NTN: The five best debuts of 2015

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NTN_2015_100New Talent November has had its highlights for sure. We met the women authors to watch for in 2016, and some of America’s hottest new crime writers. We interviewed some Brits and some Swedes and a French fellow, who will all do extremely well. And we looked back at 12 debut novels that have changed the genre. As we conclude NTN2015, we’ll look back across the year and select the best debuts of the last 12 months.

While in 2014 we brought you a list of 10 fine novels – dominated by female authors – this year the feeling in our camp was that five is a better number. Not every year can be a breakout year for crime fiction, but these were certainly breakout novels…

girlonthetrain2005 – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the train at 8:04 every day, and when it stops at a signal she glances out the window and into a home that she imagines is filled with suburban bliss. Jess and Jason, as she calls them, are the perfect couple. But then one day she looks into their world and sees something that disturbs her. So, our intrepid but sometimes juiced narrator starts to investigate because Jess – real name Megan – has gone missing. And from there it all unravels in an unputdownable example of domestic noir, full of amazing twists. This novel takes the unreliable narrator trope to a new extreme. Yes it had a lot of hype, but it’s an intriguing concept and Rachel… well, she’ll keep you on your toes. Read our full review here.
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iletyougo2004 – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
I Let You Go was written by an author who has worked for the police, and who is also a successful journalist writing in the Women’s Institute magazine, Sainsbury’s Magazine and Good Housekeeping. So she’s more than set up to write in the hottest sub-genre of crime fiction at the minute – domestic noir. The story here hinges on the death of a little boy called Jacob, struck by a car as he’s being taken to school. Seasoned detective Ray Stevens is on the case with his younger colleague Kate Evans. Meanwhile, Jenna Grey escapes the grief of Jacob’s death by moving from Bristol to Wales. But can the past be suppressed? Mixing elements of the psychological thriller and the methodical approach of a police procedural, Mackintosh reveals just enough at each stage of the plot to keep you turning the pages. DeathBecomesHer wrote this review of the book in May 2015.
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snowblind2003 – Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson
When Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson was a teenager, he went about translating Agatha Christie’s work into his native language. What better preparation could there be for a crime author? Having done so, he started writing mysteries that have a Golden Age feel about them and yet also contain all the elements we love about Nordic noir. You know… icy remoteness, taciturn characters, dry humour and that slightly existential feel. In this brilliant combo of the two, we meet Ari Thór Arason. He’s fresh out of police college and is delighted to find himself assigned to Siglufjörđur, Iceland’s northernmost town, accessible only by a tunnel through the mountains. His glee doesn’t last long, because soon he’s investigating why a half-naked woman has been found bleeding to death outside her home, and why the founder of the town’s amateur dramatic group has been killed. Read our full review here.
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stasichild3002 – Stasi Child by David Young
Here the impressive new author David Young does what Martin Cruz Smith did so successfully in Gorky Park. He takes what would normally be a police procedural mystery, but gives it a political twist by setting it in a place governed by an oppressive regime. Only instead of Soviet Moscow, Stasi Child takes place in East Berlin and the year is 1975. A lot of people have forgotten just how brutal and feared the GDR’s secret police, the Stasi, were. Imagine the KGB dialled up to 11. Except in this novel, our heroine and main detective is a member of the Stasi and Karen Muller’s dilemma as she investigates the death of a girl in the no-man’s land between East and West, is how far she goes in exposing the cover-up that she thinks has occurred. Here’s our review.
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bull-mountain2001 – Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
First-time author Brian Panowich is a firefighter by day, but he sure knows how to start ’em too, and his debut novel Bull Mountain burns hot from pages one to 272. It’s more or less a chronicle of the Burroughs clan, who started off as moonshine hillbillies in the middle of the 20th century, but have moved on to meth and extortion in the 21st century. After a brutal upbringing one of their sons, Clayton, joins the other side and becomes the sheriff of Waymore Valley in Georgia. And it’s he who’s caught in the middle when the feds start to make moves on the Burroughs operation. Oh, and did we mention biker gangs? Well this incredibly adept Southern noir novel has them too. Brian Panowich was one of the seven new American authors we picked out during New Talent November, and you can read our full review of Bull Mountain here.
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Have we nailed it, or have you read a debut in 2015 that you think beats all of these? Do let us know in the comments below.

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