The Openings Of 5 Great Suspense Novels No.1
I have to review a lot of thrillers. Many start out with a paragraph describing the weather. They go in the bin. Others starts with a cop pulling on a cigarette and staring at a dead body. Just as predictable as the weather – bin. But it shouldn’t be like this, particularly in a thriller. You should be grabbed and dragged into the story from the outset. Here are five good openings, picked at random from the shelves of books I hang onto.
1. Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
In the first paragraph we discover that Rosemary and Guy want to buy an apartment. But Levin instantly creates an insurmountable problem for them on the very first page – they’ve just signed the lease on their second choice the previous day. How will they get out of it? From that moment on, you’re sucked into their world.
2. No Way To Treat A Lady – William Goldman
You usually know a little about a book before you buy it. Goldman plays on this on his first page, in which a priest knocks on a woman’s door and asks to see her. She tells him she’s not dressed, and that she doesn’t know him. He says he’s new to the area and insists on seeing her. Goldman doesn’t assume his readers are stupid. Tension rises off that first page like steam.
3. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
This astonishing SF/war thriller starts with a sergeant telling his recruits that there are eight silent ways to kill a man. It’s no ordinary troop – they’re being trained to kill aliens, and the hero gets sex on the second page in his bunk; it’s a mixed-sex regiment (although I suppose it needn’t have been). And the frontline is 1,200 years away…you’re hooked.
4. Blackwater – Michael McDowell
This six volume epic by the creator of ‘Beetlejuice’ starts with a long descriptive passage, which is a brave move. It paints a picture of a town – nothing unusual there, except that it’s underwater. Who could resist the description of a flood in the Bayou? It’s an overheated suspenseful history of a family that mixes melodrama and just a hint of the supernatural to superior effect.
5. Love Lies Bleeding – Edmund Crispin
It’s not one of his best books, but this is a good example of another type of opening. The author asks you to draw a map starting at Piccadilly Circus, and then proceeds to explain why he needs you to draw it. I did something similar when I started ‘Psychoville’ by explaining how to make an incendiary bomb at home. (I left out one crucial component.) Instructions are always a great hook.