The Hook: The Dead Hamlets by Peter Roman

The Dead Hamlets
The Hook:

I lost the angel Baal in Berlin during a rainstorm of biblical scale. Some might say the weather was a sign of things to come, or maybe a sign of things past. But if there was one thing I’d learned over the ages, it was that the weather was usually just the weather. Usually. So instead of killing Baal and getting drunk on his heavenly grace, I found a bar on a quiet street and got drunk on regular spirits instead. It wasn’t the same, but I’d learned to make do. 

Make that drunker. I hadn’t been sober in months, not since the Barcelona Incident. The less said about that, the better. Let’s just say if I didn’t have a reason to kill angels before, I had one now.

Peter Roman writes:
The first few paragraphs of a novel are always the most important ones to me as a reader. They’re what’ll hook me or lose me. They tell me what I need to know about the style of the book, the writing level of the author, the genre coordinates — basically the whole works.
That means the first few paragraphs of a novel are also the most important ones to me as a writer. So how did I begin my new novel, The Dead Hamlets? By using the ol’ dark and stormy night intro.

It’s a dangerous game opening a book like that. But it’s the perfect start for a tale that is so strongly connected to the theatre world. The Dead Hamlets is a ghost story of sorts, where the immortal Cross must solve the mystery of who or what is killing the members of the faerie queen’s court. As it turns out, Cross’s search leads him to an ancient and startling secret about the Shakespeare play Hamlet. There’s a long tradition of dark and stormy nights in the theatre — lots of blackouts and thunder sound effects. The first stage directions of Macbeth, for instance, are “Thunder and lightning.” So I was hinting at the subject matter of my book in its opening lines. Shortly after that initial scene, I have Cross stumble into a theatre full of the dead — at which point things really get dark and stormy!

There’s a bit of the noir to this opening, too. Cross often treads the same moral ground as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and he operates in the shadows just as many hard-boiled detective characters do. Cross has seen it all and done it all, thanks to his immortality.

Then there’s the angel Baal, who is mentioned in that first line. Opening with Cross hunting the angel immediately sets the tone for the book and tells us a bit about his character. This is a dark and gritty urban fantasy, populated with dangerous and sometimes unpleasant people. Readers of the first book in the series, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, will see immediately that Cross is in a grim place mentally as he’s back to hunting angels for their heavenly grace, which he needs to power his supernatural abilities. He loses Baal and then gets drunk (and later beat up), which tells us that he’s still making a mess of his life. Some things never change for Cross.

Plus, there’s that word “Baal.” The very sound of it is dark and foreboding. This is a book where nothing good is going to happen if characters have names like that.Introducing an angel in the very first sentence of the novel also sets up the supernatural nature of this book. Readers won’t be surprised when other crazy creatures show up, such as the real Witches of Macbeth, the eerie Alice from the Alice in Wonderland tales, a demon, a god of the dead — and a very supernatural and very nasty Shakespeare. If you’re down with the angel, then you’ll be fine with everybody else that arrives with weapons drawn.

As for Berlin? It sets the international scope of this book and reinforces the moodiness of the story. Berlin’s not exactly a place with a lot of happy memories and pleasant associations, after all. And I admit it’s a very subtle nod to the Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, which featured angels hiding out in Berlin. Nick Cave, who has a cameo in the film, would probably feel at home in The Dead Hamlets.The last hook I put in the opening of The Dead Hamlets was the mention of The Barcelona Incident. This kind of lets readers know Cross has a back story and sets up where the book is in the series overall — The Mona Lisa Sacrifice opens and ends on two very different Barcelona incidents, so it’s a rich reference.

There you have it. In a couple of paragraphs I tried to set up the mood and plot of The Dead Hamlets, give an insight into Cross’s state of mind, and describe how the book relates to the first one in the series. Did all these hooks succeed? I suppose the true test of that is if you keep on reading the story. I certainly hope you do, as I’ve got a lot of tales to tell about Cross and his crazy group of friends.
About the author:
Peter Roman is the alter ego of Peter Darbyshire, a Canadian writer. Roman is the author of The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, while Darbyshire has written the novels The Warhol Gang and Please, which won Canada’s national ReLit Award for best novel. Both of them share an office in Vancouver, where there are no angels. You can follow their adventures at
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