Category Archives: Opening Lines

Gary Lovisi’s Vic Powers


The Digest Enthusiast #4

The world of Gary Lovisi’s Vic Powers is hardboiled, violent, and unrelenting. Powers metes out justice on his own twisted terms. Kicked off the force for excessive brutality, whatever controls were holding him back were cleanly severed. Now he’s free to track, hunt, and convict any lowlife foolish enough to become his target.

Power’s adventure “A Rat Must Chew” appears in TDE4. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Jimmy Dongen was a Staten Island wiseguy with his dirty hands into more dirty crap than even he could keep track of. Anything and everything to make a buck and not just gambling and other soft vices, but nasty stuff like teenage hookers, drug dealing in schools, selling guns to kiddie gangs. The guys under Jimmy saw him as a greedy fuck, the guys over him saw him as a greedy fuck who brought in
the cash. He was a good earner so they all put up with Jimmy Dongen while he tried his best to smart-ass double-cross them all when they weren’t looking. He figured he’d end up with everything he ever wanted. I don’t think he even knew all of what he wanted—he just wanted.”

Gary Lovisi is an author, also a bookseller and collector who writes about collect- able paperbacks. Under his Gryphon Books imprint, he publishes Paperback Parade, the world’s leading magazine on collectable paperbacks of all kinds. You can find out more about him and his work at his website Gryphon Books

John Dickson Carr and Cabin B-13

ellery_queens_mystery_194405Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

From the story’s introduction: “Numbering its audience in the millions today, the CBS radio-television program series Suspense for a number of years has ranked as one of the finest dramatic programs on the air. It has brought to perfection a new type of high-tension presentation—in tune with our time, in harmony with modern concepts of gripping entertainment.

“In each issue, the magazine Suspense will present one of the distinguished scripts which have made broadcasting history. The initial choice, Honeymoon Terror, was originally given over the CBS network in November, 1943, under the title Cabin B-13, starring Margo and Phillip Dorn.”

“Cabin B-13” was one of the most popular episodes of Suspense, it was rerun in November 1943, but its original broadcast was on March 16, 1943. Even the script had an earlier printing, in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine May 1944.

Image from Galactic Central.

Arthur C. Clarke: Prelude to Space

gn3Galaxy Science Fiction Novels #3 from an excerpt from Steve Carper’s “The Galaxy Science Fiction Novels” from TDE4.

[H.L.] Gold hurriedly filled the slot with the existential opposite of super-science, an original novel set in a recognizable future. It had everything—a rising young star as its author, cutting-edge contemporary subject matter, a realistic style that eschewed Gosh-wow, an astronomical cover that for once indicated the lure of the contents, the true first edition of the first novel ever published by a name destined to achieve world renown. Arthur C. Clarke’s Prelude to Space (#3) fell into Gold’s lap for the least likely possible reason: everybody else in the field had rejected it.”

Opening lines to the novel:
“For five miles straight as an arrow, the gleaming metal track lay along the face of the desert. It pointed to the northwest across the dead heart of the continent and to the ocean beyond. Over this land, once the home of the aborigines, many strange shapes had risen, roaring, in the last generation. The greatest and strangest of them all lay at the head of the launching track along which it was to hurtle into the sky.”

Ray Bradbury’s Small Assassin

Dime Mystery Nov. 1946

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

The idea that a newborn, a tiny baby could be an assassin aiming his sights on his own caregivers, aka his parents, is absurd. Yet, that is the premise of “Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury that was reprinted in the first edition of Suspense Magazine. The story’s first appeared in Dime Mystery (Nov. 1946).

Despite the premise, the story is well-written and has been reprinted in multiple anthologies, including one named for the story. It was adapted for an EC comic book and an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater television series and even has a page on Wikipedia.

Here’s the opening paragraph:
“Just when the idea occurred to her that she was being murdered she could not tell. There had been little subtle signs, little suspicions for the past month; things as deep as sea tides in her, like looking at a perfectly calm stretch of cerulean water and liking it and wanting to bathe in it, and finding, just as the tide takes your body into it, that monsters dwell just under the surface, things unseen, bloated, many-armed, sharp-fanged, malignant and inescapable.”

Image from the Wikipedia page.

A science-storyette from S. Fowler Wright

Stories from Suspense Magazine #1 Spring 1951

“Obviously Suicide” by S. Fowler Wright
. A prolific author who wrote dozens of science fiction, mystery and historical novels between 1924 and 1954. In addition to his own name, Wright often wrote under the names Sidney Fowler and Anthony Wingrave.

His novel, The Adventure of Wyndham Smith (1938) was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries June 1950.

At the time he wrote “Suicide” for Suspense, he was the magazine’s senior contributor at age 70. It’s not exactly science fiction—Suspense labels it a science-storyette (a short or shortened story)—in this case three pages. The opening passage serves as a good summary:

“In about two seconds the Earth would dissolve in a blaze of fire,” the research worker at the N.U. Laboratory told his wife. “There would be a burst of light and—one planet less in the universe. The amazing aspect is its very simplicity. Ii could be made in a backyard shed. All one needs is a combination of three substances, all easy to obtain, and then nothing more than a loop of heated wire.”

Laughing masks when luck’s running good

The final story in the final Ellery Queen digest-sized collection of Dashiell Hammett shorts—Mercury Mystery #233 (1962)—is “When Luck’s Running Good.” The opening paragraph follows:

“A shriek, unmistakenly feminine, and throbbing with terror, pierced the fog. Phil Truax, hurrying up Washington Street, halted in the middle of a stride and became as motionless as the stone apartment buildings that flanked the street.”

Originally titled “Laughing Masks,” the story first appeared in Action Stories in November 1923 under Hammett’s Peter Collinson pseudonym.

(Image from Galactic Central.)

Showdown by Charles Beckman, Jr.

Charles Boeckman (1920–2015), an original pulpster, dropped the “o” from his name and wrote as Charles Beckman, Jr. His story “Showdown” appeared in Flying Eagle’s Gunsmoke in August 1953. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“Dave Segel awoke with a start, reaching for his gun with the instinctive movement of a hunted animal. He lay half-crouched on his blanket, peering into the Stygian blackness with red-rimmed eyes. He had picked this spot shrewdly, knowing that the tangled brush surrounding it would give warning. And he had been right. For it had been the muffled crack of a twig snapping under a stealthy foot that had penetrated his fitful dozing and brought him wide awake.”

Beckman’s stories appeared in pulps and digests of nearly every genre. Recently, two collections of his work have been published: Suspense, Suspicion & Shockers (2012) featuring crime fiction and Saddles, Sixguns & Shootouts (2013) featuring westerns.

Asteroid of Horror

Ed Emshwiller illustration from Super-Science Fiction Oct. 1959

Our final Super-Science Fiction post for now features the opening lines to James Rosenquest’s “Asteroid of Horror” from the last issue which landed on newsstands in October 1959.

“He was a clay pigeon, a sitting duck, a target.”

The story intro explains: “It was a graveyard in space, a feeding ground for an abominable thing that had lived for millions of years and filled its lair with tons upon tons of bare bones.”

The opening spread displays the illustration shown of the abomination by Ed Emshwiller that harkens back to Kelly Freas’ cover painting seen earlier that June.

The dimple in the morgue

Originally titled “The Dimple” when it appeared in Saucy Stories, October 15, 1923, this short, short tale by Dashiell Hammett was retitled “In the Morgue” for Mercury Mystery #233, February 20, 1962. Here’s the opening from the latter:

“Walter Dowe took the last sheet of the manuscript from his typewriter with a satisfied sigh and leaned back in his chair, turning his face to the ceiling to ease the stiffened muscles of his neck. Then he looked at the clock: 3:15 A.M. He yawned, got to his feet, switched off the lights, and went down the hall to his bedroom.”

To introduce the story Ellery Queen informs readers, “A generation or so ago, when this story was first published, an author was not permitted to refer in print to a woman’s legs—they had to be called “limbs”. . .” Even in a magazine called Saucy Stories?!?!?

(Image from Mike Hubert’s Dashiell Hammett website.)

Incident, as in trouble

“Incident at the Bar W” by Robert Turner first appeared in the digest Gunsmoke #2, August 1953. Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The sun was getting low and Esther was out in back of the house, pouring sour milk into the hog trough, when she saw the first rising of dust, several miles southward, across the rolling range. She straightened, sucking in her breath and dropping the wooden bucket. Her hands flew to her hair, glinting yellowly in the late sun, hanging tumbled and loose about her shoulders.”

Turner (1915–1980) wrote under the pseudonyms Ken Murray, Franklin Villa, Glenn Wood and house name Roy Carroll. His stories appeared in Mike Shayne, Pursuit, Manhunt, Chase, Verdict and many other titles. Assuming it’s the same “Robert Turner,” he also wrote the collectable Gunsmoke hardcover based on the television series for Whitman Publishing in 1958.