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Sunday, March 10, 2024


GUEST BLOG / By Greg Levin, novelist, critic
--Few things enthrall me more than cracking (or clicking) open a novel and reading a first line that catapults me into Chapter 1. A line that reminds me why I read, why I write, what it means to be alive. A line that gives me whiplash. A line that makes me forget to feed my pets for the next few hours. 

 Now, not all great opening lines are from great—or even good—books. Some authors know how to grab you and yank you into a story they never quite figured out how to tell or finish. 

On the flipside, not all great books have great opening lines. In fact, many of my favorite novels open with nothing too spectacular—opting to lure readers in slowly before releasing the Kraken. 

 Today, though, I want to shine a light on that elusive literary gem: the phenomenal opening line to a phenomenal novel. Twenty-five such lines, to be exact. With the focus solely on crime fiction books. Keep in mind, selecting the best opening lines to the best books is a highly subjective endeavor. 

That being said, none of my choices are up for discussion. Enjoy! 


It must have been Friday because the fish smell from the Mansion House coffee shop next door was strong enough to build a garage on. —Bay City Blues by Raymond Chandler Death is my beat. —The Poet by Michael Connelly 

It is cold at six-forty in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad. —The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun in his hand. —Vengeance is Mine! By Mickey Spillane 

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement. —Live By Night by Dennis Lehane 

Tyler arrived with the horses, February eighteenth, three days after the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor. —Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard 

It was the bright yellow tape that finally convinced me my sister was dead. —The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson 

One lonesome winter, many years ago, I went hunting in the mountains with Gene Kavanaugh, a grandmaster hitman emeritus. —Black Mountain by Laird Barron 

 They were in one of the “I” states when Zeke told Isaac he had to ride in the trunk for a little while. —By a Spider’s Thread by Laura Lippman 

It’s hard to get lost when you’re coming home from work. —Blonde Faith by Walter Mosley 

 The last camel died at noon. —The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett 

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. —The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood 

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write. — A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell 

We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge. —Darker Than Amber by John D. MacDonald 

Even on the night she died, Rose Shepherd couldn’t sleep. —Scared To Live by Stephen Booth 

Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. —Bluebird by Attica Locke 

 When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man. —Firebreak by Richard Stark (a.k.a., Donald E. Westlake) 

It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby. —In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley 

Bill Roberts decided to rob the firecracker stand on account he didn't have a job and not a nickel's worth of money and his mother was dead and kind of freeze-dried in her bedroom. —Freezer Burn by Joe Lansdale 

The ambulance is still miles away when Dana awakens to the near dark of evening. —The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford 

Years ago, in state documents, Vachel Carmouche was always referred to as the electrician, never as the executioner. —Purple Cane Road by James Lee Burke 

 Winter came like an anarchist with a bomb. —The Pusher by Ed McBain 

 I feel compelled to report that at the moment of death, my entire life did not pass before my eyes in a flash. —I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton 

 The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband. —The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes


AUTHOR BIO. Greg Levin writes subversive thrillers and crime fiction. His novels include The Exit Man, Sick to Death, and In Wolves’ Clothing. Levin's work has been optioned by HBO and Showtime, and has earned him a number of awards and accolades. He’s won two Independent Publisher Book Awards, and has twice been named a Finalist for a National Indie Excellence Book Award. In a starred review of In Wolves’ Clothing, Publishers Weekly wrote, “This author deserves a wide audience.” Levin's agent and mother agree. Levin lived in Austin up until recently, but had to move because the authorities were after him for refusing to say “y’all.” He currently resides with his wife, dog and cat in Sydney, Australia, where he’s already in trouble with authorities for refusing to say “g’day.”

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