Great First Lines: A Celebration

“It was a dark and stormy night. Honestly. Earlier, it had been a dim and stormy day. Demonstrating no originality, March had indeed come in like a lion—a wet, angry one who blew ill winds every which way.” With Friends Like These … by Gillian Roberts

Doesn’t this opening grab your attention? It grabbed mine. It’s one of many great opening lines you’ll find on First Line Monday. If you haven’t joined the Facebook group, you’re in for a treat.

Blogger and reviewer Mark Baker created the group. He describes it this way: “This is a celebration of a well written first line. We’ll start each week by sharing the very first line at the beginning of what we are currently reading. Everyone who loves to read is welcome to join and participate.”

Here are examples of the first lines you’ll find on First Line Monday:

“The voice on the phone was a whisper.” Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly

“Beulah Price’s body looked like a hot dog that had been left on the grill too long.” Live Free or Die by Jessie Crockett

“Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed.” The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

“Maribeth Klein was working late, waiting to sign off on the final page proofs of the December issue when she had a heart attack.” Leave Me by Gayle Forman

“Miss Willadean Dearmon found the body on the courthouse steps at exactly 8:59 a.m.” Murder at the Courthouse by A.H. Gabhart

“A gunshot sounded. I jerked the phone away from my ear. This time I hung up first.”
Tagged for Death by Sherry Harris

I looked through my bookshelves and found no end of great first lines. Here are a few:

“It was in the middle of her first number, ‘Blue Moon,’ that Jane da Silva realized the Fountain Room smelled heavily of fried fish.” Cold Smoked by K.K. Beck

“The pebbled glass door panel is lettered in flaked black paint: ‘Philip Marlowe … Investigations.’ It is a reasonably shabby door at the end of a reasonably shabby corridor in the sort of building that was new about the year the all-tile bathroom became the basis of civilization.” The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

“If only I could learn to say no, I wouldn’t be perched on a barstool in a redneck bar, breathing secondhand smoke and pretending to flirt with men sporting baseball caps and Confederate bandanas, their eyes riveted on my Victoria’s Secret-enhanced cleavage.” Murder at the Moonshine Inn by Maggie King (blatant self-promotion, I know)

“If you had asked me before I heard of Maggie Reston whether a house could be a magnet for murder, I would have automatically thought of The Dungeon, which is what we’ve always called the coal-gray house on Martel.” Dream House by Rochelle Krich

“The six notes that were spread out on my desk next to last month’s Billboard article and the gossip-column item radiated a strange and threatening quality.” The Broken Promise Land by Marcia Muller

“Have sex and die.” Helen Coulter barely paused for breath. “That’s what she’s saying.” Helen Hath No Fury by Gillian Roberts

“The bandidos came to the village at the worst possible time. Of course, everyone in Mexico would agree that there is no particularly good time for bad men to come to town.” Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Mystery author Susan Oleksiw wrote an excellent post on first lines for Novelspaces. It’s much more scholarly than mine as she offers commentary on why a first line is compelling.

Which first lines will be remembered for years, centuries even? Consider these famous ones penned in the 19th century:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

chasing-the-dimeAdd your favorite first lines in the comments. And join First Line Monday!




Great First Lines: A Celebration — 15 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading these first lines. You’ve made a lot of good selections from a wide range of books. Thanks for posting them, and thanks for the mention of my post on Novelspaces.

  2. Thanks to Amazon’s preview function, here are a couple of my favorite first lines. (My room is a mess. These books are in there somewhere, I swear!)

    Both of these lines come from the books of Stuart Gibbs. He has absolutely fabulous first lines. And he has fabulous books. Don’t let the middle grade target audience fool you. I absolutely love them!

    Anyway, here is the opening to The Last Musketeer:

    “Clinging to the prison wall, Greg Rich realized how much he hated time travel.”

    And here is the opening line to Poached:

    “I would never have been accused of stealing the koala if Vance Jessup hadn’t made me drop a human arm in the shark tank.”

  3. One of my favorites is from Julie Spencer Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter: It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby. Thank you for including mine from Tagged For Death.

  4. I like to begin my books with a line of dialogue, but not every time:

    “Where’s Lani and who the hell are you?” Pele’s Tears

    “Please don’t make me shoot you.” Sanctuary

    “If that plane won’t fly, amigo, you’d better be able to walk on water.” River of Dreams

    Cornwall shook off the soft spring day like a cat vibrating a wet paw. The Spaniard’s Cross

    Should she tell Mrs. Kahana that she felt like someone else had been living inside her skin since she moved to Hawaii four months ago? Or that being betrayed and assaulted by her LAPD lieutenant fiancé made her lose the laughter in her life? She look at Mrs. Kahana’s kind, hopeful face. Bad idea right now.

  5. I always go back to David Morrell’s amazing opening for Rambo. Just read it aloud and hear the perfectness of the sounds.

    “His name was Rambo, and he was just some nothing kid for all anybody knew, standing by the pump of a gas station at the outskirts of Madison, Kentucky.”

  6. I don’t know if I could even choose a favorite first line. There have been so many I’ve loved. The post was fun, interesting, and a great plug for First Line Monday, which I joined a couple weeks ago after seeing a post by you! I’m enjoying the group immensely. Thank you!