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The Editors Did ItKillers, Unite!New Clues
You never forget the first time—or at least Mary Higgins Clark hasn't. I Heard That Song Before (S&S, Apr.) may be the prolific writer's 26th suspense novel, but she still remembers the thrill of publishing her first book, Where Are the Children?, in 1975. “Two publishers had turned down the book because they were afraid children in jeopardy might upset their women readers,” she says. “When I received the call from my agent that Simon & Schuster had bought it, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.”
A bestseller right out of the gate is relatively rare, but mystery publishers still need fresh blood, just as they did 30 years ago. “Debuts are in many ways the most important books we publish, whether or not they're our biggest,” says Kelley Ragland, executive editor at St. Martin's/Minotaur. “The fact that there are so many new writers coming to the genre each year—and that the market makes room for them—is a clear indication of how the crime novel continues to flourish both artistically and commercially. And of course, as an editor, there's unique joy in finding and nurturing a fresh new voice, one that can both attract new readers to the form and, with its originality, even inject new life into the genre as a whole.” Herewith, a few of the season's notable debuts.
Title: The Blue ZonePublisher: Morrow, Apr.Author: Andrew GrossFirst printing: 200,000Plot: Kate Raab's father is arrested and forced—along with the rest of her family—into the Witness Protection Program, but Kate stays behind. A year later, her father disappears from the program and his case agent is found murdered.Author's inspiration: “I worried that the relevance of the traditional 'procedural' crime novel was under threat from TV's CSIs and Law & Orders. Then at a dinner party I met this wildly ostentatious couple—big jewelry, his and her Ferraris, lavish travel—and not long after I found out the husband had been arrested by the FBI for money laundering. I had the kind of story I'd wanted: one that would touch people I know, and that I could wrap a tale of crime and suspense around.”Clues for success: David Highfill, executive editor, says, “Andrew has one of the more unique writing apprenticeships I've ever heard of: he's co-authored five number-one bestsellers with one of the most popular thriller writers ever, James Patterson.” Naturally, Patterson's career serves as a model for launching Gross's.Body count: 13Hollywood pitch:Alias meets The Departed
Author: Chelsea Cain
Publisher: St. Martin's/Minotaur, Sept.
First printing: 200,000
Plot: Two years ago, serial killer Gretchen Lowell kidnapped and tortured Portland, Ore., detective Archie Sheridan, the cop in charge of capturing her, then turned herself in. Now Gretchen's in jail and Archie—addicted to pain pills and to his erstwhile captor—must pull himself together to lead an investigation into a new killer.
Author's inspiration: “Why mysteries? Two words: Carolyn Keene. I read a lot of Nancy Drew books as a kid. And I decided to write a thriller for the same reason people read them: Because they're fun and excellent and totally compelling. It was a guilty pleasure, like Grey's Anatomy, peanut M&Ms and Us Weekly.”
Clues for success: Publisher Andrew Martin has this to say about the first book in a three-book deal: “What Chelsea Cain has done compares to the first breakout books by John Grisham or Tom Clancy—how Grisham took an old form, the legal thriller, and turned it on its head, or Tom Clancy completely modernized and transformed the thriller with The Hunt for Red October.” Cain will embark on a 10-city tour.
Body count: Either five or 204, depending on how you're counting (but only one person has her small intestine removed with a crochet hook)
Hollywood pitch:Basic Instinct meets The Silence of the Lambs
Title: Interred with Their Bones
Author: Jennifer Lee Carrell
Publisher: Dutton, Sept.
First printing: approximately 100,000
Plot: On the eve of the Globe's production of Hamlet, Shakespeare scholar and theater director Kate Shelton's eccentric mentor, Rosalind Howard, gives her a mysterious box, claiming to have made a groundbreaking discovery. But before she can reveal it to Kate, the Globe is burned to the ground and Roz is found dead—murdered in the same manner as Hamlet's father.
Author's inspiration: “My imagination works best in a balance of historical detail and darkness, and I've always relished the lure of real mysteries. The unknown gives me the freedom to dream, but wrapping those dreams in a particular corner of the world gives them shape and weight.”
Clues for success: Publisher Brian Tart says, “Dutton had great success last year with a first novel that centered on lost writings and questionable identity—that time the writer was Jesus and the book was The Last Templar. I can see the same formula working for Interred with Their Bones.” Foreign rights have been sold in 21 markets and the novel will be translated into 18 languages.
Body count: 6
Hollywood pitch:Shakespeare in Love meets The Thirteenth Tale
Title: Volk's Game
Author: Brent Ghelfi
Publisher: Holt, June
First printing: 75,000
Plot: Russian gangster Alexei Volkovoy and his beautiful 19-year-old sidekick scheme to steal a valuable painting, as Volkovoy attempts not to upset his psychotic mafia boss in the process.
Author's inspiration: “Books have inspired me for as long as I can remember. All kinds: mysteries, thrillers, historical, literary, and science fiction, true crime, biography—the label never mattered. But hard-boiled detective novels were my catalyst for writing Volk's Game, and Hammett and Chandler set the bar. I keep a replica of the Maltese falcon perched on the shelf behind me, a daily reminder to work hard to find and hold an enduring voice.”
Clues for success: Editor Sarah Knight says, “Brent Ghelfi's Volk, like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, is as morally ambiguous as he is violent. And Ghelfi's blazing, high-octane Russia will be fresh even to readers of the great Martin Cruz Smith, whose Renko novels provide another model for this series.”
Body count: 30
Hollywood pitch: A Russian 24, with Volk as Jack Bauer
Title: The History Book
Author: Humphrey Hawksley Publisher: Grand Central Books, Aug.
First printing: 40,000
Plot: Catherine “Kat” Polinski—burglar, hacker, undercover agent—returns home from a deadly mission at the Kazakh embassy in Washington, D.C., to find a cryptic message from her sister. Soon after, her sister is murdered—shot in a desolate spot 30 miles outside of London.
Author's inspiration: “I got a speeding ticket that arrived with a photograph of me at the wheel and I thought, 'What else do they know about me?' Everything, it seems. But who keeps the files? And how do they use them? I had the perfect elements for a new-style global mystery.”
Clues for success: “We're hoping for a ripped-from-the-headlines effect, what with all the furor over the past few years about increased government surveillance of private activities. The author is a BBC correspondent, which provides credibility. Terrific quotes from Alan Furst, Lee Child and Simon Winchester don't hurt, either,” says associate publisher Les Pockell.
Body count: 22
Hollywood pitch: Sydney Bristow of Alias takes the lead role in The Bourne Identity
Title: A Good and Happy Child
Author: Justin Evans
Publisher: Crown/Shaye Areheart, May
First printing: 50,000
Plot: George Davies, 30, can't bring himself to hold his newborn son. A therapist prods George to delve into his childhood memories, and he begins to recall events and people, including a boy who appeared one night when George was lonely, then told him secrets he didn't want to know.
Author's inspiration: “I could no longer pretend I wasn't a grownup. I was married. I was finishing business school. I had a job offer. A baby could not be far away. Then, like a booby-trap, memories of my childhood came crashing down on me: my hometown, gorgeous yet sterile; the spooky tales my father would tell of shower doors slamming of their own accord. I broke away from my statistics homework and wrote A Good and Happy Child. Nostalgia mingled with mystery because, well, murder helps people finish the book.”
Clues for success: “We've recently had some nice successes in this category, especially with Lisa Unger's Beautiful Lies and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects. Like those two, Justin's book is literary in sensibility, but has a great commercial hook that's fresh, accessible and wildly dark and entertaining,” says senior editor Sally Kim.
Body count: 2
Hollywood pitch:The Exorcist meets To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Matt Richtel
Publisher: Twelve, June
First printing: 50,000
Plot: San Francisco writer Nat Idle narrowly survives an explosion in an Internet cafe after a stranger hands him a note warning him to exit immediately. The handwriting on the note belongs to his deceased girlfriend, Annie, whom he has been mourning obsessively.
Author's inspiration: “My first thriller was inspired by an observation: There is a concrete connection between our personal lives and the digitally enhanced pace of modern life. It was an observation borne from my years as a New York Times reporter covering Silicon Valley. The idea was to create a fast-paced thriller that captures the rush of love, the pain of its loss and the way we process it in our frenetic times.”
Clues for success: Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve, says, “We think this is the first novel that describes technology addiction in a dramatic way: why we check our e-mail compulsively and talk on our cell phones while we are driving. People who like the psychological noir of Memento, the obsessive ardor of Scott Spencer's fiction and the business thrills of Joseph Finder's novels ought to enjoy Hooked.”
Body count: 6
Hollywood pitch:Memento meets Endless Love
Title: The Cleaner
Author: Brett Battles
Publisher: Delacorte, July
First printing: 25,000
Plot: Jonathan Quinn is a “cleaner”—an operative whose employers hire him to clean up crime scenes (and dispose of the occasional body). But when a job unexpectedly turns violent, Quinn leapfrogs continents to find the person who is trying to kill him.
Author's inspiration: “I see mystery stories wherever I go. The guy on the corner, maybe he's an assassin, maybe he's a terrorist, or maybe he's a husband looking for his family, who disappeared without a word. The couple at the restaurant arguing, maybe one of them has just gambled away all their money or maybe they're just arguing about where to bury the body.”
Clues for success: According to Bantam Dell senior editor Danielle Perez, “Cleaner hero Jonathan Quinn is a cross between Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne and Harvey Keitel's cleaner character in Pulp Fiction.”
Body count: 24
Hollywood pitch: James Bond meets Tarantino.
Title: Circumference of Darkness
Author: Jack Henderson
Publisher: Bantam, July
First printing: 20,000
Plot: Jeannie Reese is a 22-year-old computer prodigy and surveillance expert. John Fagan is a legendary hacker who has become a recluse. When it becomes apparent that the attacks of 9/11 were the beginning of a bigger plan, they are drawn together to dismantle the threat to global security.
Author's inspiration: “Some chilling trends began in the aftermath of 9/11: assaults on privacy, more intrusive surveillance, and a sharp upswing in justifications of political, military and legislative action in the name of antiterrorism. It's my feeling that greater security at the cost of liberty may promise to keep us alive, but only freedom can actually save us. I wanted to write a story that explored that idea, and as a secondary, selfish objective, I wanted to write exactly the kind of relentless, thoughty global thriller that I would love to read myself.”
Clues for success: According to Bantam Dell senior editor Danielle Perez, “The clear comparison here is Tom Clancy, in terms of the techno aspects and the plot complexity. Jack's book is very female-friendly, too—one of the two main characters is a brilliant young woman who's trying to stop a vast terrorist network.”
Body count: Close combat: 3; point-blank: 7; medium- to long-range: 14; collateral: 55+
Hollywood pitch:24 meets The Bourne Identity.