Breaking into the crime game isn’t easy, but every month, a few brave and talented souls make a go of the mystery racket. 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.
Samantha Downing, My Lovely Wife (Berkley)
Downing’s debut effort is an innovative and propulsive take on domestic suspense, with a finely observed marriage at the center of a story that takes one unexpected turn after another. What begins as a study of marriage and domesticity and suburban life soon becomes a grisly story of murder and coverups, as the happy couple finds a new way to put the spark back into their relationship. This is one of the splashiest, darkly funny debut thrillers to come around in some time.
Annie Ward, Beautiful Bad (Park Row)
Beautiful Bad is an expertly layered, emotionally complex story that bounces around the globe and finally comes in for a powerful landing in America’s heartland. To say too much about the plot would be to spoil the thrill of its unfolding. At the story’s heart is a married couple who met abroad and return, throughout the story, to pieces of their time together traveling with a close friend, a woman whose own relationship to the couple threatens to upend their peaceful life. It’s an intricate story and Ward proves herself a skillful handler of its many, poignant pieces.
Niklas Natt och Dag, The Wolf and the Watchman (Atria Books)
This incredibly disturbing trip into the grotesqueries of history is as well-written as it is well-researched, true to not only the detail of the time period but also true to its mores and atmosphere. At the start of Niklas Natt och Dag’s incredibly self-assured debut, a watchman in late 18th century Sweden discovers a mutilated corpse floating in the local cesspool, and things only get darker from there. Written by a member of Sweden’s oldest living aristocratic family, and infused with a tear-it-all-down mentality, this one is not to be missed
John McMahon, The Good Detective (Putnam)
McMahon’s debut is atmospheric and assured, with a finely honed style ready to take on the explosive setup. Detective P.T. Marsh pays a violent visit to an abusive man, then the next day finds himself summoned the scene of that same man’s murder. The investigation throws him into an understandable spiral, and McMahon ably handles the procedural details and the emotional arc. This has the looks of being the start to a dark and provocative series.
Chris Whitaker, Tall Oaks (Dover)
Whitaker’s debut follows a mystifying, terrible crime that shatters the idyll of a small California town untouched by violence. A man in a clown suit abducts a three year old boy who and months later, life seems to be carrying on as the town moves past its tragedy, except for the few who can’t. Whitaker offers up a keen study of a community pushing past trauma, uncannily so, as the townsfolk’s very ability to carry on becomes suspicious and the list of suspects widens. Tall Oaks is an eery and often surprising book grounded in a strong sense of the textures of everyday life.
T.J. Martinson, The Reign of the Kingfisher (Flatiron)
Martinson’s debut effort nestles perfectly into the sweet spot between superhero mythology and crime fiction, as a superhero’s death is questioned by an armed kidnapper who has vowed to slaughter his hostages one-by-one until municipal authorities admit that the hero’s death was a hoax. The Reign of the Kingfisher is a swift and provocative story that explores some dark hidden corners of two beloved genres, all the while offering up an interesting commentary on the day’s pop culture.
Bonnie Kistler, House on Fire (Atria)
Leigh Huyett, a divorce lawyer, knows plenty about the pitfalls of blended families, but she never suspects the stress her own will face. Her teenage daughter, Chrissy, is killed in a drunk driving accident and the driver is her husband’s son, Kip. With Kip charged with manslaughter and their family in ruins, Leigh must somehow keep her family together despite her intense feelings of confusion and loss. There is a wrinkle, though, that changes everything: Kip claims that Chrissy was the one driving and there is a witness who will back up his story.
Fran Dorricott, After the Eclipse (Titan)
Solar eclipses and the disappearance of local girls seem to be coinciding in Dorricott’s debut novel, a rich and suspenseful psychological thriller about the search to connect the crimes, the clues, and the seemingly otherworldly marker points linking them. Dorricott’s swift, straight-ahead style is a perfect counterpoint to the sensational events and tragic cycles unfolding.