Opening Lines in crime fiction


A Spanish crime fiction blog, El blog de Novela Negra y Criminal, publish in a post today that in his opinion Ruth Rendell has the best opening line in the history of crime fiction: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write” (A Judgement In Stone, 1977).

Since I was sure that there were some other great opening lines I search in the Internet and I came across an old post at Detectives Beyond Borders: Great first lines in crime fiction. And, curious enough, I’m actually reading Raymond Chandler’s Trouble is my Business, a collection of short stories, for reasons that I will discover in due time.

One of these short stories, Red Wind, has the opening line mentioned on Peter’s blog: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”

Which crime fiction opening lines do you like most?

7 thoughts on “Opening Lines in crime fiction”

  1. >Jose Ignacio – Now, that's a fascinating question! Opening lines are really the doorway into a novel, so they're quite important. I have to say that I think the opening line for Ruth Rendell's A Judgment in Stone – the one you mention – is my favorite opening line. But there are so many other fine ones, too. For instance, I like this one, from Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:Mrs. Ferrars died on the night of 16-17 September – a Thursday.. I'm not sure what that line appeals to me so much, but it does. It certainly gets one's attention.

  2. >Too many to mention – I love first lines. So here are a few of my favourites:THE LAST GOOD KISS – JAMES CRUMLEYWhen I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.VICTOR GISCHLER – GUN MONKEYSI turned the Chrysler onto the florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should have put some plastic down.LONELYHEART 4122 – COLIN WATSONArthur Henry Spain, Butcher, of Harlow Place, Flaxborough, awoke one morning from a dream in which he had been asking all his customers how to spell 'phlegm' and thought – quite inconsequentially: I haven't seen anything of Lilian lately.FREEZER BURN – JOE LANSDALEBill 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.GUMSHOE – NEVILLE SMITHHe looked like the kind of guy your mother would like to marry your sister. If you had a mother. If you had a sister.TWO WAY SPLIT – ALLAN GUTHRIEFour months and twenty-two days after he stopped taking his medication, Robin Greaves dragged the chair out from under the desk and sat down opposite the private investigator.

  3. >Margot it's interesting one doesn't know why some openings are more appealling than others, but I agree with you they are quite important.Donna, great examples. They are all excellent, thanks very much for your comment.

  4. >I am not good at choosing favourites, but I love the Rendell one. Usually I forget crime novels very soon, but I have always remembered that one.

  5. >I just started a book which has a great first line:"Five years ago, when I lost the last person I cared about, I vowed never again to answer the telephone after midnight."English title: No-one loves a policeman, by Guillermo Orsi. Argentina (written in Spanish orginally, of course 😉 ).I am on page 39 and enjoying it very much so far. English publisher is MacLehose Press (Quercus).

  6. Not crime fiction but my favourite opening line is from Ken Follet’s PILLARS OF THE EARTH “the small boys came early for the hanging”

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