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Carter Wilson

By Dawn Ius

The nominees for this year’s ITW Best Paperback Original Novel Award have a lot in common—aside from having published books in the category in which they’re nominated, of course. Either they’re all pretty good liars, or at least four out of the five nominees was not obsessively refreshing their inbox on April 6, waiting to see if they’d made the list. (Sounds fishy.)

“I don’t remember what exactly I was doing, but my phone buzzed and it was a text from my agent, who had just found out,” says Carter Wilson, author of Mister Tender’s Girl. “I frantically launched online to see for myself, because it just seemed too good to be true.”

John Marrs—whose novel The Good Samaritan got the nod this year—found out via Twitter, where several of his author friends had been congratulating him. “I had to double-check on the ITW website to make sure my friends weren’t pranking me,” he says. “To say I was gobsmacked was a huge understatement.”

John Marrs

To win it, though? That would be truly something to write home about—like having “a parent give you a nod of approval.”

Or, the ultimate acknowledgement from peers, says Kirk Russell, who describes his thriller Gone Dark with this simple but effective one-liner: Take nothing for granted. “I’ve read the other books nominated. They’re all so good, winning would be lucky.”

And maybe somewhat overwhelming, adds the author of The Naturalist, Andrew Mayne. He says he found out his book had been nominated via cryptic text from a friend. “I was confused because I thought it was a reference to a nomination from a previous book. Finding out that I was nominated again was amazing.”

Amazing is an apt word. Especially if the nominees were able to invite a guest of honor to the awards banquet this July—someone who has influenced their career.

Kirk Russell

For Russell, it would be Michael Connelly, who offered solid advice at a critical time in Russell’s writing journey. Marrs would love to have Franklin W. Dixon at his table—but since Dixon isn’t a real author of course, he’d double up by inviting Peter Swanson and Gillian Flynn. Mayne would ask Michael Crichton to be his guest, and Wilson, without hesitation, would reserve a seat for the King.

“Stephen King, because his writing has taught me how to tell little stories within big ones, how to tease emotions out of every character, how to describe a setting in three words instead of 30, and how to turn something plain and innocuous into a harbinger of dread and paranoia.”

Regardless of who the nominees have at their table, all eyes will be on them at the ThrillerFest banquet July 13, in New York.

For a snapshot of each of the five nominated books, scroll down to read their Goodreads descriptions.



How far are you willing to go for Mister Tender?

At fourteen, Alice Hill was viciously attacked by two of her classmates and left to die. The teens claim she was a sacrifice for a man called Mister Tender, but that could never be true: Mister Tender doesn’t exist. His sinister character is pop-culture fiction, created by Alice’s own father in a series of popular graphic novels.

Over a decade later, Alice has changed her name and is trying to heal. But someone is watching her. They know more about Alice than any stranger could: her scars, her fears, and the secrets she keeps locked away. She can try to escape her past, but Mister Tender is never far behind. He will come with a smile that seduces, and a dark whisper in her ear…

Inspired by a true story, this gripping thriller plunges you into a world of haunting memories and unseen threats, leaving you guessing until the harrowing end.



Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop.

As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students. As more details, and bodies, come to light, the local cops determine that the killer is either a grizzly gone rogue… or Theo himself. Racing to stay one step ahead of the police, Theo must use his scientific acumen to uncover the killer. Will he be able to become as cunning as the predator he hunts—before he becomes its prey?


THE LOST MAN – Jane Harper

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.


GONE DARK – Kirk Russell

America is under siege as Special Agent Paul Grale exposes a devastating act of domestic terrorism that becomes explosively personal.

When a series of coordinated blasts takes down several Los Angeles power stations, FBI bomb tech Paul Grale is tapped to investigate. That means leaving his vulnerable niece, Julia, behind in Las Vegas. The sole survivor of a homeland bombing that killed her parents, Julia’s still struggling through grief and trauma. An avowed pacifist, she’s being trolled as anti-American. And entangled in an affair with the wrong man, she’s facing the fallout from his crimes: stolen military-grade ammunition found in her car.

But Grale has no choice but to head to LA. The sabotage is growing more sophisticated, and with assaults on the telecommunication grid itself, the potential for destruction has never been higher. Now, as rolling blackouts sweep across the West, Grale is following clues that point alarmingly close to home. Especially when Julia disappears.

If Grale can’t stop the attacks from escalating, the grid will go down for good, leaving everyone in the dark. But it’s Grale who could be facing the darkest reality of all…



She’s a friendly voice on the phone. But can you trust her?

The people who call End of the Line need hope. They need reassurance that life is worth living. But some are unlucky enough to get through to Laura. Laura doesn’t want them to hope. She wants them to die.

Laura hasn’t had it easy: she’s survived sickness and a difficult marriage only to find herself heading for forty, unsettled and angry. She doesn’t love talking to people worse off than she is. She craves it.

But now someone’s on to her—Ryan, whose world falls apart when his pregnant wife ends her life, hand in hand with a stranger. Who was this man, and why did they choose to die together?


Dawn Ius
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