No-nonsense openings then and now
One day Thjostolf suggested that similarities existed between the Icelandic sagas and the pulp and paperback-original crime fiction I sometimes read.
"Behold," he said, indicating the opening of Egil's Saga:
"There was a man named Ulf, the son of Bjalfi and of Hallbera, the daughter of Ulf the Fearless."and "Dig this," pulling out his tattered reprint of Charles Runyon's The Anatomy of Violence:
"Each evening a twilight wind blows through Cutright City.""And this," voice hushed, as he read from a text we both regard with near-scriptural reverence:
"Kells walked north on Spring.” *Thjostolf was right. In each case the author plunges right into the story, wasting no words. Arnaldur Indriðason, the best of the current Nordic crime writers, claims inspiration from the Icelandic sagas, though I edged toward the door as I reminded Thjostolf that Arnaldur attributed their concision to economic necessity rather than love of laconic prose. Ruminations, false starts, lengthy description, useless adverbs, and seventy pages of the hero dipping his madeleine in a cup of tea would have made a prodigious waste of calfskin, the expensive material on which the Icelanders set down their stories.
But Thjostolf just nodded and reminded me, in turn, that Josef Škvorecký once had a character suggest the Nordic sagas had inspired Dashiell Hammett. Škvorecký may have been taking the piss, but Hammett, the sagas, and punchy openings of the kind offered above will appeal to readers who like their stories brisk, their prose clean, and their humor deadpan.
Speaking of clean prose that wastes no words, I reminded Thjostolf, I have to get back to work on the copy desk. Thjostolf, who hates a bad sentence as much as I do, tightened his hand on the grip of his sword but said nothing. Maybe he'll make an executive after all.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013