Thursday, 11 January 2007

Opening lines

I am going to knock over 500 words tonight even if I have to stay up until 3 a.m. My problem is that I'm trying to polish the opening scene and that way lies madness.

Tantalizing first paragraphs are tricky enough. But a killer first line is as elusive as Lasseter's Reef. Here are a handful from some of my favourite crime authors. (I call it research but you might know it by its other name—procrastination.)

    Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, retired, had been explaining how the complicated happening below the Salt Woman Shrine illustrated his Navajo belief in universal connections.
Tony Hillerman, Skeleton Man

    Hosteen Joseph Joe remembered it like this.
Tony Hillerman, The Ghostway

    On a grey, whipped Wednesday in early winter, men in long coats came out and shot Renoir where he stood, noble, unbalanced, a foreleg hanging.
Peter Temple, Dead Point

    In the late autumn, down windy streets raining yellow oak and elm leaves, I went to George Armit's funeral.
Peter Temple, Black Tide

    'Then why are you here?'
Ian Rankin, Resurrection Men

    It all happened because John Rebus was in his favourite massage parlour reading the Bible.
Ian Rankin, The Black Book*

    My law office was located on the old courthouse square of Missoula, Montana, not far from the two or three blocks of low-end bars and hotels that front the railyards, where occasionally Johnny American Horse ended up on a Sunday morning, sleeping in a doorway, shivering in the cold.
James Lee Burke, In the Moon of Red Ponies

    Years ago, in state documents, Vachel Carmouche was always referred to as the electrician, never as the executioner.
James Lee Burke, Purple Cane Road

*I've skipped the prologue.


jj said...

oh oh oh ... another hillerman reader!


Snail said...

He tells a damned entertaining story with lots of atmosphere. I don't think he has the same skill with words as Temple and Burke though.

Igor said...

It was probably not the end Tony Lee Rankin, head of the School of Biological Sciences,, would have chosen: electrocuted groin down on the office photocopier.

'He never did his own copying,' said Alice Gower, the secretary.

Snail said...

Talk about in media res ... !

jj said...

I can see I am going to have to read more!

DO put me onto Hilerman, remembering (I think) the time I lived near there and knew nothing of the local peoples' customs.

Sherryl said...

Here's a hint - imagine Miss Snark reading your opening line and saying 'Wow'.
On second thoughts, that might make you really panic! Better to go to bed assuring yourself you'll dream it, and then it might 'arrive' in the morning.

Pam in Tucson said...

Does every country/state have a hidden or lost treasure? Arizona's is the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains. Happy you like Hillerman. Not the most eloquent of writers, but he tells a fine tale about a world with which I'm quite familiar, since we visit the Navajo nation quite often. Now that I've finally retired and have time to relax and read fiction, I've been seeking good mysteries. Thanks for these references, most of which are new to me. Best of luck with your own opening scene.

Snail said...

imagine Miss Snark reading your opening line and saying 'Wow'.

I have now become paralysed at the prospect! I might adopt the technique I use for scientific papers and articles, which is to agonise over the bloody thing for weeks, write it and re-write it until it's spot on and then chop off the first paragraph.

Or I could leave it until the end.

Snail said...

I love Hillerman for his evocation of the SW. I wish I'd read him before I visited (years ago) for a holiday.

jj, Pam's blog might make you pine for the area!

sarala said...

I love a lot of these authors--I feel Hillerman is burning out a little on his more recent mysteries though.
What are you writing?

Snail said...

I agree. It must be difficult to keep the momentum going over such a long series. I guess he's moved from Leaphorn to Chee and Bernie to liven the formula up a bit.

I tried to read a stand alone (Finding Moon) but didn't finish it. I found it nowhere near as engaging as the Navajo stories.

I'm writing a crime novel. Writing fiction is a bit of a struggle after the scientific and popular stuff!

Peter said...

Congratulations on coming up with one of the all-time great time wasters. I've just started Dead Point, and I agree with your selection of its opening line. Here are two more openings I like, both by the great Bill James. The first is from In Good Hands, the second from The Detective is Dead:

"If you knew how to look, a couple of deaths from the past showed now and then in Iles' face."


"When someone as grand and profitable as Oliphant Kenward Knapp was suddenly taken out of the business scene, you had to expect a bloody big rush to grab his domain, bloody big meaning not just bloody big, but big and very bloody. Harpur was looking at what had probably been a couple of really inspired enthusiasts in the takeover rush. Both were on their backs. Both, admittedly, showed only minor blood loss, narrowly confined to the heart area. Both were eyes wide, mouth wide and for ever gone from the stampede."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"