By Dawn Ius
Jennifer Hillier distinctly remembers when everything about her writing changed. It was 2007, after she’d finished Chelsea Cain’s heart-stopping thriller, Heartsick.
“Here was a woman crime writer pulling zero punches about crafting a female villain who didn’t become a serial killer because of some ‘valid’ reason (self-protection, passion, revenge, money), but who instead murdered because she enjoyed killing people,” Hillier says. “There was violence, there was twisted sex, nothing faded to black, and it was all so…unapologetic, without feeling gratuitous.”
Empowered by Cain’s work, Hillier set out to write her own unapologetic thrillers, with her most recent psychological thriller, 2018’s Jar of Hearts, landing her an ITW Best Hardcover Novel nomination. Color her thrilled.
Having attended ThrillerFest since 2009—save a couple of years inbetween—winning this award would be significant for Hillier, but she acknowledges that the other books in her category provide some stiff competition. Keeping company with Jar of Hearts is Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Me, Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts, Lou Berney’s November Road, and Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World.
A win would be especially meaningful for Tremblay as well, who says the acknowledgment from his peers is a tremendous honor. He’s especially “gratified that Cabin at the End of the World, which mixes genres and has an ending that, um, not all readers are on board with (shall we say), was nominated by ITW.”
The novel—described by Tremblay as “two men and their adopted daughter have their lakeside vacation ruined by invaders and, possibly the end of the world”—has garnered much discussion in online chat groups and acclaim from readers and critics alike.
Sweet reward for an author who claims he didn’t become a reader—much less a writer—until he was given a Stephen King book by his then girlfriend (now wife). Devouring The Stand lured Tremblay away from a life of mathematics—and to thank Stephen King for introducing him to the world of reading and writing, Tremblay would love to have him as a guest at the ThrillerFest Banquet July 14, when the award winners will be announced.
That honor would go to Kate Atkinson for Lou Berney, an author he says showed him that “there are a lot of different ways to write great thrillers.”
Clearly her unofficial tutorial has paid off—in addition to an ITW Hardcover Award nomination, Berney’s November Road recently won the Anthony Award for Best Novel.
“It’s such an amazing time right now for crime fiction and thrillers,” he says. “With so many terrific writers working at very high levels, just to be a finalist is a huge honor.”
Julia Heaberlin—author of the nominated thriller Paper Ghosts—concurs.
“I started attending ThrillerFest 12 years ago as an unpublished author, and this organization gave me hope and support at the embryonic stage,” she says. “So this nomination is full circle. It says I’m in the company of wonderful writers.”
Heaberlin puts a lot of faith in connections. At the age of 27, a stranger saved her life, and though she’s never seen her since that night, Heaberlin sends a Thanksgiving card every year.
“I had a son four years later; I’ll never forget that his existence is because of a twist of fate that put us in the same room,” she says. “That randomness is a theme that travels through my books.”
Scroll down to read an excerpt from the Goodreads descriptions about each of the books nominated in the Best Hardcover Novel category. Will your favorite be on the podium on Saturday, July 14 at ThrillerFest in New York?
Set against the assassination of JFK, a poignant and evocative crime novel that centers on a desperate cat-and-mouse chase across 1960s America—a story of unexpected connections, daring possibilities, and the hope of second chances from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Long and Faraway Gone.
Carl Louis Feldman is an old man who was once a celebrated photographer. That was before he was tried for the murder of a young woman and acquitted. before his admission to a care home for dementia. Now his daughter has come to see him, to take him on a trip. Only she’s not his daughter and, if she has her way, he’s not coming back . . .
This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .
Andrea Oliver’s mother, Laura, is the perfect small-town mum. Laura lives a quiet but happy life in sleepy beachside Belle Isle. She’s a pillar of the community: a speech therapist, business owner and everybody’s friend. And she’s never kept a secret from anyone. Or so Andrea thinks.
The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.