Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gigi Conducts an Experiment

When the topic of first lines first came up, I couldn't recall a single first line from any of my favorite books. Strange. Perhaps I had been traumatized by my personal first line experience, during which every single one of my early readers told me that my lovingly crafted first line had to go. (They were right.)

Hmm… An experiment was in order. I went to my bookshelves and pulled out several of my favorite mysteries. A wonderful group of books, full of other memorable lines I can recite off the top of my head, but none of their first lines seemed all that special.

"When I first set eyes on Evelyn Forbes-Barton, she was walking the streets of Rome."
-Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters

"So still and silent was the fog-wreathed form that it might have been an angular, black boulder."
-Old Bones, Aaron Elkins

"Before I tell you about Hannah Schneider's death, I'll tell you about my mother's."
-Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

"Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond was suffering in the rear seat of a police car scorching towards Bath along the Keynsham bypass with the headlamps on full beam, blue light pulsing and siren wailing."
Bloodhounds, Peter Lovesy

The Houdini Specter, Daniel Stashower

And a favorite Golden Age mystery:
"To the murder of Professor Grimaud, and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street, many fantastic terms could be applied—with reason."
The Three Coffins, John Dickson Carr

Granted, you get a hint that many of these are mysteries from their first lines (a detective here, a murder there) but presumably you already knew that when you picked up the book. What makes these first lines special is the strength of the stories that follow.

So are these great first lines? Maybe. But are these great books? Definitely.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I'm loving Dorian the gargoyle!!!

Martha Flynn said...

Ok...well...for all my first line naysaying you kinda got me with that Stashower one.

Vanessa Kier said...

Gigi, I'm like you. I don't usually remember first lines. Of all my favorite books the only first line that sticks with me is from Mary Stewart's The Moon-Spinners: "It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it."

Gigi Pandian said...

I'm glad to see Dorian has a fan -- he makes an appearance in an upcoming novel I'm working on.

Somehow, in spite of all the Mary Stewart books I've read, I haven't gotten to The Moon Spinners yet. Now I wonder if I've got it hidden on a back shelf somewhere...