Welcome back to Five Books, Tosca. Just like last year, we’re here to discuss six thrillers shortlisted by the International Thriller Writers for the title of the best new hardback of 2022. Could you start us off by telling us a little about the organisation, and how your book awards are run?
Thank you so much for having me back. The International Thriller Writers is an honorary society of thriller authors. ITW puts on numerous programs to teach, promote, and recognize thriller writers and their work. Part of that recognition is ITW’s annual awards, which are presented in seven categories at the annual Thrillerfest conference awards banquet. We receive hundreds of entries every year and the competition is fierce.
This year’s winner was S.A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears. What do you think marked this out as the best of the 2022 hardcover thrillers?
Razorblade Tears has been called everything from a “tour de force,” to “provocative, violent, and beautiful,” to “lethal and tender.” This is a moody Southern thriller with fast-paced action, the story of two men—one black, one white, both ex-cons—who team together to solve the murder of their sons, who were married to one another. It’s a gritty tale that looks into questions of race, poverty, and other bias through the lens of both violence and compassion.
I believe this is the second win in a row for Shawn Cosby—having taken the title with Blacktop Wasteland last year. Remarkable! Is it unusual for thriller writers to be able to write books at this pace? Or is it a good rhythm to be in, publishing a new title every year or two?
It really depends on the author. Some put out a book every few years, others one a year—or more. So much of it depends not just on each individual writer, but the circumstances going on in this season of their life and career.
There are five further thrillers that made your 2022 shortlist of the best new hardcover books. Could you talk us through them? Let’s start with Megan Abbott’s The Turnout. What’s it about?
The Turnout is the story of two sisters who take over and run their parents’ dance school after their parents are killed in a tragic accident. They manage with the additional help of one of their husbands—until a suspicious accident right before the school’s annual Nutcracker performance, when old secrets refuse to stay hidden any longer.
What did the judges admire about it?
This is a story of family secrets and ambitions that never quite die. It immerses the reader in the competitive world of ballet and unfolds with one twist after another right up until the end you won’t see coming.
Next we have Alice Feeney’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, which will also shortly be adapted for Netflix. Can you explain the concept?
Rock, Paper, Scissors is an exciting domestic thriller about a married couple who has won a weekend trip to Scotland to celebrate their tenth anniversary and try to save their marriage. Except secrets lurk in the corners and someone does not want them to survive.
I’m from the Highlands of Scotland—where Rock, Paper, Scissors is set—so I’m extra excited about this one. How important is setting in a thriller, do you think?
Absolutely important—especially as a great setting can become a character of its own in a story. In the case of Rock, Paper, Scissors, the setting is an isolated, ancient chapel in the Scottish Highlands on the cusp of a winter storm, and you just know something dark is about to happen.
Let’s talk about the next book on our shortlist of 2022 thrillers: These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall. Can you talk us through it?
In These Toxic Things, Mickie Lambert is hired by a curio shop owner with Alzheimer’s to create a memory bank. When her client’s sudden death is ruled a suicide, Mickie continues work on the project for the deceased woman’s family, only to be threatened as she continues to archive the curious mementos.
I’ve seen it described as a “slow burn”. Would you agree?
Stories are often classified as slow burns when an author cleverly crafts the rising tension of storylines about to collide—which they definitely do, as These Toxic Things unfolds in twist after twist to the end.
Alma Katsu’s Red Widow is a spy thriller featuring two female CIA agents. Would you tell us more?
S.A. Cosby aptly described Red Widow as “equal parts Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Killing Eve.” It’s a story about two female C.I.A. agents whose paths become intertwined around a threat to the Russia Division. Except this time the threat’s coming from inside the agency.
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Why do you think the judges admired this book so much?
Katsu is a longtime intelligence analyst for the C.I.A. and N.S.A and her experience gives the novel absolute credibility and sharp insight into internal politics, human fallibility, and deceit. It’s a story of an unusual friendship and terrifying web of secrets.
Last on our six-book shortlist of the best 2022 thrillers we have Eric Rickstad’s I Am Not Who You Think I Am. What’s it about?
Eight-year-old Wayland Maynard sees his father kill himself. What the world doesn’t know is that Wayland found a note that reads: “I am not who you think I am.” Eight years later, he’s convinced the note is the key to unlocking a past rife with secrets that others want to keep buried. The story is a dark search for truth praised for its elegant prose and captivating twists.
The six books we’ve discussed were the finalists for the 2022 hardback thriller category, but I know that you have a number of other awards. Could you talk us through the other 2022 winners?
Absolutely. They’re all stellar and I encourage any lover of suspense and twisty thrillers to treat themselves to these award-winners. S.A. Cosby also took the prize for Razorblade Tears in the ‘best audiobook’ category. High praise once again for Cosby’s superb storytelling and actor Adam Lazarre-White’s amazing narration. A perfect, winning combination.
Sri Lankan author Amanda Jayatissa took home the prize for the best first novel for My Sweet Girl—a dark, twisty story about Paloma, adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage to privilege… only to find years later that some secrets never die. Jess Lourey took home the prize for the best paperback original novel for her inspired-by-real-events book, Bloodline, in which pregnant journalist Joan Harken follows her fiancé back to his Minnesota hometown only to find that all is not exactly as it seems.
Scott Loring Sanders took home the award for the best short story for ‘The Lemonade Stand,’ in which a young girl is abducted. She returns from the ordeal unharmed… but now her father is ready to exact revenge. E.J. Findorff took home the award for the best e-book original novel for Blood Parish, in which Angel Blondeaux leaves home—and her organized crime family—for a career with the FBI. After the death of her aunt, Angel returns home to investigate a 30-year-old mystery buried in secrets, not knowing whom she can trust.
Courtney Summers took home the prize for the best young adult novel for The Project, a story of two sisters who lose their parents in a tragic accident. When Bea joins a community called The Unity Project, Lo spends six years trying to reconnect with her sister, only to find her own life in danger.
Every one of these novels—along with the finalists in each of the seven categories—captivated our judges and, I know, will continue to accrue new fans for each of the authors and the thriller genre as a whole. Looking ahead to 2023, we are excited to see who will join the list of International Thriller Writers’ award winners.
Part of our best books of 2022 series.
Interview by Cal Flyn, Deputy Editor
October 12, 2022
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