I know people collect first lines but how about first chapters? I thought about this as I dug through a box of old paperbacks the other day. There among the various novels was Kiss Me, Deadly by Mickey Spillane. A battered first edition of the Signet paperback of 1953. Al Collins was kind enough to give me a hardcover copy of it twenty-some years ago. It's on my keeper shelf.
For me this is one of the most amazing first chapters I've ever read. Night, fog, a beautiful woman hitch hiking and nearly getting Hammer and herself killed by standing in the middle of a narrow mountain pass where he's forced to slam on the brakes. We soon learn that she's naked under a trench coat. We also learn from her behavior that somewhere back there a car is following her. There is a road block at which we hear that the woman has escaped from an asylum. In order to win Hammer's favor, the woman places his hand between her legs as Hammer talks to the cop. A few miles later the car descends on them. Hammer and the woman are dragged unconscious to a location where the woman, because she won't reveal certain information, is brutally murdered.
I think I read this in 1954 and it was the first time I became (dimly) aware of narrative drive. I wasn't old enough to understand all the innuendos but my God the action alone was enough. Spillane was always a master of mood (try the opening chapter of One Lonely Night) and he was never better than in Kiss Me, Deadly. (The movie is one of the great true noirs; Ralph Meeker is sneeringly masterful.)