Fabulous Fiction Firsts #221

William Ryan's The Holy Thief** opens in Moscow, 1936, when Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning.

In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD—the most feared organization in Russia—becomes involved. Soon, Korolev’s every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to The Zone, where enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north.

Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow’s underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.

With Captain Alexei Korolev, William Ryan has given us one of the most compelling detectives in modern literature. Readers will likely draw comparison to Leo Demidov, the hero in Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, another smashing debut when it was published in 2008.

Read Ryan's interview with 10 librarians and get a sense where the sequel will take us.

** = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #220

Alright, this one is definitely not for you if you are heading for the airport.

The Crashers* - a crack-team of National Transportation Safety Board experts is assembled in haste to investigate when a passenger plane slams into the ground outside Portland, Oregon.

Led by Leonard "Tommy" Tomzak, a pathologist, the team needs to determine if it is a terrorist attack, or worse yet, a trial run for something more devastating to come very soon.

In the meantime, in LA, Daria Gibron, a former Israeli agent, spots a group of suspicious-looking men whom she is certain, are responsible for the plane crash.

"A fresh and utterly compelling thriller, an original mix of action, investigation and a brilliant cast of characters that grabs the reader in the way few novels can and fewer do." - A must-read debut by Dana Haynes, and will sure to please fans of the master of aviation thriller John J. Nance (Blackout) , and a readalike for Hard Fall by Ridley Pearson, the undisputed king of white-knuckle adventures.

A sequel is anticipated.

* = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #219

U.S. born, Cornell grad Andrew Xia Fukuda's Crossing* was the 2009 semifinalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest.

Inspired by the Manhattan Chinatown young immigrants that he works with, Fukuda allows his young protagonist to tell his story - one of loneliness, frustration and alienation.

Xing (Kris to his classmates) - pronounced Shing, meaning "star" , is a freshman at Slackenkill High School. As one of two Asian students in an all-white school, he has a hard time fitting in. When other fellow students start showing up dead, the police are baffled. It is Kris' ability to blend into the background that allows him to come close to the core of the grisly crimes, leading to a chilling climax that will resonate long after the last page is turned.

"Sad, elegant, and creepy" this deft debut will appeal to psychological thriller fans. The earnest depiction of disaffected youth will appeal to teens.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #218

When a critic remarks that "Michael Crichton might have produced this had he had a literary sensibility. Thoroughly well-written, grounded in science and a sorrowful sense of human nature, this book is utterly memorable", you pay attention.

Science writer and journalist Laurence Gonzales' debut novel Lucy** is "explosive and daring".

Scientist Jenny Lowe rescued Lucy, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a primatologist from the jungles of the Congo during a civil war uprising and brought her to live in the suburbs of Chicago. It turns out that Lucy's incredible physical and intellectual powers are due to her unique heritage: she is half human and half bonobo. Forced to go public, Lucy becomes an instant and endangered celebrity, accruing marriage proposals and death threats.

"Lucy is irresistible, her predicament wrenching, and Gonzales' imaginative, sweet-natured, hard-charging, and deeply inquisitive thriller will be a catalyst for serious thought and debate", raising profound questions about identity and family, the moral, ethical, and philosophical issues of genetic engineering.

As part of his research, Gonzales observed the largest colony of bonobos in the world at the Milwaukee Zoo, an hour from his home. Bonobo extinction is a real threat, hear and watch the many faceted discussion on the Diane Rehm Show.

For a first person account of working with bonobos in the wild, read Vanessa Woods' Bonobo Handshake : a memoir of love and adventure in the Congo (2010).

Readers interested in relationships between primates and humans will not want to miss Sarah Gruen's Ape House coming out in September. This is her new novel after the blockbuster of a debut Water for Elephants.

** = Starred Reviews (In the interest of full disclosure, reviews are mixed. You be the judge but I LOVED it).

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #217

Conor Fitzgerald's The Dogs of Rome introduces Commissario Alec Blume in a new projected contemporary police procedural with a smooth blending of a corrupt bureaucracy and a flawed, world-weary hero.

Seattle born expat. Alec Blume, the proverbial outsider and loner, is now police chief commissioner in Rome. When someone brutally murders Arturo Clemente, an animal-rights activist married to a prominent politician, Blume is called late to the scene. It is immediately clear that he must negotiate his way through a labyrinthine minefield that includes crooked cops, unscrupulous politicians, and an ancient city whose very history is steeped in the corruption associated with organized crime.

This promising debut is reminiscent of the early Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin, gritty crime thrillers with an European setting. A personal favorite is still Cabal (1993).

For fans of another American expatriate police procedural - the Urbino McIntyre series by Edward Sklepowich, and the excellent The Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon, both set in Venice.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #216

Urban fantasist Seanan McGuire writing for the first time as Mira Grant introduces a new series with Feed* - a gripping, thrilling, and brutal depiction of a postapocalyptic 2039, the first in the Newsflesh Trilogy.

Twin news bloggers (as in RSS. Get it?) Georgia and Shaun Mason are thrilled when Sen. Peter Ryman, the first presidential candidate to come of age since social media saved the world from a virus that reanimates the dead (that's right, zombies) invites them to cover his campaign. Then Ryman's daughter is killed. As the bloggers wield the power of new media, they tangle with the CDC, a dark conspiracy behind the infected and the virus with one unstoppable command: FEED.

With "genuine drama and pure creepiness, McGuire has crafted a masterpiece of suspense with engaging, appealing characters who conduct a soul-shredding examination of what's true and what's reported."

* = Starred review

Alright, so you are still not quite sure you trust me. Would you trust NPR? Here is the poll for the 100 All-Time Best Killer/Thriller and do you see what's on the list of the finalists?

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #215

The Ice Princess** is economist-turned-novelist Camilla Lackberg's #1 bestseller in Sweden (pub. 2003) and the winner of 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel . Ice Princess is the first of her novels to reach the US market.

Set in winter in the coastal town of Fjallbacka, Erica, a thirtysomething biographer returns to her hometown to deal with her parents' untimely death. On a whim, she visits her childhood friend Alex only to find her dead in the bathtub, in an apparent suicide. Alex's grieving parents and Erica's curiosity compel her to delve deep into Alex's past as well as her relationships. Working with a local police officer, Patrik, they uncover secrets and sordidness that the town folks would have preferred to stay buried under their glossy lifestyle and pristine landscape.

This will appeal to fans of Nordic crime fiction and psychological thrillers who prefer a strong female presence, especially those of Asa Larsson and other notable female writers such as Karin Alvtegen Karin Fossum, Mari Jungsted, and Helene Tursten.

** = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #214

Debut novelist Dexter Palmer's The Dream of Perpetual Motion** is "Shakespeare's The Tempest in a steampunk setting".

It opens with Harry Winslow, a lone narrator floating endlessly in an enormous zeppelin, with only the voice of his beloved Miranda for company. In a wild tale full of tin men, monsters, a magical playhouse, and a unicorn, Harry recounts his history with the Taligent family: Miranda, his lifelong love, her mad scientist of a father, and the role he plays to render them virtual prisoners in perpetual motion.

"Intoxicatingly ambitious", this novel is pointedly a commentary on language, art, technology, and alienation... It walks the tightrope between madness and genius, between profoundly difficult truths and pure nonsense, without a safety net for either writer or reader. A novel of ideas that holds together like a dream". Thoughtful, challenging and totally captivating.

Dexter Palmer holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University, where he completed his dissertation on the works of James Joyce, William Gaddis , and Thomas Pynchon.

** = starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #213

the twinthe twin

The Twin, a debut novel by Gerbrand Bakker quietly beats out a number of seasoned writers and front runners (see the shortlist) to win the 2010 International Impac Dublin Literary Award - the largest and most international prize of its kind. It involves libraries from all corners of the globe, and is open to books written in any language.

When his twin brother Henk dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return to the small family farm. He resigns himself to taking over his brother's role and spending the rest of his days working in the remote Dutch countryside. Now 37 years later, Helmer finally is able to move his invalid father so that he could make a home for himself. Then the woman once engaged to Henk appears and asks Helmer to take in her troubled eighteen-year-old son.

"Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, The Twin ultimately poses difficult questions about solitude and the possibility of taking life into one's own hands. It chronicles a way of life which has resisted modernity, a world culturally apart, and yet laden with familiar longing."

$31,000 of the $123,000 prize will go to David Colmer whose superb translation allows the novel's authentic voice to be heard by English readers.

NPR was first to recognize The Twin by placing it on a list of Best Foreign Fiction of 2009.

School Library Journal picked it as one of the Best Adult Books for High School Students 2009.

For the budding novelists out there, take heart. This is the third year in a row that a debut novel has won.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #212

What makes a reader "perfect"?

The answer might lie somewhere in Perfect Reader*, the "sparkling, shrewd, and at times hilarious" debut by Maggie Pouncey.

Twentysomething Flora Dempsey is stunned to find herself named literary executor of her late father - a critic, an eminent scholar and college president in a small New England town. Beside the house, the family dog, Flora finds she has also inherited a manuscript of her father's erotic poems inspired by a girlfriend Flora didn't know he had, a girlfriend who wants to see them published!

In a year of grieving, Flora revisits her childhood memories of her parents' divorce, losing a best friend following a terrible accident while debating whether to publish her father's manuscript.

"Pouncey has skillfully created a portrait of small-town academia, where the relationships between reader and text are just as elusive and complex as the relationships between father and daughter, husband and wife, or between two lovers".

* = starred review

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