Favorite 2019 Debut Novels
These are our favorite Debut Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels published in the US in 2019.
Welcome to these 2019 debut authors — long may they write!

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The Break LineJames Brabazon
The Break Line (Berkley 2019, UK 2018) begins in Venezuela when British Intelligence agent Max McLean decides not to kill his target Ana María, the jilted mistress of the Russian ambassador to Cuba, when he realizes she is not the correct woman. Picked up by the British embassy team, McLean explains that he is an assassin but not a murderer, and is sent back to London in disgrace. McLean is a valued agent for The Unknown: a black ops team which delivers off-the-books justice on behalf of the British Government, and Commander Frank Knight, his handler for 23 years, offers him one final mission, and then the reward of the command of Raven Hill, the exclusive training ground for assassins. Major General King, the Special Forces Director, outlines the solo mission: McLean will be sent to Karabunda, a jungle outpost in northern Sierra Leone, to take out the white commander of a rebel force slaughtering innocent villagers and threatexning British interests in West Africa. The son of an Irish scientist/soldier father whose plane was shot down by the Cubans, and a Russian mother who drowned herself after he died, McLean grew up speaking three languages interchangeably, and is fluent in several others. A sharpshooter who never misses his target, McLean understands why he has been selected, but not why he is being sent in alone with no backup and without the usual intel. Posing as a Canadian doctor, he scouts the remote area, but the military has closed the roads, claiming a cholera outbreak. Convincing them to let him view the dead, McLean finds savagely dismembered bodies covered with human bite marks. This high-intensity debut thriller examines the horrifying effects of war and madness.

The Gomorrah GambitTom Chatfield
The Gomorrah Gambit (Mulholland Books 2019) is the story of Azi Bello, an affable and social inept young London hacker known as AZ, who has spent most of his life alone with his technology in a small backyard shed. For the last 18 months, Azi’s obsession has been the creation of Jim Denison, a photogenic white man who has built trust in the online neo-Nazi community. Azi has built his own reputation in the hacker community, beginning with his 2012 takedown of a casino through a security hole in the filtration system of their trademark gigantic fish tank. He has been online friends with Sigma for about a year when she sends him a zip file of documents, including a selection leaked in 2013 from inside the Islamic Republic. Additional files provide proof that 50 Islamic martyrs have returned from the grave and are preparing a massive terrorist attack. A short note from Sigma explains that she has found Gomorrah, a secret marketplace on the dark web, and is fleeing for her life. She asks to meet in real life, but Azi refuses, offering online help but nothing in person. About five minutes later a woman calling herself Anna knocks on the door to his shed, revealing that they know everything about his hacking past and demanding that he immediately send Sigma a message saying he has changed his mind and wants to meet in exchange for not arresting him for hacking. Azi has no idea who Anna works for, but is horrified to learn that his secret identity is blown and knows he has no choice but to agree. All his own technology is confiscated, along with most of his online currency, and he finds himself tethered to a new phone that runs only one app: New Action Directives Issued Remotely (NADIR). Following the NADIR commands, Azi meets Sigma, Munira Khan in real life, who tells him she stumbled over the documents when a recruiter from the far right Islamic Republic inserted a thumb drive into a laptop she had loaned her cousin, who is now in Syria filming glorious deaths and gory executions for the Islamic Republic propaganda machine. Azi is frightened of Anna and the even scarier Odi, but follows their directions and flees London for Berlin with Munira. Azi uses his Jim Denison persona to infiltrate Gomorrah and discovers that the reality of the dark web is far more terrifying than anything he imagined. This alarming high-tech debut thriller combines non-stop action with dark humor.

Confessions of an Innocent ManDavid R. Dow
Confessions of an Innocent Man (Dutton 2019) is the story of Rafael Zhettah, the American-born son of poor Mexican parents who has made a life for himself in Houston, Texas. In his mid-30s, Rafael is the owner and head chef of a successful small restaurant when Tieresse, an extremely wealthy widow 14 years his senior, walks into the dining room and sweeps Rafael off his feet. Tieresse has endometriosis, a condition that makes sexual intercourse excruciatingly painful, but the two fall in love and marry. Tieresse tells Rafael she doesn’t mind if he has the occasional sexual encounter with other women as long as he saves his love for her alone. Rafael moves into Tieresse’s elegant house, but keeps his apartment above the restaurant for nights when he works late. He teaches Tieresse how to pilot a small plane and the two begin to build a home in a beautiful remote wooded area in Kansas. One night Rafael is working a late party at the restaurant, and spends the night with one of the waitresses at the restaurant apartment. That night Tieresse is murdered in their home, her fake jewels stolen. A week later Rafael is arrested for his wife’s murder, his infidelity and the two billion she left him forming a compelling motive. Held without bail, Rafael spends over a year in the country jail. After being sentenced to death, he is moved to death row. Over the next five and a half years he struggles to retain his sanity, slowly adapting to life in a small space, playing chess and getting to know other convicted murderers mainly through notes passed from cell to cell, while his lawyers work on an appeal. This gripping thriller exposing the injustices of the Texas death penalty system is the fiction debut of the founder of the Texas Innocence Project.

My Lovely WifeSamantha Downing
My Lovely Wife (Berkley 2019) is the story of an unnamed narrator and his wife Millicent, a seemingly normal couple with two teenage children. Millicent is a successful real estate agent, and he works as a tennis coach, living an uneventful life except for their "date night" extracurricular activities involving kidnapping and murder. Millicent’s younger sister Holly tormented Millicent until she was committed to a psychiatric hospital when the sisters were in high school, and her release jump-starts the couple’s secret life. After accidentally killing Holly, the couple discovers that planning and carrying out crimes together adds addictive spice to their sex lives. When one of the bodies is discovered, they decide to plant clues implicating Owen Oliver Riley, the Woodview Killer who killed nine women two decades earlier, but was released after the DNA evidence was discredited and the charges dropped. Each year his story reappears on the news on the anniversary of his release, when he vanished without a trace, making him the perfect scapegoat. This well-plotted dark debut thriller featuring two unsavory individuals, one secretly more devious than the other, is a finalist for the 2020 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

The Ninja DaughterTori Eldridge
The Ninja Daughter (Agora Books 2019) introduces Lily (Dumpling) Wong, the 24-year-old daughter of a Hong Kong Chinese mother and a North Dakota Norwegian father. Lily’s younger sister Rose was raped and murdered seven years earlier, and Lily has never forgiven herself for ignoring a text from Rose the night she was killed. Lily had studied Wushu, a blend of performance and martial art, for years, but switched to Ninjutsu, the strategy and tactics of ninja warfare, after Lily’s death. Now a modern-day kunoichi, a female ninja, Lily works for Aleisha Reiner, who runs a refuge for abused women and their children, helping women escape from bad situations and persuading their abusers to leave them alone. Lily lives above her father’s Chinese restaurant in Culver City in a small apartment containing her martial arts studio, helping in the restaurant and concealing her true work from her parents. A large Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transit Authority map covers one wall, an aid for moving seamlessly through the traffic congested streets with a combination of her Merida road bicycle, mass transit, and ride-sharing as a final resort. Lily has just finished helping Kateryna and her four-year-old son Ilya escape from the abusive Dmitry Romanko, a lawyer for the Ukrainian mob, when she learns Kateryna, fearing retribution to her parents in the Ukraine, has returned home. Her other project is supporting Mia Mikkelsen, whose rape charge against J Tran has just been dropped for insufficient evidence. Mia fears that Tran will return to kill her, and after witnessing Tran kill two armed Korean gang members with his knife, Lily knows her fears are justified. This captivating debut thriller is the first in a planned series starring the compassionate, clever, dangerous, and constantly hungry Lily Wong.

ScrublandsChris Hammer
Scrublands (Atria Books 2019, Australia 2018) is set in Riversend, Australia, a small isolated community suffering the effects of a long drought. A year earlier Reverend Bryon Swift emerged from his church carrying a rifle, murdering five men before being killed himself by Constable Robbie Haus-Jones. D’Arcy Defoe covers the story, reporting that the men had discovered the priest was sexually abusing their sons. Journalist Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend to write about the anniversary of the tragedy: how is the town coping? Martin, a war correspondent suffering from PTSD, is hoping to resurrect his career by proving he can stay focused and objective. He realizes the town that was struggling to cope with the drought a year earlier is much worse off: the pub has closed, the Black Dog Motel is barely surviving, and most stores have permanently shuttered windows. Though he is tasked with reporting on the town, Martin can’t help getting sucked back into the story of the shooting. Many townspeople, including Haus-Jones, don’t believe Swift was a pedophile, instead praising his work with the local youth and his charismatic preaching. Fran Landers, the widow of one of the victims, at first refuses to talk to Martin, but opens up when he saves her teenage son after a car accident. Fran insists that Swift was kind and generous and decent, a far better man than her abusive husband. Mandalay Blonde, a beautiful young woman with a baby son, also insists Swift was a good man, and convinces Martin that the real story is figuring out why Swift killed those five men. Just as Martin is earning the trust of the wary townsfolk, a new crime brings the national media back to town and Martin finds he has become part of the story rather than an objective observer. Awarded the 2019 New Blood Dagger Award, this powerful debut thriller is highly recommended.

Evil ThingsKatja Ivar
Evil Things (Bitter Lemon Press 2019) is set in 1952 Finland. Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit has been reassigned to Lapland after been deemed “too emotional” during an investigation of the brutal murder of a woman and three of her four young children. Before the war women were only allowed to be polissyster, comforting and questioning women and children, and Chief Inspector Eklund of the Ivar police department believes Hella should have stayed in that role while looking for a husband instead of qualifying to be a full police officer. Irja Waltari, the wife of the priest in the remote village of Käärmela near the border with Soviet Russia, writes to the Ivar police department to report the disappearance of Erno Jokinen, who left his young grandson Kalle alone in their isolated cabin. Eklund believes the old man became lost in the forest, but Hella is sure that Jokinen, who was born in the forest, is the victim of a crime. Eklund reluctantly gives Hella permission to use a few days off to investigate. The traumatized Kalle refuses to speak about the day his grandfather left, and is clearly terrified. He eventually admits that his grandfather went into the woods to fight the evil “white things,” instructing Kalle not to follow him. Hella questions Jokinen’s nearest neighbor Jeremias Karppinen, who tried to take possession of Jokinen’s house, but he insists Jokinen had no recent visitors. When the search party discovers an arm, it is assumed to be Jokinen until Hella washes away the mud to discover polished nails on the delicate hand, and insists on anther search, eventually discovering a rib cage and part of the head of a middle aged woman. Hella has already discovered that technical support in Lapland is nearly non-existent,on but carefully preserves the remnants of a glass vial crushed between the woman’s teeth. Eklund orders Hella to give up the investigation and return to Ivar, but Hella is determined to find the truth. This intense debut historical thriller is the first in a planned trilogy.

Miracle CreekAngie Kim
Miracle Creek (Sarah Crichton Books 2019) is a powerful debut thriller featuring the Yoo family, Korean immigrants running a hyperbaric oxygenation chamber called Miracle Submarine in the small town of Miracle Creek, Virginia. Pak Yoo is the certified hyperbaric technician, and his wife Young is uncomfortable when Pak asks her to remain alone at the controls in the barn containing the Miracle Submarine while he checks on protesters in the parking lot. Inside the chamber are four patients: TJ and Henry (autism), Rosa (cerebral palsy), Matt (impotence), and two caregivers. The DVD playing the Barney video that keeps TJ calm goes dead, and Young dashes back to their house for fresh batteries. Running back with the batteries Young sees their teenage daughter Mary and Pak sprinting from opposite directions to the barn, which has exploded into flames. Rosa and her mother survive the explosion, but TJ’s mother and Henry are killed. Matt’s hands are badly damaged trying to pull Henry from the flames. A year later Mary has emerged from her coma permanently scarred, Pak is confined to a wheelchair, and Henry’s mother Elizabeth is on trial for murder. Elizabeth, who always before had sat next to Henry in the chamber, spent the session drinking wine on the bank of the creek after relocating her son away from his usual seat near the entry to the far end closest to the tank that exploded. Elizabeth’s lawyer is fighting the circumstantial evidence by building a case for reasonable doubt, pointing suspicion at Pak, who is about to collect a million dollars of insurance money. As the trial progresses the witnesses wrestle with their own demons and secrets: parental guilt about resenting the constant pressure of living with a child needing constant care, marital evasions and compromises, teenage vacillation between the desire to be mothered and independence, the immigrant struggle to adapt to a new language and culture.

Cold StorageDavid Koepp
Cold Storage (Ecco 2019) begins in 1987 when Air Force bioterror experts Lieutenant Colonel Trini Romano and Major Roberto Diaz, seconded to the Defense Nuclear Agency, are sent to Kiwirrkurra Community, a remote Pintupi village in western Australia, 2000 kilometers from anywhere else. The Pintupi salvaged an oxygen tank that fell from Skylab six years earlier. After years sitting out in the rain the tank began to rust, and an elder polished it with a potato dipped in dish soap. When the villagers began getting sick, one trekked to the nearest phone to report people were climbing to the roofs and swelling up. Aboard Skylab was a highly adaptive fungal organism, Cordyceps novus, sent into space as a research project. Microbiologist Dr. Hero Martins, who escorts them to Kiwirrkurra, speculates that the fungus was transformed in space to something very deadly, and then provided food by the potato. Clad in biohazard suits, they find all 27 villagers dead on their roofs, the bodies exploded from the inside out. Hero carefully takes a sample of the seething green fungus from the oxygen tank, and they destroy the village. The sample is stored in the Atchison Caves, an 1886 limestone quarry 150 feet under the Missouri River in eastern Kansas, converted to climate controlled food storage during WWII and then high security federal storage of disaster equipment. In 2003 the property was declared surplus and sold to Smart Warehousing for private use, the sample sealed far below the self-storage units in sub-level 4. In 2019 Teacake works the night shift at Smart Warehousing and wishes he could get to know Naomi, who works an occasional shift. One night they meet at the dumpster and introduce themselves, confessing that both are hearing a strange beeping noise. Totally bored by the mind-numbing job, they join forces to try and track down the noise, discovering a vertical cylindrical shaft plunging down into the darkness. Meanwhile, Roberto, now retired, gets a call in the middle of the night reporting a temperature breach alert from the Atchison mines decommissioned facility. Roberto knows that their warnings about the extreme danger of the fungus sample weren’t taken seriously, but convinces the voice on the other end of the phone to round up needed supplies while he heads for Kansas. This entertaining and frightening thriller, a finalist for the 2020 Steel Dagger Award, is the fiction debut of a Hollywood screenwriter and director.

One Night GoneTara Laskowski
One Night Gone (Graydon House 2019) begins in 1986 when young Maureen Haddaway arrives with the traveling carnival to spend the summer in the wealthy town of Opal Beach, New Jersey. Maureen doesn’t tell anyone her Sad Story about living with a drug addict mother, preferring to concentrate on the present and having a good time. She becomes friends with two of the locals at a beach party: wealthy Clay and friendly Tammy, who lets Maureen sleep on her floor after she catches her boss at the carnival filming her changing clothes. Maureen has a good feeling about Opal Beach, hoping to find a permanent job and settle down for a while. In 2015 Alison Simpson’s sister arranges a winter house and cat-sitting job for her in Opal Beach after Alison self-destructs on the air, condemning her philandering husband while presenting the weather report. Alison finds a silk scarf under one of the beds, and wears it tied around her head to the local coffee shop. Tammy, the woman behind the counter, looks at her in shock, asking if she is a relative of Maureen, explaining that her friend used to wear her hair in that style before she disappeared at the end of the summer 30 years earlier. The two become friends, and Tammy tells Alison that the police didn’t take Maureen’s disappearance seriously since she was only a carnival girl. Alison becomes interested in the story, and begins researching that long ago summer, discovering a box of old photographs a local artist is using for collage paintings. One of the pictures features Maureen and Clay, the son of Lorelei and Zeke Bishop, who live in the mansion next door. This suspenseful and unsettling debut thriller is narrated in alternating chapters by Maureen and Alison, two unique women viewed as disposable by the men in their lives.

Save Me from Dangerous MenS.A. Lelchuk
Save Me from Dangerous Men (Flatiron Books 2019) introduces Nikki Griffin, a bookstore owner and private investigator in Berkeley, California. Pieces of Nikki’s past emerge from her weekly court-ordered anger-management therapy sessions, filling in the back story of a woman compelled to protect others, especially battered women threatened by dangerous men. Escaping into books saved Nikki’s sanity as an adolescent, and the bookstore is her sanctuary. Nikki refuses to carry a cellphone but does use an iPad to monitor her high-tech trackers and has no aversion to weapons. Gregg Gunn, the owner of Care4, a Silicon Valley startup that makes baby monitors, hires Nikki to follow Karen Li, an employee he believes is stealing and selling firm secrets. Astride her red Aprilia motorcycle, Nikki follows Karen to a meeting with two men, noticing that Karen doesn’t appear to be selling anything, but instead is clearly terrified of the threatening pair. An IT security expert at Care4 shows Nikki proof that Gunn is taking secret trups to Saudi Arabia and Russia, and warns her away from the investigation. The group of elderly mystery readers at her bookstore call Nikki “Lisbeth” in recognition of her single-minded dedication to use any means necessary to reach her goal, and she can’t let go of the case, even when those closest to her are threatened. This intense debut thriller features a deeply-flawed protagonist as intelligent and compassionate as she is dangerous.

Little VoicesVanessa Lillie
Little Voices (Thomas & Mercer 2019) begins when Devon Burges is rushed to the hospital, seven months pregnant and in terrible pain. An obsessive researcher, Devon tells the ER doctor that she is sure she has the symptoms of a detached placenta. As the anesthesia for her emergency cesarian takes hold, Devon hears the news reporting the murder of 27-year-old Berlina Cabrala, the friend she spent the afternoon with. Eight week later Devon is released, still recovering from the surgery that nearly killed her, pumping milk for premature baby Ester who cries and fusses constantly, and listening to the critical little voices in her head insisting she is a bad wife and worse mother. Devon’s husband Jack is the chief of staff for the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, his hometown they returned to after meeting at Georgetown University and continuing on together to law school at Georgetown Law. Jack’s controlling Uncle Cal is very involved in local politics, and hopes his nephew will become governor one day. After nearly being disbarred for stalking an accused pedophile released for lack of evidence, Devon specialized in identifying and prosecuting fraud until the she became pregnant and started investigating motherhood instead. Berlina worked as a nanny for their old college friend Alec, who is the prime suspect for her murder. Devon remembers that she found Belina’s day planner left on the bench that last afternoon, and finds it still stuck in the handbag Jack brought home from the hospital. Desperate to regain her old self-confidence, Devon analyzes the code she finds in the day planner, preparing a memo to present to Detective Ramos, who seems unwilling to investigate anyone other than Alec. Jack is concerned that Devon is becoming too involved with Belina’s murder, fearing that the blackouts and delusions that incapacitated her while working as a prosecutor of sex crimes and domestic violence will return. But Devon is determined to find justice for Belina, no matter what the cost, and doesn’t tell him the voices have come back. This debut psychological thriller exploring postpartum depression and the long reaches of past trauma is haunting.

The Reign of the KingfisherT.J. Martinson
The Reign of the Kingfisher (Flatiron Books 2019) begins in 2013 Chicago when retired journalist Marcus Waters is summoned to the police station to watch a video. Police Chief Gregory Stetson is not happy to see the reporter who criticized his quick rise to power, but hopes Marcus can shed light on the video featuring a masked gunman shooting a hostage and demanding the release of the 1984 medical examiner’s report of the body claimed to be the Kingfisher. Marcus came up with the nickname “Kingfisher” for the vigilante who punished and left drugdealers and other criminals for the police before ending up in the Chicago River 30 years earlier. Marcus recognizes the murdered hostage as Walter Williams, a low-level drug dealer spared by the Kingfisher when he overpowered his boss Lawrence Tressy. Marcus recently interviewed Williams while researching a book about the Kingfisher, and suspects he may know the identity of the other two hostages. Detective Jeremiah Combs is unhappy that Stetson isn’t actively searching for the hostages, instead pursuing the Liber-teers, a group of computer hackers, and asks Lucinda Tillman, a detective on mandatory leave, to track down the names Marcus fears may be the other hostages. Wren, perhaps the most talented Liber-teen, decides to clear their group’s name by identifying the other hostages, or even hacking into the police system to find the ME report. The citizens of Chicago aren’t sure what to think. The nearly mythical Kingfisher, rumored to be freakishly strong and impervious to bullets, helped to put many criminals behind bars. Is it possible the man many considered to be a superhero is still alive? If so, where has he been for the past 30 years? After Wren is arrested, she joins Marcus and Tillman in a desperate effort to track down the gunman before more hostages are killed. This intense debut thriller explores the appeal and danger of vigilanteism.

The Darwin AffairTim Mason
The Darwin Affair (Algonquin Books 2019) introduces Chief Detective Inspector Charles Field in 1860 London. Field is in charge of protecting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their way to open a public bath when he notices Stevie Pachen, a pickpocket hiding something gun-shaped a bundle of rags. Apprehending the young thief, Field is horrified to hear a pistol shot, realizing he has been tricked away from the real assassin. Once he is sure the Queen is safe, he retraces his steps and finds Stevie dead, his throat cut and one ear missing. The discovery of an abandoned butcher’s apron coated with gore explains how the murderer managed to walk through the street covered with Stevie’s blood. As he tracks the elusive killer, described as a tall man with haunting black eyes, Field begins to suspect that the intended victim was not the Queen, but instead Prince Albert. London is caught up in the controversy surrounding the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and agroup of powerful men is determined to prevent the addition of Darwin’s name to the Queen’s Honors List. They fear the knighthood will solidify support for Darwin’s theory, and suspecting Prince Albert, a supporter of all things scientific, is championing Darwin. Field fears that the Queen will have him fired after the failed assassination attempt, but she is a fan of Inspector Bucket, introduced in Bleak House, and it is common knowledge that Dickens modeled his fictional detective after Charles Field. The black-eyed killer, known as Decimus Cobb, kidnaps Tom, the young butcher’s apprentice who saw him steal the apron, and shuts him into a coffin until Tom is subdued, willing to serve Cobb in exchange for his mother’s life. Tom joins the other children who steal for Cobb, including a strange girl named Mary who is kept separate in the attic since all the families she served died of fever, receiving food and a place to sleep as payment. Appearances by Darwin, Dickens, Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the captain of the HMS Beagle, Karl Marx, who encourages Field to rethink his allegiance to the monarchy, and others are seamlessly integrated into the action of this clever historical thriller, the first adult novel by a playwright and YA novelist.

The Good DetectiveJohn McMahon
The Good Detective (G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2019) introduces P.T. Marsh, a detective on the rural Mason Falls police force in Georgia who fell apart when his wife and young son died in an accident. Nearly a year later, P.T. is drinking too much to try and quell his nightmares, and making far too many bad decisions. He visits the home of Crimson, a stripper covered with bruises, late one night to convince her boyfriend to stop abusing her. The following morning P.T. and his partner Remy Morgan are called to the scene of the murder of Virgil Rowe: the very man P.T. threatened the night before. P.T. is almost sure that Rowe was alive when he left him and “accidentally” forgets to put on his crime scene gloves, convincing the techs to eliminate his fingerprints. While investigating a fire scene later that day, P.T. and Remy find the body of a black teenager with a blackened rope around his neck. After photographing the body, they seal the rope inside an evidence bag, hoping to keep the news of the lynching from the press as long as possible. The body is identified as Kendrick Webster, the 15-year-old son of the Baptist preacher. The gas cans inside Rowe’s shed and his neo-Nazi tattoos indicate that the two murders are connected, In fact Rowe may have had a hand in Kendrick’s murder before being killed himself. They post pictures of the two crime scenes on two adjacent walls at the station, covering the windows to keep the details of Kendrick’s torture secret. A question by a local reporter reveals a leak inside the police, and the partners begin investigating off the books, discovering a dangerous connection to some of Georgia’s oldest and most powerful families. This intense debut thriller featuring the grief-stricken detective and his faithful bulldog Purvis is the first in a series.

The Silent PatientAlex Michaelides
The Silent Patient (Celadon Books 2019) is the story of Alicia Berenson, a famous painter married to Gabriel, a successful fashion photographer. Living in a large home in a desirable London neighborhood, the couple seemed to have the perfect life until the evening Alicia shot and killed her husband and then slit her own wrists. Alicia barely survived, and spoke not a word from that time forward. Her only communication was a painting completed while awaiting trial under the supervision of a psychiatric nurse. Titled “Alcestis,” the self-portrait depicted a naked Alicia confronting a blank canvas while holding a brush dripping blood red drops. During the trial, Alicia’s agent Jean-Felix Martin displayed the painting in his Soho gallery, and the prices of her paintings increased astronomically. Alicia was convicted of murder, and committed to the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. Six years later Alicia is still silent when forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber joins the staff of the Grove, convinced that he is uniquely qualified by his own troubled past to help Alicia. Theo believes that Alicia’s silence is connected to the story of Alcestis, the heroine of a Greek myth who dies in her husband’s place and then speaks not a word after she is rescued from the underworld by Heracles. He begins talk therapy with Alicia, who emerges from her torpor long enough to attack him. Encouraged by the uncharacteristic interaction to the world around her, Theo begins seeking out Alicia’s friends and relatives, searching for motivations for the murder and subsequent silence. Interspersed sections from the diary Alicia began years earlier during a bout of depression reveal her fear that she may have inherited her mother’s madness. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the blurring boundaries between patient and therapist as Theo shares his own emotional problems while trying to forge a bond with Alicia, casting doubt on whose mental stability is more solid.

Beijing PaybackDaniel Nieh
Beijing Payback (Ecco 2019) begins with the murder of Vincent Li, presumably by a burglar. Lawyer Perry Peng informs Victor and Jules that their father did not own the restaurant chain, instead only managing the restaurants for the Happy Year Restaurant Company based in Beijing. Victor and Jules were unaware of the hardship of their father’s life in China. Vincent’s professor father and outspoken sister were casualties of Mao’s labor camps for counterrevolutionaries, and his mother sank into depression. After Mao’s death his mother was befriended by Linda, a young blond American missionary. Vincent, who had turned to crime to support himself and his mother, was fascinated by the outsider, who assured him all his sins could be forgiven. After Vincent’s mother’s death, the couple moved to San Dimas in southern California, opened a Chinese restaurant, and raised their children as bilingual Americans. Victor is a passionate college basketball player, and Jules is considering grad school options when their father was killed. An envelope passed on by Peng leads them to a confession written by their father, revealing that the restaurants are a cover for the activities of an international crime syndicate. Sun Jianshui, who was rescued as a child while begging in the street by Vincent before he met Linda, arrives in California and tells Victor that Vincent was killed because he refused to be part of a new smuggling scheme for a product called Ice. Sun convinces Victor that his only chance of protecting himself and his sister is to travel to Beijing to confront the gang his father joined as a teenager. This coming of age debut revenge thriller is driven, violent, insightful, and surprisingly funny in parts.

The Perfect SonLauren North
The Perfect Son (Berkley 2019) begins when Tess Clarke wakes the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday party sure of only four things: she is in the hospital, she’s been stabbed, she’s still alive, and her son is missing. Tess is sure that her brother-in-law Ian and her grief counselor Shelley Lange are somehow involved, but can’t quite make sense of everything through the morphine haze. Tess imagines that her husband Mark is at her bedside, but remembers he died in a plane crash two months earlier. Mark’s death sent Tess into a deep pit of dispair, barely able to take care of herself and their son. Tess didn’t respond to phone calls from her family, and her mother, who is too unwell to travel, arranged for a grief counselor to visit. At first Tess is comforted by Shelley’s visits, but she begins to worry that Shelley, whose own child died of leukemia at the age of two, is jealous of Tess’s own son, exactly the age Shelley’s son would be if he had survived. Ian visits and pressures Tess to begin the process of dealing with Mark’s estate, explaining that he lent Mark 100,000 pounds and needs the money to buy out his partner who wants to retire. Tess doesn’t remember anything about a loan, but never paid much attention to their finances. She notices a man following her during the rare occasions she leaves the house, receives a series of frightening anonymous calls, and catches Shelley and Ian talking furtively, though they insist they never met before. The only thing that helps Tess survive the grief of Mark’s death is the loving relationship she has with Jamie. Tess’s memories of the weeks leading up to the stabbing are interspersed with statements by Ian and Shelley, providing different viewpoints of the same events. This emotionally intense debut suspense thriller explores the debilitating effects of grief and loss.

Murder Once RemovedS.C. Perkins
Murder Once Removed (Minotaur 2019) introduces Lucy Lancaster, a genealogist in Austin, Texas. While working on the genealogy of billionaire Gus Halloran, Lucy tracks down a daguerreotype proving that his great-great-grandfather Seth was not trampled to death in 1849 by a loose draft horse in the streets of San Antonio, but was murdered. Jeb Inscore, a portrait photographer rushed out of his shop when he heard the noise, and spotted two men standing over Seth’s body, one holding a bloody knife. Jeb’s daguerreotype clearly shows that Seth’s white linen shirt is torn and stained with blood. Jeb’s great-granddaughter Betty-Anne Inscore-Cooper also has Jeb’s journal explaining that he returned to the scene with his camera, took the photograph, and was leaving to find the sheriff when the killers returned with a draft horse, walking it across the body and destroying the evidence of the knife wound. The killers grabbed Jeb and took him to their boss, identified only by the initials C.A., who frightened Jeb into lying at the inquest. Jeb identified C.A. as a veteran of the 1836 Texas revolution, a member of the Texas legislature, and possessing a very large nose inherited by his daughter. Lucy uses the skills developed while earning her degree in information science, and identifies two possibilities: Cantwell Ayers, a wealthy sheep rancher, and Caleb Applewhite, the ancestor of US Senator Daniel Applewhite, currently running for reelection against Halloran’s son Pearce. Gus is thrilled with the sensational history of his family and talks it up at a press conference, explaining that Lucy solved the murder of his great-great-grandfather. Late the next night Betty-Anne’s home is burgled, though not much is taken other than the box of Jeb’s journals Lucy had packed up for digital scanning. Fearing that someone is worried about the truth being revealed, Lucy dives back into her research, determined to discover whose ancestor bore the initials C.A. This cozy debut starring Lucy and her quirky friends is a finalist for the 2019 Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Call Me EvieJ.P. Pomare
Call Me Evie (G.P. Putnam’s Son 2019, New Zealand 2018) is the story of 17-year-old Kate Bennet, who is living in a remote beach town in New Zealand with an older man who tells everyone she is his niece Evie. Uncle Jim tells Evie they had to flee Melbourne and go into hiding to protect her. Evie has almost no memory of the fateful night but she knows Jim is not her uncle and resents his obsession with safety that includes no Internet or phone and locking her in her room every night. Jim swears Evie must stay out of sight as much as possible because the peple chasing them mean to do her harm. Evie fears Jim may be her captor rather than her savior and seeks opportunities to ask questions of the shopkeeper and few neighbors. As fragments of memory return, Evie desperately searches for a way to escape and return home. Alternating sections from “Before” fill in Kate’s senior year of high school, living with her over-protective widowed father, spending time with her best friend Willow and Willow’s slightly creepy father, and falling in love with Thom. In the “After” sections Evie hacks off her long hair revealing the scar on her skull, tries to avoid taking the daily pills Jim gives her, suffers debilitating panic attacks, and desperately tries to remember the truth about the traumatic night that changed her life. This stunning debut novel of psychological suspense probes the nature of memory, self-delusion, and sanity.

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott
The Secrets We Kept (Knopf 2019) is the story of three Cold War women. Olga Ivinskaya, a young Moscow mother with two children, is the mistress of Boris Pasternak. Arrested and interrogated about the content of Pasternak’s work in progress, Doctor Zhivago, Olga is sent to the Gulag in 1949, sentenced to serve five years of hard labor in the fields. Her term was cut short by Stalin’s death in 1953, when 1.5 million prisoners were released, but Olga and Pasternak remained under surveillance. In 1956 Irina Drozdova, the daughter of a Russian-born seamstress, is hired to join the typing pool at the CIA, joining the well-educated young women who hoped the secretarial job was the start of a career, and the older women who had served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency during World War II that preceded the CIA. Sally Forrester, a former OSS agent who managed to stay out of the typing pool, helps train Irina after hours in spy-craft and the art of invisibly carrying classified documents. After Russian publishers refuse to publish Doctor Zhivago, Sergio D’Angelo smuggles the manuscript out of Russia, and it is published in Italian by Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Believing that books could be weapons, that literature and the arts could change the course of history, the CIA smuggled cultural materials into Russia, emphasizing that the Soviet system suppressed free thought, censoring and persecuting Soviet artists. Doctor Zhivago, revealing the effect of the Soviet system on a sensitive and intelligent citizen, was chosen as the perfect book to smuggle back behind the Iron Curtain. Based on the true story of a CIA plot, this fascinating debut historical thriller is narrated from the perspective of the three different women, each struggling to remain true to herself while finding her place in a world dominated by men.

Waiting for Monsieur BellivierBritta Röstlund
Waiting for Monsieur Bellivier (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2019, Sweden 2016) begins when Mancebo, the Tunisian proprietor of a small grocery shop with a distant view of Sacré-Cœur in Paris, is closing up one hot summer evening. An elegant woman introduces herself as Cat and explains that she would like to pay him to spy on her boyfriend, an author whon lives in an apartment across the street. Madame Cat explains that she has noticed Mancebo’s usual seat on a stool outside his shop has a clear view of the apartment, and she needs to know if her boyfriend is having an affair. Mancebo at first refuses, but the chance to add variety to his unchanging routine is irresistible, and they arrange a system of exchanging reports and payment in recycled olive jars once a week. Helena Folasadu is a divorced woman with a young son. She is working on a magazine article in a cafe when a man asks if she is waiting for Monsieur Bellivier. She says no, and then notices he is approaching other women in the cafe with the same questions. Impulsively she motions the man over and changes her answer. The man takes her to an office in the top floor of the Areva tower with a lovely view of Sacré-Cœur, handing her a contract to read. In exchange for a substancial salary, she is to work in the office every day for three weeks, forwarding any emails that come through to Monsieur Bellivier. The man explains that she is free to read or work on her own computer as she waits for emails. Intrigued, Helena signs the contract, sure she won’t need her anxiety tablets for the first time in months. The emails are a strange mixture of numbers and letters which she memorizes before forwarding. At the end of each day, the receptionist hands her a bouquet. The flowers make her nervous, and Helena is desperate to get rid of them each day, passing them on to strangers and leaving them at a graveyard. Both Helena’s and Mancebo’s lives change as their new assignments break them out of their monotonous daily routines, causing them to examine everything more closely and worrying that they may be putting themselves in danger. This intriguing debut examines secret lives and the possibility of second chances.

Alice’s IslandDaniel Sánchez Arévalo
Alice’s Island (Atria 2019, Spain 2015) begins when Alice, a painter and art teacher, receives a phone call from the police: her husband Chris has just been killed in a car accident. Seven months pregnant with their second child, Alice leaves six-year-old Olivia with her parents and drives to the hospital. Through the shock, her mind seizes on the fact that Chris’s car went off the road 100 miles the opposite direction from where he was supposed to be meeting with a client. Unable to shake the worry that her husband had a secret life, Alice visits the site of the accident and notices a nearby security camera. She convinces the gas station attendant to give her a copy of the video, and then returns to request copies of the video for other dates, discovering that Chris was on this highway on recent trips, far from where he should have been. Ove the next two months Alice begins backtracking, cajoling or buying security camera videos, until she tracks Chris to the ferry terminal to Robin Island near Nantucket. With Olivia in tow she visits the island, going into labor and giving birth with the help of the local dentist and veterinarian. When Ruby is a month old, Alice buys a small security camera, mounts it on a shrub near Chris’s grave, and makes an appointment under her maiden name with Mariam McCarthy Real Estate to look at houses on Robin Island. Miriam tells her there is nothing to lease, but shows her a Victorian with an attic perfect for a painting studio. Two months later Alice and her two daughters are living in their new Robin Island home, and Olivia is signed up to take the seaplane to a school on Nantucket. Alice’s obsession with surveillance increases once on the island, and she begins planting audio and video recorders, converting the attic into spy central, searching for the woman she is sure Chris was secretly visiting. Meanwhile, Olivia develops obsessive-compulsive disorder, organizing her toys and books into rigid categories and incessantly counting objects in order to protect the things she loves from vanishing like her father did. This lyrical mystery featuring the endearingly persistent Alice is the first adult novel by the acclaimed Spanish screenwriter, director, and children’s author.

The Chestnut ManSøren Sveistrup
The Chestnut Man (Harper 2019, Denmark 2018) introduces Naia Thulin, a Danish police office unhappy with the boredom of her nine months’ work at the Copenhagen Major Crimes Division. Thulin is considering requesting a transfer to NC3, the national cyber crime department, when Mark Hess is suddenly sent back home in disgrace from his assignment at Europol’s headquarters in the Hague. The two are partnered on the murder of Laura Kjær, found tortured with her right hand amputated. Next to the body is a chestnut man, a simple doll made from two chestnuts with matchstick arms and legs. The forensic examnation of the chestnut man reveals a partial fingerprint matched to Kristine Hartung, the 12-year-old daughter of a government minister who was kidnapped and murdered a year earlier. Linus Bekker, a paranoid schizophrenic confessed to dismembering Kristine’s body and burying the body parts in different forest locations, but was unable to show the police any of the burial locations. Minister of Social Affairs Rosa Hartung and her husband Steen are close to signing the papers to declare Kristine dead, but the news of the fingerprint awakens faint hope that she may still be alive, though their daughter did sell chestnut dolls with her friend each autumn. Hess planned to just mark time while his Europol reprimand is being investigated, but the fingerprint on the chestnut man nags at him, and he digs out the Bekker files. He discovers that police didn’t follow up any other leads once the bloody machete was discovered in Bekker’s garage. No bone dust was found on the machete, and Hess is sure that Bekker was framed and coerced into confessing. The idea that Kristine’s killer may still be at large is not popular with Hess’s colleagues and superiors, but Thulin gradually comes around to his theory that Kristine’s case is connected to the Copenhagen killer who removes body parts and leaves chestnut men. This dark debut thriller featuring the complex Thulin and Hess leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Death in SummerMichael Theurillat
Death in Summer (Manilla 2019, Switzerland 2006) introduces Inspector Eschenbach, Chief of the Zurich Criminal Investigation Department. On a hot July day he is called to an exclusive golf club where a dead golfer has been discovered at the 15th hole. The man is identified as Philipp Bettlach, a 56-year-old divorced bank vice president who was well liked by other club members. Dr. Johannes Bettlach, Philipp’s older brother and president of Zurich Commercial Bank, tells Eschenbach that his younger brother went through a wild stage, but settled down and was a successful head of the marketing department, establishing good relations with foreign customers. Assisted by Claudio Jagmetti, a trainee from the police academy, Eschenbach re-enacts the scene of the shooting with a maniquin, discovering that the fatal shot was fired from a distance of at least half a kilometer. Doris Hottiger, a 22-year-old working as a golf instructor during the university summer holiday, was dating Philipp, but broke off their affair. Jagmetti is attracted to Doris, and spends the night with her before discovering she won awards as a sharpshooter. Marianne Felber, a journalist for the Zürcher Tagblatt, is given the murder to cover since the two senior reporters are unavailable. After interviewing Philipp’s brother, work colleagues, and friends, she comes to the same conclusion as Eschenbach — the man was too perfect, no annoying habits, faults, or enemies. The two independently begin delving into Philipp’s past, searching for a motive for murder. This debut mystery, the first in the series featuring the intuitive and unconventional Eschenbach, is also the English-language debut of the best-selling Swiss author.

A Good Enough MotherBev Thomas
A Good Enough Mother (Pamela Dorman Books 2019) begins when Dan Griffin walks into psychotherapist Ruth Hartland’s consulting room at the London Trauma Unit. The 22-year-old young man looks so much like Ruth’s missing son Tom that she is stunned. Ruth makes it though the first session with Dan, who is suffering PTSD symptoms after a brutal attack and rape, but has trouble focusing. Dan refuses to talk about his family, instead demanding tools and techniques to help him put the incident behind him. Ruth explains that the Trauma Unit offers talk therapy, a safe place for those needing to remake their connection with a world that has become a dangerous place. By the end of the session Dan agrees to return for his next appointment. Ruth knows that she should pass Dan off to one of her colleagues since his resemblance to Tom endangers her ability to focus on Dan’s feelings rather than her own, but she doesn’t. The Unit doesn’t know that Tom has been missing for more than a year, vanishing without a trace at the age of 17 after burning his passport and credit cards, leaving behind even his beloved copy of Into the Wild. Tom was always a fragile boy, uncomfortable with his peers and only completely happy in the outdoors. Since his disappearance Ruth’s marriage has disintegrated, and Tom’s twin sister Caroline is spending her gap year in Australia, leaving Ruth alone with her worry and sense of helplessness. Tom attempted suicide before he left, and Ruth is consumed with guilt that she didn’t understand the depths of his depression. Dan’s case gives her a welcome distraction, though she knows allowing him to break the boundaries between patient and therapist is dangerous for both of them. This emotionally wrenching psychological thriller is the debut novel by a former clinical psychologist with Britain’s National Health Service.

Flowers Over the InfernoIlaria Tuti
Flowers Over the Inferno (Soho Crime 2019) introduces Superintendent Teresa Battaglia, a veteran Italian police officer in her mid-60s with expertise in criminal profiling. Arriving at the crime scene outside the small village of Travenì in the Italian Alps, Teresa finds the naked body of a man posed in the snow. The only sign of violence is the man’s eyes have been gouged out, apparently with a bare hand. A scarecrow is discovered nearby in the forest dressed in the man’s clothes. The head is formed from his undershirt stuffed with leaves, but the man’s eyes are nowhere to be found. New transfer Massimo Marini gets off on the wrong foot with Teresa when he ignores the stocky old woman, assuming she is a local witness, and introduces himself to the male officer she is talking with. Teresa invites Massimo to join her at the autopsy, and he challenges her tentative profile of the killer, insisting it’s too early to know anything about the killer. She replies that the profile is based not only on her four decades of experience but also statistics distilling hundreds of profiles of people who have committed similar murders. Assuming he is a blowhard, she challenges him to do his homework before submitting his report on everything he has observed so far, and is surprised when he writes a thorough report and begins doing research on serial killers. The victim is identified as Roberto Valent, a civil engineer born and raised in the valley who returned after university with his wife and children to oversee the construction of a new ski slope. Teresa interviews his widow and meets his son Diego, who attends the local school. Diego along with his friends Mathias, Lucia, and Oliver spend hours playing in the woods, and recently feel they are being watched by a ghost who hides in the trees. This compelling debut police procedural thriller presents a unique protagonist. Teresa has been living with diabetes most of her life, but recent debilitating physical symptoms cause her to wonder how much longer she will be able to do the job she loves. Even more worrisome are the memory lapses that may prevent her from making the intuitive connections needed to track down the killer.

Theme MusicT. Marie Vandelly
Theme Music (Dutton 2019) is the story of Dixie Wheeler, whose father killed her mother and three brothers with an axe before slashing his own throat. Only 18-month old Dixie was spared, found eating Froot Loops in her high chair amidst the gore, the song “Baby Blue” playing at full volume, when 15-year-old neighbor Rory arrived to meet her oldest brother. Dubbed Baby Blue, Dixie was raised by her Aunt Celia and Uncle Ford, unaware of her infamous family history until she was eight and assigned homework of creating a family tree. Now in her mid-20s, Dixie is househunting with her boyfriend Garrett when an address pops up in her Zillow feed: 6211 Catharpian Road, Franconia, VA. As a child Dixie had asked Aunt Celia to take her by her family’s house, and interpreted her answer that there was nothing to see to mean the house was gone. Dixie arranges a tour of the house, recently upgraded and painted, and is consumed with a need to live in the house. They put in an offer, and it’s not until Aunt Celia forces her that Dixie tells Garrett the truth about the history of the house. He refuses to move in, but the sellers are so desperate to sell that they agree to let Dixie rent. Her Uncle Davis, who insisted his brother was innocent until his recent death, had stored the entire contents of the house, and her Aunt Charlene is eager to give Dixie all the boxes and furniture. Using the photo albums, Dixie begins to arrange the furniture, lamps, and knick-knacks into an faithful reconstruction of the home she doesn’t remember, hoping to spark memories of the family she has forgotten. In one of the boxes Dixie discovers a file about the mass murder, including crime scene photographs, and learns that Uncle Davis had continually pressured Detective Cullins to reopen the case. Noticing that many of the numbered crime scene photos are missing, she visits Detective Cullins, now retired, and learns that all the pictures featuring the axe propped in the corned near the refrigerator are missing. Dixie is determined to make sense of her past, but the longer she stays in the house the more dubious she is about her own sanity: she hears sounds in the night, objects are not where she left them, and the nightmares featuring her bloody family grow more intense. This intense debut thriller with dark supernatural elements is very disturbing.

Three-FifthsJohn Vercher
Three-Fifths (Agora Books 2019) is the story of Bobby Saraceno, a 22-year-old waiter in 1995 Pittsburgh. Bobby’s mother Isabel, a barely functional alcoholic, told him his father left her and then died, concealing the fact his father was black. They lived with his bigoted grandparents, and Bobby believed he was white until his mother told the truth during a fight with her father when Bobby was eleven. From that point on it was only the two of them struggling to make ends meet. Bobby continued to pass as white, hiding his true identity from everyone, including his best friend Aaron, bonded by their shared love of comic books since middle school. Aaron has just been released from a three-year prison term, hardened and covered with neo-Nazi tattoos, choosing to become a white supremacist to protect himself in prison. When Bobby picks him up outside the prison Aaron is clutching a brick and Bobby realizes that despite his new bulk, Aaron is terrified. They stop at the Original Hot Dog Shop to feed Aaron’s craving for non-prison food, and Aaron gets into an argument with two young black men, leaving Marcus Anderson bleeding in the parking lot with his head caved in from the brick. Bobby is frightened that his truck may have been caught on the security camera, and knows he can never tell Aaron the truth about his mixed-race heritage. Robert Winston, a black emergency room doctor, treats Anderson, and stops off at a bar to decompress before heading home to his unhappy wife. At the next barstool is Isabel, who recognizes him and decides it is time to introduce Bobby to the father who never knew he existed. This intense debut thriller, set during the non-stop news coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and reports of rioting in Los Angeles, explores themes of race, identity, and the overpowering need to fit in.

To the LionsHolly Watt
To the Lions (Dutton 2019) introduces Casey Benedict, an investigative reporter at the London Post. Casey traveled the world for years, following the heartbreaking stories of disaster and war before returning home to work with Miranda Darcey as the Post’s investigative duo, digging into the in-depth stories that take weeks or months to come to fruition. Their current project is an investigation of fraud at Cormium, one of the biggest commodity traders in the world. Tipped off by one of her bartender sources, Casey slips into her party-girl disguise and charms her way into a booth of drunken Cormium executives, including the chief executive Oliver Selby. When the men leave the table for a drinking game on the dance floor, Casey overhears scraps of conversation from the next booth, a Frenchman and an American taking about shooting from a hilltop into a camp into the middle of nowhere. The bartender gives Casey a copy of the credit card used to guarantee the drink order — Sebastian Azarola, one of the founders of Cyan Capital, a hedge fund company. Unfortunately his picture online doesn’t look like either of the two men Casey overheard. Miranda and Casey begin researching Cyan, hoping to identify the man with the American accent who sounded horrified, and begin speculating what the men might have meant by a camp. Perhaps a shantytown slum surrounding cities like Cape Town or Rio, or maybe a refugee camp in Lebanon or another war-torn area of the world? Using her ability to change personas as easily as her shoes, Casey follows a web of connections, becoming more convinced every day that something very dark is enticing the ultra-rich into deadly games. This intense debut thriller by a real-life investigative journalist was awarded the 2019 Steel Dagger Award.

The Nowhere ChildChristian White
The Nowhere Child (Minotaur Books 2019; Australia 2018) is the story of Kimberly Leamy, a 30-year-old photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. One day an American stranger appears and shows her a picture of Sammy Went, a toddler who went missing 28 years earlier from her home in Manson, Kentucky, three days after her second birthday. The stranger tells Kim he believes she is Sammy Went. Kim can’t believe that her loving mother Carol, a social worker who died of cancer four years earlier, had kidnapped her, but the lack of baby pictures in the family album plus a picture of herself as a toddler with an eerie resemblance to the picture of Sammy gives her pause. The stranger reveals that he is Stuart Went, Sammy’s older brother, and that he has been searching for her ever since he was old enough to do research on the Internet. Kim impulsively books a flight to Kentucky, wondering if seeing the town will awaken any memories. Interspersed chapters set in 1990 Manson relate the day of the kidnapping and the investigation that followed. Jack Went had been raised in the Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal group of poisonous-snake handlers, but it was his wife Molly, who married into the church, who became a devout worshipper. When Sammy went missing, suspicion fell on Travis Eckles, the younger son of a criminal family, whose untrustworthy explanation of his whereabouts that day concealed a furtive affair with Jack, who is unwilling to reveal his homosexuality. After arriving in Mason, Kim is distressed to realize she does not warm to Molly Went, who only seems to care for the Church of the Light Within, but does have glimmerings of memories long forgotten. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the disturbing effects of being raised in a cult-like religion and what it means to be part of a family.

American SpyLauren Wilkinson
American Spy (Random House 2019) begins in 1992 when Marie Mitchell kills an armed intruder in her Connecticut home. A former FBI agent, Marie knows her claim of self-defense is valid, but flees with her twin four-year-old sons to Martinique, using a set of fake passports she prepared for just this sort of emergency. Marie believes the man she shot was an assassin sent to kill her, and wants to protect her sons at all cost. Interspersed sections from 1962 fill in Marie’s youth. Her mixed-race mother Agathe was sent from Martinique to New York to attend high school, forced by her aunt to pass as white. At the integrated Brooklyn school, she fell in love with William Mitchell, a Harlem boy. Marie and her older sister Helene grew up bilingual, speaking French with their mother. In sections from 1987 Marie is an intelligence officer with the FBI, doomed to monitoring paperwork despite her talents because of her youth, sex, and race. Everything changes when she is asked to join the task force to undermine Thomas Sankara, the charismatic Burkinabé revolutionary president of Burkina Faso. Despite Sankara’s Communist ideology, Marie secretly admires the work he has done to improve the quality of life for his people by vaccinating children and increasing the literacy rate. Disguised as a UN interpreter, Marie watches Sankara give a speech, and is captivated by his personal magnetism. Sankara asks for a tour of Harlem, and the two enjoy a diner meal and a jazz club. A month later Marie is in Burkina Faso, trying to figure out if her mission is to destroy Sankara’s credibility as a loyal family man by seducing him, or destroy the man himself by assassinating him. Inspired by the real life of Thomas Sankara, known as “Africa’s Che Guevara,” this debut spy thriller examines Cold War policies in Africa through the eyes of an intelligent and passionate young black American woman.

Note: Some of these books were received from publishers and publicists, some were discovered in Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon Book Bags, and many were checked out from our local public library. Our thanks to all who support our passion for reading!

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