Here is the lovely chapter one opener of Louise Marley’s The Brahms Deception. (The book has a short prologue, too.)
Roses spilled over the garden wall surrounding Casa Agosto, blooms of scarlet and pink and white blazing against the pale stone under impossibly bright Italian sunshine. Below the village of Castagno, forests and fields glittered faintly, as if washed in gold. Here and there, grapevines stretched and twisted in long, straight columns. In the valley beyond, a brown ribbon of road meandered along the blue line of a narrow stream. The Italian hills looked like bolts of dark green velvet, rolling gently from the ancient hilltop where twelve houses, each named for a month of the year, clustered along cramped streets. The houses were tall and narrow, trimmed with window boxes and surrounded by small gardens. Saints’ niches pierced the outer walls, their tiny statues nestled amid offerings of tiny nosegays or bunches of herbs. In the garden of Casa Agosto, the branches of an ancient olive tree drooped to the grass, heavy with unripe fruit. A wooden bench, painted with a rustic scene of wooly lambs in a green field, nestled in its shade.
It was all real, Frederica reminded herself. Everything was real. Except for her.
What I like in this is that it’s classic scene-setting. We get an abundance of imagery, an opportunity to really see Casa Agosto, and to get a feel for what it–and by extension–the tone of the novel are going to be like. We get color and romance, we get two separate mentions of Italy, in case the first one goes past too quickly, and the way the first paragraph is structured also tells us that Casa Agosto itself is important. It’s not some random house the characters are going to pass through and abandon.
And then we get a Question, in the form of Frederica and her musings about her unreality. If the setting itself isn’t enough to engage us, we now get something to be curious about. It’s as though she’s let us look around before taking our hand and leading us into the scene.