Breaking into the crime game isn’t easy, but every month, a few brave and talented souls make a go of it. For readers, there are few experiences so thrilling as finding a new author whose career is just beginning and whose work promises years of enjoyment to come. But it’s sometimes hard to find those debuts. That’s where we come in. We’re scouring the shelves in search of auspicious debuts and recommending the very best for your reading pleasure.
Micah Nemerever, These Violent Delights
These Violent Delights takes us into the twisted relationship by two college students, in what feels to me like Rope if it was set in the late 1960s and was influenced by nihilistic disappointment in the horrors of the mid-20th century rather than Nietzschean thrills. When two teenage boys, Paul and Julian, meet in an ethics class, they are drawn together immediately, sharing a passion for justice (and soon for each other).
The book’s narrator, Paul, is the artistic working class son of a Holocaust survivor father who kills himself before the novel begins; he’s raw, angry, self-loathing, and full of the potential for violence, and he thinks of Julian as a god whom he’ll never be worthy of, and can never quite fully believe. He hunts butterflies for his collection, because it’s the only way he can keep a thing of such beauty for himself. Only Julian sees him for exactly who he is, but lucky for Paul, Julian much prefers who he is on the inside to the shy, unassuming boy Paul presents to the rest of the world. Julian is the son of a man so dedicated to assimilation that he registers the family as Episcopalian and taunts a visiting Paul by sprinkling every dish with bacon. His French shiksa wife is equally as status hungry, and just as needlessly cool.
They would each do anything for the other—except stop trying to gain the upper hand. Each endures slight after slight from the uncaring world around them, until they can endure no more. Brilliant, multi-layered, and with the most fascinating interplay of deed, morality, and symbolism I’ve come across since Watchmen. (Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor)
Elissa R. Sloan, The Unravelling of Cassidy Holmes
As a forever fan of the Spice Girls, I devoured this take on early aughts fame, set during the height of the girl group craze. When Cassidy Holmes gets to the finals of a televised singing competition, only to lose as runner-up, she’s devastated, but an offer to become the fourth member of a girl group soon reverses her fortune. The four members of Gloss are talented, intelligent, beautiful—and completely out of their element. Their managers dress them in skintight bodysuits, the media christens each with a nickname guaranteed to evoke lewd and racist imagery (a la Spice Girls), and professional boundaries are violated in large and small ways as the so-called price of fame. A decade and a half later, Cassidy Holmes is dead, and the other members of Gloss are determined to find out what killed her. (MO)
Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club
(Pamela Dorman Books)
Osman’s witty, engaging debut centers on a group of friends in a retirement community. They meet every Thursday night to hash out the particulars, and their own theories, on various unsolved crimes. Soon enough, a mysterious death arrives in their own world and puts their crime-solving skills to the test. Osman has a deft touch with characters and conjures up a wide, lively cast with a genuinely compelling mystery to throw them into action. This is quite simply a novel that readers will want to spend time with, leaving them with the hope of many more installments to come. (Dwyer Murphy, CrimeReads Editor-in-Chief)
Sarah Warburton, Once Two Sisters
Warburton’s debut zeroes in on one of the more complicated and complex sibling relationships in recent fiction. Zoe and Ava Hallert are estranged, and when Zoe reads about her sister’s disappearance, her first reaction is that it must be a stunt aimed at shattering Zoe’s own hard-earned peaceful life. Eventually, Zoe begins to accept that the vanishing is more than a stunt, but by this time she’s squarely in the cross-hairs and has to unravel the mystery herself, all the while reckoning with sins and secrets from her own past. Once Two Sisters is a compelling, confident debut and a smartly plotted mystery. (DM)
Annie Lampman, Sins of the Bees
Sins of the Bees offers up a kinetic, vivid portrait of a woman who’s been traumatized and set adrift in the world. After suffering a vicious assault that leaves her pregnant, Silvania August Moonbeam Merigal discovers a family secret that sets her on the trail of a new age beekeeper and then onto the rugged base of a reclusive doomsday cult. The cult and its dangerous leader hold some of the secrets to Silvania’s past, and they also offer her a terrifying, electric vision of the present. Lampman’s prose has a haunting, poetic quality and a deep engagement with the natural world. (DM)