Right now, I’m working on a standalone novel (well, it’s a standalone for now, anyway). And one of the decisions I have to make about it is what the title will be. I had a working title for the book, but it wasn’t effective at all. Trust me. It had nothing to do with the plot, and wasn’t a good clue to the sort of story it is.
So, it was back to the proverbial drawing board. That’s a normal part of writing a novel. But, as I think about a title that will work (I haven’t chosen one yet), I have to come up with one that’s going to be distinctive. And that’s not as easy to do as you might think. There are millions of books in print, and more become available each year. So, there are plenty of examples of two very different books with the same title.
For instance, both Michael Robotham and L.R. Wright have written novels called The Suspect. They’re both well-regarded, but they’re very different sorts of stories. The Robotham novel introduces psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. It’s the story of the murder of one of his former clients, and links that murder to several others that occur. All of them link back to the past, and O’Loughlin gets caught up in the web, as someone is working to frame him. The Wright novel is the story of the murder of one man, Carlyle Burke. We know from the beginning that he was killed by George Wilcox. The main focus of this novel is the slow reveal of the motive. Along with that, readers follow along as RCMP Staff Sergeant Karl Alberg puts together the pieces of the puzzle, and finds out who killed Burke and why.
In the Blood is the title of Steve Robinson’s first novel featuring genealogist Jefferson Tayte. In it, Tayte is commissioned to trace the ancestry of a client’s wife as a birthday gift. The trail leads to the Cornish coast, and draws Tayte into a deadly mystery. As you might guess, it links the past with the current residents of the area. In the Blood is also the title of a Lisa Unger novel. Lana Granger is finishing up her university degree in psychology when she is persuaded to take a job as nanny to eleven-year-old Luke Kahn. Right from the beginning, she’s made aware that Luke’s had trouble in school. He’s unusually intelligent, but he has several social and emotional problems. And she has a great deal of difficulty working with him. Lana soon has a much more serious problem, though. Her roommate disappears, and it soon seems clear that Lana knows more than she is saying about it. How is she involved, and what does it have to do with her work with Luke Kahn?
Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors features Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen. He’s been taking some time off from his job, but is lured back to it when the bodies of Alec Dennet and Lorraine Starke are discovered at a Canberra writer’s retreat. Dennet was a member of the 1972-1975 Gough Whitlam government who was writing his memoirs; Starke was his editor. So, it’s quite likely that something in the memoirs led to the murders. And that’s not out of the question, since they could have been seriously problematic for several highly-placed people. Chen and his team work through this case, and find that little is as it seems. Elly Griffiths’ Smoke and Mirrors is a completely different sort of novel. The second in her historical (1950s) Stephens and Mephisto series, this one uses children’s fairy tales as a backdrop to the disappearance and murders of two local children, Annie Francis and Mark Webster, in a grim parody of the Hansel and Gretel story. It seems they’d been working with a group of young people who were doing their own theatre productions of some of the fairy tales, with their own interpretations. Magician Max Mephisto works with Detective Inspector (DI) Edgar Stephens to find out what’s really behind these deaths.
Both Carolyn Hart and Paul Thomas have written novels called Death on Demand. Hart’s novel is the first in her Death on Demand series, and introduces her protagonist, bookshop owner Annie Laurance. Both the title and the name of the series refer to the bookshop, which features crime and mystery fiction. In the story, a group of local authors come under suspicion when one of their number, Elliot Morgan, is killed. It seems he wrote a tell-all book that included some unpleasant truths (and allegations) about the other members. Even Annie is mentioned, and that’s part of the reason she becomes a suspect in the murder. Thomas’ novel features Sergeant Tito Ihaka of the Auckland Police. He’s been banished for a time because of a conflict with a powerful man he’d accused of murder. But he returns when that same man, Christopher Lilywhite, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and decides to tell Ihaka the truth. It turns out that Lilywhite did arrange for his wife’s murder, and he’s learned that the killer is likely still out there, committing crimes. Ihaka puts the pieces together, and connects several murders together. These stories are quite different (they’re even in different sub-genres). But they have the same title.
So do both Deon Meyer’s and Robin Cook’s Fever. Meyer’s novel features Nico Storm and his father, Willem, who are among the few to survive a catastrophic virus. Willem works to form a small community of survivors; and, little by little, the community grows. And so do the challenges that the group faces. Whenever there’s a group of disparate people, especially those thrown together by circumstances, anything can happen. And it does. It all leads to murder, and, in Nico’s voice, we hear what happened. Cook’s novel features Dr. Charles Martel, who’s working on a very promising new cancer study. But his employer wants him to devote his energies to their product, Canceran. He agrees (he needs to keep his job), but continues to work on his own research when he can. Then, his daughter, Michelle, is diagnosed with a form of leukemia, and it’s soon traced to toxic waste from a powerful company. Now, Martel works even harder to see if he can find a way to help Michelle. At the same time, he goes up against the company that’s been dumping toxins, and he finds that that can be a very dangerous undertaking.
See what I mean? Sometimes, some very different books have exactly the same title. It’s a good reminder to look carefully before you ‘click here.’ Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to trying to choose a title, myself.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jeff Bowen’s Filling Out the Form.