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Thursday, September 26, 2013
First Page Critique: A HARD MAN TO KILL
What follows is the first page of a work entitled A HARD MAN TO KILL, with my comments afterward. Hope you enjoy both --- Joe Hartlaub
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When I heard the front door creak open, I rolled out of bed and snatched up the handgun that sat on my nightstand. My bare feet felt cold against the wood floor, but my body was taut and my aim steady. My wristwatch said it was six-fifty in the morning.
A steady downpour of rain drummed against my windows, and the street lights slanted through my curtains and projected a small sliver of blurry yellow light.
Footfalls came from the cramped living room outside the door. There were voices. It sounded like two people. Both of them sounded male, and both sounded as though they were moving around the house.
They were having a quiet, whispered conversation, but behind the door I couldn’t make much out. I walked over to the closet, opened it quietly, and slid on my tennis shoes. Then I closed it and stopped.
The footsteps were coming this way.
I moved to the far end of the wall, behind the door, and waited.
The door slowly creaked open and the footsteps came in slow and stopped.
“No one’s here,” the guy said. “I think we’re okay.”
Another voice replied, “Alright, yeah – sounds good. Just check the room for it, okay?”
There were footsteps that clapped away from the room. The door closed and I could see the shadow of a guy making his way to my bed with his back to me. In the darkness I couldn’t make out much other than his scrawny build, but when he stepped into the watery light of the streetpoles I saw he was light haired and was wearing a dark, wet jacket and sodden jeans that clung to his legs. I also saw the glint of the small, silver handgun in his hand.
He was glaring down at my bed, the twisted sheets and the comforter. He seemed to be studying it for a long time. You could almost hear the wheels turning in his head.
Slowly, I came up behind him.
It would’ve gone smoother, but one of the floorboards creaked as I put down my right foot and the guy glanced over his shoulder. I kicked him in the back of his knee, grabbed a handful of his hair, and smashed it against the end of the nightstand. The guy fell to the floor.
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I like this. I like this very much. The author has been studying their Kill Zone Joe Moore, balancing nicely between suspense and action. The narration tells us quite a bit without slowing down the pace, and gets things rolling without diddle-fuddling around. Show, don’t tell? This piece does it. Our narrator hears a noise and but doesn’t seem particularly surprised; he just gets locked and loaded and ready to rock ‘n’ roll. He is expecting trouble. Why? He also doesn’t call 911, which means that he either 1)knows that when seconds count, the police are there in minutes or 2) doesn’t want the police in his house, at least until he has time to clean up. Which is it? Let’s not even mention what’s going to happen when the other burglar checks up on all of that activity in the bedroom. And what are these home invaders looking for? I’d like to see the next couple of pages to find out. If an author can keep that feeling going throughout the book, their job is done.
I have two and one-half minor criticisms before I turn things over to you all for comments: 1) In the first paragraph, our rough and ready protagonist has …”my aim steady.” The narrator is a few paragraphs too early to be aiming at anything. You don’t aim a gun until you have a target. Nobody is even in the room yet. I would submit that “hand steady” would be better; 2) the light comes from the streetpoles, rather than "of"; ½) what’s up with Beany and Cecil doing a burglary at 6:50 in the morning when neighbors are up and maybe walking the dog, leaving for work, going to pick up coffee and donuts, and the like, and thus able to witness a break-in? Roll the time back four hours and it’s a bit more realistic, in my opinion. Those are minor quibles that made me go “umm” but did not detract from my desire to keep reading. I want to see more and I believe at some point that we will all have that opportunity. Author: keep writing and keep up the good work.