Wednesday, July 09, 2008

ZIngers 6: Yet More First Lines with Grab

I recently picked-up the newest Hard Case Crime title—at least it was the newest title when I picked it up—and couldn't help a smile when I read the first paragraph. It was perfect—it introduced the protagonist, hinted at trouble, set the mood, the style, and even the piss-poor luck of the protagonist. In a word it was a zinger—it grabbed me and made me read more.

It also reminded me how much I enjoy the HCC line of books—both originals and reprints. So in honor of the terrific little thrillers, mysteries, and in a few cases comedies, this edition of Zingers is entirely composed from HCC's line. As usual there are three, and the only rule? The first paragraph must have bite.

I bet none of it would have happened if I wasn't so eloquent. That's always been my problem, eloquence, though some might claim my problem was something else again. But life's a gamble, is what I say, and not all the eloquent people in this world are in Congress.

Somebody Owes Me Money is Donald Westlake at his comedic best, and the opening paragraph is perfect. It tells the reader everything he needs to know about the hero, Chester Conway. He is a gambler, optimist, and basic ne'r-do-well who talks his way into and out-of trouble in equal portions. Conway is a great character who inhabits a wild and entertaining world. In case you are wondering, Somebody Owes Me Money is the novel I was referring to in the opening paragraph.

At the overnight stop in North Platte, Nebraska, Bill Wayne didn't copy the other tourists in the party when they bought postcards to mail to friends. He was running a little low on friends these days. Once he had classed five guys as friends but they had picked up a habit of doing things behind his back, like shooting at it. The only wish-you-were-here postcard he wanted to send them was a picture of a cemetery.

What can I say about the opening paragraph to Richard Powell's Say It with Bullets? It is vivid, terse, packed with the light humor that permeates the story. The "wish-you-were-here" postcard is a visual and humorous line that gives the opening scene punch. It sets the tone and mood of the story. Perfect.

Grofield put a nickel in the slot machine, pulled the lever, and watched a lemon, a lemon, and another lemon come up. The machine coughed fourteen nickels into the chrome tray. Grofield frowned at them, what the hell do you do with fourteen nickels? Besides bag your suit.

This is the opening for another Westlake novel—this time from his hardboiled alter-ego Richard Stark. The title is Lemons Never Lie, and its protagonist is a career criminal and actor named Grofield, one of the regulars in the Parker novels. I enjoy everything Westlake writes, but his Stark novels are special, and the opening from Lemons Never Lie is a good example of why. They are hardboiled, clever, unrelenting (whatever that means), and super fun.

Discalimer: I only own about five-eighths of the HCC books…so there may be some opening lines that in a few of them that rock as much or better than the above listed.

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