Editorial: New Year, New Authors By Hilary Williamson (January 2009)
A new year has begun, with new books to read and new authors to discover - but how to find the really good ones? I've just dusted off our shelves and pulled out ten of last year's outstanding author debuts - they wrote mysteries and thillers that belong on your wish list ... if you haven't found them already.
Let's begin with a posthumous North American debut that many will argue is the best of the best, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland and set in Stockholm. Tim Davis calls it 'a dramatic, powerful, literate, complex, provocative, unique, and exciting mystery.' It's the first in a Millennium Trilogy, whose submission for publication in Europe was (sadly) followed closely by the author's death in 2004.
Like to trip over your corpses overseas? Let's move to Italy, where we meet Commissario Alessandro Cenni of the Polizi di Stato in Grace Brophy's police procedural, The Last Enemy - assigned to a special task force against international terrorism, Cenni is inexplicably dispatched to Assisi to investigate an apparently routine murder. He soon discovers that 'everyone's hiding something.'
If you like a cozy vein running through a colorful, gritty thriller, you won't go wrong with A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley (actually the writing team of retired university professors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip). They introduce endearing Assistant Superintendant Kubu Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department as he investigates the case of a mangled body found in the Central Kalahari game reserve.
My personal favorite 2008 novel is Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, set in Stalin's Soviet Union. The protagonist, MGB officer Leo Stepanovich Demidov, must figure out how to investigate a murder in a society where (by definition) 'There is no crime' - a quixotic quest at best. At first I didn't believe the author could ever make me like Leo, but this is one antihero who sneaks up on readers, snatching their sympathy and support by the end, in a surprising turnaround.
Here are two - set back in the U.S.A. - to chill your blood and force you to burn the midnight oil. In Quiver by Peter Leonard (son of famed Elmore Leonard), Tim Davis tells us that 'absolute evil invades and threatens to destroy the lives of a decent and honorable family'. And in the gripping and gory Precious Blood, Jonathan Hayes (himself a career forensic pathologist) introduces forensic pathologist Edward Jenner, who works against time to stop an especially horrific serial killer, one whose perspective the author shares with readers.
Moving on from chillers to psychological thrillers ... Tim calls Camilla Way's The Dead of Summer (set in England) 'a poignant and harrowing portrait of three lonely children, and a chilling portrayal of violent passions and merciless evil.' And The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd takes on troublesome questions of a wife's responsibility for a husband's criminal activities (ten years as a serial killer in this case) and a North Carolina community's response.
Miss old style mysteries? Then you'll enjoy Linda L. Richards' suspenseful hardboiled whodunit, Death Was the Other Woman, set in 1931 Los Angeles and starring clever, sexy Katherine Pangborn. Let's finish with a January 2009 debut, Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper, a tornado of a tale that pulls you in immediately and spits you out, head spinning, at the end. This peripatetic shocker stars a brawny Manhattan intern, who's in witness protection after testifying against the mob.
New year, new ideas, new authors. If you're a fan of mysteries and thrillers, don't miss these exceptional debuts from talented writers, many of whom already have sequels in the works.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.