Wednesday, May 01, 2013

"That line belongs in a crime novel"

"`It is raining on the city.' The streetlights have been on for two hours, lighting up the closed shutters and doors of silent facades. The city is still and secluded, cunning, hostile, and frightened... 
"This was a calm day, a sad autumn day..."
That would be a good opening for a crime story, maybe a novel by Simenon or something out of Northern Ireland, or for a piece of urban post-apocalyptic fantasy. But it's neither. What it is is the opening of the Algerian writer Mouloud Feraoun's journal of the French-Algerian war.  As if that opening is not ominous enough, Feraoun was murdered by the OAS three days before the cease-fire decreed by the French government under the accord that ended the war.

What kind of a story would you expect from a crime novel that began the way Feraoun began his journal?  What passages have you read outside of crime writing that would make good openings or descriptions in a crime novel?

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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8 Comments:

Blogger Cary Watson said...

Here's the opening sentence from Yasmine Gooneratne's novel The Sweet and Simple Kind:

"Loyalty (and the damnable lack of it in his wife) was the thought uppermost in the mind of Sir Andrew Millbanke as he looked down at Lady Alexandra's dead body, spread-eagled on the paved pathway of the Residency."

Sweet isn't a mystery, but a sprawling epic set in the '50s about Ceylon\s transition to being Sri Lanka, and with an opening like that you can't help but read on. It's very good. It also has this line which is one of the nicest pieces of description I've come across lately:

"When the wreaths of mist lift, leaving the grass wet with dew, mornings on the estate clink and ring with birdsong, sounding very much as if a crowd of children were jingling thin silver coins in their pockets, considering the possibilities."

That's poetry, that is.

May 02, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Perhaps a fine crime novel could begin with this: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

May 02, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Algeria has really got its hook into you, hasn't it?

May 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cary, I like both those bits. The detachment of the first part of the first bit sounds a bit like an amusedly detached espionage story, maybe something Michael Gilbert might have written. And, quite naturally, the rest of the sentence makes me think I'm about to read a murder mystery, probably English.

Quite naturally considering my recent reading preoccupations, when I read the author's first name, I thought, Aha! Algerian!

Thanks.

May 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I think of that more as a caution to crime writers than as an opening to a crime novel. A caution, at least, to hard-boiled or noir writers who really think their times are worse than others.

It's a marvelously funny opening, and it gets even better in the next paragraph:

"There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France."

May 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, why would you think that? Just because I've listening all week to an album I bought by this guy? Or because that's a change of pace only from his compatriots Rachid Taha and Reinette L'Oranaise?


But yes, Algeria has for at least sixty years been a crucible for so many explosive issues, not least from the 1990s on, when you had rai singers being banned by the post-revolutionary government.

May 03, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Cheb Kader--I like.

May 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

OH, there's some good stuff on the album, with touches of salsa and soukous. And the there's all the influences that Rachid Taha takes in. Interesting country, interesting music.

May 03, 2013  

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