ThrillerFest VI: Debut Authors Class of 2010/2011

When I was preparing to attend ThrillerFest VI, sponsored by International Thriller Writers (ITW) and held this year July 6‚ 9 in New York, LJ colleague Wilda Williams told me not to miss the Debut Authors Class of 2010/2011 breakfast. She was right; this event was a real feast of new books, with each author giving a brief but heartfelt pitch. Debut authors must be publishing their first novel in any format (nonfiction is considered on a case-by-case basis) and must be appearing with an ITW-recognized publisher. No cherry picking here; these books represent the range of thriller writing today. Doubtless the experience of sitting at the dais when perhaps a year ago they were still hunting for representation was for some of the writers surreal, as ITW Multimedia chair and longtime LJ reviewer Jeff Ayers described his own ThrillerFest experience this year. For Thriller Award winners, check out this news story; see also How To Become a Thriller Author in 13 Easy Lessons. Meanwhile, here’s my take on this year’s debut class.

Barney, James. The Genesis Key. HarperCollins. 2010. 480p. ISBN 9780062021380. pap. $9.99.
Dr. Kathleen Sainsbury’s research into the INDY (I’m not dead yet) gene in fruit flies might lead to a means of prolonging human life, but the publicity is instead leading her back to the murder of her archaeologist parents at a dig 30 years ago. Said PW, Barney’s fast-paced debut novel demonstrates his knowledge of ancient history, the Bible, and microbiology, as well as his fertile imagination. Final Report: Blending science and religion, this thriller wrestles with real issues.

Brannan, Sandra. In the Belly of Jonah: A Liv Bergen Mystery. Greenleaf. 2010. 288p. ISBN 9781608320509. pap. $14.95.
Set in the glorious Colorado Rockies, locale of the limestone quarry that protagonist Liv Bergen manages, this first in a series features a killer who likes to carve up and arrange his victims in artful fashion. Bergen (the love child of Jack Reacher and Kinsey Millhone, says the author) turns sleuth when an intern at the quarry is killed. An ABA Indie Next List Notable. Final Report: Good and scary, with the isolated setting providing that extra frisson as well as authentic detail; the author is a top executive in the South Dakota mining concern founded by her family in the 1940s. The follow-up, Lot’s Return to Sodom, appeared in June 2011.

Cross, Ethan. The Shepherd. Fiction Studio. 2011. 400p. ISBN 9781936558063. pap. $16.95.
A top ten Amazon Kindle best seller (after a successful showing on the free list) and No. 1 on the Bestsellers List for the week of May 23, 2011, this debut has generated lots of cyberenthusiasm plus a possible movie deal. Marcus Williams, a crusading former New York City homicide detective with his own taste for violence, faces down a vicious serial killer; along the way, they get sucked into a government conspiracy. Final Report: Dark, intense, and gritty; Brian S. Wheeler calls this Silence of the Lambs meets The Bourne Identity. Look for a sequel in February 2012.

Davidson, Hilary. The Damage Done. Forge: Tor. 2010. 352p. ISBN 9780765326973. $24.99.
Having rushed home after learning of her heroin-addict sister’s death, travel journalist Lily Moore encounters the corpse of a stranger who has stolen her sister’s identity. This intriguing psychological mystery (LJ 10/1/10) was nominated for the Anthony and Arthur Ellis awards. Final Report: Intense characterization and psychological chills; look for the sequel, The Next One to Fall, in February 2012.

Hillier, Jennifer. Creep. Gallery: S. & S. 2011. 368p. ISBN 9781451625844. $23.
Hillier was astonished to meet a very supportive Jeffery Deaver at her last ThrillerFest; now he’s blurbed her book: Top-of-the-line thriller writing. You better call in sick. Here, breaking off an affair with her teaching assistant could get psychology professor Sheila Tao killed. Final Report: Not your standard stalker story; there’s nothing like fear in unexpected places.

Katsu, Allison. The Taker. Gallery: S. & S. 2011. 448p. ISBN 9781439197059. $25.
Katsu just resigned from the CIA, but in her first work there’s not a spy in sight; the author describes it as an epic love story with supernatural/gothic/horror overtones. When Lanny walks into the ER, Dr. Luke Findley is immediately drawn to her‚ never mind that she is bound for eternity to a feckless lad she loved way back in early 1800s Maine. Final Report: A real genre blender that could attract a variety of fans.

Leotta, Allison. Law of Attraction. Touchstone: S. & S. 2010. 288p. ISBN 9781439193846. $25.
Washington, DC‚ based sex-crimes prosecutor Leotta turns in a thriller featuring Washington, DC‚ based sex-crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis, and her colleagues oohed and ahhed over the sex scenes. Generally speaking, the book is hot; the starred LJ review proclaimed that with this riveting debut, Leotta‚Ķjoins the big leagues. Final Report: Both steamy and serious, showing how domestic violence can turn into homicide. No word yet on a sequel, but in 2010 Leotta’s Prime-Time Crime Review was named a top blog by the ABA.

Marco, Pascal. Identity: Lost. Oceanview. 2011. 336p. ISBN 9781608090150. $25.95.
After 12-year-old James Overstreet steps forth to identify the black assailants of an elderly white man, they are released on a technicality, and he and his family must flee Chicago for the witness protection program in Arizona. Now he’s a big-wig prosecutor‚ and his life is about to be overturned again. Marco found an agent at ThrillerFest, having been encouraged to attend by Brad Thor, whom he met at a signing. Thor’s take on this book: Fresh, compelling, and incredibly intricate. Final Report: Just out of the gate in June, this thriller sounds tough-minded and realistic, with racial politics an important part of the mix.

McEuen, Paul. Spiral. Dial. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780385342117. $25.
A bunch of small, sophisticated nanorobots disappear from the laboratory of a Nobel laureate found dead at Cornell, and when his research associate, physicist Jake Sterling, investigates, he finds a dark secret dating back to World War II that dangerously links nanotechnology and biological warfare. Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics at Cornell University, McEuen has won numerous academic awards; maybe he’ll win awards for this, too. Rights have already been sold to 17 countries, and Chockstone Pictures has optioned the book. Final Report: Real science, real thrills; an important debut.

McIntosh, D.J. The Witch of Babylon. Penguin Canada. 2011.
Prompted by the tragic looting of Baghdad’s National Museum in 2003, this novel features a Turkish American art dealer intent on tracking down a looted relic. And what’s this about a connection between a contemporary witch and one found in ancient Assyrian lore? Shortlisted for the 2007 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award and winner of the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished Crime Novel, this book ranked number three on Amazon’s Mystery and Thrillers Bestsellers List in Canada shortly after its release and just made Edmonton Journal‘s best sellers list. Final Report: Both the history and the telling political overtones make this sound fascinating; where’s the U.S. distributor?

McMenamin, Michael & Patrick McMenamin. The DeValera Deception. Enigma. 2010. 416p. ISBN 9781936274086. $23.95.
Churchill as thriller protagonist? It’s not so odd; a daring young man who maintained an intelligence network throughout Europe, he even crafted an adventure novel titled Savrola in 1897. Here, it’s 1929, and Churchill is asked to intercept arms bound for the IRA, thus becoming the target of assassins. A 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Second Place Grand Prize winner. Final Report: A ringing historical; The Parsifal Pursuit, second in the series, appeared in May 2011.

Narea, H.T. The Fund. Forge: Tor. 2011. 464p ISBN 9780765328908. $24.99.
Financial terrorism! Narea’s bad guy is a Middle Eastern hedge fund mogul who aims to destroy the West by destroying the global economy. Fortunately, U.S. defense intelligence operative Kate Molares is on to him. Narea was inspired by his father- in-law, the late Paul Erdman. Final Report: Part of the next generation of financial thrillers and loaded with insider information.

Palmer, Daniel. Delirious. Kensington. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780758246646. $25.
Icy-edged electronics entrepreneur Charlie Giles thinks he’s losing his mind. First he finds notes in his own handwriting that he doesn’t remember writing, then former employees start dying and he looks to be the culprit. Palmer’s The Writer, a guitar number he wrote and performed with his dad, thriller writer Michael Palmer, was one of the highlights of the Thriller Awards Banquet. Final Report: Trust the LJ reviewer: Techno-savvy thriller fans will enjoy this psychological mind-bender (LJ 2/15/11).

Reed, Rick. The Cruelest Cut. Kensington. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780786024834. pap. $6.99.
A former police detective who wrote the true-crime work Blood Trail, about his hunt for serial killer Joseph Weldon Brown, Reed turns to fiction with this story of Evansville, IN, police detective Jack Murphy. A serial killer seems to be playing with him; his victims are all linked to Murphy. A jaw-dropping thriller, said Greg Olsen. Final Report: Authenticity and some pretty tough stuff here; The Coldest Fear comes in September 2011.

Ritter, Todd. Death Notice. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2011. 336p. ISBN 9780312622800. $24.
Drained of blood and with his lips sewn shut, farmer George Winnick lies in a coffin by the roadside. It’s the first murder small-town single-mom police chief Kat Campbell has seen, and the local paper received the obituary in advance. Not for the squeamish (LJ 9/1/10). Final Report: Bloody and scary; look for Bad Moon in October 2011.

Sheene, Lynn. The Last Time I Saw Paris. Berkley. 2011. 368p. ISBN 9780425240847. pap. $15.
Poor girl‚ turned‚ Manhattan socialite Claire Harris flees her husband, arrives in Paris along with the Nazis, and ends up working for the Resistance. Lots of thriller-author blurbs, and Romantic Times gave this work a Perfect 10. Final Report: We’ll always have Paris.

Small, Jeffrey. The Breath of God. West Hills. 2011. 414p. ISBN 9781933512860. pap. $15.95.
In a Bhutan monastery, religious studies grad student Grant Matthews discovers an ancient text that could unpin our understanding of Christianity. Of course, he gets targeted by right-wingers. Small comes by his religious erudition honestly; he’s a Harvard/Yale/Oxford‚ educated speaker on religion and spirituality with the academic title God as the Ground of Being: Tillich and Buddhism in Dialogue to his credit. Final Report: Visionary fiction with solid underpinnings.

Stevens, Taylor. The Informationist. Crown. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780307717092. $23.
Hired to find a young American woman who’s been missing post-safari for four years, Vanessa Munroe returns to Africa and bad memories of her childhood. Vanessa’s drug- and gun-running ex-boyfriend helps with the search. Pretty much universal praise, and hardly a review fails to compare Munroe to kickass Lisbeth Salander. Final Report: Edgy, intense, engrossing, and a keeper. The series continues with The Innocent in 2012 and The Doll in 2013.

Taylor, Brad. One Rough Man: A Pike Logan Thriller. Dutton. 2011. 432p. ISBN 9780525952138. $25.95.
A rogue band of committed counterterrorist agents goes up against an Islamic faction wanting to deploy Weapons of Mass Destruction. Incredible realism and authenticity (LJ 1/11). Final Report: Graphic, in your face, and, yes, rough.

Waters, T.J. Secret Signs. Gallaudet Univ. 2010. 256p. ISBN 9781563684739. pap. $19.95.
Witness to the death of a presidential adviser, a sign language interpreter realizes that her presence had in fact prompted the attack. But protecting herself means breaking the sacred bond between deaf person and interpreter. Long associated with the CIA (see his ABC-optioned memoir, Class 11), Waters here offers his first novel. And it’s Gallaudet University Press’s first novel, too. Final Report: Unique character, unique situation, plus CIA insider knowledge.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. Thank you, Barbara!

    You are the kindest soul I’ve met to date in this book journey of mine. I wish you all the best and truly, come visit the Black Hills of South Dakota soon!

    • Barbara Hoffert says:

      Ah, keep up the good work! We are all looking forward to the next book…..! Barbara