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The Best of Times, exemplified

August 15, 2013

I’ve previously described a first-line-of-a-novel game that I call “The Best of Times.”

Here now are some examples from my family’s most recent competition, in which my dad narrowly defeated Leila, with Leila’s brother Murray placing 3rd in the field of 8.

Can you identify each book’s true first line?


Book 1: Pale Kings and Princes by Robert B. Parker

Back cover blurb (read aloud before fake first lines are composed): “A young hotshot reporter was dead. He had gone to take a look-see at ‘Miami North’–little Wheaton, Massachusetts–the biggest cocaine distribution center above the Mason/Dixon line. Spenser’s job was to find out if the kid died for getting too close to the truth…or to a sweet lady with a jealous husband. But when he showed up in Wheaton, he faced both crooked cops and the kind of muscle only money can buy.”

Possible first lines:

(1A) “Newsroom — this is Mark.”

(1B) Spenser had once dated a girl from Wheaton whose father had found him wanting.

(1C) “Where the hell is Robinson and his story?” — the copy editor was unpleasant at the best of times, and now was on the warpath.

(1D) Tuesday, June 16: Woke up a little before 8:00 and had a light breakfast.

(1E) The phone tip sounded unbelievable — that was all there was to it.

(1F) Matt Barker didn’t want to make the mistake of trying to hustle Spenser twice.

(1G) To tell the truth I never cared from working class towns — too many dismal stories waiting to be played out.

(1H) The sun that brief December day shone weakly through the west-facing window of Garrett Kingsley’s office.


Book 2: Idaho! (Wagons West #13) by Dana Fuller Ross

Back cover blurb: “It’s the wild lawless region beyond the River of No Return. Overrun with gold-crazed prospectors, money-hungry outlaws, and bloodthirsty tribes of Shoshoni and Nez Perce, the Idaho Territory is no place for a family to settle down. Which is why two battalions of cavalry troops are enlisted by the U.S. government to bring law and order to this untamed land. Led by Toby Holt, son of legendary wagon master Whip Holt, and his friend Rob Martin, a new generation of brave men and women are prepared to face whatever dangers lie ahead: hardened criminals overrunning the saloons and bordellos of Boise; marauding tribes spreading murder and mayhem across the mountains; and deadliest of all, an enemy from Toby’s past seeking ruthless revenge. Nothing can stand in the way of a pioneer’s spirit, a nation’s dream, or America’s future…”

Possible first lines:

(2A) The scout gazed south toward what is now Twin Falls.

(2B) Cartwright’s Winchester leapt from its scabbard and found his shoulder as fast as a trout will take a mayfly.

(2C) By the late summer of 1869, people who lived within sight of the railroad tracks that now spanned America, from the cities on the Atlantic Seaboard to those on the Pacific Coast, had grown sufficiently accustomed to the trains rushing past that they no longer raced outside to watch them.

(2D) In this country, a broken wheel was cause for grave concern.

(2E) “The River of No Return” — just the name was enough to make Jonah’s hair stand on end.

(2F) The High Lonesome Range in the Sawtooths was not a hospitable place in January.

(2G) A bit of sinew clung to the rough bark and sent shivers down his spine.

(2H) The mountains and river streams seduced us to head toward her and claim the lands of Idaho.

Pale Kings and Princes

Actual first lines: 1H, 2C.

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