By James Hayman
You can’t beat a great first line or maybe first paragraph. Do it right and you’ll sell a zillion books and maybe even get quoted in a blog. Do it wrong and it won’t matter because, most likely, nobody will read what comes next.
Just for the fun of it I thought I’d list a few of my favorite opening lines skipping the obvious classics like Melville’s “Call me Ishmael” and Jane Austin’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Instead, I put down openers that I found especially memorable from more recent mysteries and other popular fiction or, in one case, from a movie.
Since ten seems like the right number for any list of favorites, here are my ten. I invite any and all of you to add your own favorites.
“Death is my beat. I make my living from it. I forge my professional reputation on it. I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker.” Michael Connelly, The Poet
“Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.” Grace Metalious, Peyton Place
“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind.
“Three days before her death, my mother told me—they weren’t her last words but they were pretty close—that my brother was still alive.” Harlan Coben, Gone For Good
“The last camel collapsed at noon.” Ken Follett, The Key to Rebecca
“It is cold at six-forty in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by a firing squad.” Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackel
“Chris Mankowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb.” Elmore Leonard, Freaky Deaky
“The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.” Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
And, for number ten, here’s a favorite opener that’s not from a book but a movie:
“Saigon, shit. I’m still only in Saigon.” John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now