by Val Tobin
Agents and editors will often decide whether a book is for them by reading the first page of a manuscript. Many readers also decide to buy a book based on that critical first-page sample. Each month I post the first page of a book and you can vote on whether or not you’d read the book based on the sample.
After you vote, I’ll let you know the title of the book, my reaction to the sample, and why I’d keep reading or why I’d put it down. The goal is to have fun while we explore the beginnings of a variety of books and what compels readers to keep reading.
While I won’t divulge the title or author until you’ve read the piece, I will include the genre and any preliminary items (for example, quotes) you’d see when opening the book on your own.
NOTE: Set aside your preference for or against any specific genre and just focus on the writing. Does it compel you to turn the page and find out what comes next? Base your decision to turn the page on the excerpt’s writing alone.
Genre: Psychological Thriller
The body lay on a small square of carpet in the middle of the gun-room floor. Alec Chipstead looked around for something to put over it. He unhooked a raincoat from one of the pegs and, covering the body, reflected too late that he would never wear that again.
He went outside to see the vet off.
‘I’m glad that’s all over.’
‘Extraordinary how painful these things can be,’ said the vet. ‘You’ll get another dog, I suppose?’
‘I expect so. That’s really up to Meg.’
The vet nodded. He got into his car, put his head out of the window and asked Alec if he was sure he didn’t want the body taken away. Alec said, no, thanks, really, he’d see to all that. He watched the car move off, up the long, sloping lane that in those parts was called a drift, under the overhanging branches of the trees, and disappear round the bend where the pine wood began. The sky was a pale silvery-blue, the trees still green but touched here and there with yellow. September had been a wet month and the lawns that ran gently to meet the wood were green too. On the edge of the grass, where a strip of flower border separated it from the paved drive, lay a rubber ball dented with toothmarks. How long had that been there? Months, probably. It was a long time since Fred had been up to playing with a ball. Alec put it into his pocket. He walked round the house, up the stone steps onto the terrace and in by the french windows.
Meg was sitting in the drawing room, pretending to read Country Life …
Would you turn the page? Vote now.
Today’s Book Revealed
Today’s book is A Fatal Inversion by Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine.
Blurb from Amazon
In the long, hot summer of 1976 Adam, Rufus, Shiva, Vivien and Zosie are camping at Wyvis Hall. They don’t ask why they are there or how they are to live; they simply scavenge, steal and sell the family heirlooms. Ten years later, the bodies of a woman and child are discovered in the Hall’s animal cemetery. But which woman? And whose child?
Would I Turn the Page?
If all I had to go on was this first page, I’d flip to the next page and continue reading before deciding whether to buy the book. I found the writing style easy to read, and this first page has an eerie note to it that draws me in.
The mention of a body in the first paragraph had me assuming it was human until I hit the second paragraph where there’s mention of the vet. Then, of course, we learn it’s a dog’s body they discussed.
From there, we’re pulled into the setting, and then into the house where Meg, who is presumably Alec’s wife, sits, “pretending to read” a magazine. I loved how Vine set the stage for this story.
The rest of the book retains that sense of unease and Vine masterfully guides the reader through the mystery. If you read the blurb before you start the book, the questions raised come fast and furious.
Who are the characters mentioned in the blurb? Why doesn’t the story begin with them? How do they relate to Alec Chipstead and his dog? You can probably guess the latter, but you have to read on to verify whether you’re correct.
The story is well crafted, and because it’s a psychological thriller, the author toys with readers and keeps them guessing. I always hesitate to read a book where a young child dies, and since the blurb tells us the bodies of a woman and child are discovered, I almost didn’t read it. But I’m glad I did. Afterward, I cleansed my pallet with a bunch of Nora Roberts and Lee Child books.
Yes, I know Lee Child’s books are violent and innocent people die, but they also have Jack Reacher kicking bad-guy ass as a payoff, so you come out of it feeling avenged. Literary fiction tends to highlight life’s injustices, to shove your face in them. Endings are rarely happy, and you often come away from it incensed or depressed. A genre fiction book tends to have a happy-ever-after ending (romance) or a good-guy-triumphs ending (all others), so you come away from it satisfied.
A Fatal Inversion reminds me of Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train. At times, you don’t know quite what or whom to believe. After a book like that, I need to read three or four light reads where I don’t have to think about anything. I just sit back and let the story do the work.
What do you think?
Does this passage from A Fatal Inversion intrigue you? Does it make you want to turn the page and continue reading? Will you run out now and buy the book? Borrow it?
Val Tobin writes speculative fiction and searches the world over for the perfect butter tart. Her home is in Newmarket, Ontario, where she enjoys writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.