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6 Debut Novels You Should Read This Month

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CrimeReads editors select the month’s best debuts in crime, mystery, and thrillers.



Noel A. Obiora, A Past That Breathes
(Rare Bird Books)

A Past That Breathes is an urgent and timely addition to the new pantheon of the courtroom novel. Set in 1995, Noel Obiora’s debut begins with the murder of a prominent Los Angeles musician. Her Black ex-boyfriend is quickly arrested and looks to be soon railroaded for the crime, unless two young attorneys can show he’s being framed. Obiora’s decision to set the novel in 1990s LA allows for a nuanced and deeply resonant exploration of racism in the American justice system. –MO


Fabian Nicieza, Suburban Dicks

Fabien Nicieza is best known as one of the creators of Deadwood, and his irreverent and irrepressible sense of humor is on full display in this debut mystery novel of hi-jinks in the hinterlands. After the murder of a gas station worker disrupts a sleepy bedroom community in the Garden State, a wannabe profiler and a washed-up journalist team up to solve the crime and perhaps recover just a bit of their dignity while doing so.


Melissa Larsen, Shutter

Melissa Larsen’s debut thriller, Shutter, is just on the cusp of crossing over into horror. A young woman recently arrived in New York City lands a job starring in an enigmatic director’s remake of Cape Fear. It’s a dream job, except for the location, and the lack of a script, and the rather extreme method acting, all designed to elicit reactions of fear as genuine as possible (and by the end of the book, you’ll be just freaked out as the protagonist).


Nekesa Afia, Dead Dead Girls

Historical fiction is where I go to find the marginalized voices of the past recentered as folks with their own narratives and agency, and Nekesa Afia’s 1920’s-set debut does not disappoint. Louise Luna was kidnapped at age 15, becoming a local hero after managing to save herself and several others from a terrible fate. Now 26, her luster has dulled, her dancing career is over, and her attraction to another woman is a constant distraction, but when young girls start vanishing in Harlem once more, it’s up to Louise to shake off her disappointments and once again step in to save the day.


Caitlin Wahrer, The Damage

A seemingly perfect family is shattered by a horrible crime in this intense new thriller grappling with trauma, responsibility, and the meaning of masculinity. Nick is Tony’s younger brother, but Tony’s feels responsible for him like a parent—after all, it was Tony’s early intervention that saved Nick from the abuse and neglect of their father. Now Nick’s in college, and it’s Tony, not Nick’s parents, that gets the call to come see his brother at the hospital, where he’s undergoing exams after being assaulted by an older stranger. Their bond is strained by the attack and its aftermath, but not until the culprit is found, then looks likely to mount a strong defense, do things come truly untethered, as Tony is torn between helping his brother heal and giving in to the urge for violent restitution. Tony’s wife Julia, plain and calm in comparison to her hothead husband, is one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across, and the ending was genuinely surprising. –MO


Gabriel Krauze, Who They Was

Krauze was on the Booker longlist for this brutal and thought-provoking novel. Once you get used to the dialect—like Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and Huck Finn—the dualities Krauze explores open up in an oblique but compelling way. The narrator goes by Gabriel at the university where he’s a thoughtful yet ordinary student (paging all autofiction fans). In his other life, the narrator is deep in the world of London’s gangs, dabbling in all of the fun stuff: guns, drugs, robbery, even a stabbing. There is something reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange here—praise I do not give out lightly. –Lisa Levy, CrimeReads Contributing Editor

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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