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Summer’s Best Debut Novels


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The CrimeReads editors select the season’s best debut novels.

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Latoya Watkins, Perish
(Tiny Reparations)

In this devastating debut, generational trauma has riven a Black Texas family, but the death of their matriarch may give the family a final chance to tell unvarnished truths to each other and maybe, finally, heal. Latoya Watkins’ impassioned prose brings to life her complex characters and their heavy internal struggles, as well as the flawed, but overwhelming, love they feel for one another. –MO

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Rasheed Newson, My Government Means to Kill Me
(Flatiron)

You don’t want to miss My Government Means to Kill Me, the debut novel from Rasheed Newson, producer and writer of such acclaimed series as Bel-Air, The Chi, and Narcos. His novel is a powerful story about Trey, a young, gay, Black man in 1980s New York City as he comes of age personally and politically. Newson’s writing is crisp and clear, witty and engrossing—the kind of prose that pulls you in so quickly you’ll miss your subway stop (and I did). Do you like footnotes? If so, then this is the book for you: extremely thoughtful and clever on narrative, thematic, and formal levels, unfolding meaning in every possible place, My Government Means to Kill Me is a tour-de-force. –Olivia Rutigliano, CrimeReads associate editor

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Katie Gutierrez, More Than You’ll Ever Know
(William Morrow)

In Katie Gutierrez’s powerhouse debut, a woman with two husbands loses one to the violence of the other, and a true crime writer uncovers shocking secrets decades after. I love this book more than Delores “Lore” Rivera loves both her families and now you have to read this book to understand what I mean. –MO

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Dwyer Murphy, An Honest Living
(Viking)

If Cara Black’s Aimee Leduc smoked pot, or if Michael Connelly was from Paris, their books might read a little something like Dwyer Murphy’s absurdly entertaining and extremely literary debut, An Honest Living. A lawyer is hired by an old man’s younger wife to find out if he’s been selling off her book collection. Actually, someone pretending to be the wife hired the lawyer, and now the real wife is trying to solve two mysteries—who would bother to impersonate her, and why did her husband send her a box of rare books and pamphlets just before his untimely demise? Those who enjoy New York settings and forays into the world of rare books will particularly enjoy this rollicking yet literary read. –MO

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Samantha Allen, Patricia Wants to Cuddle
(Zando)

This is the lesbian Sasquatch novel you’ve always wanted. A group of finalists for a Bachelor-style show head to a remote British Columbian island to film the final episodes of the contest. While there, they encounter a female Bigfoot and her coterie of admirers, and those that do not admire her (as they properly should) are torn limb from limb because this is the most badass book imaginable. Patricia is the Sasquatch, by the way. The publisher describes it as “viciously funny” but I thought it was also kinda sweet. I’d give Patricia a cuddle. –MO

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Joey Hartstone, The Local
(Doubleday)

In this small town legal thriller that also happens to feel very noir, a federal judge in a tiny Texas community has managed to make his court a hub of intellectual property law that draws lawsuits from across the nation. Each big city law firm finds, to the dismay of its pressed and tailored lawyers, that it needs a local attorney to sway the jury in favor of any case. That’s where the sleezy sleuth of The Local comes in, cashing in and boozing away his winnings until the murder of the judge, who also happens to be his father figure, sends him on the long, sober path to the truth. –MO

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Adam White, The Midcoast
(Hogarth)

The Midcoast is the story of the rise and fall of the astonishingly-upwardly-mobile Thatch family, told from the perspective of their old friend Andrew. Now, the Thatches are wealthy, powerful, and accused of a horrific crime, and all Andrew can do is try to reconcile the people they are now with the people he once were. The novel is set in the tiny seaside town of Damariscotta, Maine, which makes the whole affair feel more personal; this is a story about friends, and neighbors, and the strangers who secretly live among them. Both cozy and chilling! –OR

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Conner Habib, Hawk Mountain
(Norton)

A supremely tense debut, Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain channels Patricia Highsmith by way of Hitchcock, with a chance encounter on a beach that throws two men—one of them a long ago bully, the other the bullied—into a present-day collision. Habib builds the sense of dread with slow, carefully meted out notes of obsession and intuition. –DM

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Leila Mottley, Nightcrawling
(Knopf)

Leila Mottley is a name to pay attention to. An Oakland Youth Laureate, and still only 19, Mottley has written the next great Oakland novel: her debut, called Nightcrawling. Nightcrawling is the gritty story of a life lived in poverty and desperation: teenager Kiara and her brother are on their own since their single mother had a breakdown, the rent on their tiny apartment has just doubled, and Kiara is forced into sex work to make ends meet. At an age when she should be experiencing the luxury of finding out who she is, and all the self-involvement that is part of coming-of age, she is forced to be the breadwinner and matriarch of her family, all the while coming into contact with the vile and corrupt police force, and trying to escape the cycles of poverty and survive in a country that offers no roadmap for how to do so. Mottley ties the story of Kiara’s urgent experience of race and class in America to a universal understanding of the way we use and abuse Black women, the fine line they must toe to be the perfect citizen, what it means to live in such a flawed society. Love for Oakland seeps through these page: loving the idea of it, loving what it is supposed to be, while having to reckon with the complexity of what it is now, a city with a notoriously violent and broken police force, a city of high-speed gentrification, a city pushing out those who made it what it was. Holding both sides of this coin and being able to tell of it is its own piece of artistry, let alone everything else that occurs in this fiery novel. Nightcrawling will make you desperate, it will make you awed, it will make you read anything that Mottley should ever choose to write.​ –Julia Hass, LitHub 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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