form. The Good Soldier is a technical achievement as well as a narrative tour de force. Ford is remembered for his superior editing skills and networking prowess, but I was taken by The Good Soldier — for its craftsmanship and its sad portrait of marriage. An interesting companion book about marriage for The Good Soldier might be James Salter’s Light Years. Needless to say, Ford’s 99 test will not be dismissed for bunk by this writer of this book.
Read an excerpt from Free Food for Millionaires and more about Min Jin Lee and her work at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Susan O'Donovan's "Becoming Free in the Cotton South"

Susan E. O'Donovan is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and of History at Harvard University. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, series 3, volume 1, Land and Labor, 1866-1867 and volume 2, Land and Labor, 1865.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Becoming Free in the Cotton South, and reported the following:
I turned to page 99 and found southwest Georgia’s slaveholders under the gun: where they have been and where they will remain for much of the book. Not just from slavery’s external enemies (abolitionists) and Union soldiers (the Civil War is moving into its third and very bloody year), but from their slaves. The war has opened up many more of those interstices – weak spots, if you will, in slaveholders’ regimes – that enslaved men and women had long struggled to exploit to their own advantage. Here, the discussion focuses in on that most mundane problem of delivering the mail, a job that has fallen to slaves as white men have fallen in war.

“No longer willing to trust ‘the mails’ after Sherman had swept through the state, Howell Cobb’s extended family likewise resorted to relaying messages by slave. ‘If you write to Howell by this boy Scipio,’ Lucy advised Mary, ‘we will forward it [to Macon].”

It “was a dangerous game slaveholders were playing. For when the messages were verbal,” as was increasingly the case during the war when supplies of all kinds began to run short, “slaves not only conveyed” those messages, “but stood in a position to rearrange them, manipulating, with the words they had been instructed to share, relations between themselves and their owners.”

As George Davis, an overseer, understood too well, he had no alternative but to take slave Sam at his word that disaster had struck an outlying satellite of the master’s plantation, and that he, Davis would have to send a rescue party: all on the word of a slave.

Yet, as I go on to observe on page 99, enslaved men and women could not step out of their pasts, nor imagine their way free of slavery. It established particular constraints – shaping what they aspired to, shaping what they could do – which is the fundamental lesson I want to convey in this book.

“The mobility of salt making, the postal service of slaves, as well as the countless responsibilities that came their way as white men disappeared to the front … extended slaves’ own networks of communication and action and provided new mechanisms by which to chip away at the system that ensnared them. But as black southwest Georgians fashioned strategies of action from wartime developments, they did so within the framework of the social and productive lives they had configured for themselves before secession.”

In short, the freedoms former slaves would eventually create for themselves would be conditioned by what they had been, what they had done, and what they had endured in the past.
Read an excerpt and learn more about Becoming Free in the Cotton South at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Warren Hammond's "KOP"

Warren Hammond's debut novel is KOP, recently published by Tor Books. Its sequel, Ex-KOP, is due to hit book stores in 2008. Currently, he is writing Tolegate, a science fiction novel independent of the KOP series.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
Does the test work? For KOP, I'd have to say no.

If I really try to boil down what is already a hardboiled story to its bare essence, KOP is two things: a character and a place. Page 99 does happen to capture an event that goes a long way toward defining the main character and many of his future decisions, but the place is absent on that particular page, although it's prominently featured on the previous page. Can I blame the publisher for not lining up the page breaks just right?

The character is Juno, a dirty cop with a violent past. He's a man who has done a lot of bad in his life, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. Despite his past sins, during the course of a murder investigation, an opportunity for redemption presents itself as he uncovers a plot that threatens his people's very way of life.

And the place is Lagarto, a jungle planet in our distant future. Lagarto is a world damned by economic isolation, poverty and rampant crime. It's a place that's so corrupted that even good deeds require a little bone breaking.

So you see, without the world, Juno is just a brute. And without Juno, the world doesn't have its savior. Can't have one without the other.
Visit Warren Hammond's website to learn more about KOP; read an excerpt from the novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bob Morris's "Bermuda Schwartz"

A freelance writer and editor, Bob Morris travels widely and contributes to a number of publications, including National Geographic Traveler, Bon Appetit, Islands, Robb Report, Latitudes and Men's Fitness. These travels have inspired his series of mystery novels, each of which takes place on a different Caribbean island. The first one, Bahamarama, was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Mystery Novel and chosen by the Library Journal as one the year’s Top Five Mysteries. His second novel, Jamaica Me Dead, was a BookSense Pick by the American Booksellers Association.

He put the "Page 99 Test" and the "Page 69 Test" to his third mystery, Bermuda Schwartz, and reported the following:
I applied The Page 99 Test and The Page 69 Test to Bermuda Schwartz. Both were, in their own ways, revealing. On Page 69 we find the hero of the series, Zack Chasteen, standing in a kitchen in a house in Bermuda with his associate, Boggy, a Taino Indian shaman, and Teddy Schwartz, a legendary Bermudian treasure salvor. Boggy has made a batch of his "bush tea," this particular blend good for people who are about to go scuba diving since it reduces the histamines in the inner ear and relieves the pressure. Zack, as always, is skeptical about Boggy's hoodoo, even though it proves to save his butt in the end. The passage ends with Teddy Schwartz saying: "So, who's ready to go diving?" And since the real secrets of Bermuda Schwartz are found underwater, it's an ideal snippet...

As for page 99, there are only eight lines and a whole lotta white space. Just reading this page on its own, it would not seem to reveal much. Zack Chasteen is on the phone with an attorney, Daniel Denton, who is reluctant to help Chasteen with some shady legalwork. Denton takes the high moral road, but Zack offers him a lot of money. And Denton bites. The last line has Zack observing, "You gotta love lawyers." But what's most revealing about this page, I think, is that it's short, very short. A lot like my chapters. Bermuda Schwartz has 80,000 words and 94 chapters. So do the math. Chapters average less than a thousand words. Almost anywhere you open the book, you'll find pages with just a few lines. So Page 99 is revelatory to the max...
Read more about Bermuda Schwartz, including an excerpt, at Bob Morris's website; visit Morris's blog, Surrounded on Three Sides.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pia Z. Ehrhardt's "Famous Fathers & Other Stories"

Pia Z. Ehrhardt's stories have been widely published in magazines including McSweeney’s Quarterly, the Mississippi Review, and Narrative Magazine, and anthologized in A Cast of Characters and Other Stories and the 2006 Norton Anthology Sudden Fiction: Short-Shorts from America and Beyond. She is the recipient of the 2005 Narrative Prize.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Famous Fathers & Other Stories, and reported the following:
Page 99 in the hardcover edition (MacAdam/Cage did a simultaneous release of both hardcover and paperback) of Famous Fathers & Other Stories deposits me into the middle of a story called "The Longest Part of the Day." On the page are two scenes: one involved a young girl, Jilly, who's taken to the road with the guy who bags groceries at Piggly Wiggly; the other involves her mother, who's just had sex with her ex-husband's (Jilly's dad's) brother. Jilly has decided that she's not going back home any time soon so her mother will worry. Her mother, meanwhile, doesn't yet know that her daughter's truant from school. Jilly's enjoying riding a shopping cart across an empty parking lot, (akin to sex?), and her mother, post-coital, stands in her driveway, wanting to know when David will be back.

This kind of counterpoint is something I like to play with in my stories. Parallel or inverse behaviors between characters, especially characters who are related. Both women have a lot of play in them, and they're sizing up the men they're with, wanting to trust that they will take them somewhere they haven't yet been, but keeping one hand on the doorknob just in case.

Page 69:

wants to ride. The lot is almost empty. She steps on one, racing to catch up to Jimmy, and it must be downhill to the store because she's flying. She hits his line of carts from the side, and he jumps off, laughing.

"You're not going to run away, are you?" he says.

Jilly thinks about it, how her mom will suffer when she doesn't get off the bus, how even when she's back home safe her mom will never stop being thankful. "I'll wait in the truck and make sure no one dings it."

When he walks back out he's got a bag in each arm. Thumb-sized Snickers, double-stuffed Oreos, a liter of orange Fanta, a six-pack of beer, and a three-foot bag of Sam's Club potato chips. Jilly's mom buys those too, and they aren't as good as Lay's.
David is in the driveway, kissing Cam good-bye with both hands on her face.

"When are you coming back?" she says, never trusting that he will unless they set the next date.

"Thursday is good," he says.

"I'm going to need to find a job," Cam says. "We're living on the dole."

David digs in his pocket for the car keys. He doesn't talk bad about his brother.

She pulls his hand out of his pocket, kisses him. His hands lock low on her back and she settles down, trusts him when he holds her close like that. Bodies after sex don't lie.
Read more about Famous Fathers & Other Stories at the publisher's website, and visit Pia Z. Ehrhardt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jeremi Suri's "Henry Kissinger and the American Century"

Jeremi Suri is a history professor at the University of Wisconsin. His publications include The Global Revolutions of 1968 and Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of DĂ©tente.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Henry Kissinger and the American Century, and reported the following:
I will begin by quoting the first sentences on page 99 of Henry Kissinger and the American Century:

"If he were not a German Jew, Kissinger would have lived a very different life. His experiences reflected the intersection of the Cold War and Jewish mobility in the post-1945 world."

Everyone has an opinion about Kissinger's policies, but few people have examined how he made his career. My book shows that Kissinger was not a strategic genius or an amoral elitist, but instead a product of his times. Kissinger's policies reflected his pessimism about democracy, born of his experiences as a German-Jew in Nazi Germany. As an immigrant to the United States, he believed that only strong state power could assure security, mobility, and comfort for "ordinary" citizens. He became an influential policy adviser by drawing on his European intellectual networks and crafting practical policy alternatives for leaders -- like John Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and now George W. Bush -- who sought to assure American international power without full-scale war. Kissinger's career reflected the dominant trends in politics, society, and culture from the 1930s to the present. He is not exceptional. He is one of us.
Learn more about Henry Kissinger and the American Century, and read an excerpt, at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Richard Taylor's "The Haunting of Cambria"

Richard Taylor is or has been a "U.S. Army military intelligence analyst; Vietnam vet; screenwriter; short story writer; Hollywood studio historian; corporate in-house magazine publisher and editor-in-chief; Chief of Security of Warner Hollywood Studios for nearly 15 years" -- and the author of The Haunting of Cambria, to which he applied the "Page 99 Test" and reported the following:
In The Haunting of Cambria, Theo Parker has suffered a devastating loss, the death of his bride in a car accident the day of their marriage and purchase of a bed and breakfast. When he is released after a six-week coma and months of rehab, he has nowhere else to go but the B&B, where he meets dowdy Eleanor Glacy, the property manager. They experience what may only be described as a haunting. Is it Theo's dead wife, Lily's ghost? Or is there something far more ominous at work? As Theo and Eleanor drift toward a relationship, he attends her brother's wedding where he purposely refutes the family belief that Eleanor is a lesbian. ("Don't ask!" Eleanor says, but of course Theo must.) This brings us to Page 99, where Eleanor and Theo make good their escape from the rehearsal dinner only to be waylaid by Eleanor's mother, whose ecstatic response to her daughter being "normal" embarrasses and angers retiring Eleanor even more.

Does this page epitomize the book? Well, the humor does, I suppose, and the fact that hidden things are eventually revealed, a subtext of the novel. But, generally, no. The Haunting of Cambria begins as a haunted house tale and then takes a turn toward something entirely new and horrifying. With some humor and, as Sullivan of Sullivan's Travels would say, "... a little sex."

The following is Page 99 of The Haunting of Cambria:

When we were in Eleanor’s pickup, she backed up over the parking bumper that held the trash dumpster in place, slammed the gearshift into drive and squealed out of the parking lot. “I take it,” she said, “you don’t want to sleep with half a dozen men in my father’s den?” she asked.

“How do you mean that?” I asked.

“I told them we would be more comfortable in a motel, which you’re paying for,” she replied. “I told them—“

But suddenly there was Ella, standing in front of the pickup and beside their family car. Eleanor stopped, and I rolled the passenger window down. “Don’t forget your fitting,” she told Eleanor. “It’s at nine.”

“I’ll be there,” Eleanor said. “Roll the window up, Theo.”

“Theo?” Ella asked.

“Parker’s his last name. His real first name is Theo.”

“Actually, I prefer Parker,” I said.

“Theo! That’s a darling name!” Ella exclaimed (really, exclaimed).

“Roll the window up, Theo,” Eleanor said. “We’re going now.”

I rolled the window up. Eleanor put the truck in gear.

“You didn’t have to get nasty,” I said.

Eleanor looked at me for an instant with an expression that said, You are at this moment the most vile human being on the face of the earth.

I paid for two motel rooms with an adjoining door. Eleanor’s side was locked. I knocked but gave up after awhile, turned on the TV and raided the honor bar for Toblerone chocolate and some pretzels. She came in around ten-thirty and sat on my bed. She was wearing her nightgown now, short, filmy, flippy-floppy, she didn’t care — it was as if I had become one of her gay friends, had she actually made any male gay friends.

“Give me chocolate,” she ordered and I tossed what remained of the Toblerone at her.

“Look at it this way,” I said. “Your parents don’t think you’re gay anymore. You’re not gay, so that’s a good thing, right?”
Visit Richard Taylor's website and read an excerpt from The Haunting of Cambria.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Robert Miller's "Native America, Discovered and Conquered"

Robert J. Miller is Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" and the "Page 69 Test" to his book Native America, Discovered and Conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and Manifest Destiny and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book gives an example synopsis of the thesis of my book in regards the Lewis & Clark expedition. My book is about how the international law Doctrine of Discovery was used by Euro-Americans in what is now the United States to take property, commercial, diplomatic and human rights from the indigenous people.

On page 99, which is the first page of my fifth chapter, I introduce how Lewis & Clark and President Thomas Jefferson used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim the Pacific Northwest for the United States and to claim property, commercial, diplomatic and human rights against the native people of the Louisiana Territory and the Oregon Country.

Page 69 of my book is also an excellent place to start reviewing my book. On that page, in my third chapter, I explain that President Jefferson purchased the Doctrine of Discovery power from France when he entered the Louisiana Treaty and how he used the principles of Discovery against the native peoples there.
Read a description of Native America, Discovered and Conquered and visit the book's blog; see Robert Miller's faculty website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2007

Tom Zoellner's "The Heartless Stone"

Tom Zoellner has worked as a contributing editor for Men's Health magazine and as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the co-author of An Ordinary Man, the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the 1994 Rwandan genocide were portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda, and The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Heartless Stone and reported the following:
Page 99 of the paperback version of The Heartless Stone contains a description of the fabled "sight rooms" of the De Beers selling office at 17 Charterhouse Street in London. The book is an investigation into the global diamond trade, ala Fast Food Nation. One of the titans of the business, of course, is De Beers and the book spends two chapters dissecting its history and operations. The Ford rule does seem to provide a distillation of two key themes -- 1) the banality of the diamond myth and 2) the false image of geological rarity that keeps a hefty price tag attached to that myth. I might have picked a different page to highlight, given a choice, but 99 works just fine as a sip from the bottle. Here it is:

“Keeping the balance was everything,” said this official, who asked that I keep him anonymous. “We would check the price of rough in Bombay, Antwerp, Tel Aviv and New York. We knew whatever we did would have a huge effect on the marketplace.”

Outsiders usually aren’t permitted on the sight floor, which represents a kind of inner-temple of the diamond world. But I was in London in the dead week after Christmas and managed to speak with an executive in a generous mood. His name is Andy Bone and he wore a tidy button-down shirt under a sweater. We shared a lunch of coq au vin and lobster bisque in the cafeteria and then he took me up to the suite where the gems are distributed to the elite every fifth Monday.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see, but the sight rooms looked like an ordinary set of 1980s-style conference rooms. The only thing that would have set them apart from the architecture of a middlebrow law firm was the presence of square lamps and electronic scales next to the windows, and an eye-in-the-sky security camera bubble mounted on the ceiling. It looked disappointingly ordinary. I sat in one of the padded chairs and said as much.

“Kind of mundane, I agree,” said Bone. “But I suppose it is an important thing, in its own subdued way.”

He wasn’t kidding. Five floors beneath us were a series of vaults that contain the world’s largest stockpile of unpolished diamonds. The exact value of this reserve is a source of some speculation, but the best estimates put it at half a billion dollars. These gems are doled out in the sights at a controlled rate, but to De Beers, they remain much more valuable right where they are. The continuing stability of the diamond industry depends on an artificial scarcity which De Beers has worked hard to create, all the while spending billions in advertising to maintain the image of a diamond as the ultimate token of love. The De Beers organization is now in the midst of trying to reinvent itself as a vendor of specially branded diamonds rather than being the custodian of the trade, but it remains a cartel in the classic sense – an interlocking web of corporate interests designed to eliminate competition. De Beers has managed the remarkable feat of operating a
Visit Tom Zoellner's website and read an excerpt from The Heartless Stone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Peter Corris's "Appeal Denied"

Peter Corris, "the godfather of Australian crime fiction," applied the "Page 99 Test" to Appeal Denied, the latest volume in his acclaimed Cliff Hardy series, and reported the following:
I’m not given to analysis or critique of my own work, but your approach intrigued me. I hadn’t heard of the Ford Madox Ford dictum (always found him unreadable), but it sounded witty so I was happy to have a shot.

Page 99 of Appeal Denied (Allen & Unwin 2007) embodies many of the effects I try to achieve in my writing – a balance between dialogue and narrative, a demonstration of the attitudes of my protagonist and enough material to keep the reader interested and the story progressing.

I’m fond of American pulp writer Jim Thompson’s pronouncement: “There is only one story – things are not what they seem.” I think this is demonstrated pretty well in the scene on page 99 where things unfold for the characters, become a bit clearer, but they each continue to entertain suspicions that they’re not getting the whole story. One admits that she’s already been duplicitous and is prepared to be so again.

The scene is edgy which is the way I write – without a plan, trusting that things will come right session by session. So far they have.

So, in the case of this one book at least, dreary old FMF was on the money.
Read more about Appeal Denied at the publisher's website, and learn more about the full Cliff Hardy series and Peter Corris's other works at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2007

Martin Edwards's "The Arsenic Labyrinth"

Martin Edwards is a prolific crime novelist and story writer. His books and stories include three Lake District mysteries featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind: The Coffin Trail, The Cipher Garden, and The Arsenic Labyrinth.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the more recent title and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Arsenic Labyrinth, Hannah Scarlett discusses a mysterious phone message with a local journalist, Tony di Venuto. Hannah is a Detective Chief Inspector, in charge of the Cold Case Review Team in England’s Lake District, and she has been prompted to investigate the mystery of the disappearance, ten years ago, of a young woman called Emma Bestwick. Di Venuto has publicised the case in a newspaper article, but he seems to have an obsessive interest in what happened to Emma. Hannah wonders why the woman’s fate seems to matter so much to him, and whether he knows more about it than he is willing to admit. Di Venuto has been phoned by a man who says that Emma is to be found below the Arsenic Labyrinth, a maze of tunnels in the beautiful yet eerie hills above Coniston Water, all that remains of a nineteenth century poison factory.

Hannah is one of the two main characters in my Lake District Mysteries; The Arsenic Labyrinth follows The Coffin Trail and The Cipher Garden. The other protagonist is Daniel Kind, an Oxford historian who has downshifted to the Lakes to escape the rat race. Both Hannah and Daniel are fascinated, as well as haunted, by the past, and although they are in relationships with other people, they are growing closer. That thread of the series isn’t hinted at on page 99, which is all about the mystery, and plot development, rather than the depiction of character and the atmospheric setting, features prominent elsewhere in the book. But creating a complex puzzle with a satisfying solution at the end is important to me, so to that extent page 99 bears out Ford Madox Ford’s eccentric but intriguing claim.
Visit Martin Edwards's website to learn more about The Arsenic Labyrinth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Matt Richtel's "Hooked"

Matt Richtel is an author, journalist, and cartoonist.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Hooked, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Damn font.

When I wrote Hooked, I had in mind a handful of principles: hyper-speed plot, pointed dialogue, humor, and meaty observation about people and place (it's set in San Francisco/Silicon Valley). It's a book of twists with an underlying question: are we deceived by our perceptions?

Page 99 betrays us.

It is almost none of those things.

Page 99 isn't actually a page at all. It's a quarter of a page, a stump of a page. It's the last moments of chapter 22 -- with the dialogue and action ending after just a few lines, setting up Chapter 23.

I blame the font. Had we picked a different size, or style, page 99 might have been longer, or fallen at a different place, or given us the proper symbolic insights we crave from this prescient, insightful, augur of a page.

And, yet, perhaps, I don't give this font enough credit. Has it built page 99 like this for a reason?

The page is dialogue exchange between our protagonist, Nat Idle, and a tech-savvy friend. The friend has discovered that a laptop Nat has been carrying around is host to an unusual computer program. At this point in the story, we don't have any insight that the laptop may be playing a role in the violence (fires, explosions) besetting Nat's life. But his tech-savvy friend gives us a concrete hint on Page 99's last line, when he says: "It wasn't the program that interested me. It's the fact that it's being guarded by the most sophisticated encryption scheme I've ever seen."

What IS characteristic about page 99 is that it ends with a hook. It's tough, I hope, for the reader not to turn the page to chapter 23 to discover more. And the hook that ends chapter 22 involves computers, which play a central role in the book's conspiracy and resolution.

In that sense, my page 99 represents elements of the book. But fewer than I hope symbolize the book at its best. I blame the font. Now page 128, that's a doozy.
Visit Matt Richtel's website and his blog, and read an excerpt from Hooked.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Ann Cleeves's "Raven Black"

Ann Cleeves is reader-in-residence for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, and was twice shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger Award before winning the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award last year for Raven Black.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Raven Black and reported the following:
Raven Black is set in Shetland, a bare and beautiful archipelago of islands off the north east point of Scotland. The place is at the root of the plot and informs most of the characters, yet there’s no sense of that on page 99. What we do get is a description of Roy Taylor, the detective who has been sent in from the Scottish mainland to head up the enquiry of the murder of a teenage girl. Taylor isn’t the series character so the description had to be tight and immediate:

Now Taylor got off the bed and stretched. He was standing on the balls of his feet and reached up towards the ceiling. Perez was reminded of an ape he’d seen in Edinburgh Zoo on a school trip. It had pushed against the bars of the enclosure needing more space. Taylor was a man who’d always need more space, Perez thought. Stick him in the middle of an African savannah and it still wouldn’t seem enough for him.

Inspector Perez is a Shetlander – the Spanish name is because his ancestors were shipwrecked during the Armada – and this piece throws up some of the tensions between him and the incomer who has come to take charge of the case. The novel is about belonging, about what it takes to belong and about the discomfort of being an outsider. Perez is an outsider because of his Mediterranean appearance and his exotic name, Taylor because he understands nothing of the culture of the islands.

Perhaps the main turning point in the book comes on page 100, and page 99 leads into this. Everyone assumes that the murderer is an old man called Magnus Tait, who was suspected of abducting a young girl some years before. On page 99 the team discusses the strategy for bringing Magnus in for questioning. At the beginning of page 100 Perez says,

"I don’t think we should jump to the conclusion that Magnus Tait is a killer."

Taylor’s agreement that they should consider other suspects allows the plot to move forward. It also establishes an uneasy alliance between the incomer and Perez.
Visit Ann Cleeves's website and her online diary.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2007

Brenda Cooper's "The Silver Ship and the Sea"

Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction writer, and a futurist. She’s the co-author of the novel, Building Harlequin's Moon, which she wrote with Larry Niven. Her solo and collaborative short fiction has appeared in multiple magazines, including Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Oceans of the Mind, and The Salal Review.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her novel The Silver Ship and the Sea and reported the following:
Page 99 is the end of one scene, and the set up for the next. In the scene that's ending, the heroine Chelo is concerned about her friend Alicia, who has been accused of murder. Like Chelo, Alicia and four other teenagers are genetically altered, and thus stronger, faster, and more agile than others on the colony planet of Fremont. They aren't exactly well-liked. Chelo is trying to talk Sky, one of Alicia's only friends in the roving band of scientists she lives with, to come forward and speak on Alicia's behalf. This may endanger Sky. But the same forces that have converged to threaten Alicia have angered Sky, and she agrees to meet Chelo later and start a conversation with the colony's leaders.

The beginning of the next scene describes an upcoming harvest feast, but as Chelo walks through the crowd, she is worried.

Even though I can't quite jump up and proclaim page 99 as the most compelling page in the book, I'd say that the main themes – conflict between the six genetically altered children and the rest of the space colony – are plainly visible. Sky, who we are really just meeting for the second time here, turns out to have a few important supporting-cast roles in this book and the sequel.
Visit Brenda Cooper's website and her LiveJournal; read an excerpt from The Silver Ship and the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Todd Buchholz's "The Castro Gene"

Todd Buchholz is a former director of economic policy at the White House and a managing partner of the legendary $15 billion Tiger hedge fund. He is a frequent commentator on ABC News, PBS and CNBC and has advised such leading companies as Microsoft, Merrill Lynch, IBM and Toyota.

Buchholz won the Allyn Young Teaching Prize at Harvard, and holds advanced degrees in economics and law from Cambridge and Harvard. He is the bestselling author of several non-fiction books.

The Castro Gene
is his first work of fiction; he applied the "Page 99 Test" to it and reported the following:
I flipped open The Castro Gene and was immediately struck with good news and bad news. The good news? Page 99 launches a new chapter and takes up only half a page! Great, this will be a short test. The bad news? Damn, it looks like an advertisement for Donald Trump, mentioning Trump Towers several times. But the comb-over king is not paying me a placement fee!

Beyond those first impressions, page 99 does neatly sketch out Luke Braden’s big move uptown, out of his “dumpy basement apartment,” with its “shaky aluminum floor lamp, with its dim forty-watt bulb….” As I reread the passage I heard in my head the rollicking gospel theme song from The Jeffersons TV show: “We’re moving on up … to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky-aye-aye.”

Page 99 gives Luke his first hint that he’s being manipulated, a marionette for the billionaire hedge fund mogul, Paul Tremont. Luke didn’t even know he was moving uptown to a luxurious new high-rise until he opened his creaky front door and saw his answering machine blinking:

The first message was from Tremont’s secretary: “Luke, Mr. Tremont asked me to arrange your move to the Trump International Towers…Unless you call me by seven P.M. tonight, the movers will be there tomorrow morning at ten. They’ll do all the packing—

What? Luke looked at his clock. Shit. Ten thirty P.M.

Luke is stepping onto a ride he cannot control. Hell, he’s being swept onto the ride. Once you let other people pack up the things in your apartment, what is next? I’ve never even let my wife pack my overnight bag. Would I let strangers pack up my whole apartment? Will Luke ever be able to resist the flight to luxury? Who would? He looks down “at the peeling, yellowed linoleum floor in the four by six foot corner the landlord called a kitchen. He pictured the Trump building with its lavish restaurants, swimming pool, and lobby filled with beautiful women, rather than the triple-tatooed, quintuple pierced chicks who meandered through the West Village.”

I confess I flipped over to page 100 and was reminded that Luke suddenly rebels. He grabs a scrap of paper and scribbles: “Hey Movers! Leave everything. Move nothing.” He taped a $50 bill to the note.

Luke desperately wants to move uptown, but on his own terms. There’s a fight ahead. A marionette can’t choose which string to cut.
Visit Todd Buchholz's website and read more about The Castro Gene at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue