SYKM


Favorite 2018 Debut Novels

We’ve always avoided making a Best Of… list since we couldn’t choose between the scores of books we loved each year. But we know how important these lists are to authors, and to readers searching for book recommendations. Lucinda reads a LOT of debut novels, so that became the focus for our first ever list: Favorite Debut Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels published in the US in 2018. Long may they write! [Note: This list is still in progress.]


Exhibit AlexandraNatasha Bell
Exhibit Alexandra (Crown 2018) begins when Alexandra Southwood, happily married to Marc and devoted to their two young daughters, doesn’t return from her bike ride home from her part-time teaching job. Though assured by the London police that most missing adults return safely within a day or two, Marc is panicked. Alex’s disappearance is completely out of character and he is sure she has been abducted. Held against her will in a small room, Alex is shown news clips of Marc appealing to the public for information. As the days pass, she is consumed by memories of their chance meeting at the library when she was home visiting halfway through her MFA program in Chicago. Back in London again for Christmas, Alex impulsively didn’t board the plane back to Chicago, giving up school to marry Marc. Alex is haunted by memories of events over the next 15 years: a rich love life and the birth of two daughters. Marc tells the police that the only stressful parts of Alex’s life were the death of her beloved father and her difficult relationship with her mother, an alcoholic now suffering early-onset dementia. After discovering Alex’s bloody coat by the river, the police reclassify her disappearance as a murder investigation. No sign of a body is found, and Marc refuses to believe she is dead. As the months pass, he begins to pack some of her belongings away to store in the attic, discovering a box with letters from Amelia Heldt, her college roommate and now a provocative New York performance artist. Reading the letters, Marc begins to wonder if they were more than roommates, and discovers how much Alex gave up in order to live a quiet live as a wife and mother instead of pursuing her dream to become an avant guarde artist. Part of Amelia’s mystique is that she refuses to make public appearances, insisting that it’s the art that matters, not the artist, and neither the police nor Marc can track her down to ask questions about Alex. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the nature of love, secrets, and personal fulfillment.


Seances Are for SuckersTamara Berry
Séances Are for Suckers (Kensington 2018) introduces Eleanor Wilde, a pseudo psychic who uses her talent for reading people to rid her clients of resident ghosts and other phantasmagoric plagues. A skeptic herself, Ellie has learned to impress her clients with sudden gusts of wind and sounds, and her ability to tell time by the sun, direction by the stars, and make painkillers out of tree bark. Nicholas Hartford III offers far more than the usual rate she charges for Eleanor’s Cleansing Service to travel to England and purge the ancestral Hartford estate of a ghost named Xavier. Nick is sure someone is taking advantage of his elderly mother Vivian, but can’t identify the culprit himself. Arriving at the eerie and very cold gothic castle, Ellie finds herself lodged in the yellow bedroom, the spot where Xavier manifests most frequently. Also in residence are Nick’s glamorous sister Fern, her crass American boyfriend Cal Whitkin, and Fern’s teenage daughter Rachel. Ellie expects a sumptuous dinner of several courses, but instead the family dines on a watery soup. Thomas, the only servant, explains that Vivian does all the cooking, cultivating eccentricity to compensate for a diminished family fortune and an estate that has been deteriorating for years. Ellie searches every crack and crevice in her yellow bedchamber, but can’t find any evidence of ghost-fakery, not even a secret passage into another room. In the middle of the night she is awakened by thumping and then a bright flash of light, but can’t find any trace of trickery. The next day Ellie installs mini camcorders and other spy gear throughout the castle and then heads to town to research Xavier in the local museum. Xavier himself appears in Ellie’s bedroom that night, but unfortunately all her spy gear has disappeared, leaving her with no clue who is responsible for the ghost. The appearance and disappearance of a dead body raise the stakes in this funny debut mystery and series opener.


Fogland PointDoug Burgess
Fogland Point (Poisoned Pen Press 2018) is set in Little Compton, a tiny isolated spit as far east as you can go in Rhode Island. David Hazzard, just fired from his job as an adjunct history professor at Xavier College after a health screening outs him as transgender, gets a frantic voicemail from his grandmother Maggie about a dead body with blood everywhere. Maggie is in the early stages of dementia, but this is outside the normal range of calls about lost glasses and confusion about what year it is. David tries to reach his grandmother’s best friends: Aunts Emma, Constance, and Irene, but no one picks up so he sets out for Little Compton. His grandmother is fine, though confused about who he is, but Emma is dead on her kitchen floor next door, felled by a cast iron frying pan among the detritus of a collapsed shelf. David isn’t happy with moving back to the town he last visited six years earlier for a disastrous Thanksgiving coming out to his father, but it’s clear his grandmother is no longer capable of living by herself. Over the past year phone scammers have talked her out of over $500,000 of funds belonging to the New England Wrecking and Salvage Company she owns with fellow widows Constance and Irene. Chief of Police Billy Dyer, an old friend of David’s from high school, is convinced Emma’s death was murder, but the state cops decide on a verdict of accidental death. Billy watches the attendees at the funeral carefully, especially Marcus and Alicia Reingold, the extremely wealthy young couple who have just bought the old Armstrong mansion on Fogland Point. At the reading of the will everyone is surprised that Emma leaves her fortune no one knew she had to a daughter no one knew about, along with money for a private detective to track her down. Billy hasn’t forgiven David for not trusting him with the truth about his sexuality when they dated in high school, but enlists his help trying to uncover the truth about Emma’s death. To distract David from his worry about losing his job, the aunts give him a tape recorder to preserve their stories, and Maggie’s erratic memory is stimulated by the telling, producing strange tales mixing past and present and David can’t separate truth from the confusion of dementia. This outstanding debut novel surrounds a compelling mystery with unique and memorable characters.


Social CreatureTara Isabella Burton
Social Creature (Doubleday 2018) is the story of Louise, a 29-year-old New Yorker who works as a barista, SAT tutor, and author of puff pieces for an e-commerce site while dreaming of becoming a novelist. Lavinia, a 23-year-old party girl taking a sabbatical from college, calls the number on Louise’s SAT tutor flyer and asks her to tutor her visiting high school sister while Lavinia hits the town, promising to be home by midnight. She doesn’t come home until dawn, tripping over the hem of her feathered dress as she stumbles in the door. Louise offers to mend the dress, and Lavinia is charmed and then appalled when Louise admits she didn’t have any plans for that evening anyway. Lavinia invites her to a party the following week, lending her a flapper dress, doing her makeup, and paying for everything. Learning Louise is a writer, Lavinia confesses that she also wants to write, and shares a self-indulgent chapter, watching Louise intently as she reads. Louise is tempted for a moment to tell Lavinia how dreadful her prose is, but knows that would ruin the exciting friendship she has come to rely on to brighten her dreary existence. As they move from party to party, Lavinia documents their adventures with endless selfies posted on Facebook: two beautiful young women who look eerily alike. This dark and compelling debut thriller chronicles a toxic friendship that spins very quickly out of control.


Dodging and BurningJohn Copenhaver
Dodging and Burning (Pegasus Books 2018) is set in 1945 Royal Oak, Virginia. Twelve-year-old Ceola Bliss is consumed with grief over the loss of her brother Robbie, declared missing in the Pacific. She obsessively re-reads the last pulp detective story they enjoyed together before he left, and spends as much time as possible with Robbie’s best friend Jay Greenwood, who has returned from the war with an injured leg. Bunny Prescott, who would like to be Jay’s girlfriend, joins them the day Jay takes Ceola to a clearing in the woods where he found a dead woman. The body is missing, but Ceola finds a velvet shoe and helps Jay retrieve his camera. The two girls pressure Jay to tell the police, but he is worried they won’t understand why he stopped to take pictures of the body rather than reporting it immediately. The photographs Jay develops of the dead blond woman are strangely beautiful, and the three become obsessed with figuring out who she was and who killed her. A local woman named Lily Vellum is missing, and Ceola is certain she is the victim, but Bunny begins to suspect that Jay isn’t telling the whole truth. Ceola’s parents forbid her to spend time with Jay, insisting he was a bad influence on Robbie and will corrupt her as well. A sheltered child of her time, Ceola doesn’t understand that Jay and Robbie were more than friends, and that her parents are consumed with guilt for forcing Robbie to join the Army as soon as he turned 18, convinced the Army would transform him into the man they want him to become. Fifty-five years later Bunny, a successful mystery author, receives one of Jay’s pictures in the mail. She writes to Ceola, and together the two reconstruct the events of that long-ago summer. This compelling debut thriller reveals the dangerous existence of gay men in the 1940s, who faced persecution if they revealed their sexual identities.


The Boy at the DoorAlex Dahl
The Boy at the Door (Berkley 2018) is set in the affluent town of Sandefjord, Norway. Cecilia Wilborg lives a life of luxury with her husband Johan and two daughters. Cecilia works hard to meet local expectations of being the perfect wife and mother, keeping a spotless home while running a successful design business. Her biggest problems at the moment are replacing the au pair who left unexpectedly and the time crunch on Tuesday afternoons when Nicoline’s ballet lesson ends right before Hermine’s weekly swim club. Cecilia notices a small boy with olive-brown skin at the swim club because he is much smaller than the other children and seems frightened. Hermine dawdles in the changing room, and they are the last family to leave. The receptionist asks Cecilia to drop off the little boy waiting alone at the door on their way home, since his mother hasn’t picked him up and her phone goes straight to voicemail. Cecilia reluctantly agrees, dropping off her daughters before taking Tobias to the address on his swim form. The house looks unoccupied, with no furniture other than a dilapidated sofa and a small mattress on the floor. Tobias nods when she asks if he lives there, but leaving him alone in the deserted and filthy house isn’t an option. He begs her not to call the police, and Cecilia gives in to his pleading to stay the night with her family. The next morning she drops him off at school, but her spa appointment is interrupted by a call from the school insisting she return to pick up Tobias, who is not enrolled. At the police station, social services ask if the Wilborgs can keep the boy for a few days while they figure out who left him in the squat. Interspersed with Cecilia’s first person narration are chapters from the journal of Annika Lucasson describing her wretched life with the abusive drug-dealing man she both fears and loves, and short glimpses into the thoughts of the psychologically damaged Tobias. The unexpected arrival of Tobias in her life pushes Cecilia’s dependance on alcohol and pain relievers to a new level and her perfect facade begins to crumble, exposing the dark secret she has kept hidden for years beneath layers of lies and deceptions. This fascinating debut thriller examines the pressures on Norwegian woman to take advantage of their freedom to have it all, whether they want it or not.


Beneath the MountainLuca D’Andrea
Beneath the Mountain (Harper 2018, Italian 2016) is the story of Jeremiah Salinger, a new York City native and half of a documentary-making team who made it big with a series of films about rock and roll roadies. After the fourth film, Salinger and his partner Mike McMellan run out of steam. Salinger falls in love with Annelise, and moves to Siebenhoch, a remote village in the Dolomites, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The locals speak the ancient dialect of Ladino, root for Germany against Italy in the World Cup, and have little tolerance for outsiders. The sight of a bright red helicopter against the deep blue sky inspires Salinger to make a documentary about the Dolomite Mountain Rescue group started by Annelise’s father Werner and his friends many years earlier. Salinger is lowered with the camera from the helicopter to film the rescue of a tourist who had fallen into a cravasse. Left alone at the bottom of the cravasse while the woman is lifted, Salinger becomes disoriented, hearing the hissing voice of an ancient Beast. The helicopter and the rescue team are destroyed in an avalanche. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Salinger is diagnosed with PTSD but hates the anxiety drugs, and only pretends to take them. Trying to distract himself from his auditory hallucinations, Salinger becomes fixated on the story of an old crime, three murders in the Bletterbach Gorge. Evi, a geology student, her boyfriend Kurt, a mountain guide, and her younger brother Markus didn’t return from a hike. Werner, who discovered the bodies with members of the Dolomite Mountain Rescue group, reluctantly describes the horrific scene: Evi was beheaded, and the others were torn limb from limb. The killer was never identified. Convinced that solving the mystery is his only hope of retaining his sanity, Salinger, who promised Annelise he would give up work for year, secretly investigates the crime everyone in the village would prefer to forget, gradually coming to believe that the Beast is responsible. This atmospheric debut thriller explores the terrifying after-effects of trauma.


The Darkest Time of NightJeremy Finley
The Darkest Time of Night (St. Martin’s Press 2018) begins when Lynn Roseworth’s seven-year old grandson William vanishes in the middle of the night. Upset that he wasn’t allowed to sleep in a tent with his older brothers Brian and Greg because of a possible storm, William went into the woods by himself. Brian followed William into the woods, but says only “the lights took him,” before sinking into a near-catatonic state. Lynn’s husband Tom is a US Senator, and the woods are soon crawling with FBI and National Guard searchers, but no trace of William can be found. Tom has just announced his decision to run for Vice President, and his team suspects William’s kidnapping has something to do with his political enemies. But Lynn is stunned by Brian’s statement about the lights, remembering back to her own childhood when her father warned her that if she ever entered the woods she was as good as dead. Her father was thrilled when she left Tennessee for college, and married Tom, arranging a job for her in the astronomy department at the University of Illinois. Mysterious phone messages for one of the professors, Dr. Richards, provided Lynn with a much-needed intellectual challenge while Tom spent long hours studying in law school. Dr. Richards was working with a secret group tracking mysterious disappearances around the world, all preceded by a storm, swarming lady bugs, and a bright light from the sky. Lynn wasn’t convinced aliens were involved, but was moved by the grief of the families of the missing and intrigued by the similarities of the disappearances. Though her father warned her never to return to her childhood home, Lynn convinced Tom to take over her father’s house when she was expecting their first child. Lynn kept her daughters out of the woods as they grew up with stories of snakes and poison ivy. Now she fears that her return to the house next to the woods her father feared is the cause of her grandson’s disappearance. This intense debut thriller leaves open the possibility of a sequel.


Sweet Little LiesCaz Frear
Sweet Little Lies (Harper 2018) introduces Cat Kinsella, a 26-year-old detective constable with the Metropolitan Police Force in London. Cat has a fragmented relationship with her sister, and almost no contact with her charismatic but unreliable father, who runs a pub and skates the edges of legality. A few weeks earlier Cat rescued a toddler who had been trapped with her murdered mother for days, dissolving into tears at the scene at the sight of the little girl brushing her mother’s hair and singing. Released by the police psychologist to return to work, Cat and her partner are called to Leamington Square gardens the week before Christmas, where the body of housewife Alice Lapaine has been discovered. Cat is uneasy at the scene since it is close to her father’s pub in the neighborhood where she grew up. Cat hasn’t trusted her father since a visit to her grandmother in Mulderrin, Ireland, 18 years earlier, when teenage Maryanne Doyle went missing, and Cat’s father lied about knowing her. Alice’s husband explains that his wife left home two weeks earlier, a not-uncommon getaway to be on her own for a bit when a round of In Vitro Fertilization was unsuccessful. Cat doesn’t believe the husband’s story of a happy marriage and begins the drudgery of trying to trace Alice’s movements until a phone call from Ireland changes everything: the missing person photograph has been identified as Maryanne Doyle. Cat knows she should remove herself from the investigation, but can’t make herself tell the truth about her family’s involvement. Her suspicion that her father may have killed Maryanne years earlier has been proven false, but what if he had something to do with her murder now? Another witness says Alice/Maryanne visited a small coffee shop several times, and was seen ringing the bell at the gated road to Keeper’s Close, an exclusive group of nine extravagant mansions. No one recognizes the picture, and Cat assumes it was a misidentification until they track Alice to an apartment she was sharing with another woman owned by one of the Keeper’s Close families. This intense debut police procedural is the first in a series featuring the psychologically damaged and empathetic young detective.


A Death of No ImportanceMariah Fredericks
A Death of No Importance (Minotaur 2018) is set in 1910 New York City. Jane Prescott has just taken the position as ladies’ maid to the two daughters of the Benchley family. Dismissed by New York society as “new money,” the Benchleys come to rely on Jane’s understanding of the rules of high society. Eldest daughter Louise is unhappy, shy, awkward, and not nearly as pretty as her younger sister Charlotte. Jane is fond of Louise, and hopes to mitigate some of her shortcomings. Charlotte is eager to succeed in society, and quickly flirts her way into a relationship with Robert Norris Newsome, Jr., known as Norrie. The Newsome family money came from coal and then steel, and Norrie is the season’s most eligible bachelor despite his dubious reputation and his father’s hope that he will settle down and marry Beatrice Tyler. Mr. Newsome has remarried a much younger wife, who is about the same age as Norrie and his sister Lucinda, causing strife within the family. Charlotte tells her mother that she is secretly engaged to Norrie, who has not yet informed his father. An item about the secret engagement appears in Town Topics, and New York society is horrified that Norrie has jilted Beatrice for the daughter of a nouveau riche unknown. When Norrie is murdered at the Newsome Christmas Eve ball, Jane discovers the body. Mr. Newsome had received threats from anarchists referencing the disaster at Shickshinny Mine, where 21 miners died, including eight children who were left to smother. Though this is a compelling motive, Jane worries that there might be a more personal motive for the murder, perhaps Charlotte’s fear that Norrie would jilt her as well. Honed by years of service to the wealthy, Jane has a talent for staying unnoticed while noticing everything, which helps her gather information the police cannot. This appealing series debut is the first adult mystery by the Edgar-nominated Young Adult author.


A Ladys Guide to Etiquette and MurderDianne Freeman
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (Kensington 2018) begins in April 1899, as young widow Frances Wynn, the Countess of Harleigh, ends the year of mourning for her husband Reggie, who died of a heart attack in his mistress’s bed during a house party at Harleigh. An American heiress, Frances’s marriage was orchestrated by her mother, who brought Frances to London from New York for the sole purpose of using her million-dollar dowry to marry a title. Eight years later, much of the money has been squandered by Reggie, or spent on much needed repairs of the family estate, but now Frances is eagerly planning her departure from Harleigh for a leased house in London with her young daughter Rose. Her brother-in-law Graham and his wife Delia are horrified by her plan, knowing it will be much harder to wheedle money out of Frances from a distance. Once in London, Frances is surprised to learn that her younger sister Lily is being sent from New York for her coming-out season under Frances’s sponsorship, but she quickly rises to the challenge of ordering a new wardrobe for Lily and entering the whirl of social engagements. Within a week Lily has three suitors, and Frances begins to investigate their characters to protect Lily from her own mistake of marrying a man only interested in her money. The police receive an anonymous letter implicating Frances in her husband’s death, and Frances has difficulty relating the timeline of that fateful evening while omitting the clandestine midnight move of Reggie’s body back into his own bed. As she probes into the backgrounds of Lily’s suitors and the details of the burglaries that happen during parties in London, Frances discovers that she has a talent for asking questions and making connections, the first time in her life she has found something she is good at. This witty and high-sprited debut mystery is the first in a series.


Those Who Go By NightAndrew Gaddes
Those Who Go by Night (Crooked Lane Books 2018) is set in 1324 England during the reign of Edward II. When the body of a murdered beggar is found posed over the altar of St. Mary’s in the small village of Bottesford, the Bishop of Lincoln sends Thomas Lester, the son of a disgraced Templar Knight, to investigate. Friar Justus, the Pope’s Inquisitor General, seizes the opportunity to advance the Holy Inquisition, and they arrive simultaneously at Bottesford Manor, the home of of Sir Mortimer de Bray, his outspoken daughter Cecily, and her strange stepmother Isabella, who talks to the demon in her mirror and avoids company except that of her young son. De Bray would prefer to hand the investigation over to Thomas, but he is deathly ill and worries the Church may seize his lands, leaving his children impoverished. Dame Alice Kyteler, an Irishwoman accused of witchcraft, is hiding in a decaying estate cottage, secretly supplied with food by Lady Cecily’s maid Hunydd. Determined to find evidence of heresy and sorcery, Friar Justus distorts the testimony of everyone he interrogates, intensifying the rampant village superstition into panic. The murder of a young girl adds to the mounting village terror, and Thomas fears an innocent will be burnt at the stake before he identifies the killer. Still mourning the death of his wife, Thomas is unexpectedly attracted to both Cecily and Alice, and is determined to protect them from Friar Justus and his fearsome henchman. This intense debut historical thriller brings the dangerous religious conflicts of the period to vivid life.


Little ComfortEdwin Hill
Little Comfort (Kensington 2018) introduces Hester Thursby, a Harvard librarian who runs a side business finding missing people. Heather is currently on leave taking care of her unreliable best friend’s three-year-old daughter Kate, whose mother skipped town three months earlier. Lila Blaine hires Hester to locate her younger brother Sam, who ran away from Little Comfort, their summer cottage in New Hampshire, 12 years earlier when he was 15 and Lila was 23. Gabe DiPursio, a foster kid who stayed with Lila and Sam that last summer at the lake, disappeared along with Sam. Lila is putting Little Comfort on the market, and feels obligated to share the proceeds with her brother. Every six months or so over the last decade Sam has mailed a picture postcard to Lila with a one line message. The messages sound like quotes to Hester, but it’s not until she is watching Friday the 13th late one night that she identifies one of the lines. Hester matches the lines to movies, a different film for the set of postcards from each city, and begins searching news reports from each city during the timeframe of the postcards. Lila won’t tell Hester why Sam ran away, and she considers dropping the investigation, but is hooked by the puzzle. Alternate chapters from Gabe’s perspective fill in the details of their current con, setting handsome and charismatic Sam up as the new boyfriend of the beautiful daughter of a rich and powerful Boston family while Gabe supports them working as a freelance programmer. With Kate in tow, Hester finds the apartment Sam and Gabe are sharing under their current aliases, and befriends the lonely Gabe. He fantasizes a normal life with Hester and Kate but Sam knows Hester threatens the glamorous future that is nearly in his grasp. This intense debut thriller features a unique protagonist trying to balance her love for Kate with an overwhelming sense of being trapped into a life she hadn’t planned.


The Devils Half MilePaddy Hirsch
The Devil’s Half Mile (Forge Books 2018) begins when Justy (Justice) Flanagan returns to 1799 New York City after earning a law degree at the Royal College of St. Patrick in Ireland and fighting in the Rebellion of 1798. New York is still recovering from the financial Panic of 1792, and the Irish are warring with freed slaves for work. As part of his studies, Justy spent a summer in Paris learning about investigative methods of the new French police force. When the corpse of a young Negro woman is hauled onto the wharf just as Justy is leaving his friend Lars Hokkanssen’s ship, he takes a look at the body. The onlookers tell him it’s the third body of a Negro whore found with her throat cut that week, but Justy notices the brand on the girl’s cheek is fresh, cut right before she died. Justy is startled by how much the city has changed in four years, much more crowded and seething with hostility. His first stop is at the New Goal, hoping to talk to William Duer, the speculator who cheated his father out of his fortune and pushed him to suicide. Justy’s examinations of the dead in Paris have caused him to doubt the accepted version of his father’s death — everything he remembers about finding his father’s body hanging from the rough rope points to suicide rather than murder. Duer died in debtor’s prison, but Justy suspects that his powerful friends may be mounting a new swindle. Driven to understand the circumstances behind his father’s death, Justy begins asking uncomfortable questions of Duer’s associates, putting his own life and the life of his friends in danger. This powerful historical thriller featuring the Devil’s Half Mile (a nickname for Wall Street) is the fiction debut of a financial journalist and NPR contributing editor.


The Last Equation of Isaac SeveryNova Jacobs
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues (Touchstone 2018) begins when Hazel Severy, receives a letter from her grandfather Isaac, a famous mathematician who apparently committed suicide a few days earlier. The foster daughter of Isaac’s youngest son, Hazel is unsure why her grandfather selected her to destroy all his work except his last equation, warning that two more will die. After her adopted father went to prison, Hazel and her brother Gregory were adopted by Isaac and his wife. Unlike her uncle Philip, a theoretical physicist, and the rest of the family geniuses, Hazel had no talent for numbers, though Isaac complemented her logical thinking. Renowned for developing predictive equations for apparently random events, Isaac had been working on a formula to solve the traffic problems in Los Angeles, but that seems an insufficient motive for murder. Inside a copy of her favorite novel, Tender Is the Night, Hazel discovers additional clues that lead her to a hotel room containing a street map of Los Angeles covered with red adhesive dots. A long-lost cousin cultivates Hazel’s acquaintance, and she is beguiled into sharing information her grandfather insisted be kept secret. Meanwhile, Philip is contacted by P. Booth Lyons on behalf of a shadowy company who is very interested in obtaining the results of his father’s final project at any cost. This intriguing debut novel explores dysfunctional relationships and the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma.


The Wolves of WinterTyrell Johnson
The Wolves of Winter (Scribner 2018) is set in the Canadian Yukon after nuclear war and disease destroy most of society. Lynn McBride lives with her mother, brother, and uncle, eking out an existence by hunting and raising carrots and potatoes during the short growing season. Lynn’s father died in the flu pandemic that followed the nuclear war. It appears that the flu was created as a tool of war, but no one is sure which side actually released the virus. Cold climates are safer, so the McBrides have retreated into the winter Yukon. Out hunting one day Lynn is startled to see a dog followed by a young man who introduces himself as Jax. She invites him home for a meal, but Lynn’s mother holds a shotgun on Jax before reluctantly treating a wound on his leg. The McBrides are wary of the stranger, but Lynn is fascinated by Jax, the first stranger she has seen in years, and charmed by the husky he calls Wolf. Jax doesn’t seem to understand that Wolf is really a dog, and has never eaten a blackberry. But he is freakishly strong and quick, which comes in handy when a group of men calling themselves traders try to kidnap him. Jax confesses that he is hiding from Immunity, a group using any means possible to find a cure for the flu pandemic. One of the men escaped, and Jax and Lynn’s uncle set out in pursuit, trailed by Lynn who is tired of being left home with her mother. This fast-paced debut thriller is set in a post-apocalyptic world only a bit more threatening to human life than the frozen Yukon.


Death In Sunset GroveMinna Lindgren
Death in Sunset Grove (Pan Macmillan 2018, Finland 2013) is set in the Sunset Grove retirement community in Finland. Siiri Kettunen and her best friend, Irma Lännenleimu are both in their early 90s, but full of life, seeking out new small adventures to brighten their dull existence. One morning they are playing cards with Anna-Liisa and laugh at the coincidence of their wardrobe choices in various shades of purple. Bored with the card game, Irma suggests that they form the Lavender Ladies Detective Agency to snoop around and do some meddling like Miss Marple. Anna-Liisa finds the idea rediculous, but Siiri is captivated. The following day they are shocked to hear of the death of Tero Lehtinen, the cook who is always friendly to everyone. Though described as a suicide, they are sure the cheerful young man wouldn’t have killed himself unless something awful happened. The debilitation of old age infuses life at Sunset Grove. Children and grandchildren are neglectful, no one understands the strange additional charges that appear on the monthly bills, fading memories cause endless confusion, Zimmer frames litter the halls, and it’s hard to plan parties in advance since no one knows who will still be alive the next week. Siiri takes a complaint about a cleaning charge to Director Sinkka Sundström, and asks about Tero’s death. The director brushes off Siiri’s concerns, and her abrupt departure makes Siiri even more determined to investigate. Soon Irma’s medical records disappear and strange new medications appear in Siiri’s room. Are they both growing even more forgetful, or is something sinister going on at Sunset Grove? This blackly humorous debut mystery is the first in a trilogy.


The RuinDervla McTiernan
The Ruin (Penguin 2018) begins in 1993 Kilmore, Ireland, when rookie Garda Cormac Reilly is called to a decaying manor house in response to a domestic disturbance. Maude (15) leads him upstairs to the dead body of her mother Hilaria Blake, stinking of alcohol with a smear of blood in the crook of her elbow. The power is off, Maude and her five-year-old brother Jack look half-starved, and Maude pleads with Cormac to take her brother to the hospital in Castlebar. When Jack is undressed, Cormac is horrified by the bruising on his tiny body. Maude excuses herself to find a bathroom, and vanishes. Twenty years later Cormac has recently transferred to Galway from Dublin, assigned to cold cases while his elite Drug Task Force is assembled, and dealing with the resentment of his local colleagues to an outsider. Jack Blake’s body is found in the river Corrib, ruled a suicide based on a phone call by an anonymous witness. Jack’s girlfriend Aisling Conroy, an ER surgical resident, is too grief stricken to think straight, but Jack’s sister Maude, arriving out of the blue from Australia, pressures the Gardaí to investigate. Jack died on St. Patrick’s Day, and Maude can’t believe no one saw him jump from the bridge crowded with revelers. While Maude and Aisling try to figure out what really happened on Jack’s final day, Cormac is assigned the re-investigation of Hilaria Blake’s death. Since she never left the house, how did she get the heroin that caused the fatal overdose? Cormac becomes consumed by another unanswered question: why were the two neglected and abused children left in the care of an obviously unsuitable mother? This powerful debut thriller is the first in a series.


The Perfect MotherAimee Molloy
The Perfect Mother (Harper 2018) features the May Mothers, a group of young women all due to give birth in May who signed up through The Village website to support each other. At first communicating only through email, in March a core group begins to meet twice a week in person at Prospect Park: Collette, Francie, Nell, Scarlett, Yuko, Winnie, and Token, the one stay-at-home dad. In late June Nell suggests that they get together without the babies for once, meeting for drinks at the Jolly Llama the evening of July 4th. Winnie is reluctant, and knowing she is a single mom, Nell offers the services of her new nanny Alma for the evening. Some of the women have too much to drink, and when Winnie leaves her phone on the table Nell impulsively deletes the Peek-a-Boo app Winnie has been compulsively using to check on her son Midas. Winnie doesn’t return, and Nell gets a frantic call from Alma — Midas is missing from his crib. Nell feels guilty, and enlists the help of Colette and Francie to search for Midas. While being questioned by the police, the women realize they don’t know much about each other. Their conversation during the four months they’ve been meeting in person focused only on pregnancy, birth, and caring for newborns. Nell is an Internet security specialist, Colette is ghost-writing the mayor’s second book, and Winnie was a famous teen actress. As time goes on, public opinion, stage-managed by talk show host Patricia Faith, turns against the May Mothers who were out drinking when Midas was kidnapped. Winnie becomes the prime suspect, and the sleep-deprived May Mothers increase their desperate and ill-advised efforts to find Midas, sure that Winnie couldn’t have harmed her baby. This intense thriller, optioned as a major motion picture, is the first novel by the non-fiction author.


A Borrowing of BonesPaula Munier
A Borrowing of Bones (Minotaur Books 2018) introduces Mercy Carr, a retired Army Corporal returned from Afghanistan to her home in Vermont after her fiancé Sergeant Juan Martinez was killed and she was wounded. Nearly a year later, Elvis, the bomb sniffing Belgian shepherd she inherited from Martinez, is slowly recovering from K9 PTSD and they are both still grieving the loss of the man who brought them together. While walking in the woods one morning, Elvis alerts to the smell of explosives, and darts off into the trees. Catching up to the dog, Mercy discovers a baby in a backpack carrier, alone in the clearing. Finding no sign of the parents, Mercy straps on the backpack and begins the long hike back to cell phone service. Fish and Wildlife Game Warden Troy Warner receives the call to meet the hiker, and heads up the trail with his Newfoundland retriever mutt Susie Bear. After delivering the baby to the hospital, Mercy shows Troy the area she taped off for explosives and the clearing where the baby was abandoned. The dogs search the area and uncover a human femur. The crime scene techs find more of the body, a skull with a bullet rattling inside, and a tarnished pewter belt buckle with the pine tree and mountain symbol of Vermont. After the baby disappears from the hospital, Mercy is determined to find her, and tags along with Troy as he searches. For the first time since returning home, Mercy feels echoes of her military police training returning, and realizes that both she and Elvis need the mental and physical stimulation of working a case. This engaging series opener is the author’s fiction debut.


The Long SilenceGerard O’Donovan
The Long Silence (Severn House 2018) introduces Tom Collins, an Irish immigrant and former New York City cop, working as a private investigator in Hollywood, California. In February of 1922, producer Mack Sennett asks Tom to look into the murder of William Desmond Taylor, a successful director. Sennett is worried that his top star Mabel Normand, who was romantically involved with Taylor, may become a suspect since she was the last one to see him. Sennett fears that Mabel’s box office appeal will disintegrate if the press discovers Mabel’s drug problem and smear her in the papers. Mabel is missing, and though he visits all her usual haunts — elegant restaurants, glamorous nightclubs, dodgy speakeasies, and grimy dope dens — Collins can’t find a trace of her. While trying to track down Mabel’s drug dealer, Collins offends a gangster who decides his life would be much easier without Collins around. But even more dangerous than the gangster is Big Al Devlin, a New York cop indicted for corruption on Collins’s evidence six years earlier in New York now working in Los Angeles. The gangster is out to kill him, but Devlin also has the power to arrest him and beat him in the cells. Taylor was a respected director, but Collins finds plenty of suspects among the desperate starlets, ruthless stars, and envious rivals. This compelling debut mystery set in a Hollywood controlled by the movie industry is the first in the Hollywood Noir series.


The Other Side of EverythingLauren Doyle Owens
The Other Side of Everything (Touchstone 2018) begins with the brutal murder of Adel Minor, a widow in her 80s, in the small town of Seven Springs, Florida. The second murder of another elderly woman prods widower Bernard White from his self-imposed solitude to reconnect with his fellow octogenarians, the “originals” who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Realizing they are being targeted, they pair up for safety, recalling the days when they socialized at parties in each other’s homes. Bernard learns that his long-ago affair with his neighbor Vera was only one in a string of her extramarital adventures, destroying the romantic memories that have sustained him since the death of his wife. Adel’s neighbor Amy Unger, a 30-something cancer survivor whose emotional collapse after hysterectomy and double mastectomy drove her husband away, is surprised when Adel’s death reawakens her artistic energy, and begins to paint a series of imagined scenes depicting the murder. Bernard’s neighbor Maddie Lowe, a 15-year old working as a waitress at The Smiling Pig and struggling to cope with her mother’s abandonment, is drawn to Charlie, a homeless man who becomes the prime suspect. This engrossing debut thriller, narrated from the multigenerational perspectives of Bernard, Amy, and Maddie, explores the effects of abandonment, loss, and loneliness.


Exit StrategyCharlton Pettus
Exit Strategy (Hanover Square Press 2018) begins when Jordan Parrish, whose tiny protein modeling startup company Genometry in Boston is about to go under, debates between suicide and calling the Exit Strategy number. Jordan’s therapist gave him the number when he and his wife Stephanie recently lost a baby as a final alternative to suicide, a way for the desperate to escape their untenable lives. Knowing suicide will nullify both his personal and business insurance policies, leaving his wife and their two your children penniless, Jordan calls the number, and wakes up in a small prison-like room. In his former life, Jordan’s unrecognizable decomposed body has been discovered in the river after a car crash with the remains of a woman presumed to be his mistress. Stephanie is gutted both by his death and his betrayal, but can’t help saving the coded note she left him when they met in college, based on DNA coding they both studied. Exit Strategy relocates Jordan to Japan, warning him that any attempt to contact his family will mean death for them all. But unlike Exit Strategy’s usual clients fleeing criminal acts, Jordan can’t adjust to his new life, and spends time playing Foldit, an online protein folding puzzle game and experimental research project. Alex Prenn, Jordan’s business partner and best friend since college, orchestrates the sale of Genometry to Pfizer, a huge drug company, and steps in to help Stephanie with the traumatized children. Jordan’s extremely high scores draw the attention of the Foldit scientists, and an accidental “like” of one of Stephanie’s Instagram photos reinforces her certainty that she would know if Jordan was really dead. As he tries to evade the scrutiny of Exit Strategy, Jordan begins to suspect that someone wanted him gone. This intense debut thriller cleverly combines scientific investigation and a wild chase across countries.


Hearts of the MissingCarol Potenza
Hearts of the Missing (Minotaur 2018) begins when Tribal Police Sergeant Nicky Matthews is assigned the case of missing Fire-Sky tribal member Sandra Deering, who vanished after returning home for the weekend from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Sandra’s car is in the driveway of her grandmother’s home, but she no one saw her. Sandra’s cousin Squire, who lives with his grandmother Juanita Benami, explains that they are worried because Sandra isn’t answering her phone and all of her social media accounts have been deleted. Squire’s mother is a drug addict, often missing for weeks or months at a time, and Nicky suspects that Sandra may be following the same pattern. But Squire insists that Sandra has kicked her own drug habit and is passionate about completing college and finishing her project to track missing Fire-Sky tribal members. Sandra’s grandmother pleads with Nicky to find all of Sandra; if part of her body is missing she will never be able to rest in peace. Nicky isn’t a tribal member, but Juanita claims she is the only police officer with “faraway eyes,” able to see things others can’t. While examining Sandra’s entry in the police copy of the Tsiba’ashi D’yini Pueblo Tribal Registry, Nicky notices names marked perdido (lost) or se fue (gone) with no date of death. She learns those marked gone moved away from the pueblo voluntarily, while those marked lost either vanished or were found with body parts missing, preventing them from finding spiritual peace. When Sandra’s body is found with her heart missing, Nicky is sure her murder is connected with the research she was doing on lost tribal members. This intriguing debut mystery won the 2017 Hillerman Prize for best unpublished debut mystery novel set in the Southwest.


Baby TeethZoje Stage
Baby Teeth (St. Martin’s Press 2018) is the story of the Oakland, California, Jensen family: father Alex, mother Suzette, daughter Hanna. Suzette, an artist and designer who suffers from Crohn’s disease, is now a stay-at-home mom to Hanna, now seven and just losing her baby teeth. Hanna has always adored her father, who gives her unconditional love, but as a toddler began to doubt that her mother adored her at the same level, designing endless tests prove her motherly love, which Suzanne always fails. Hanna’s defiant behavior, inability to interact with others, and refusal to speak resulted in her expulsion from both preschool and Kindergarten. Alex refused to believe the schools’ descriptions of Hanna’s behavior, which included feral barking, and Suzette took on the task of home schooling. After two years and another in a series of doctor’s appointments that verified Hanna has no physical reason for muteness, Suzanne convinces Alex to try again, enrolling Hanna in an alternative school. The night before the school interview, Hanna tip-toes into her parents’ room, whispering into her mother’s ear. “My name is Marie-Anne Dufosset,” in a perfect French accent. Hanna refuses to speak in front of anyone else, but continues to frighten her mother by intoning phrases in Marie-Anne’s voice and rolling her eyes back into her head. Suzanne researches Marie-Anne Dufosset, learning that at the age of 18 she was the last woman burned at the stake as a witch in 1679 France. Alternate chapters from Suzette’s and Hanna’s perspective document Suzanne’s growing terror that her daughter means to harm her and Hanna’s conviction that if she can only get Mommy out of the way she can stay at home with her adored and adoring father. This creepy debut thriller is deviously engaging.


The Chalk ManC.J. Tudor
The Chalk Man (Crown 2018) features 12-year-old Eddie Adams and his four best friends, who develop a secret code featuring chalk figures to add a bit of excitement to their small English village life in 1986. The chalk man code is used to set meeting places and send warnings about the bullies who torment them. One morning Eddie follows the chalk man signal to the woods, and discovers the dismembered body of a teenaged girl he secretly admired. In 2016 Eddie is teaching at his old school and hiding an alcohol problem, when he receives a letter containing a chalk man symbol, the same figure that led him to the body in the woods 30 years earlier. Eddie shrugs the anonymous letter off until he learns that his old friends have also received letters containing the chalk man, a code that they all believed was secret to their group. Mickey has returned to Anderbury for the first time in 20 years, hoping to make a bundle by writing a book about the girl’s murder. Though the prime suspect committed suicide before he could be questioned, Mickey reveals he has new information that may identify the real killer. Flashbacks to 1986 from various perspectives fill in the backstory leading to the body in the woods, exposing secrets each of the small group would like to remain hidden. This debut thriller, a finalist for the 2018 Steel Dagger Award, builds tension to the chilling climax.


Hotel on Shadow LakeDaniela Tully
Hotel on Shadow Lake (Thomas Dunne Books 2018) begins in 1990 Berlin when Martha Wiesberg receives a letter from her twin brother Wolfgang, bearing a stamp with Hitler’s face and dated 1944. The postman explains that he has delivered a few other old letters, discovered after the wall came down. Clutching the letter, Martha is transported back to 1938, when she struggled to fit in with the changes in Berlin. Martha wanted to study literature at the university, but she was instead assigned to help a woman about to deliver her seventh child, forced to hide her “un-German” novels away. Wolfgang excelled in his Hitler Youth group, and was selected by Baldur von Schirach himself as a valuable asset to the Nazi regime and given a grant to improve his technical skills at university. Wolfgang brought his new friend Siegfried home for dinner, and their excitement about hearing the Führer speak made Martha realize her twin had become a dangerous stranger. In 2017, Maya Wiesberg and her father receive word that the remains of her grandmother Martha, who disappeared in 1990, have been discovered in America at the Montgomery Resort and Preserve, a pricy weekend getaway north of New York City. Consumed with a need to discover what drew her beloved grandmother to America, Maya spends a month’s salary on a five-day reservation at the Resort. Hiking on the grounds to the site of the landslide that uncovered her grandmother’s body, she meets the ranger who found the bones and learns the death might not have been an accident. A local history pamphlet tells the story of the powerful Montgomery family who took over the hotel in 1914, and interspersed chapters tell Martha’s story in 1944. This engrossing debut historical thriller was inspired by a real family letter received 46 years late.


The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleStuart Turton
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Sourcebooks Landmark 2018) begins when Aiden Bishop wakes up in the woods desperate to save a woman named Anna. Aiden has amnesia, and doesn’t recognize his own hands. Reaching the crumbling mansion of Blackheath, Aiden is greeted as Dr. Sebastian Bell, but the face that looks back at him from the mirror is unfamiliar. Lord Peter and Lady Helena Hardcastle have recreated a party held 19 years earlier, when their youngest son Thomas was murdered. With the pretext of celebrating their daughter Evelyn’s birthday, they have invited the same guest list for a masquerade ball. A mysterious man disguised as a medieval plague doctor in a beaked porcelain mask tells Aiden that Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 PM. Aiden has eight days to identify her murderer, waking up each day in the body of a different guest. Two others are also in search of the killer; the first to solve the crime will be released from Blackheath and the others are willing to commit murder themselves in order to escape the eight day repeating cycle. If no one solves the crime, everyone’s memories will be wiped and the cycle will begin again. Each of Aiden’s hosts has his own talents and challenges: age, intelligence, physical fitness, mobility. As the days pass, Aiden begins to understand events that puzzled him the first few times he lived the day, and plants notes and clues to help his daily host figure out the motives of the different characters before each night brings Evelyn’s death and Aiden’s new day in a new body the next morning. This intense debut literary thriller is a deft mix of time travel within a Golden Age manor house mystery setting.


Ressurection BayEmma Viskic
Resurrection Bay (Pushkin Vertigo 2018, Australia 2016) introduces Caleb Zelic, a deaf private investigator in Melbourne, Australia. An urgent text mentioning danger from “Scott” sends him to the home of Gary Marsden, a Senior Constable doing some insurance investigations for Caleb, where he finds his childhood friend brutally murdered. Caleb can’t imagine why their investigation of the professional theft of two million dollars worth of cigarettes from a warehouse could have made Gary the target for torture and an execution style killing, and begins retracing Gary’s movements while dropping the name Scott into every converstation and watching for reactions. Caleb never forgets a face, but his attempts to hide his hearing loss and rely on lip reading often result in missed words and confusion. His partner Frankie, a former cop, fills in the gaps when she is present, but solo interviews are difficult. Since there is no sign of forced entry, Caleb surmises that Gary voluntarily opened the door to his killer, who may be someone he also knows. The police suspect that Gary was involved in something shady, and conclude Caleb is also involved. Fearing that his ex-wife may be in danger, Caleb persuades her to take refuge with her mother in their home town of Resurrection Bay. After Caleb himself is attacked and wounded, he also retreats to Resurrection Bay and places himself under the care of Kat’s doctor mother. Unfortunately he may have brought the danger with him to Resurrection Bay. This intense debut thriller won the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel, and is a finalist for the 2018 Gold and Debut Dagger Awards.


Watch the GirlsJennifer Wolfe
Watch the Girls (Grand Central Publishing 2018) begins in 2003 when 17-year-old starlet Olivia Hill heads up Mulholland Drive above Los Angeles late one night with her little sister Miranda in tow, responding to a panicked text from middle sister Gemma out of her depth at a Hollywood party. By night’s end Miranda has vanished, Olivia and Gemma are no longer speaking, and Olivia quits her hit TV show about teenaged detectives. Fifteen years later Miranda is still missing, and 32-year old Olivia has transformed herself to Liv Hendricks, part of the cast of a low rent show called Bullsh?t Hunters. A drunken interview with a blogger ends with her dismissal from the show. Broke and desperate, Liv posts a video to Shot in the Dark, a crowdsourced site supporting filmmakers, offering to act as a private detective for anyone who has someone in their life who went missing and was never found. To her surprise, she receives many offers, including one from Jonas Kron, the famous horror film director. Liv had been offered the lead in the shocking cult classic The Girl and the Wolf, but turned it down. Two of Kron’s horror movies were shot in Stone’s Throw, an isolated central California town, and on the Dark Road leading into the woods. Beginning in 2006, several women vanished on the Dark Road, including Annika Kron, Jonas’s niece who took the role Liv declined. Communicating only by email through the Shot in the Dark site, Liv accepts the project and heads to Stone’s Throw. Increasingly disturbing discoveries shock and thrill her web audience, who are glued to their screens watching Liv struggle to interpret cryptic clues like “Follow the white wolf.” Interspersed chapters from Olivia’s perspective in 2003 fill in the details of the horrible night she has tried to repress for years, emerging now with the new investigation of Annika’s disappearance. Terrifying scenes from Kron horror films come to life in this disturbing debut psychological thriller.


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!


Favorite Debut Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels published in the US in 2019


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