Of all the topics I've heard discussed at writers' conferences, in writers' workshops, and in writers' groups, none calls forth more adamant opinions than how a book should begin. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what should be on the first page, or the first five pages of a book.
Many say the writer must provide a hook, something that makes the reader need to keep reading. Opinions vary on what will do the job.
For mystery, suspense, and thrillers, some say the writer must open with a scene of violence. Others say there must be a body on page one or by page ten. Still others say the main character must encounter a question to be answered or a puzzle to be solved.
Obviously Dashiell Hammett did not attend these writerly events. He opens The Maltese Falcon with a detailed description of Sam Spade's face. By the way, Spade does not look like Humphrey Bogart.
When I recently graduated from learning how to write a book to learning how to market a book, I discovered a handy way to see how a book should begin. For each of its categories, Amazon provides a list of the 100 best-sellers. The writer has only to choose one and use the "Look Inside" feature to read the opening pages.
I did this recently and discovered the top ten best-selling examples of the kind of book I am writing begin in all sorts of interesting ways. One of them even starts with a physical description of her sleuth.