Friday, September 01, 2006

Old Beginnings 14


1. The Charles Lindbergh farmhouse glowed with bright, orangish lights. It looked like a fiery castle, especially in that gloomy, fir wooded region of Jersey. Shreds of misty fog touched the boy as he moved closer and closer to his first moment of real glory, his first kill.

It was pitch-dark and the grounds were soggy and muddy and thick with puddles. He had anticipated as much. He'd planned for everything, including the weather.

He wore a size nine man's work boot. The toe and heel of the boots were stuffed with torn cloth and strips of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He wanted to leave footprints, plenty of footprints. A man's footprints. Not the prints of a twelve-year-old boy. They would lead from the county highway called the Stoutsburg-Wertsville Road, up to, then back from, the farmhouse.

He began to shiver as he reached a stand of pines, not thirty yards from the sprawling house. The mansion was just as grand as he'd imagined: seven bedrooms and four baths on the second floor alone. Lucky Lindy and Anne Morrow's place in the country.

2. He gripped the steering wheel loosely as the car, its lights out, drifted slowly to a stop. A few last scraps of gravel kicked out of the tire treads and then silence enveloped him. He took a moment to adjust to the surroundings and then pulled out a pair of worn but still effective night-vision binoculars. The house slowly came into focus. He shifted easily, confidently in his seat. A duffel bag lay on the front seat beside him. The car's interior was faded but clean.The car was also stolen. And from a very unlikely source.

A pair of miniature palm trees hung from the rearview mirror. He smiled grimly as he looked at them. Soon he might be going to the land of palms. Quiet, blue, see-through water, powdery salmon-colored sunsets and late mornings. He had to get out. It was time. For all the occasions he had said that to himself, this time he felt sure.

3. The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, "Why don't you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up."

Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

"You can't wait for ever, sir. Maybe he'll come some other time. We can have the polizei contact the Agency: you can be back here in twenty minutes."

"No," said Leamas, "it's nearly dark now."

"But you can't wait for ever; he's nine hours over schedule."

"If you want to go, go. You've been very good," Leamas added. "I'll tell Kramer you've been damn' good."

"But how long will you wait?"

"Until he comes." Leamas walked to the observation window and stood between the two motionless policemen. Their binoculars were trained on the Eastern checkpoint.

"He's waiting for the dark," Leamas muttered. "I know he is."

"This morning you said he'd come across with the workmen."

Leamas turned on him.

"Agents aren't aeroplanes. They don't have schedules. He's blown, he's on the run, he's frightened. Mundt's after him, now, at this moment. He's only got one chance. Let him choose his time."

4. One year later Detective Thomas Moore disliked the smell of latex, and as he snapped on the gloves, releasing a puff of talcum, he felt the usual twinge of anticipatory nausea. The odor was linked to the most unpleasant aspects of his job, and like one of Pavlov's dogs, trained to salivate on cue, he'd come to associate that rubbery scent with the inevitable accompaniment of blood and body fluids. An olfactory warning to brace himself.

And so he did, as he stood outside the autopsy room. He had walked in straight from the heat, and already sweat was chilling on his skin. It was July 12, a humid and hazy Friday afternoon. Across the city of Boston, air conditioners rattled and dripped, and tempers were flaring. On the Tobin Bridge, cars would already be backed up, fleeing north to the cool forests of Maine. But Moore would not be among them. He had been called back from his vacation, to view a horror he had no wish to confront.

5. ON FEBRUARY 24, 1815, the watchtower at Marseilles signaled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, coming from Smyrna, Trieste and Naples.The quay was soon covered with the usual crowd of curious onlookers, for the arrival of a ship is always a great event in Marseilles, especially when, like the Pharaon, it has been built, rigged and laden in the city and belongs to a local shipowner.

Meanwhile the vessel was approaching the harbor under topsails, jib and foresail, but so slowly and with such an air of melancholy that the onlookers, instinctively sensing misfortune, began to wonder what accident could have happened on board. However, the experienced seamen among them saw that if there had been an accident, it could not have happened to the ship herself, for she had every appearance of being under perfect control. Standing beside the pilot, who was preparing to steer the Pharaon through the narrow entrance of the harbor, was a young man who, with vigilant eyes and rapid gestures, watched every movement of the ship and repeated each of the pilot's orders.

Thrilled enough to read more? Sources posted below:

Old Beginnings 14

1. Along Came a Spider....James Patterson
2. Absolute Power....David Baldacci
3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold....John Le Carre
4. The Surgeon....Tess Gerritsen
5. The Count of Monte Cristo....Alexandre Dumas


BuffySquirrel said...

1. No. Fiction involving real people is a pet hate. Sorry, author! (also, too many paragraphs beginning "he")

2. Not really. No reason to care about the character, or to dislike them, or to want to know more. The writing's okay, but not spectacular.

3. Maybe. It's setting up tension, and I like the Leamas character and the way he's very patient with the other man until that patience suddenly snaps.

4. Meh. One year later...later than what? This is page one! Trying too hard, I think.

5. Depends if the ship is central to the story. If yes, yes. If no, I'd like to know what is before making a decision. So I guess I would read on, but not perhaps beyond the point where the ship disappears, never to return.

whoever said...

#1 - I liked this one. At first I thought it was something like a kid going out deer hunting, and then it gradually became something more sinister. I would read on.

#5 - My heart beats faster as I read this, but only because it is one of my favourite books of all time. Not sure the beginning would have grabbed me otherwise though. Hmmm.

The others did nothing for me at all. *snore*

braun said...

The writing in thrillers is seldom top notch. These appear to be no exception. But then, that's not the point, is it?

I've recently been reading through the John Rain series of thrillers. If deadly Japanese assassins with a love of jazz is wrong, I don't want to be right!

Anonymous said...

I, too, recognized #5 immediately and therefore could not be objective. But is blood-and-thunder really the same as a thriller? I love the former, never read the latter.

~Nancy said...

I don't know, but I liked all of these. Except #3. The dialogue bored me.

I was surprised to find I liked the first one so much. I mean, James Patterson? (I apologize to any Patterson fans out there.)


RainSplats said...

1. Yes. Even if I didn't already know the book is 20 times better than the movie.
2. Yes. It seems familiar. I may have read this already, but I can't place it.
3. No. Good opening, but I'm not in the mood for spy action lately.
4. Yes. I didn't like the "One year later". Confusing. However, I forgot all about it as soon as the talcum powder puffed. Well described - thought I was there.
5. No. Ships--nah....

acd said...

#5 seemed to me to be the only one with anything more than bare competence--with any intrinsic charm. Then I checked the sources and found out why.

acd said...

If deadly Japanese assassins with a love of jazz is wrong, I don't want to be right!

Oh, Braun. If you haven't seen Cowboy Bebop or Kung Fu Hustle, you are missing out on your life's calling.

(Okay, that last one is more Chinese gangsters and golden-age dance numbers. But it is hysterical.)

2readornot said...

I had to look at the titles first as I didn't recognize any of these...I like the james Patterson movies I've seen, but I'm not big on the books -- too graphic. #4 I haven't read, but I love GRAVITY by this author -- I often wish she'd write more like that one. #5 is okay...I loved his other novel (the much more popular one, imo) -- very humorous in its adventure. the other two I've not read -- nor am I likely to.

Anonymous said...

I'd go for #1 #3 #5


"If deadly Japanese assassins with a love of jazz is wrong"

Rain is only half-japanese

marie-anne said...

1) No, like buffysquirel, I'm not fond of books using real people. ANd I didn't like the style.

2) I'd probably give it another page before I make up my mind.

3) I recognized this immediately, even though I haven't read the book. I would probably read on even though I've been disappointed by some LeCarre books. For me they're very hit or miss.

4) I would keep reading. I do like this author and always give her a chance.

5) Most definitely. It's moody, dark, it's obviously an old book. I'd definitely give it a chance.

Virginia Miss said...

1. Although not to my taste, I think it's a good opening, we know what we're in for. I especially liked the last sentence in the first paragraph, it really sets the mood.

2.Not much happening to draw me in, I don't care about the duffel bag or faded car interior, so I'd put this back on the shelf. Although I did like the sentence "Quiet, blue, see-through water, powdery salmon-colored sunsets and late mornings."

3. This one was slow to get going, so I didn't think I'd be interested until I got to the end of this excerpt. Agent on the run hooked me.

4. No, no, no.

5. Historical periods appeal to me, so although this opening is slow, I might stick it for a while longer. The only tension is supplied by the "air of melancholy" but it did make me wonder.

braun said...

acd: Not to worry, I already love both! I'm a big fan of high-flying Kung Fu films, and a small fan of anime.

Anon: Yes, I know he's half American, but it seemed like unnecessary detail.

Chumplet said...

Oooh, I haven't read any of them. Me bad girl.
1. Nah.
2. I'd read on.
3. Heard of it, I'd probably read it.
4. I totally identify with the icky feeling related to a smell. I couln't walk into a Zellers without feeling sick because the prevalent vinyl odour reminded me of the three weeks I worked as a waitress at the Zeller Skillet.
5. I've read and enjoyed Dumas, of course (did he write The Three Musketeers?) but not this one. I'd try it.

What? No Jurassic Park? No DaVinci Code?

HawkOwl said...

I like #5 because I like anything with windships, if it's tolerably competent. However, knowing that it's a thriller, I probably wouldn't read it. I only read thrillers when I'm too tired to do anything else.

A. M. said...

1. Yes. What I do like about Patterson are his trademarks: Short paragraphs, short chapters, story keeps moving. Sentences like the third one in this excerpt.

I think it fits well with the genre.

2. This got printed. Huh. (first paragraph)

Okay, the second paragraph was much better and did make me curious. Could've worked "stolen car" and dufflebag in there.

3.Too slow, repetitive dialogue. Are spy stories still popular?

4. She's on my must-read list anyhow and I will read one (perhaps not this one). Using the old old old Pavlov's dog... Anytime someone associates something w/ sth we don't need to call the dogs out. Yet again.

5. Oh, well, why not throw a historical beginning in here?

While the ship's approaching and the pilot's preparing, I'm leaving.

Unlike for the curious onlookers, a ship's (slooooow) arrival, people standing around etc. is not exciting to me. Neither are swordfights, fainting women, fencing and such.

Then again, I'm not into ships. No pirates, No Captain Hooks, I even hated to have to read Moby Dick at college.

You know what, this might well be dick-lit. There is such a thing, I'm sure.

pacatrue said...

Well, curses. The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite book. In the call for ideas on Old Beginnings, I echoed the suggestion to let minions send in a Start exactly so I could submit the Count. Then I scroll down and here it is. Well, I've already got my next one lined up. There's no ships, but it is old too.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating how tastes differ. Me, I'm a sucker for ships. Especially if there are shipwrecks, pirates, swordfights, or even just a storm at sea. Put a ship in the first paragraph and you've got me.

HawkOwl said...

Oh, that's The Count of Monte-Cristo? Then I'm all about it. But I wouldn't call it a thriller. In French it's called "un roman de cape et d'epee" which doesn't quite translate as a "cloak and dagger" novel. I love that genre, whatever the English name is.

charpentier said...

Only #5. The others are all clumsy and clotted.

kis said...

#1) Sure, I like the notion of a twelve year old being ready to commit his first murder. Not so much the writing as the idea.

# 2) I've actually read this, but had no recollection of it. Just this bit here wouldn't have convinced me to read on. There's really nothing spectacular about the writing itself, and nothing to interest me until "He had to get out. It was time."

#3) Bleh.

#4) Yeah, "One year later," was a little odd, but the rest of it drew me right in. I can just smell that latex, and it ain't nice.

#5) I'd give it a chance. I actually like this kind of convoluted, elevated prose. Boats, bleh, but the writing flows.

McKoala said...

1. Yes. I like that first paragraph - the fiery castle.

2. No. Driving is such a dull start.

3. No. Such a bland conversation.

4. No. Haven't I heard this all somewhere before?

5. Yes. Nice foreshadowing. Well, maybe a bit obvious, but I'm into it.