Friday, 28 February 2014

Cell by Robin Cook

The insulin molecules invaded like a miniature marauding army.

This is the opening line of a prologue; one short descriptive paragraph that tells us in fairly technical terms about some substance, which - we must assume - kills brain cells. It's all left cryptically unclear, though it's most likely not heroin or meth. It ends with...that's ellipsis. To quote M.R. James: Let's have some more...

When will writers realize that punctuation does not create tension or suspense? I thought that was determined a long time ago with M.R. James's article. Or was it...

Chapter 1:

Westwood, Los Angeles, California
Monday, April 7, 2014, 2:35 A.M.

Kasey Lynch lurched awake.

So begins another novel with the cliché bed setting and accompanying almost obligatory nightmare. It also begins at that mythical bed setting time of night between 2:30 and 3:30 A.M., though most novels that employ this cliché start in bed at around 3:15 as it is closer to the proverbial dead of night, this one is a little unusual beginning at 2:35.

Also the verb lurch is weird here. I appreciate the efforts authors make to use strong verbs, but lurch is a movement and so moving oneself awake is awkward and lacks clarity. Think of synonyms for lurch, do any of these fit any better?

Kasey Lynch staggered awake.
Kasey Lynch wobbled awake.
Kasey Lynch swayed awake.
Kasey Lynch blundered awake.
Kasey Lynch swerved awake.
Kasey Lynch floundered awake.
Kasey Lynch rolled awake.
Kasey Lynch weaved awake.
Kasey Lynch jerked awake.

Only the last one resembles any sense in the context of the sentence. So lurch in this instance, while trying to be creative, is a bad word choice. Anywhere else in the novel and I could forgive this failed attempt at creative exploration, but to have this in the first line, the one line that stands out most in fiction, lacks attention, creativity, writing skill and/or intelligence. I do not want to read more.

You see, the point is this character would already have to be awake in order to lurch, unless she is sleepwalking (or sleep-lurching), which she isn't - or, and this makes me laugh, the character has the tendency to lurch in her sleep. I understand that the intent is to show the character waking up suddenly and then lurching forward (probably jerking upright) in bed, but the word choice, if one stops and thinks about it, doesn't convey this. One solution is to stop reading, another is not to stop and think.

What follows after the first line is some context, where this person is and with whom and why - which means a little back story. Of course discussing a nightmare usually means back story.

First thing said:

"Been awake long?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom


Next line:

No, no, no, no, no.

The title alone should hook. Missing books! Oh, no, no, no, no, no!

The rest of the first paragraph:

This was not what was supposed to happen. This was not it at all.

No, I think we get it. This is preamble and obviously something is wrong, but since readers don't know what it is, why should they care? The only way this novel beginning gets read further is if the reader swallows his annoyance with the preamble babble and reads on despite the useless first paragraph that does nothing but establish tone. I, like most people, need more than tone and a promise of conflict to be hooked.

We soon learn that the library is closed much to the disbelief of a character. And trust me, this almost Seussian disbelief is mentioned a few times: It's shock, horror, and disbelief. A little overdone. It's almost as if the author were still figuring out what comes next, but meantime, let's have some more disbelief.

Chapter 1 ends:

This was definitely not supposed to happen. No. This was not it at all.

Sound familiar? How many authors actually plagiarize their book in same said book?

First thing said:


Verdict: Fail

Rudy globird

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather.

A slightly melodramatic (forgive the oxymoron) image that insinuates tension without actually providing the substance of tension. I added the weather cliche opening for this, even though, strictly speaking we aren't privy to the weather, but one can't get around the fact that the weather plays a big role in this opening line. I can't help but think that this book is going to be in the Virginia Woolf style.

It is 1941. Another war has begun.

I'm not sure which war this is referring to. It can't be WW 2 since that war is not beginning in 1941, already being two years into the conflict. Was there another war happening during the Second World War that I don't know about? Or in those days was the European conflict referred to as one thing and the Japanese-American conflict as another? Regardless, these two sentences leave me puzzled, and it's not the good kind of puzzled that makes me want to keep reading this book, it's the bad kind, that makes me want to put this novel down and grab a history book.

Worse still, the first paragraph and Ms. Pronoun roam along for almost three pages. The first sentence of the last paragraph of this prologue is:

Here they are, on a day early in the Second World War... 

So this only confuse the lines written above even more. Overall the prologue is wafting sentimentality, so much so that the reader is in danger of getting light-headed and passing out. Perhaps that's as it should be as the prologue in its roundabout way is on the topic of suicide and not just any random old boring suicide, but none other than Virginia Woolf's, laced with a dash of the romantic.

Chapter 1:

There are still the flowers to buy.

I can't help but think that this book is going to be in the Virginia Woolf style.

First thing said:

"Madame went out"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

My earliest memories are a confusion of hilly fields and dark, damp stables, and rats that scampered along the beams above my head.

This opening line introduces a setting and reveals character by showing us a rather dismal past we may assume has affected the narrator or perhaps even defines him/her. This is proper use of setting so early in a story, a place and time, which the reader can easily imagine, that has shaped the characters.

But I remember well enough the day of the horse sale. The terror of it stayed with me all my life.

And so the first conflict and inciting event are introduced nice and early. By paragraph 2 we learn that the narrator is a horse. Some may be turned off by this somewhat anthropomorphic story and told from the point of view of an animal. For others this will be what hooks. As this novel is targeting the children's market, the premise should appeal. The idea of a story being told from the point of view of a horse in war time, is interesting regardless of tastes, as it offers the possibility of a fresh perspective.

First thing said:

"Not bad for three guineas, is he?"

Some person says this, not the horse.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood

If Claire had to look back and decide why she had the affair in the first place, she would point to the missing boy.

A couple problems/conflicts are suggested with this opening line that raises questions and kicks a plot into motion. So as an opening line this is effective and hooks. Unfortunately the writer can't resist a weather report in the second sentence:

This was in mid-June, during those first humid days when the air in Virginia hangs thick.

It is a pure setting sentence: time, weather and place. What follows is a slow roundabout way of getting to the point (inciting event, conflict etc.) with description and back story disguised as forward narrative, which is a good way of making back story seem more interesting. If you like this, (being eased into a story) then read on. I don't like it - at least not on the first page.

First thing said:

"Bad Mommy."

I do like the first thing said, because despite its simplicity, it does reveal character.

Verdict: Pass 

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

Some people said Danny Boy Lorca's visions came from the mescal that had fried his brains, or the horse-quirt whippings he took around the ears when he served time on Sugar Land Farm, or the fact he'd been a middleweight club fighter through a string of dust-blown sinkholes where the locals were given a chance to beat up what was called a tomato can, a fighter who leaked blood every place he was hit, in this case a rumdum Indian who ate his pain and never flinched when his opponents broke their hands on his face.

The one thing I don't like about this first sentence/paragraph is its length. However, it introduces a few things and in a wacky manner, establishing tone, that weird sense of wackiness. The character and the circumstances hook in this case, as this person seems like someone who goes beyond the cult mediocrity of us normal people. That's right, we don't like reading about mediocre characters because such characters remind us too much about ourselves. Wink, wink.

The first thing said is said in some foreign language. Not a good sign. I want to read a novel, not learn another language.

Nevertheless I'm hooked for the time being.

Verdict: Cool

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Innocence by Dean Koontz

Having escaped one fire, I expected another.

This sentence is short (nice), implying something bad happened (nice) and something bad will happen (nice), presumably with fire (nice). You pyromaniacs are drooling no doubt. It's preamble at its best.

Unfortunately, the narrator quickly becomes philosophical and starts lecturing us about warmth and light. Check it out if you're interested. I can't be bothered to write it out here.

First thing said:

"You are too high a price to pay."

This comes much later in chapter 6. There is a lot of telling, as is to be expected from a first-person narrative, but this has too much back story that wanders from edifying association to edifying association.

My eyes glaze over, and I start looking for another book to read - any book will do. Well, maybe not any book. I'd rather this to Twilight, but that's not saying much. That's like saying this book is better than the instructions on the back of a Kraft dinner package, though mind, at least I paid attention to those instructions the first time I read them...all the way to the end.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 21 February 2014

Let the Dead Sleep by Heather Graham


"This is it, Ms, Cafferty," Dr. Vincenzo said quietly.

By the end of the first page we have a woman sitting at her father's deathbed, so technically this one doesn't start in bed, at least not with a character that can talk. Father is in a coma. Or not. Coma Dad jets upright and starts speaking with a Scottish accent about a book and things before collapsing back into the bed. Was it a dream? The doctor seems to think so, as Daddy was not in a coma but dead all along.

Thus a secret and mystery are set into motion. The dead talking Daddy scene is amusing- though I suspect that's not what was intended. The reason it sounds funny is that the reader hasn't been hooked emotionally and has still to buy into the premise so still unattached to the characters, an old man jutting out of bed only reminds me of Groundskeeper Willie.

Chapter 1:

It was spring in New Orleans, a beautiful April day, and Angus Cafferty had been dead for three months the afternoon Micheal Quinn followed the widow, Gladys Simon, to The Cheshire Cat, an antiques and curio store on Royal Street.

This line has more information than needs to be in a first sentence. Try writing it out and you'll see what I mean. I'd strike out the weather report and the address of the store and rewrite like this:

Angus Cafferty had been dead three months the afternoon Micheal Quinn followed the widow, Gladys Simon, to The Cheshire Cat, an antiques and curio store.

Or in the very least take out either spring or April day. Both aren't necessary. The other info can be slipped in later. Actually, the author reslips most of it in again anyway in the next paragraph, discussing the store, New Orleans and Royal street with some back story.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Despite the writing there is a story here.

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 20 February 2014

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Late autumn, early morning.

Yawn. Nothing to see here. Move along to the next sentence, maybe it will be actually meaningful and not a sputter of useless words.

It is cold, mist rising from the forest floor, sheathing the green bamboo trees in the grove, muffling sounds, hiding the Twelve Peaks to the east.

A weather report conducted by a tourist guide. The first paragraph continues describing nature before introducing a boy who is angry at the end of page 1. And so by page 2 the story begins, which is what hooks. I'd say just rip out the first page but as page 2 is on the other side, better not.

The book progresses with lots of telling and reads like a nonfiction book.

The first thing said (several pages in):

"How many bowmen are still here?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

"So that's settled, then; we bury her alive in the iron bridle."

So begins a prologue. This is the first thing said in the novel and is effective as it's dialogue that moves plot forward, or in this case introduces plot and conflict with no set up or exposition. See - it is possible to begin a story with conflict but without exposition.

On the downside, there's the pronouns, but even though this line uses pronouns they are pronouns that are willing to commit violence against other pronouns, so it's forgiven, especially as it's dialogue. Anyone speaking this line is already in the middle of an event; it would sound weird if the speaker identified him/herself and the victim in this line, when both speaker and listener already know the players in the drama. But by the second paragraph all the characters are revealed, though still nameless. It is a wonderfully unobtrusive telling and reads naturally - showing the writer has confidence in her characters to tell their own story.

The rest of the short prologue continues as a group of people discuss the best way to kill a woman they obviously think is evil.

Chapter 1:

They say that if you suddenly wake with a shudder, a ghost has walked over your grave.

Beginning with a proverb has its risks, as beginning with an expression everyone's heard betrays a lack of creativity. However, as this is obviously an historical novel, it builds upon the superstitions of the characters that were begun in the prologue. The rest of the first paragraph has something of preambling to it, and begins in a bed and then slows down to description (which is well done) and weather before grinding to a halt with thick paragraphs of back story by page 2.

From the prologue to chapter 1 there is a POV switch from third person to first person. As the prologue is so short it's tolerable in this situation. If the prologue were longer it would be distracting.

Verdict: Pass

...on the strength of the writing style and prologue.

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

How much blood?

This is the first sentence fragment and first paragraph fragment of the prologue, and reads like lexical shrapnel to the brain. Nevertheless, it's a question that raises questions, though without context it looks a little weird just hanging there. What follows is a person preparing to commit suicide and needs an answer to that first question.

Chapter 1:

Tom Thorne leaned down and gently picked up the small glass bottle from the bedside table.

By the end of page 1 we learn that this is a crime scene. The next line:

It was already open, the white cap lying next to the syringe, a few drops of cloudy liquid pooled beneath the tip of the needle.

The crime scene and mystery pull the reader in - no time is wasted with preamble and back story, which is nice. Those who are fans of mystery/crime novels should find themselves hooked right away.

First thing said:


Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

If I hadn't been desperate for a job and a new place to live, I might have made a run for it as soon as I got a good look at the sour face.

On the surface this looks like preamble but it does manage to present a situation that suggests conflict, being desperate to find a new place and a character in the form of a sour face.

What follows is a narrator looking for a job and an interesting help wanted ad. The standard tone of a cocky narrator is established early on. This tone is all the rage nowadays. Then the first chapter plods along with the interview interspersed with back story and witty lines to ensure we understand the clever and adorable personality of the narrator.

First thing said:

"I was expecting a man."

Though this opening dialogue does not reveal plot it does reveal character.

The hook is more in the title. Mystery fans and especially those who like cozy mysteries will definitely be attracted to this, how could they not be with the Dame Christie's name in the title with the word curse?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Maltese Manuscript by Joanne Dobson

The door to my office opened, and a dame walked in, bringing Trouble with her.

I admit I was a little too quick to judge this sentence. On the surface it reads like the epitome of the noir cliche - everything we've come to love and hate about the genre. My initial thought was that this was either the lamest way to begin a noir book à la rip-off, or it was a parody. Either way I didn't like it. Then the second sentence enters the scene and slaps me in the face:

The dame was Sunnye Hardcastle, celebrated crime novelist, and Trouble was her dog, a big Rottweiler with teeth like boning knives.

D'oh. I should have noticed Trouble was uppercase. I like how the first sentence implies cliche but in fact should be taken literally and differently, all the while alluding to the genre's characteristics and poking fun at them.

As I like this genre and the title suggests a book mystery, I think I am what the shrinks call seriously hooked.

First thing said:

"Sunnye Hardcastle?"

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Night Moves by Randy Wayne White

We were half a mile high in a bright everglades sky, on the trail of five Navy torpedo bombers that vanished in 1945, yet my friend Tomlinson remained fixated on the fate of out marina's cat, which had gone missing only two days earlier.

This sentence is long but at least it has something of interest: setting, high in the sky over Florida; characters; context; and some conflict in a missing cat. The only thing that interests me in this sentence, however, is that they are on the trail of the bombers that vanished in 1945. So I would have preferred the narrative follow this line; instead, it goes on about the missing cat.

First thing said:

"The problem with cats," he lectured..."is they have the ability to block human brain probes whenever they're in the damn mood."

In the end, I think this has enough to pull readers in.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 14 February 2014

Roxy's Story by V.C. Andrews

"You see the door?"

Which means someone is getting kicked out of some place. The trained eye can squeeze a little conflict out of this opening scene. From this line the prologue stretches about 20 pages.

Chapter 1:

I had learned about a neighborhood on the Lower West Side where runaways who still had a little money hung out.

This line sounds like a tweet. By paragraph two we have the inevitable weather report. Overall, there is a sniff of conflict for those who like a pinch of social commentary with their entertainment, enjoy a little thinking and a good cause to spruce up a story. But overall, quite an unremarkable opening, pretty standard by all standards.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

This is preamble but good preamble, as it presents an unusual idea. This line also establishes the wacky tone one can expect throughout the rest of the novel. But ultimately this opening line raises a question or two even little kids would love to ask. The kind like: "Um, wait, what?" I like to call it the double-take opening line.

The realty is that most people can actually relate to this opening line. The Princess Bride is a beloved movie the world over, and yet how many can say they have actually read the book? Many people don't even know there is a book, or that the book came first. So many can indeed say with authority that The Princess Bride is their favorite book they've never read.

Chapter 1:

The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette.

Which is to suggest that the ordinary is truly the most beautiful. Either that, or the tone is meant to be flippant. Or both?

First thing said:

"I don't feel Billy is perhaps extending himself quite as much as he might."

Verdict: Pass (definite)

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F.G. Haghenbeck

Among Frida Kahlo's personal effects, there was a little black book called "The Hierba Santa Book."

This is the beginning of a preface or prologue, and my natural inclination is to skip it. It's all in italics, which is annoying. It goes on to explain that this book contained a recipe collection for offerings on the Day of the Dead which is a day when the dead have permission to return to the earth. This book was supposed to be part of an exhibit but vanished. This insert is short at about a page. So this humble beginning gets a definite pass as it establishes a neat premise and introduces some conflict.

Chapter 1:

That night in July wasn't like any other; the rains had gone, leaving a starry sky free of careless clouds weeping tears on the city's residents.

Sigh. There's only one thing worse than a weather report and that's a poetic weather report. The next sentence, which finishes the first paragraph insists on continuing with the weathery narrative using personification to give us a better understanding of wind. That first paragraph does nothing to hook. It does not even hint at a specific place. No character and no conflict. Nothing except words. Only those with insomnia who watch the weather channel at night will love this opening.

First thing said:

"I called you because I need you to take a message to my Godmother."

This is a hard one to rate. The opening prologue hooks but the reader is allowed to walk away with the help of a weather report opening, a cliché opening that really bugs me and never ceases to fail.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Wilderness by Dean Koontz

My mother claimed that in any mirror I had used, she could see my face rather than her own, my face and my singular eyes, and she could not thereafter have the mirror in the house.

Unusual situation that raises enough questions to keep the reader interested in this short story. As a first-person narrative, we get enough to become curious about this character or the mother, if she is crazy. Nothing is for certain and so the reader reads on.

Most often a first line is not enough to reveal conflict, character, setting, theme, tone, mood etc., and so the writer tries a blend as many of these elements as possible as in the case above. It usually works if there is something odd and out of the ordinary - something extraordinary enough to suggest to readers they are about to take a break from their ordinary life.

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 10 February 2014

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

The afternoon was so cold, so relentlessly gray, few pedestrians passed the long island of trees dividing Commonwealth Avenue, and even little dogs, shunted along impatiently, wore thermal coats and offended expressions.

So this story opens with yet another weather report; plus, interestingly enough, little dogs fashionably dressed with pissed off, haughty looks, like those annoying rich snobs that don't work for a living. Damn dogs. But they are being shunted. 

The short of it is: Weather offends - though this we know. But does the reader need to be reminded of it before the story starts? Or is this meant to inform us that Russian weather sucks and is a storm of pathos, intense and engaging enough to read about or start a novel about?

From a third-floor window on the north side of the street, above decorative copper balconies that had long ago turned the color of pale mint, Nina Revskaya surveyed the scene. 

Enter character.

Soon the sun—what little there was of it—would abandon its dismal effort, and all along this strip of well-kept brownstones, streetlamps would glow demurely.

The sun makes a dismal effort? That's relative. But I sympathize with the poetic attempt.

First thing said:


Which does not reveal character or conflict. With three dramatic adverbs in three sentences we must assume this is artsy-fartsy. So the club of artistic-fartistic connoisseurs should love this - a club that looks down on us herd mentality readers.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

What a kinky beginning, or am I misinterpreting? The narrator goes on to describe the head and its angles like this:

Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil.

Flattering. Paragraph 1 ends with a POV switch: You could imagine the skull quite easily.

Um, no I can't, unless you want me to think of it as an over-sized rotting tooth stuck in the dirt and being excavated by Orville Redenbacher.

Paragraph 2 is all of one lonely sentence that stands out in the most comical way:

I'd know her head anywhere.

What would Freud say about this little slip? Personally, I'd bury that sentence in some thickly wooded verbiage, you know, paragraphing à la Kafka, or safer still à la Flaubert and pray readers aren't paying too close attention.

Paragraph 3 gets interesting in a morbidly fascinating way when the narrator talks about how he would love, "like a child", to open his wife's skull and unspool her brain because he wants to know what she's thinking. I thought that was a girl thing, though, always wondering what the better half is thinking. Guys prefer the question: What the hell are you doing? Statistically speaking.

Then come the long, thick paragraphs of back story and I'm already on my way to the next book review.

First thing said:

"Should I remove my soul before I come inside?"

Randomly weird sentence:

My morning breath warmed the pillow, and I changed the subject in my mind.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Every Trick in the Book by Lucy Arlington

By the middle of October, the heat and lassitude of a Southern summer had finally loosed its hold over the quaint, artsy town of Inspiration Valley.

Uh-oh, a weather report! The first paragraph, until its timely demise, continues to discuss weather and then paragraph 2 begins with more weather related themes by describing fall activities in this town. Paragraph 3 continues the season theme but now, it's in relationship to a specific character, the narrator, yet this is where the author manages to introduce a premise.

First thing said:

"Ready to put those guns to good use?"

Sounds like something the typical Southerner would say, or so a non-Southerner would believe. Oh, the realism!

So, despite the opening weather report, which bores me and does not make me feel cozy. Although, if you enjoy watching the weather channel, you'll probably disagree and find such an opening gripping. At least the dialogue is entertaining and perky.

It's great that we have the promise of some entertaining dialogue, unlike many other novels reviewed here that begin talking with something shallow like: "Hello?"


Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Friday, 7 February 2014

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

Audrey Villeneuve knew what she imagined could not possibly be happening.

Preamble in the guise of foreshadowing wastes time. The paragraph ends with:

...she could see it. Hear it. Feel it happening.

This reminds me of an elementary school exercise I did in foreshadowing - the most obvious kind. Basically, this opening tells us that there is something happening, as there should be in all novels, yet refuses to tell us, so as to make us keep reading. That type of opening doesn't hook me; it bugs me. Does this effectively create suspense or just waste time by beating around the bush? You decide. I've chosen the second. This is preamble, telling us that there is awesome conflict instead of showing us what it is.

Fortunately by paragraph 2 we learn what could not possibly be happening, which could have been the first paragraph and would have made for a more powerful beginning instead of watering it down with preamble and introduction. Unfortunately, what could not possibly be happening is happening in a car.

First thing said:

"It's all right."

This is a character talking to herself and doesn't reveal anything about the character that makes me want to care.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin

He’d made sure he wasn't standing too near the open grave.

A pronoun and some setting. No sign of any conflict here, unless Mr. Pronoun is going to be put into the grave. But the next sentence and paragraph answer that possibility:

Closed ranks of the other mourners between him and it.

A sentence fragment hidden in a book and taken with other sentences around it is barely noticeable and fairly tolerable, but when we separate it and let it stand on its lonesome, it's easy to see it for what it is: poor syntax. Yet there is a question: who died? Whoever it was, was he or she murdered?

This is the forth sentence in the book:

Rain wasn't quite falling yet, but it had scheduled an appointment.

Weather - and rain to boot, which adds a new layer of cliché, considering they're at a funeral and all. I feel like I'm reading every other book that does this - and there are lots with such standard exposition. This prologue is broken up into three parts.Part 1 ends with:

As if rain wasn't bad enough . . .

What do you suppose the ellipsis is for? Tension to come? Am I supposed to be like: "Wow, this punctuation is really suspenseful!" Please see M. R. James on ellipses and how they fail. He ridicules this artless cliché much better than I ever could.

Chapter 1:

He was the only person in the office when the phone rang. 

More pronounology coupled with the phone call opening cliché.

Cowan and Bliss had gone to the canteen, and Robison had a doctor’s appointment. Rebus picked up the receiver. It was the front desk.

First thing said:


Which says nothing about character and conflict and is only slightly better than: "Hey," and slightly worse than, "John A. McDonald," or "john?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook

Opening Argument:
The Prosecution

Lost hope conceals a rapier in its gown, Sandrine wrote in the margins of her copy of Julius Caesar.

At first glance this feels like what a first sentence should be: big, lofty, all embracing,  - just plain old epic. It reveals character and hints at conflict; yet, there is a hint of pretentious. The rest of the paragraph is in the same annoying didactic lofty voice.

Things like:

Life should fill our ears with warning...
...she'd penned this little piece...but it falls silent at our infant cry.

Whatever the hell that means. This opening reeks of artsy-fartsy melodramatic sentimentality.

It's hard at first to figure out what's going on. The narrator (secret literary-device Agent Pronoun) is on trial, so in this beginning the only mystery the reader cares about is who Sandrine is - that, and in general what the hell is going on. We're dropped right into the theoretical center of the middle of an elusive plot/life story without much information to construct our imaginations with. Unfortunately, the only thing that can save this is back story and after a slightly satisfying BS dump, by page 2 the plot starts to flex its muscles after breaking away from the sentimental artsy-fartsy sentence lining.

The focus in this beginning is words and general philosophical ideas you can have delivered to your e-mail box by signing up for any number of lofty newsletters. Ultimately, it feels overwritten. I need more than titillating vocabulary and philosophy to pull me into a mystery novel.

Nevertheless, the opening clause grows on one. The emotions of regret manage to make themselves known. Mercifully, by page 2 the writer comes down off his verbose high and tells the story as it should be told, in simple terms - things happening to people.

First thing said:

"You're the proverbial ham sandwich any pubic prosecutor can indict, Sam."

What proverbial ham sandwich would that be? A sam-ham?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Fireproof by Alex Kava

Washington D.C.

Cornell Stamaoran slid his chipped thumbnail through the crisp seal of Jack Daniel's.

Another opening in a bottle. This type of cliché works better in TV and film than in books, perhaps because it's visually more pleasing than intellectually so. Of course, with this cliché, the reason for drinking must soon become clear. In this case, it's a lifestyle as the person is homeless; hence, the stereotyping that homeless people drink. Stereotype plus cliché is not creative.

Chapter 1 feels more like a prologue as there are prologies, characters dying right off the bat. Chapter 2 has entirely different characters. So everyone dying in chapter 1 might hook some people, but as there is no protagonist, I could hardly care who is dying. People and characters die everyday - except in the Hardy Boys.

First thing said:

"Hey, you, get the hell out of here."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 3 February 2014

Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline

Chloe woke up on the floor, her thoughts foggy.

The advantage of reviewing single lines of books is that it allows me to stop and ponder language and meaning and all it implies - one word and one meaning at a time. This line makes me wonder: How is a thought foggy? I understand how the mind is foggy and thoughts are like people inhabiting the fog, but a foggy thought?

Taking it slowly, real slowly, I ponder the next line; it makes me wonder too:

She must have fallen and knocked herself out when she hit the hardwood.

Does this mean that she wanted to knock herself out and that falling was intentional? There are better ways to knock oneself out. And hardwood is an adjective so hardwood what? To infer or not to infer, that is the exercise. The door? Oh, right, the floor.

A better alternative would be something like changing the verb knock out from active - something she is doing to herself, to passive - something that is being done to her:

She must have fallen and got knocked out when she hit the hardwood floor.

This only goes to show how much writers take for granted when it comes to a reader's understanding. Many assume the reader will understand what is meant even though the text is not written exactly as the meaning implied. It's a verification that readers can figure things out despite the writing. Translate these lines literally into another language and they make about as much sense as they actually mean in English.

Anyway, despite the ever so slightly ambiguous sentences, there is a scene here with tension and mystery that raises some questions; so overall, the first couple pages are effective in hooking readers. However, some back story is copied and pasted awkwardly into places, and is totally unnecessary so early in the story. I mean, a woman has been knocked out and the reader is burning to know how and why, but the writer inserts what knocked-out character's favorite color is so to mention what the character used to do - teach art in middle school? That's a fail. At this point I couldn't care less whether the lady is a dirty T-shirt inspector or a vacuum repairwoman. All I care about are the above two questions the scene raises, so I find myself skipping ahead.

First thing said:


That's the second exclamation mark on page 1, so two down and one to go, according to Mr. Leonard.

Verdict: Pass

Because despite the insertions of back story there is a scene with conflict unfolding.

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Slingshot by Matthew Dunn

Berlin, 1995

Each step through the abandoned Soviet military barracks took the Russian intelligence officer closer to the room where men were planning genocide.

It seems we're doing a lot of thrillers that involve the word Soviet lately. Perhaps the publishing industry is subconsciously or consciously trying to tap into the Olympic Games' market - you know, read a thriller about evil Soviets while watching the Games in the ex-Soviet Union. Entertainment tie-ins like this are worth millions.

This opening line is effective; it possesses some setting, a character that is more than just a name or a pronoun  - and a problem, as genocide creates the opportunity for lots of conflict last time I checked. This opening line is also the entire first paragraph. The next line and full paragraph being:

Nikolai Dmitriev hated being here.

Short sentences and short paragraphs speed up the pace, which is useful at the beginning of a story, as it pulls readers in before they can think about resisting to stop reading. Before they know it, they're at the end of chapter 1 and at the check-out line waiting to buy the book.

And the next line and paragraph:

And he loathed what he was about to do.

This line has an element of foreshadowing but also an element of preamble, but it's better than most preambling out there as it does reveal something about the character on an emotional level.

Then there's a short descriptive paragraph before the forward narrative continues onto page 2, where we start getting the standard abbreviations and acronyms that come with this type of thriller: U.S. Delta, SEALs, CIA, SOG, SVR and of course KGB.

First thing said:

"Always late for the party, Nikolai."

Verdict: Pass

Despite the fact that this novel quickly regresses into the genre's clichés, the first sentence does attract attention and pull the reader in, especially so for people who like this genre. Those of you who are fanatical Thomas Hardy or Thomas Pynchon fans, perhaps not.

Rudy Globird

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns

Nurse Spandex was late, and as she broke into a run her rubber-soled clogs went squeak-squeak on the floor of the hallway leading to labor and delivery.

Character, setting, conflict and foreshadowing all in one sentence. Somebody involved with this book is doing something right. Could it be that a published author actually knows what he is doing and doesn't actually need to depend on PR and marketing to succeed?

Snide remarks aside, the rest of the paragraph and first page moves quickly as a scene unfolds, with expertly inserted back story that is sparse and relevant to the plot, like why Nurse Spandex is late and what could happen if the head nurse a.k.a. antagonist in this situation should find out. Just to fill you in, Nurse Spandex was doing the chicken bone wish pose with a guy in a hospital room where a poor colored woman had died that afternoon. So not only do we have some conflict but some weirdness which establishes tone and mood that manages to reveal character.

It's rare for a writer today to begin a simple story just by focusing on character and conflict and yet manage to establish other things like setting, mood, tone etc., that keeps critics and professors happy.

By page 2 the forward narrative starts to settle into a little more back story than I like so early on, but it's still entertaining and reveals character, so I can manage to endure it.

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird