These debut authors found inspiration for stories of crime and creepiness at college, on the police force, and beyond.
Camilla Bruce has a master’s degree in comparative literature and cofounded Belladonna Publishing, a micropress in Norway.
The book: You Let Me In (Tor, Apr.), which PW’s starred review called “exceptional.”
The story: When bestselling novelist Cassandra Tripp goes missing at age 74, police suspect a connection to the violent deaths of her husband, father, and brother years earlier. She leaves behind a fortune and her final manuscript, a memoir that attests to the presence of a malevolent faerie called Pepper-Man. Also in the manuscript: the clues her niece and nephew need in order to claim their inheritance.
The inspiration: Bruce’s cats. “They kept bringing greenery and twigs and leaves into my house,” she says. Bruce continued the Sisyphean cleanup for weeks, until one day she thought, “What if something other than cats were making the mess?”
Rozlan Mohd Noor, a former crime investigator with the Royal Malaysia Police, has lived in Thailand since 2010.
The book: 21 Immortals (Arcade CrimeWise, Aug.), which launches the Inspector Mislan series. Originally published in Malaysia in 2010 by Silverfish Books.
The story: Inspector Mislan is called to a wealthy Kuala Lumpur neighborhood, where he discovers the bodies of a father, mother, and son carefully arranged at the family dinner table. In front of each, a plate of the traditional New Year dish yee sang—though it’s the wrong time of year. Mislan, a single parent and dogged investigator, comes up against institutional resistance and the corrupting influence of money in trying to solve the case.
The inspiration: Noor is a longtime fan of crime fiction, and after years of reading books set in Europe and the U.S., he wanted to capture the flavor of his native country. “Malaysian writers are practically unknown in the genre,” he says. “Very little is written about Malaysia’s police procedures or crimes. I want to introduce Malaysia—its food, places of interest, and people.”
Richard Z. Santos, an Austin, Tex., high school teacher and National Book Critics Circle board member, has an MFA from Texas State University and previously worked in politics and labor relations in Washington, D.C.
The book: Trust Me (Arte Público, Mar.)
The story: Charles O’Connell has spent his career working in politics. When his boss, the leading candidate for the Senate seat in Delaware, lands in prison for corruption, Charles also falls under suspicion. Seeking a fresh start, he takes a position in public relations in Santa Fe, N.Mex., with the company funding the city’s new airport. As construction begins, a skeleton is discovered, and a group of Apache claim the grounds house Geronimo’s secret grave.
The inspiration: Like his main character, Santos is a D.C. to Santa Fe transplant, after working for political consulting firms and labor unions. New in town and with no social network in the city, he spent a lot of time driving through Santa Fe’s streets at night, and became captivated by his new home. “New Mexico has intense layers of history,” Santos says. “I cared so much about capturing the energy and history of Santa Fe, my earliest drafts were almost anthropological.”
Elisabeth Thomas, who lives in Brooklyn, works as a museum archivist.
The book: Catherine House (Custom House, May), which PW’s starred review called “spellbinding.”
The story: Situated at an isolated gothic estate in the Pennsylvania woods, prestigious Catherine House is a secretive institute whose graduates go on to tremendous success. New student Ines Murillo is eager to seek refuge behind its locked gates but grows to suspect that the school’s experimental curriculum hides a sinister agenda.
The inspiration: “I was thinking about the American college system and the things they promise you, what they deliver and what they don’t,” says Thomas, who graduated from Yale. “When you get out into the real world, working a job, you look back and think of it as a magical time. I wanted to play with the idea of a golden age in your life and how it isn’t always as golden as you think it is.”
David Heska Wanbli Weiden, a recipient of the PEN America Writing for Justice Fellowship, is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation.
The book: Winter Counts (Ecco, Sept.)
The story: The people of South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation know that when traditional legal channels fail, they can—for a fee—turn to vigilante enforcer Virgil Wounded Horse. When his nephew gets caught up in the heroin trade, Virgil finds himself in need of assistance and relying on unsavory sources for help. At the same time, he wrestles with what it means to be Native American in contemporary society.
The inspiration: In 1885, Weiden says, Congress passed the Major Crimes Act, which affected criminal justice on Native American reservations. “Native nations have no ability to prosecute certain violent felonies that happen on their own lands,” he says. “Instead they have to hand off these crimes to the FBI and federal prosecutors.” When prosecutors decline a case, the suspect is set free. “It’s a well-known fact in Indian country: a class of professional vigilantes has sprung up. If you can’t get justice, you go to them.”