Dark Passages: Debuts of the Decade

My newest column at the LA Times looks at a slew of newcomers, including Belinda Bauer, Randy Susan Meyers, Carla Buckley and James Thompson, whose first crime novels come at the dawn of a new decade (or the end of the old one, depending on how you do the math.) Here’s a choice excerpt:

In the midst of the new decade’s tumult, book publishing’s lifeblood —

first-time writers — still requires feeding. We’re hungry for fresh

voices unsullied by Bookscan stats, backlist expectations and narrative

investment because, when new, the potential is limitless, and we can

delay disappointment until the next book (which is why the so-called

“sophomore slump” is only partially true; it’s less the product of a

bad outing than the author falling victim to heightened forecasts by

readers and critics alike).

The boom-bust cycle applies just as much to the mystery world as it

does to more literary-minded spheres. New voices often herald new

series, but even when the books mean to stand alone, the entry

threshold is steeper than ever. It’s not enough to be good that first

time out; one must be near close to outstanding — or at least carry a

distinctive voice — to stand a chance for the future.

This is why I’m heartened by 2010’s new class so far. By year’s end, no

doubt the submission list for the Edgar Award’s Best First Novel will

be the typical mix of many good-to-mediocre novels, even more tepid or

flat-out-terrible outings, and a smattering of very good-to-great, but

already, there are a few contenders strutting confidently out of the


Read on for the rest.