"You could go around and ask people about their favorite first lines," he said. "I think you'll find that most of them, right away, establish the sense of voice we talked about. Why not do it? I'd love to know, like, Jonathan Franzen's favorite first line."
So I reached out to Franzen and 21 other writers. In honor of King's new novel Joyland and its nouveau-pulp publisher Hard Case Crime, there are a good number of crime writers featured in this list. Other writers I spoke to don't write crime fiction at all, preferring to focus on other brands of human mystery. Collected below, the opening lines they picked range widely in tone and execution--but in each, you can almost feel the reader's mind beginning to listen, hear the inward swing of some inviting door.
Megan Abbott (Dare Me, The End of Everything)
I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. --Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest
Charles Ardai (Editor, Hard Case Crime; author of Fifty-to-One)
The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of the Dancers. --Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Margaret Atwood (Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin)
@joefassler: "Call me Ishmael." 3 words. Power-packed. Why Ishmael? It's not his real name. Who's he speaking to? Eh?--Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) July 22, 2013
David Gilbert (& Sons, The Normals)
Call me Ishmael. --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Yes, yes, perhaps not the most original choice, but the power of those three words still to this day excite my blood like no other. It is both command and entreaty, a rechristening by way of pen scratching into paper. A second before this person was likely a John or a Philip, a Henry. A strange kind of pause lingers. An end before the beginning.