lørdag den 17. oktober 2009

P.D. James Revisited.

My current read is an old Chief Inspector Dalgliesh novel. No, wait, Superintendent Dalgliesh. I have read it many years ago, but it is one of the few early works of the great P.D. James I didn´t own so I bought it earlier this year.

Read the first lines of Unnatural Causes (1967)

"The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast. It was the body of a middle-aged man, a dapper little cadaver, its shroud a dark pin-striped suit with fitted the narrow body as elegantly in death as it had in life."

A cadaver without hands in a remote place, and I am hooked.
What about you? What are these little tricks that make a book into something you cannot put down?

16 kommentarer:

Philip Amos sagde ...

I must confess that that opening -- and PDJ in general, to be a touch heretical re the canon -- does not grab me overly much. The 'vivid image' approach to openings, especially images of violence, generally does not work with me. What I am hooked by is the opening that raises a question, and even more so if it also starts to orient me to place, time, character...thus, the opening of The Thin Man:

I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping , when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.

Wonderful. Or in non-criminous vein, Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aurelian Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

But I think the raising of a question paramount. This is what Rendell famously achieves with the opening of A Judgement in Stone:

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

Or, again not in the crime realm, Ford Madox Ford, with startling simplicity, in The Good Soldier:

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

When you read that "It was a bright cold day in April, and clocks were striking thirteen", at least one question leaps to mind, and to questions we like answers, so on we go.

Anonym sagde ...

Dorte - Philip has a good point. The best opening lines are "hooks" that grab the reader and place her or him in a place and time, or make the reader curious (or both). For instance, I love this one from Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code: Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery.. That line not only places the reader, but also adds suspense (Why is Saunière staggering?). Thanks for making me think of the effect of a good opening line.

R/T sagde ...

Dorte, I was particularly intrigued by the opening of Arnaldur Indridason's VOICES. A the dead body of a department store Santa Claus is discovered with his pants down around his ankles and (how shall I say this tactfully?) another tell-tale clue upon a more private part of his anatomy. With that as the quirky beginning, the hook is set and the reader cannot escape the novel.

By the way, the P.D. James novel that you are reading is, I think, one of her very best.

Belle Wong sagde ...

The opening to Unnatural Causes hooks me, too. In addition to the "without hands" aspect, I'm also intrigued by the dapperness of the body.

I don't often remember openings, to tell you the truth, although I know that I've picked up many a book at the library because of its opening. One very recent opening paragraph that stuck in my memory is the opening to Jennifer Murdley's Toad, a middle grade fantasy: "If Jennifer Murdley hadn't been forced to wear her brother's underpants to school, the whole thing might never have happened." I definitely took this book home with me because of the opening paragraph!

Martin Edwards sagde ...

Dorte, I tend to be hooked by an intriguing, perhaps baffling situation. The classic example is that of a clock striking thirteen...

Kerrie sagde ...

Your post reminded me that I should read this one again. Opening paragraphs are often the hook that get you swinging into a book.

Dorte H sagde ...

Philip: you have a right to dissent :D
But when it comes to A Judgement in Stone I couldn´t agree more. I read the novel 15-20 years ago, and that sentence has also stuck with me. Some of Charles Dickens´s opening lines are also wonderful, by the way.

I don´t need a lot of violence either, but I DO like bodies.

Dorte H sagde ...

Margot: I was the one who should thank you as I was inspired by you to add the question about hooks.

Dorte H sagde ...

R.T. Funny really, that things we read about without blushing can be so difficult to discuss ;)

I have read that novel by Indridason; I also liked the beginning - and the book - but like Peter Rozovsky, I like his outdoor books even better, because part of the Indridason appeal is the remote setting.

I like all P.D. James´ novels (have not read the two latest yet), but I would not call this one a favourite of mine. I am probably going to post about the plot later today (to make it clear to myself at least what it is I mean).

Dorte H sagde ...

Oh, Belle, I wish I liked fantasy, because that opening sentence is absolutely wonderful!

Dorte H sagde ...

Martin: I like that too. When it comes to crime, there is obviously several ways to make me read on :D

Dorte H sagde ...

Kerrie, it could be fun if you also read and reviewed it!

Felicity Grace Terry sagde ...

Recommended by so many crime fiction lovers, I really must read some of this author's work. I too would be intrigued by the thought of a body being found with no hands - I wouldn't want the description of how the body came to have no hands to be too descriptive though. Handless bodies? I don't mind. Too much graphic violence? Not for me, thank you.

Dorte H sagde ...

Petty: P.D. James is an excellent writer in the best British tradition. And graphic? - oh no, that is not her taste at all.

Elizabeth Spann Craig sagde ...

I haven't read this book in ages. Thanks, Dorte, for the reminder.

Sometimes I enjoy humor to hook me into a story.

Sometimes action is interesting, or the body of the victim.

I really dislike setting descriptions or descriptions of any kind at the beginning of the book.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Dorte H sagde ...

Elizabeth: I can also be dragged in by numerous tricks and hooks, but I agree, long descriptions at the beginning often scare readers away.