Who Wrote the Best Hook? The Winner Is …

The Caleb and Linda Pirtle Contest, like all good books, has come to a satisfying end.

I had asked for those writers daring enough to enter to write the best first sentence or the best hook for a mystery or thriller.

I guaranteed that I would use the winning entry to begin my next novel. I wanted to see just what intriguing ideas some of America’s top writers could come up with.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I thought they could probably open a book far better than I could.

I was right.

I wanted a hook that was new and original, one that would grab and maybe even mystify the reader.

What I received were enough great first sentences to write a library shelf full of fascinating books.

Rob Guthrie was typical Rob Guthrie, and I expected nothing else. He jumped in with hobnail boots and hit the reader right between the eyes with his hard-hitting, no-nonsense prose.

He wrote: If the severed arm had belonged to her then, well, Spade would have felt, at worse, ambivalent, but when appendages for which there was no accounting started showing up on his doorstep, even a butcher such as he needed to be watching his back.

I don’t know if Rob has nightmares at night, but he can certainly give the reader one.

C. L. Withers also went for the jugular in his own inimitable style. Eighty year old Mavis Pirtle reflexively raised a left hand to touch the warm high-velocity blood spatter coating both wrinkled cheeks, her faded blue eyes round with unexpected exhilaration and delight as she gazed down at the bodies lying motionless on the parlor floor.

Don’t expect Agatha Christie or Miss Jane Marple to solve that one. Such a crime would have to be unraveled by the tough, unflinching mind of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, or, more likely, C. L. Withers.

Greg Keefer, who does not profess to be a writer, certainly should be one. He gave us two entries, and his first could jumpstart the novel with a mind full of fear and questions. He wrote: He awoke with his head pounding. He brushed his hair out of his eyes only to have it full of blood. What was going on, he wondered, his gaze blurry as he saw his friend lying on the floor.

His second entry possessed the same brutal impact. Greg wrote: He opened his eyes and couldn’t see anything except for a silhouette of a woman next to him. The smell of blood filled his nostrils. His head was spinning. The questions were starting to come to his waking thoughts. Who was he, and what was he doing here next to the woman?

The wonderful poet and wordmaster Jo VonBargen pierced the soul with this opener: Having been unconscious for days, she awakens foggy and bewildered to a world bereft of any normality, a world … it turns out … that humanity (the current crop least) has never before experienced: half the land masses are below the rolling seas, and but for a few areas, the other half are ablaze.

The beautiful phrases of Jo VonBargen are like sequences in a dream that floats in and out of your consciousness. I do not have the poetic touch to write her book, but I sure wish she would piece together the next 50,000 words.

Renee L. Richardson, like Jo, reached out and slowly drew a mystical veil across the reader’s vision with a gentle, subtle opening that touched the depths of a woman’s self doubt and emotion: Unscathed by the sequence of events, she stood motionless as she summoned the mirror to remind her of some sign which rendered her human. 

If I read that opening, I would buy the book in a heartbeat.

David Biddle wrote a hook that really tempted me: I was convinced by lunchtime on a very snowy November day that my wife, Deena, had murdered our dog, Millie.

Now there’s a book that can run in a lot of directions. If she murdered the dog, then who else has she killed, and how many, and who should not waste his time on sleep that night?

Madeline Dyer’s hook was equally intriguing: I’d always known he’d come for me; I just hadn’t expected it to be on my wedding day.

Is it a romance?

Or a mystery?

Is someone coming to sweep her off her feet, or does his intentions have to do with leaving her in an unmarked grave on the far side of the woods? I wish I knew.

Stacey James

I liked it a lot. I would like to write that novel.

It would have been so easy to select any of these top entries. And, I’m sure, every reader of every genre, might have made a different decision.


Her opening is brief. It’s simple. It’s poetic. It’s clever. And it paints a picture that is both literary and mesmerizing. I will open my next novel with these words:


The debut novel of Stacey James, Born to Kill, is scheduled for release in October 2012.


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