Saturday, April 25, 2009

First Chapter Study: Murder with Peacocks

This is the second on a series of blog posts analyzing the first chapters of cozy mystery novels. Murder with Peacocks is the first in the successful Meg Langslow series, written by Donna Andrews. This book won the Agatha Award for best first novel. (First person POV.)

Meg is awakened by multiple phone calls regarding three weddings she had agreed to be maid-of-honor for, each requiring her organizational ability. She packs up her iron-working studio, and takes off to concentrate on them.

There is no hint of a mystery, and no description of the setting (she's not even there yet)--just an introduction to the main character and a quick sketch of most of the major characters. But Meg is an vibrant, engaging character and quickly draws the reader in. There is also fair amount of conflict and a bit of tension developed--just not relating to a crime. But you know that Meg is not going to get through all these weddings easily. It's going to be uphill. In the snow. Both ways.

In-depth analysis:

First paragraph: I had become so used to hysterical dawn phone calls that I only muttered one halfhearted oath before answering.

"Peacocks," a voice said.

Okay, technically two paragraphs. But they're short.

You can read more here:

Okay, I have to admit, there's a bit of a hook there. An almost cloak-and-dagger type draw. Who is calling her hysterically? And what is this cryptic, almost code-like word: Peacocks? The unanswered question draws the reader forward, instantly engaged.

Paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of first three pages:

3-6: The time as 6AM It's Samantha, her brother Rob's fiance. She needs peacocks for the upcoming wedding. Meg believes Samantha thinks the whole world revolves around her wedding. Another draw--who hasn't been around a bride-to-be and heard them gush ad-naseum as they plan their 'perfect day'? Instantly identifiable.

7: Meg imagines what Samantha might want peacocks for.

8: Samantha explains

9: Meg writes down "Peacocks" in a notebook. But this is really a gem of a paragraph. The use of words is stellar, and Meg explodes off the page. She lets her future sister-in-law "rattle on." Rofl. I think my character lets her mother "rattle on" too. I think Joanne Fluke lets Hannah's mother "rattle on." It must be a trend. Andrews also uses the hyphenated phrase "notebook-that-tells-me-when-to-breathe." Ok, you learn a lot from that. She is organized--a planner. And even more--personality. People with vibrant personalities make up their own words. Great voice. Make me want to read more.

10-13: Meg reins Samantha in, they decide to try to rent peacocks if possible.

14: More excellent word choices. Meg lets Samantha 'gush.' Interior monologue reveals that Meg might not be so happy about this upcoming union.

15: Mutters, showers, and goes into her iron working forge--a very concise paragraph.

16-25: Megs mother calls and starts a confused conversation about the color blue, before revealing that she's thinking about redoing the living room. This is a great 'showy' paragraph showing that the mother is a bit dotty, and that she also relies on Meg as an organizer.

26: Bit of backstory. Meg's parents are divorced (amicably) and her mother is planning on remarrying.

27: Meg considers the blue room, revealing that her father was well off, but she had no idea about her mother's fiance Jake. And she doesn't know him, or doesn't like him, because she referred to him as "what's-his-name." Again, a wonderful choice of words.

28-30: Meg agrees to ask "Eileen," get swatches, and they can talk about it in a few days.

31: Meg adds blue to her planner, picks up a hammer and the phone rings again. Nice comedic touch.

32-36: Eileen, Meg's friend and business partner calls. Meg is her maid of honor too, and she too has a problem with her wedding plans. Meg reasons with her.

Page 4

Meg gets one more phone call, shuts up her studio, and gets ready to leave to concentrate on all these wedding she is helping with.

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