The question of the week is one of my favorites in a while: "What was the most surprising book you read this year?" Recently, I've read several novels that have surprised me in different ways, and I'm thrilled to have the chance to tell you about them. Doing so is going to make me sound like Braggasaurus Rex, because these books aren't available yet; I only got to read them because the authors asked me to take an advance look.
Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm — I'm cheating a little bit by mentioning this book. I'm supposed to be talking about books that surprised me, and the fact that this debut novel is fantastic isn't surprising at all. Still, there is something surprising in reading a novel by a person you know primarily as a short story writer. In the back of my brain, I was wondering if he could keep up the tension, the pacing, the sharp dialogue — all the things I normally love about his work. In a word: yes. Here's the blurb I wrote: "Chris F. Holm clearly had both angels and devils watching over him as he wrote Dead Harvest. Thrilling, riveting and hardboiled as hell, this stunning debut still manages to be incredibly soulful. If I could recommend one book to everyone this year, Dead Harvest would be it." I stand by every word.
From the publisher, Angry Robot Books: Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls. Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before. “No.”
Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson — If you know me, you know I'm an ardent fan of Jim Thompson's work. I don't often re-read books, but his are an exception. I love the way Thompson reels readers in (particularly in Pop. 1280 and The Killer Inside Me), how he uses only the subtlest of clues to let you know you're inside the mind of a raging psychopath... and by the time you realize it, there's no way out. If Jim Thompson's skeletal hands can clap (hey, it's Halloween this month — anything is possible), they would be applauding Jake Hinkson's debut novel. This is a wicked story, well told.
From the publisher, New Pulp Press: Geoffrey Webb is a natural born con man who talks his way into a cushy job as a youth minister at a small Baptist church in Arkansas. He gets free housing, a steady paycheck, and he doesn't have to work very hard. His only mistake is to begin an affair with the preacher's teenage daughter. When a corrupt local sheriff named Doolittle Norris finds out about Webb's relationship with the girl, Webb's easy life starts to fall apart. Sheriff Norris, backed by his family of psychotic hillbillies, forces Webb into a deadly scheme to embezzle money from the church. What the Norris clan doesn't understand, however, is that Geoffrey Webb has brutal plans of his own.
The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson — If there were any justice in this world, Bid Daddy Thug's debut novel would already be in your hands. Unfortunately, the reading public is forced to wait for the publishing world to catch up with what so many crime writers already know, which is this guy can write. My blurb: "Todd Robinson’s debut is tough and gritty, but what makes The Hard Bounce such a standout is its sly humor and surprising poignancy. The razor-sharp dialogue will have Elmore Leonard watching his back." You're on notice, publishing world: buy this book... or else.
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While I'm on the subject of surprises, I have a couple for you. One is that The Damage Done won two awards! The book picked up the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel. I'm still in shock... happy, wonderful, blissful shock, but shock nonetheless. I'd like to hug everyone who did so much to help me spread the word about the book. I'm forever grateful to you.
I'm written before on Criminal Minds about the sequel to The Damage Done, so that's no suprise. The book is called The Next One to Fall, and it will come out in the US and Canada on February 14, 2012 (stay tuned for the Goodreads giveaway, and for a contest for those who pre-order the book). What's new: I've just signed a deal with Tor/Forge for two more books! I couldn't be happier. I'm almost finished writing the first draft of the third novel featuring Lily Moore, and the fourth book... well, let's just leave that as a surprise for now!