A sampling of the opening lines from books out this week

Blood Winter

By Laurie Colwin
Poseidon, $18.95

During my career as a backup singer with Vernon and Ruby Shakely and the Shakettes, it often occurred to me that this was not a lifetime occupation and that someday I would have to figure out my rightful place in society. I did not want to think about these things: I wanted to get out on stage and dance. The Shakelys thought it was cool to hire a white Shakette every once in a while, and for a while I was it. Previous to that I had been a graduate student, sitting in the library at the University of Chicago getting older and older, trying to think of a topic for my doctoral dissertation and, once having found the topic, trying to write about it.

By William Patrick
Viking, $19.95

Black crows hung in butcher shops windows all across Germany that winter. The joke in Berlin was that soon there would be no more rat to eat, only rat substitute. It was the third year of the war, the third year of the British blockade, and in the city cooks experimented with rice lamb chops, nut cutlet, and pale green vegetable steak. They extracted fats from snails and old boots and hair. Resourceful bakers had learned to make a bread out of potato peel, ground turnips, and sawdust, but then the summer rains came and rotted the potato crop, leaving only the turnips and the sawdust.

By James Ellroy
Mysterious Press, $19.95

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10- gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border — right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River. He’d been running a week; he’d spent fifty-six grand staying alive: cars, hideouts at four and five thousand a night — risk rates — the innkeepers knew Mickey C. was after him for heisting his dope summit and his woman, the L.A. Police wanted him for killing one of their own.

A Journey Among the Women of India
By Elisabeth Bumiller
Random House, $18.95

During wedding season in New Delhi, it is possible to see three, four, sometimes even five nervous bridegrooms riding through the streets on white horses toward women they barely know but will marry that evening. The little wedding parties are hard to miss: the groom, wearing an elaborate brocaded suit and a headpiece with streamers covering the embarrassment on his face, is escorted on his ride by a phalanx of relatives and a ragtag, improbably named ”disco band” playing tinny, off-key marching music. The Hindu priests have deemed it an auspicious night, and it is easy, after stopping in traffic to let a few of these processions pass, to become carried away and imagine the thick Delhi air redolent with hope and fertility.

Blood Winter
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