ThrillerFest IX: The ITW Debut Authors Breakfast

One goal of International Thriller Writers, sponsor of ThrillerFest, which this year met July 8–12 in New York City, is to help new writers move their careers forward through mentoring, education, and collaborative efforts. It does so partly through the Debut Authors Program, open scallyto active-status ITW members only. This year’s program embraced more than 50 authors, with more than half attending the Debut Authors Breakfast at ThrillerFest. Collectively, these authors had rights sold to 20 countries, earned at least ten starred reviews, and could boast a LibraryReads pick, a New York Times Editors Choice pick, and a Goodreads debut feature among them. Here’s a rundown of the authors present at the breakfast—all authors to watch.

E.A. Aymar. I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Black Opal. 2013. ISBN 9781626940857. pap. $12.49.
The hit men Tom Starks hires to kill the guy accused of his wife’s murder blow the job, and now they’re after Tom and his daughter. Aymar’s “Decisions and Revisions” column appears monthly in the Washington Independent Review of Books. Nice online comments.

John Burley. The Absence of Mercy. Morrow Paperbacks. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780062227379. pap. $14.99.
When investigating the murder of a local teenager, medical examiner Dr. Ben Stevenson discover that his little community harbors some nasty secrets. Burley himself is an emergency medicine physician; The Forgetting Place will appear in February 2015. “A true psychological thriller down to its very core” (Suspense magazine).

Rick Campbell. The Trident Deception. St. Martin’s. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781250039019. $25.99.
A Trident ballistic missile submarine carrying a full complement of nuclear warheads receives a launch order, but is it really from the U.S. government? Said retired navy commander Campbell, “You’re told to write what love or what you know. First I wrote what love, and that didn’t work. Then I wrote what I know, and here I am.” Look for Empire Rising in February 2015. “The best submarine novel since Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October” (Booklist).

John Dixon. Phoenix Island. Gallery, 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781476738635. $19.99.
Sent to a remote camp for orphans, a 16-year-old boxing champion discovers that the camp directors have plans for world domination and are training the campers to be their foot soldiers. Inspiration for the CBS TV show Intelligence; look for Devil’s Pocket in January 2015

Gwen Florio. Montana. Permanent. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781579623364. $28.
Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks wants to return to Afghanistan but has been reassigned to montanaMontana, where nothing exciting happens until she trips over a corpse. Florio herself has done time as a correspondent in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, and her book won the inaugural Pinckley Prize for debut crime fiction and was nominated for a Thriller Award for Best First Novel. Dakota appeared in March 2014; next up is Wyoming. “Breathless pacing, strong characterizations, and a nuanced plot” (LJ).

Samuel W. Gailey. Deep Winter. Blue Rider, 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780399165962. $25.95.
When big, sweet, mentally limited Danny is found with the dead body of Mindy, his only friend in their small Pennsylvania town, the townsfolk think he has finally turned as dangerous as they had always feared. Obviously, something else is afoot. Billed as rural noir; award-winning screenwriter Gailey said the character of Danny was inspired by one of Gailey’s childhood best friends. You can’t beat getting compared to Michael Connelly by Esquire.

Geoffrey Girard. Cain’s Blood. Touchstone. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781476704043. $25.99.
Hoping to create a new type of bioweapon, the U.S. government has been secretly cloning the world’s most awful serial killers. Bad move: one of them has escaped, and a teen clone of Jeffrey Dahmer is helping in the hunt. Where did Girard get the idea of an evil teenage clone? As he explained, he has two teenage sons and chairs the English department at a boys’ school in Ohio. The YA version of this book, Project Cain, was nominated for a Stoker award.

Elizabeth Heiter. Hunted. Harlequin. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780778315841. pap. $14.95.
When a small town in Virginia is terrorized, Evelyn Baine, who’s making a name for herself as a criminal profiler with the FBI, only thinks she can get into the head of a serial killer. Heiter spent nine years hunting for a publisher. Now she’s starting to roll; look for Vanished in December 2014. “Evelyn Baine is one of the most amazing characters created in print” (Fresh Fiction).

Diane Hester. Run to Me. Random House Australia. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781742756424. $19.95.
In the remote Maine forest, a woman suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder encounters a homeless boy and takes him under her wing. Alas, he’s on the run from killers. Hester, who now lives in Australia, was once a violinist with the Rochester Philharmonic. “The author makes good use of her rustic setting and clearly understands the value of sympathetic protagonists and the thrill of narrow escapes” (PW).

Bruce Holsinger. A Burnable Book. Morrow. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062240323. $25.95.
In 1385 London, government official Geoffrey Chaucer asks poet John Gower to track down a holsinger“burnable book,” a treasonous work inspiring the dancy little tunes hinting at Richard II’s assassination that resound through the streets. Medieval scholar Holsinger, who teaches at the University of Virginia, called Chaucer “the first great writer of crime fiction” and proved it by reading a passage from The Canterbury Tales about a blackmailer. “Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul” (LJ).

J.D. Horn. The Line. 47 North. 2014. 285p. 9781477809730. pap. $14.95.
In this first in the “Witching Savannah” series, Mercy Taylor belongs to one of the most powerful family of witches in the South. She lacks magic herself but must still act when the matriarch is murdered. The Source appeared in July; look for The Void in October. “This tightly paced, entertaining series opener shows great potential” (PW).

Terry Irving, Courier. Exhibit A. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781909223790. pap. $7.99.
In 1972, Vietnam vet Rick Putnam is running away from bad memories by working as a motorcycle courier, carrying news films that will appear on the evening broadcast. The story he’s carrying now could get him killed. Irving, who’s worked as a courier, sees his protagonist in terms of Greek tragedy: “He’s a hero raised up and brought down by hubris.” Sadly for Irving, his publisher has just folded, so he told the breakfast attendees: “Please buy Courier and take to your agents and publishers.” Actually, it sounds like an intriguing book.

Susan Klaus. Secretariat Reborn. Oceanview. 2013. 280p. ISBN 9781608090945. $26.95.
What would happen if you cloned Secretariat? The desire to race the clone gets Christian Roberts involved with shady types. Klaus, host and co-producer of the radio show Author’s Connection, lives on a horse farm. Look for the paperback edition in August, when the hardcover of Klaus’s next Christian Roberts mystery, Shark Fin Soup, also appears.

Barry Lancet. Japantown. S. & S. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781451691696. $25.
The San Francisco police department asks antiques dealer Jim Brodie, an expert on all things japantownJapanese, to help investigate the killing of five Nakamura family members at a San Francisco mall. The only clue is an indecipherable Japanese character. Nominated for a Barry Award, named a Best Book of 2013 by Suspense magazine, and optioned by J.J. Abrams; look for the paperback in July and Tokyo Kill in September.

Matthew Quinn Martin, Nightlife. Pocket Star: S. & S. 2013. ebk. ISBN 9781476746890. pap. $5.99.
What happens when the evil that slumbers beneath the streets of New Harbor decides to wake up one Halloween. You don’t want to be there. “Incredibly riveting” (All Things Urban Fantasy)

S.L. Menear. Deadstick Dawn. Suspense. 2013. 352p. ISBN  9780615861166. pap. $13.99.
Airline pilot Samantha Starr has her hands full as she races to save nine British children of noble blood and keep things calm in Northern Ireland. One of the first female jet captains in the world, Menear knows her stuff. “A pulse-pounding, adrenaline-charged, cat-and-mouse game of the highest order” (WebbWeaver Reviews)

Elisa Nader. Escape from Eden. Merit. 272p. 2013. ISBN 9781440563928. $17.95.
Fed up with living in a fundamentalist cult, 16-year-old Mia decides to escape with the new boy, Gabriel, but the reverend who runs the cult has some nasty tricks up his sleeve. Like all the debut authors, Nader thanked ITW effusively for its support, conceding that “writing is scary, though not as much as civil war or amputation.” “Not for the faint of heart; …the rewards, however, are many: fast-moving action, a capable heroine and a resolution that leaves plenty of room for a sequel” (Kirkus).

Carla Norton. The Edge of Normal. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250031044. $25.99.
A 22-year-old who survived a four-year-long abduction intervenes to help a girl who has suffered a similar fate, only to find that they are being stalked by a killer. Norton, coauthor of the No. 1 New York Times nonfiction best seller Perfect Victim, won a Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery for this debut. “I see it as Elizabeth Smart meets Clarice Starling,” she explained, adding that compared with writing nonfiction, “fiction is a lot more fun. You lie awake at night thinking of ways to kill bastard who really deserves it.” Starred reviews from PW, Booklist, and Kirkus; “Nail-bitingly delicious” (LJ)

Kelly Parsons. Doing Harm. St. Martin’s. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781250033475. $25.95.
A dewy-eyed surgeon gets himself in trouble when he discovers a plot in his hospital to kill patients. Physician Parsons said he was worried that his patients would back out of surgery if they read his book, but most of them just wanted him to autograph their copy. “This skillfully wrought debut gets high marks for building tension to a breathtaking climax (LJ).

Lori Rader-Day. The Black Hour. Seventh Street. Jul. 2014. 331p. ISBN 9781616148850. pap. $15.95.
A LibraryReads pick that got starred LJ, Kirkus, and PW reviews, plus an LJ Debut Mystery of the Month, this work features a black hoursociology professor nearly killed by a student who then commits suicide. Now the folks around her are acting strange. “I was bowled over by its alternating points of view, superb storytelling, and pitch-perfect take on academia” (LJ).

Terry Shames. A Killing at Cotton Hill. Seventh Street. 2013. 245p. ISBN 9781616147990. $15.95.
Since the police chief of Jarrett Creek, TX, is a no-good drunk, former police chief Samuel Craddock launches an investigation when a friend is murdered. The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery appeared in January 2014. “Convincing small-town atmosphere and a vivid supporting cast” (PW).

Thomas Sweterlitsch, Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Putnam. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780399167492. $26.95.
John Dominic Blaxton lost his wife in a nuclear blast that leveled Pittsburgh and now works for an insurance company that’s determining who really died, which gives him access to an archive that allows him to visit his “virtual wife.” An LJ SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month, optioned by Sony, and a big hit at ALA.

Wendy Tyson. Killer Image. Henry Pr. 2013. 324p. ISBN 9781938383601. pap. $15.95.
Image consultant Allison Campbell turns detective when her client, a Goth teenager with politically ambitious parents, is accused of ritualistic murder. Deadly Assets appears this month. “An intriguing psychological thriller” (

James W. Ziskin, Styx & Stone. Seventh Street. 2013. 285p. ISBN 978-1616148195. pap. $15.95.
There’s a killer loose at Columbia University, and he’s already targeting Ellie Stone’s father. So naturally Ellie’s on the case, never mind that Sixties girls aren’t supposed to be detectives. “I’m six-two, I weigh 210 pounds, and I write like a girl,” said Ziskin genially. He has his reasons: “I wanted to show a woman making it in man’s world.” Ziskin is a linguist by training currently associated with New York University’s Casa Italiana, so the academic part comes easily. No Stone Unturned appeared in June 2014.  “Engrossing and fascinatingly complex” (LJ).



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. Barry Lancet says:

    Hi Barbara. Very nice article, with all the titles so nicely summarized. And so promptly posted. Many thanks for the great introduction to all the debut authors, from Aymar to Ziskin.

    With regards,
    Barry Lancet