Playing Dead will be the first book that I have acquired to be published since I became a commissioning editor last year. It was actually the last book I bought (just before the Frankfurt Book Fair last October) but will be the first one to hit the market – but then that’s publishing for you!
Playing Dead is a debut suspense thriller from American journalist Julia Heaberlin and for the first time ever Faber are publishing it straight into ebook on 5 June, followed by a paperback original on 5 July. Why are we doing this? Well, for a number of reasons really. You only have to look online at Amazon Kindle, for example, to see that crime and thriller ebooks take up a lot of the bestseller slots. It seems that we can’t get enough of downloading crime onto our Kindles, Kobos and e-readers etc. What better way then to introduce readers to a new voice on our crime list than by giving them the opportunity to buy the ebook a month before the original edition appears in the shops?
I read a lot of crime manuscripts and crime books, not only as part of my job but also because I love the genre. I’m one of those annoying people who try and guess ‘whodunnit’ early on in both books and TV detective shows (and probably about eight times out of ten I’m right…). When I was asked to start commissioning crime books for Faber I knew immediately that I wanted to bring more female crime writers to a list that includes P. D. James, Nicola Upson, Helen FitzGerald and Sara Gran. What I was really after was a contemporary thriller written by a woman and with a strong female character. After a lot of searching I found it in Playing Dead. This is a novel that stood out head and shoulders above the rest and marks out Julia Heaberlin as a distinctive new voice in crime writing and I picked this book because it ticked every crime thriller box that I personally have as a crime reader. This is a mesmerising suspense thriller about betrayal, identity and family secrets and it has you rooting for the heroine from page one.
The main character of Tommie McCloud struck a chord with me as she’s a strong, independent, yet vulnerable, young woman who has just lost her father and is somewhat adrift in her life. She’s returned to her hometown of Ponder, Texas and is having to make decisions about her future. When she receives a letter from a stranger in Chicago claiming that Tommie is her biological daughter who was kidnapped over thirty years ago, her whole world implodes. What if she isn’t who she thought she was? And who, then, are the people she’s always believed to be her parents? As she searches for answers Tommie unknowingly puts herself and those she loves in danger. And the very people who claim that they know the truth are perhaps the very people she shouldn’t trust.
Like authors Gillian Flynn (the author of the superb Sharp Objects and Dark Places, as well as the fantastic Gone Girl), Sophie Hannah and Harlan Coben, Julia Heaberlin really takes you into the world of her characters – who are ordinary people – and makes you as a reader believe in them and care for them as they search for the truth behind the lies. Dark, humane, suspenseful and intriguing, Heaberlin offers plenty of twists and turns that will keep you riveted.
Playing Dead has already garnered advance praise from authors Julia Crouch, ‘I loved it, and had to put everything aside so that I could finish it’; Alex Gray, ‘Julia has that rare gift of creating characters that seem to be so full of life and energy that there is that momentary pang of sadness from the reader when the story is over and you still want to know what happens next in their lives’; and Edgar award-winning author Meg Gardiner, ‘An accomplished thriller, with twists that cut like barbed wire. Sure-footed, suspenseful, and full of heart’.
It’s a book that I’ve shared with many of my friends who read crime and thrillers and even those that don’t. The best praise came from a friend who doesn’t read suspense thrillers and who read this in two days straight as she couldn’t put it down. For me, that is the best possible praise and the reaction that you want from any reader. This is an incredibly assured and captivating debut with characters that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel and I hope you will love it as much as I do.