Favorite 2019 Debut Novels

Favorite Debut Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels published in the US in 2019. Long may they write!
[Note: This list has just begun!]

Evil ThingsKatja Ivar
Evil Things (Bitter Lemon Press 2019) is set in 1952 Finland. Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit has been reassigned to Lapland after been deemed “too emotional” during an investigation of the brutal murder of a woman and three of her four young children. Before the war women were only allowed to be polissyster, comforting and questioning women and children, and Chief Inspector Eklund of the Ivar police department believes Hella should have stayed in that role while looking for a husband instead of qualifying to be a full police officer. Irja Waltari, the wife of the priest in the remote village of Käärmela near the border with Soviet Russia, writes to the Ivar police department to report the disappearance of Erno Jokinen, who left his young grandson Kalle alone in their isolated cabin. Eklund believes the old man became lost in the forest, but Hella is sure that Jokinen, who was born in the forest, is the victim of a crime. Eklund reluctantly gives Hella permission to use a few days off to investigate. The traumatized Kalle refuses to speak about the day his grandfather left, and is clearly terrified. He eventually admits that his grandfather went into the woods to fight the evil “white things,” instructing Kalle not to follow him. Hella questions Jokinen’s nearest neighbor Jeremias Karppinen, who tried to take possession of Jokinen’s house, but he insists Jokinen had no recent visitors. When the search party discovers an arm, it is assumed to be Jokinen until Hella washes away the mud to discover polished nails on the delicate hand, and insists on anther search, eventually discovering a rib cage and part of the head of a middle aged woman. Hella has already discovered that technical support in Lapland is nearly non-existent,on but carefully preserves the remnants of a glass vial crushed between the woman’s teeth. Eklund orders Hella to give up the investigation and return to Ivar, but Hella is determined to find the truth. This intense debut historical thriller is the first in a planned trilogy.

Save Me from Dangerous MenS.A. Lelchuk
Save Me from Dangerous Men (Flatiron Books 2019) introduces Nikki Griffin, a bookstore owner and private investigator in Berkeley, California. Pieces of Nikki’s past emerge from her weekly court-ordered anger-management therapy sessions, filling in the back story of a woman compelled to protect others, especially battered women threatened by dangerous men. Escaping into books saved Nikki’s sanity as an adolescent, and the bookstore is her sanctuary. Nikki refuses to carry a cellphone but does use an iPad to monitor her high-tech trackers and has no aversion to weapons. Gregg Gunn, the owner of Care4, a Silicon Valley startup that makes baby monitors, hires Nikki to follow Karen Li, an employee he believes is stealing and selling firm secrets. Astride her red Aprilia motorcycle, Nikki follows Karen to a meeting with two men, noticing that Karen doesn’t appear to be selling anything, but instead is clearly terrified of the threatening pair. An IT security expert at Care4 shows Nikki proof that Gunn is taking secret trups to Saudi Arabia and Russia, and warns her away from the investigation. The group of elderly mystery readers at her bookstore call Nikki “Lisbeth” in recognition of her single-minded dedication to use any means necessary to reach her goal, and she can’t let go of the case, even when those closest to her are threatened. This intense debut thriller features a deeply-flawed protagonist as intelligent and compassionate as she is dangerous.

The Silent PatientAlex Michaelides
The Silent Patient (Celadon Books 2019) is the story of Alicia Berenson, a famous painter married to Gabriel, a successful fashion photographer. Living in a large home in a desirable London neighborhood, the couple seemed to have the perfect life until the evening Alicia shot and killed her husband and then slit her own wrists. Alicia barely survived, and spoke not a word from that time forward. Her only communication was a painting completed while awaiting trial under the supervision of a psychiatric nurse. Titled “Alcestis,” the self-portrait depicted a naked Alicia confronting a blank canvas while holding a brush dripping blood red drops. During the trial, Alicia’s agent Jean-Felix Martin displayed the painting in his Soho gallery, and the prices of her paintings increased astronomically. Alicia was convicted of murder, and committed to the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. Six years later Alicia is still silent when forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber joins the staff of the Grove, convinced that he is uniquely qualified by his own troubled past to help Alicia. Theo believes that Alicia’s silence is connected to the story of Alcestis, the heroine of a Greek myth who dies in her husband’s place and then speaks not a word after she is rescued from the underworld by Heracles. He begins talk therapy with Alicia, who emerges from her torpor long enough to attack him. Encouraged by the uncharacteristic interaction to the world around her, Theo begins seeking out Alicia’s friends and relatives, searching for motivations for the murder and subsequent silence. Interspersed sections from the diary Alicia began years earlier during a bout of depression reveal her fear that she may have inherited her mother’s madness. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the blurring boundaries between patient and therapist as Theo shares his own emotional problems while trying to forge a bond with Alicia, casting doubt on whose mental stability is more solid.

The Nowhere ChildChristian White
The Nowhere Child (Minotaur Books 2019; Australia 2018) is the story of Kimberly Leamy, a 30-year-old photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia. One day an American stranger appears and shows her a picture of Sammy Went, a toddler who went missing 28 years earlier from her home in Manson, Kentucky, three days after her second birthday. The stranger tells Kim he believes she is Sammy Went. Kim can’t believe that her loving mother Carol, a social worker who died of cancer four years earlier, had kidnapped her, but the lack of baby pictures in the family album plus a picture of herself as a toddler with an eerie resemblance to the picture of Sammy gives her pause. The stranger reveals that he is Stuart Went, Sammy’s older brother, and that he has been searching for her ever since he was old enough to do research on the Internet. Kim impulsively books a flight to Kentucky, wondering if seeing the town will awaken any memories. Interspersed chapters set in 1990 Manson relate the day of the kidnapping and the investigation that followed. Jack Went had been raised in the Church of the Light Within, a Pentecostal group of poisonous-snake handlers, but it was his wife Molly, who married into the church, who became a devout worshipper. When Sammy went missing, suspicion fell on Travis Eckles, the younger son of a criminal family, whose untrustworthy explanation of his whereabouts that day concealed a furtive affair with Jack, who is unwilling to reveal his homosexuality. After arriving in Mason, Kim is distressed to realize she does not warm to Molly Went, who only seems to care for the Church of the Light Within, but does have glimmerings of memories long forgotten. This intense debut psychological thriller explores the disturbing effects of being raised in a cult-like religion and what it means to be part of a family.

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!

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