Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

I wake up… 

On a metaphysical level this might be some powerful writing. I can imagine all the stressed-out philosophers, after taking a break from all the hard thinking they do from 9 to 5 and kicking back with a beer to relax and be entertained, being stimulated by this line: I wake up…

Others will simply be mystified by its profoundness. The next line kind of ruins the endless loftiness of the opening line.

The touch of that cold object against my penis wakes me up.

This raises a question or two. Where is this guy? I thought he was in bed. Maybe he is, which would make that cold object all the more troubling. I read on.

I  didn't know I could urinate without being aware of it.

So this guy is in some weird situation in bed. We assume he has suffered some catastrophe but need to read on to find out. The writing is terse, blunt and full of tension. I like it. Read some random lines I've brought together:

I can’'t even make out the nearest voices. If I opened my eyes, would I be able to hear them?… But my eyelids are so heavy: two pieces of lead, coins on my tongue, hammers in my ears, a… a something like tarnished silver in my breath. It all tastes metallic. Or mineral...Then I just lay there, face down on the bed, with my arms hanging, the veins in my wrist tingling...I tighten my face muscles, I open my right eye, and I see it reflected in the squares of glass sewn onto a woman'’s handbag. That’'s what I am. 

First thing said:

"Look, Doctor, he'’s just faking..."

"Mr. Cruz…"

"Even now in the hour of his death he has to trick us!"

So it seems this person is dying or perhaps is just faking it. In any case, there is an uncontrollable desire to read on.

Verdict: Pass

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. The Death of Artemio Cruz comes in as the 72nd best novel of all time.

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

The first indication that her father was unwell had come in June.

There is an indication of conflict in this sentence and there is an indication of characters though the slipping in of the month waters this line down. If something else had been added, like they learned about the father when, say something else was happening, the sentence would have been more complex in its conflict. That it's happening in June does not make me care more, and every word of an opening line needs to make me care. That is the only way to get me reading more.

First thing said:


This comes early on page one, as a scene begins to unfold - the moment the father is ill and returning from a trip. The balance between narrative, dialogue, description and back story is well executed and well proportioned, which means that the opening pace of the novel is quick enough to pull the reader in as it moves towards the hook which is buried somewhere later. It does start to slow down by the time we get to chapter 2, primarily with back story. Chapter 2 begins thus:

When Frances's parents first married, her father had lived as close to respectability as he was able.

The focus of this opening is on establishing the mood and back story. This is fine, but it will not hook as effectively as, say, an opening showcasing a giant tomato staggering down the street, gobbling up first borns.

I do like the title and I think it adds to increasing the interest in picking this up, though perhaps not with sticking with it.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen

Miss Diversey fled Dr. Kirk's study followed by a blistering mouthful of ogrish growls. 

A lot has been said of this mystery with its seemingly unsolvable puzzle. I started reading this and managed to get quite a ways in, more than half, before I stopped. After a while the characters started to bug me and I got to wishing they'd all be found lying there dead on the next page. When I realized that wasn't going to happen, I chucked the book. So I never did learn the solution to this, not that I couldn't look it up if I wanted to, I could, I just don't care.

The opening line epitomizes how this story is told. Fleety characters with melodramatic posturing. Nevertheless, there is character and conflict of a sort, and it's brief and to the point. The conflict, however, is not remarkable, but in a sense it doesn't need to be in the first sentence - though I prefer a sign of creative genius in the opening line, you know, something that hooks me and won't let go. This let's go.

The rest of the paragraph is long, windy, descriptive and a little funny towards the end.

She stood still in the corridor outside the old gentleman's door, her cheeks burning and one of her square washed-out hands pressed to the outraged starch of her bosom. She could hear the angry septuagenarian scuttling about the study in his wheelchair like a Galapagos turtle, muttering anathemas upon her white-capped head in a fantastic potpourri of ancient Hebrew, classic Greek, French, and English.

First thing said:

"And don't come back, do you hear me?" 

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad

About the Author

Adolf Hitler was born in Austria on April 20, 1889.

I think there is a hook here, as the premise of the novel is introduced early. As this falls under the alternate history genre, it caters to a very particular reader. But Hitler roaming around the US is bound to amuse most people. The next paragraph does so much to pull a reader in.

As a young man he migrated to Germany and served in the German army during the Great War. After the war, he dabbled briefly in radical politics in Munich before finally emigrating to New York in 1919. While learning English, he eked out a precarious existence as a sidewalk artist and occasional translator in New York's bohemian haven, Greenwich Village. After several years of this freewheeling life, he began to pick up odd jobs as a magazine and comic illustrator. He did his first interior illustration for the science-fiction magazine Amazing in 1930. By 1932, he was a regular illustrator for the science-fiction magazines, and, by 1935, he had enough confidence in his English to make his debut as a science-fiction writer. He devoted the rest of his life to the science-fiction genre as a writer, illustrator, and fanzine editor. Although best known to present-day SF fans for his novels and stories. Hitler was a popular illustrator during the Golden Age of the thirties, edited several anthologies, wrote lively reviews, and published a popular fanzine. Storm, for nearly ten years.

He won a posthumous Hugo at the 1955 World Science-Fiction Convention for Lord of the Swastika, which was completed just before his death in 1953. For many years, he had been a popular figure at SF conventions, widely known in science-fiction fandom as a wit and nonstop raconteur. Ever since the book's publication, the colorful costumes he created in Lord of the Swastika have been favorite themes at convention masquerades. Hitler died in 1953, but the stories and novels he left behind remain as a legacy to all science-fiction enthusiasts.

This should be treated as a preface or prologue as it is obviously part of the fiction of the novel. It reveals the promise and hook of sorts right off the bat. It's slightly creative to think of Hitler as a writer and biker who immigrated to America.

With a great groaning of tired metal and a hiss of escaping steam, the roadsteamer from Gormond came to a halt in the grimy yard of the Pormi depot, a mere three hours late; quite a respectable performance by Borgravian standards. 

This line means that the plot is arriving in a vehicle.

Assorted, roughly humanoid, creatures shambled from the steamer displaying the usual Borgravian variety of skin hues, body parts, and gaits. Bits of food from the more or less continuous picnic that these mutants had held throughout the twelve-hour trip clung to their rude and, for the most part, threadbare clothing. A sour stale odor clung to this gaggle of motley specimens as they scuttled across the muddy courtyard toward the unadorned concrete shed that served as a terminal.

Usually descriptive writing slows the pace, and if it's early in the novel, can unhook a reader fairly quickly, but I like the writing here and the description is filled with conflict.

First thing said:

"Day pass, citizen, or citizen candidate?"

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar


In its own way, this book consists of many books, but two books above all.

The first can be read in a normal fashion and it ends with Chapter 56, at the close of which there are three garish little stars which stand for the words The End. Consequently, the reader may ignore what follows with a clean conscience.

The second should be read by beginning with Chapter 73 and then following the sequence indicated at the end of each chapter. In case of confusion or forgetfulness, one need only consult the following list: etc.

This is how my copy of the book begins. It's an interesting idea if it's true, I mean reading a book out of order or that there are two different ways to read a book, in two different orders that would produce two different stories.

Chapter 1 begins like this:

WOULD I find La Maga? 

This raises a question but there is no reason to care.

Most of the time it was just a case of my putting in an appearance, going along the Rue de Seine to the arch leading into the Quai de Conti, and I would see her slender form against the olive-ashen light which floats along the river as she crossed back and forth on the Pont des Arts, or leaned over the iron rail looking at the water. It was quite natural for me to climb the steps to the bridge, go into its narrowness and over to where La Maga stood. 

The writing style is descriptive yet tight. Nevertheless, this opening fails to hook me. It is literary fiction and therefore one must make a conscious decision to read this and carry on with shear will, as the writer has other things on his mind besides hooking.

First thing said:

"You couldn't do it," she said. "You think too much before you do anything."

This is near the end of chapter 3, so characters saying things doesn't figure into the story telling process in this novel, at least not in the beginning.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley

Nick Naylor had been called many things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan.

Character, premise and a tantalizing hint of conflict in the form of being accused of being not unlike Satan starts this book off. The opening paragraph is witty, descriptive, creative and ends with:


Tone is well established and one can't help but think this will be a fun read.

The rest of the prologue goes on to tell us that Nick works for the cigarette companies and is about to give a speech in front of health professionals. Nick that proceeds to spin, with expertise, in favor of the smoking campaign, making the anti-smoking camp look like a bunch of murderous doctors bent on taking away our core freedoms. Fun.

Chapter 1:

There was a thick stack of WHILE YOU WERE OUTS when he got back to the Academy's office in one of the more interesting buildings on K Street, hollowed out in the middle with a ten-story atrium with balconies dripping with ivy.

A little overwritten, but at least chapter 1 takes over where the prologue left off and isn't about different people in a different place.The paragraphs are long and descriptive slowing the narrative down, but most readers should be hooked by the prologue and be able to weather their way through the long, rambling opening paragraphs of chapter 1.

First thing said:

"Believe it or not, I'm delighted to be here at the Clean Lungs 2000 symposium."

Verdict: Pass

Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Horns by Joe Hill

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.

There is an element of preamble in this line: drunk guy does bad things. Read on to find out if you care; if you dare.

The next line:

He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances. 
Damn those protuberances. In chapter 1, which is so short, not even a page, we learn that this guy wakes up with horns, hence the title. Now the question is, what the heck did this guy do last night in a drunken stupor that warrants being branded with horns? But it is nice that the hook and premise are revealed right out of the gate. The stakes have been set and now the reader reads on to see how Ignatius deals with his protuberances.

It sounds obvious for a horror story, and in a way a little cheesy sounding: a guy with horns. Let the jokes begin.

First thing said:

"I'm sick."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.

There are a couple things about this opening line that work. First the concept of Sacrifice Poles raises a question or two, and secondly the fact that the narrator's brother escaped. One assumes that this means either from a mental asylum or a prison. One doesn't escape from, say, an office job in Barrie, Ontario. Anyway, this raises other questions, like who is this brother, and more specifically, what has he done to be somewhere that needed escaping from?

The next and final line of the first paragraph contains another puzzling word:

I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.

While not very scary yet, there is a mood that is created in this opening paragraph with the capitalization of Sacrifice Poles and Factory. It makes one wonder if this isn't set in Kentucky or just down the street from the set of Deliverance. Establishing the mood early is important in dark fantasy and the wording in this opening line can't help but give one the creeps, at least a little.

In the next paragraph we learn about the Sacrifice Poles hold animals parts, like a rat head with dragonflies and another with a seagull and two mice.

First thing said:

"Diggs was just here."

Verdict: Pass

Theodore Moracht

Friday, 10 October 2014

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

The rusty iron staircase leading downstairs was narrow and steep.

After the all important introduction of a rusty staircase we get Mr. Pronoun feeling for the light switch. The opening paragraph is long and descriptive with heavy words designed to create an overwhelming sense of atmosphere akin to a 1970's B film Gothic epic - until a Bryan Adams' song starts playing, that is. Fortunately, we're not made privy to which.

First thing said:

"Hello, Snow White."

The point of the prologue is that Ms. Pronoun, called Snow White, must be kept hidden. We can infer she is dead, until the writer comes out and states this directly, for those who don't have a very high reading comprehension level. This pronoun must be a little weird for keeping a dead body and pretending it is still alive, talking to it, dreaming for it to smile. So there is a little mystery here that raises some questions. But as I've seen Psycho, I can't say I'm too shocked by this plot point. Truth be told, weirdos keeping dead bodies as companions is getting a bit cliche in fiction.

Chapter 1:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

He didn't say "See you later."

The reason why is apparent in the next line:

Nobody who was let out of the slammer ever said "See you later."

The pronounolgy is ripe in this opening. Mr. Pronoun is let out of prison. Not much conflict here, unless the guy is homicidal or something.

Setting is established first to establish mood. The pronounology only adds to this effect and is obviously intentional. Doing it this way may hook some readers, but in my experience and to my taste, it comes off as melodramatic and, well, cheesy.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Rudy Globird

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Corpse Bridge by Stephen Booth

Thursday 31 October

Dusk was falling on the Corpse Bridge by the time Jason Shaw reached the river.

The rest of the paragraph is about weather coupled with the problem that this person is going to be late. The only interesting thing about this paragraph is the name Corpse Bridge. But that isn't enough to pull me in; after all, it is the title of the novel, so the name of the bridge comes as no surprise. I like the title; it's effective and would work better in conjunction with the opening line to maximize the hook. Repeating the title in the opening line reads like a wasted opportunity, a redundancy.

Oh, and the fact that it is Halloween doesn't hook. Why should it? Nothing disturbing or evil ever happens on Halloween.

The second paragraph begins with more weather:

Jason had come out unprepared for the downpour.

This makes it seem like the biggest problem in the beginning, what one might call the inciting event, is the rainy weather.

Then Jason sees a person running on the other side of the bridge and that's it - the narrative is interrupted with a break and POV switch to two different characters on page 3.

First thing said:

"It was definitely you."

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Good Marriage by Stephen King

The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage, was this: How was your marriage?

By paragraph 3 we get the bio of this character starting with: She had been born.... The back story dump goes on for pages and would be a total fail if it weren't for the fact that life is not perfect and filled with some conflict, which is all that's needed to make life interesting to read about. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder if King is trying to put the classics to shame with all the back story so early and so dense. Darcy's whole life is covered in chapter 1, bringing us right up to the garage.

Chapter 2 begins with the dilemma of not have batteries in the remote control, and not having the right ones in the house. It is explained that there are other sizes, C's and D's and tiny triple A's but no double A's! So she must go out into the garage because she doesn't know how to change the channel manually. But I ain't buying it. At this point King is giving me every reason to stop caring about the garage, as he seems more interested in beating around the bushes with life history, batteries and TV shows. I feel the overwhelming urge to stop reading now.

However, I think this opening line has enough to raise a question or two. What was it she found and why is it of interest that no one is asking about her marriage?

First thing said:

"No coin collections?"

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Koko by Peter Straub

At three o'clock i the afternoon of a grey, blowing mid-November day, a baby doctor named Michael Poole looked down through the windows of his second-floor room into the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel.

I have high standards when it comes to horror. The standard is that I must be scared or disturbed on the first page, and/or I must find something unsettling in the writing. I use The Haunting of Hill House as my guiding light. That opening line is about as perfect as it gets for a horror novel. I rarely see anything that comes close to it, not even from the so-called experts of horror like Stephen King or Peter Straub.

This line begins with that age-old cliche: weather, before shifting to some guy looking out a window. It is not scary, though is perhaps a little moody. In support of Mood we have phrasing like that of baby doctor which does unsettle, ever so slightly. As well, the wording in places support the dark fantasy mood in the opening paragraph: we have words like lunatic, grinding, frustrated, enemy, damn and sacrificed. But it takes more than the right wording to hook a horror fanatic.

Mood is vital to getting the reader in the mood to be scared, but it needs to be in conjunction with character and conflict and not introduced first all by itself, as if there is some order to unrolling the literary devices in order to tell a story.

First thing said:

"Well, damn."

Verdict: Fail

With horror novels I don't want the promise of fear. I want it on the first page and in the first sentence. If the opening doesn't have the goods, then a horror novel is not doing what it's supposed to be doing on page 1 and therefore will not hook. This hooks because it contains the byline hook. If John Smith wrote this, with this opening, it would never see the light of day, which is to say, there is justice in the Universe, just not in these parts.

Theodore Moracht

Monday, 6 October 2014

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in the village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

The next sentence is about the riverbed and pebbles and then with the third sentence of the first paragraph do we get the beginning of a hook:

Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust the raised powdered the leaves of the trees.

What's of interest is the troop movement and not the fact that they're making everything dusty. But this beginning is all about painting a picture of the scene, the fields and trees and weather before introducing character and conflict. But with the mention of troops the reader has something human to hold onto until concrete characters and conflict come, that is to say when the story actually starts, which doesn't take too long. It is mostly telling in chapter 1 and 2 which establishes the tone and mood. It tells of the struggles the fighting man had in World War 1, things like poor weather, disease, bullets.

First thing said:

"Priest today with girls."

Odd beginning of speech in any novel, as a captain picks on and bullies a priest as that is the only entertainment fighting men had. It's quite good and rather funny and is fairly early midway through chapter 2.

The opening line has no hook and is nothing to write home about, but by the end of the short chapter 1 it's possible for readers to get pulled in.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. A Farewell to Arms is considered the 73rd best novel of all time.

Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

When I reached 'C' Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full few below me through the grey mist of early morning.

Thus begins the prologue. We have an unobtrusive introduction of setting - that of a military conflict, presumably that of World War 1, with a little weather to dull or soften the blow.

Chapter 1:

"I have been here before," I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.

I think this is a classic example of abusing the semicolon, using them as if they are chains pulling all the sentences together as they are being dragged across the page. The description of weather past is also to blame for making this line looked bloated. I mean all of that line just to say: I was there before. If I had a friend who rambled on like that I'd be in jail for assault.

First thing said:

"Has Mr Hooper been round?"

The prologue is of some interest with scenes and conflict and characters. It's long though, and there are lots of interruptions to the forward narrative.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Brideshead Revisited ranks as the 74th greatest novel of all time.

Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

I  can never bring myself to believe it, John," said Mary Walker, the pretty daughter of Mr. George Walker, attorney of Silverbridge. 

With an opening that contains dialogue we are usually forced to keep reading in order to understand what is happening. With this line there is a hint of trouble, but no way to surmise what that conflict might be. It could be about anything from a lost puppy to a cross-dressing priest. Though, the later is somewhat unlikely considering it's Trollope.

So let's read on and see if there is a hook in the rest of the first paragraph.

Walker and Winthrop was the name of the firm, and they were respectable people, who did all the solicitors' business that had to be done in that part of Barsetshire on behalf of the Crown, were employed on the local business of the Duke of Omnium who is great in those parts, and altogether held their heads up high, as provincial lawyers often do. They,—the Walkers,—lived in a great brick house in the middle of the town, gave dinners, to which the county gentlemen not unfrequently condescended to come, and in a mild way led the fashion in Silverbridge. "I can never bring myself to believe it, John," said Miss Walker.

Nope, no hook there, just back story. Then:

"You'll have to bring yourself to believe it," said John, without taking his eyes from his book.

"A clergyman,—and such a clergyman too!"

Suddenly the cross-dressing priest is looking more and more like an option until we learn that this clergyman is in debt. Oh, the tension!

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. The Last Chronicle of Barset comes in as the 75th best novel of all time.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

November 2009

We were headed for the Verrazano Bridge, caught in traffic.

Great another opening that's stuck in traffic. So while we wait, and the characters wait in the car, why not take this opportunity for some superfluous information, on weather and seasons and some back story?

It was several weeks before thanksgiving, which I remember because there was a massive billboard hanging from a crumbling brick building off a highway in Sunset Park.

Here the narrator is ensuring the reader that he/she/whoever is not going to be one of those pesky unreliable narrators, as he/she/whoever goes out of her way to prove that it is a certain amount of ambiguous time before the holiday. The next paragraph talks about the weather: ...heat and gas from cars rose in waves.

First thing said:


The story problem on the opening pages is that someone is not getting pregnant. So with a title like The Mothers, this is certainly a problem.

On the plus side, the tone and mood is established right away, with some characters being revealed and the writing is light and easy. Still, I don't see a hook in the first couple of pages, besides the barren, infertile, unfruitful womb and/or impotence element. For some this might make for gripping reading and pull them in, but for me? Nah. Once I'm old, fat, bald and impotent I may come back to this opening with a new-found understanding and appreciation, but until then - next book on the shelf.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

It is hard to understand nothing, but the multiverse is full of it.

Honestly, I have not read any Pratchett. He's not even a genre I am well read in, but I like this opening line because it makes me stop and think for a moment. Does this mean that it is hard to understand nothing, meaning it is hard to be dumb, or does this mean it is hard to understand the concept of nothing? The second option naturally presents for more stimulating philosophical conversation, though I wouldn't mind a discussion on the first interpretation either, which would lead to some fascinating ridicule. The second line answers this question.

Nothing travels everywhere, always ahead of something, and in the great cloud of unknowing nothing yearns to become something, to break out, to move, to feel, to change, to dance and to experience -  in short, to be something.

So this is about the second, that nothing has a somethingness about it. I like the obvious reference to that great mystical work: The Cloud of Unknowing that every fifth grader has read or at least can relate to, which states, so to speak, that in order to know anything about something one must first give up what one thinks one knows about it, which is to say that to know something of the unknown we must unknow something in relation to what is known about the object of our desire: the unknown.

Anyway what has all this to do with plot and character, or are we reading a fictionalized account of Dionysius the Areopagite? The first two paragraphs read like an origin myth of some sort before we get into setting, which for this genre is fairly essential early in order to establish the worthiness of a fantasy novel, but it is brief and we are soon, on page 2 in fact, introduced to characters.

First thing said:


Verdict: Pass (Barely)

Theodore Moracht