Debut novels are awesome because they introduce readers to new talent—or finally give us that novel we’ve been craving from a great short story or essay writer. January has a few that should be on your radar. Take note!
The Appeal is coming to U.S. readers with “international bestseller” already on its cover. I’m excited it’s finally here. A novel about secret agendas and mistrust that revolves around a community who comes together to help a sick child, this is the perfect reminder to trust no one. Also, I heard the format is quite unique and features everything from emails to found texts, which will appeal to those who, like me, love the found footage aesthetic.
Atria Books, January 25
Sometimes I feel like I’m late to the party, and even though this novel just came out, I’m sure many people have already heard about it because it’s been making a lot of noise since last year. Prose’s debut is a locked-room whodunit, in which a body is found in a hotel room. The prime suspect is Molly Gray, a member of the cleaning staff who is as far from a killer as anyone can imagine. I’m eager to dig into this one (no galley, Ballantine? Why do you hurt my feelings like that?) not only because of the plot, but because Gray is neurodivergent—and representation matters.
Ballantine, January 2
Funny coke-infused noir from an Irish border town with an LGBTQ+ main character? Sign me the hell up.
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, January 11
The Torqued Man
Confession time! I don’t usually go for historical novels unless there’s something about them that makes me think I’ll enjoy them. This is one of those. A spy narrative built around two conflicting manuscripts, this novel—which takes place in wartime Berlin (talk about the opposite of humor)—sounds like a fun literary thriller delivered by two different voices: a German spy handler and his Irish secret agent.
Harper, January 11
I just said representation matters, and May’s debut—a narrative about secrets that features a trio of Anglo-Nigerian best friends—caught my attention when I read an excerpt that contained food and hair, two things that, as I’ve told my creative writing students countless times, can say a lot about a culture or a person:
“An hour later, Ronke was eating kelewele—soft plantains fried in palm oil with peppers, ginger and garlic, having her usual deep-conditioning hot-oil treatment. Her hair was covered in thick greasy moisturizer, piled up on her head and wrapped in a plastic cap. Rivulets of oil had escaped and dribbled down her face and neck. Ronke was supposed to stay under the steamer hood—the heat made the conditioner penetrate—but it got in the way of eating and talking.”
Custom House, January 11
A Flicker in the Dark
This list you’re reading came from me pitching this debut for a review. It has a lot of elements that appeal to me: a small Louisiana town (I love you, Louisiana!), disappearances, and a life that comes crashing down—twice—because of a serial killer. Anyway, who’s gonna let me review this? Get at me.
Minotaur Books, January 11
Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl made my list of best 2021 books over at the Boston Globe, so this blurb from her placed Greenwich Park on my radar: “Gripping and haunting and gorgeously suspenseful. I couldn’t put this thriller down and can’t recommend it highly enough.” I think suburban noir can be gripping when done right (think May Cobb and Jennifer Hillier), and this novel about a woman whose perfect life is threatened by a crime from her past sounds great.