International ThrillerFest VIII: The Debut Authors

As always, attendees at the International Thriller Writers’ eighth annual ThrillerFest (July 10–13 at New York’s Grand Hyatt) were dazzled by the awards banquet, the numerous star-turn interviews, and the multiple panels featuring both new and established authors generously sharing their ideas. But my favorite part of the proceedings is always the ITW Debut Authors Breakfast, which introduces me to the fresh, new voices I’ll want to follow. This year’s debut class featured 60 authors, 27 of whom were present (with one remembered in memoriam), all enthusiastic in their praise of ITW. Altogether, the debut authors produced two national best sellers; three Indie Next best sellers; two Indie Next picks; one finalist each for the Anthony, Edgar, and ITW awards and two for the Barry Award; and a big handful of books that won starred LJ, PW, and/or Kirkus reviews; overall, the class sold rights to ten countries. Here’s a rundown of the debut authors present.


Archer, Connie. A Spoonful of Murder. Berkley Prime Crime. 2012.
When a tourist’s body is found frozen in a heap of snow behind the By the Spoonful Soup Shop, the chef finds himself in trouble because he long knew the victim. Enter Lucky Jamieson to clear things up. First in the cozy “Soup Lover’s Mystery” series (“Plenty of small town New England charm,” The Mystery Reader), followed up by A Broth of Betrayal.

Armstrong, Terri Ann. How To Plant a Body. Suspense. 2012.
Sadly, Armstrong died this year, but, noted John Rabb, CEO/Publisher of Suspense magazine, she was able to “achieve her dream of becoming an International Thriller Writers member” and get a book published. A sharp-tongued woman spars with the equally sharp-tongued cop investigating murder at the family florist shop.

Berube, Claude. The Aden Effect. Naval Institute. 2012.
A coauthor of three books of nonfiction who has worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence and taught at the U.S. Naval Academy, navy reserves officer Berube briefly panicked ITW organizers by arriving last (“was he on a mission?”). His debut novel features a disgraced former naval officer turned mercenary recalled to duty when Somali pirates and an insurgency in Yemen cause trouble. “Exciting” (PW).

Britz-Cunningham, Scott. Code White. Forge: Tor. 2013.
A staff radiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Britz-Cunningham gets the details right when a bomb threat disrupts neurosurgeon Ali O’Day’s efforts to help a boy see again by implanting a minicomputer in his brain. “The few elements of soap opera won’t stop readers from frantically turning the pages” (PW).

Brody, Majorie. Twisted. Bell Bridge. 2013.
The suspense after one school dance isn’t about who hooked up but the consequences of a vicious assault. From an award-winning short story writer and Pushcart Prize winner.

Cha, Steph. Follow Her Home. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013.
In this dark and edgy work, amateur sleuth Juniper gets in over her head as she drives the mean streets of L.A. trying to determine whether a friend’s father is having an affair. Cha called herself the token Korean and likely the token basset hound owner in the class. “One only hopes that Cha and her driven, neo-noir detective have more opportunities” (Los Angeles Times)

Clement, John. The Cat Sitter’s Cradle. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013.
This is actually the eighth book in the Dixie Hemingway mysteries, originated by Blaize Clement. But Blaize’s son John leapt at an offer to continue the series. “Ingenious” (Review the Evidence).

Colucci, A.J. The Colony. St. Martin’s. 2012.
Genetically engineered ants attack New York, and the witty Colucci cheerfully grossed out attendees finishing breakfast by describing exactly what that would entail. “Balances scares and science nicely” (PW).

Costa, TL. Playing Tyler. Strange Chemistry. 2013.
Seventeen-year-old gamer Tyler teams up with (and falls for) 16-year-old prodigy Ani to discover what’s happening when a flight simulator designed by Ani that he’s asked to test starts seeming frighteningly real. “Updates War Games for the 21st century” (PW)

Daco. The Libra Affair. Crimson Romance: F&W Media. 2013.
Double agent Jordan Jakes must break up with NASA scientist Ben Johnson before she heads to a Middle East desert aiming to launch a missile, but he won’t let go. The author was named by his physicist father after a physics formula: the derivative (D) of acceleration (A) at the speed of light in cm per second (C) is equal to zero (O), where C is same in E = mC². “Rather like a Jason Bourne movie” (RT Book Reviews)

Ellen, Laura. Blind Spot. Harcourt Children’s Books. 2012.
When a classmate turns up dead, a visually impaired 16 year old must rely on scraps of memory both to clear her name and find the killer. The author used her own experience of being diagnosed with macular degeneration as teen to write this book. “[The] gritty, issues-oriented storyline [will] engage readers.”(VOYA)

Kelly, Mary Louise. Anonymous Sources. Gallery: S. & S. 2013.
An NPR guest host who teaches national security and journalism at Georgetown, Kelly got the idea for her novel while interviewing some Pakistani generals. Her heroine, understandably a reporter, starts out with a murder case and ends up chasing down spies, assassins, and a terrorist sleeper cell. “Mystery and thriller readers will happily delve into this fast-paced story featuring a feisty protagonist” (LJ)

Kendall, Kay. Desolation Row. Stairway. 2013.
When Texas bride Austin Starr’s husband relocates to Canada to protest the Vietnam War, Austin follows—and soon finds herself defending him against charges of murdering a draft resister. Nicely blurbed by Norb Vonnegut, who said “Kay Kendall knows how to burrow into your heart.”

Kittscher, Kristen. The Wig in the Window. Harper’s Children’s. 2013.
Uh, oh; 12-year-olds Grace Yang and Sophie Young suspect that their school counselor has committed murder. “Appealing and often spine-tingling” (Kirkus).

Lee, Alan L. Sandstorm. Forge: Tor. 2013.
When her mentor is assassinated, CIA agent Nora Mossa must turn to former CIA agent Alex Koves, also a former lover, and together they work to short-circuit a plot that would kills thousands in the Middle East. A broadcast journalist working for Fox in Detroit, Lee was glad to sleep in before the 8:00 a.m. breakfast; he usually gets up at 3:00 a.m. “No slouch with bloodletting” (Kirkus).

Lewis, Robert K. Untold Damage. Midnight Ink.
A cop-turned-junkie cleans himself up to hunt for the killer of his best friend from the academy. Noted screenwriter Lewis, “I had no idea that writing a book about a recovering junkie would bring me to this wonderful organization. “The reader will be extremely anxious for the next installment.”

McGregor, Melissa. The Curious Steambox Affair. Penguin Intermix. 2012.
In 1827 Edinburgh, Scotland, a young physician’s assistant signs on with a certain Mr. Hyde and soon finds himself investigating murder. This debut steampunk mystery was called “exciting” by Night Owl Reviews.

Marshall, Colby. Chain of Command. Stairway. 2013.
Were the assassinations of the President and Vice-President a plot to put the Speaker of the House—who happens to be a woman—in the Oval Office? No less a blurber than R.L. Stine says, “The first chapter…will shock you, and the shocks keep right on coming.”

Milchman, Jenny. Cover of Snow. Ballantine. 2013.
When Nora Hamilton’s ever-steady police officer husband commits suicide, she is instantly suspicious. Milchman, cochair of the Debut Authors Committee, won starred reviews, Indie Next honors, and New York Times coverage for her first work. “A whirling avalanche of secrets, danger, and suspense.” (LJ)

Miller, Jeff. The Bubble Gum Thief. Thomas & Mercer. 2012.
As Miller said, “The title sounds like Encyclopedia Brown, whose books got me to read, but I wanted to start with the smallest crime imaginable and build to something horrific.” Booklist praised “a gripping plot and a terrific cast.”

O’Mara, Tim. Sacrifice Fly. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2012.
O’Mara, Tim. Crooked Numbers. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013.
O’Mara did well straight out of the gate with an unusual protagonist: a former cop who is now a NYC public school teacher (like his creator) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, not as rough as it used to be but definitely not Park Avenue. Sacrifice Fly was nominated for a Barry Award for Best First Novel and named a favorite by Mystery Scene and Deadly Pleasures.

Raimondo, Lynne. Dante’s Wood. Seventh Street. 2013.
This LJ Mystery Debut of the Month features a troubled psychiatrist who gets in deep when a mentally handicapped teen patient confesses to the murder of one of his teachers. “A real keeper.”

Rotstein, Robert. Corrupt Practices. Seventh Street. 2013.
Asked to help a client accused of embezzling from a nasty cult, trial attorney Parker Stern must overcome fears he’s harbored since his mentor’s violent death. “A steady stream of intriguing revelations delivered in a lively, precise style” (PW).

Sears, Michael. Black Fridays. Putnam. 2012.
Hired to investigate potential fraud, a former Wall Street biggie who ended up serving time finds that he has uncovered murder. Nominated for a Thriller Award for Best First Novel and also shortlisted for the Edgar, Anthony, and Barry awards. Sears realized he was hooked on writing thrillers when his dermatologist explained that a topical application could kill if not used properly and his only response was “Really? How would you do that?”

Sheehy, Patti. The Boy Who Said No. Oceanview. 2013.
Sheehy’s tale of a young man in 1960s Cuba who opposed his government and eventually escaped his homeland is based on a true story. Explained Sheehy, “I’m the woman who said yes to the boy who said no.”

Shojai, Amy. Lost and Found. Cool Gus. 2012.
A young woman rushes to save her autistic nephew, lost in a freak Texas blizzard with his service dog and further threatened by a dangerous medical experiment. The dog gets its say and learns his real purpose in life by disobeying.

Stasi, Linda. The Sixth Station. Forge: Tor. 2013.
Burned-out reporter Alessandra Russo has a task: to decide whether Demiel ben Yusef is a dangerous terrorist or a man of peace and, as some think, the Son of God. New York Post, the author of five nonfiction titles, rated a “heart-pounding” from the Washington Times.

Stelmach, Orest. The Boy from Reactor 4. Thomas & Mercer. 2013.
Nadia Tesla travels from New York to Eastern Europe to investigate her father’s past—and encounters a boy from Chernobyl with a secret to spill. Explaining his inspiration for the book, Stelmach movingly related how at age eight his father had seen his own father assassinated by the NKVD and at age 15 had been jailed for anti-Soviet activities, finally escaping the Soviet Union and coming to New York with the help of a friend already there. Those were his parents, and that’s the story he should tell next.


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. linda stasi says:

    thank you so much for mentioning all of us and our books. it was a great weekend, and i agree, the debuts breakfast was a load of fun! i was awed by so much talent.