Monday, July 19, 2021

Celebrating the Agathas for Best First Novel

by Paula Gail Benson

For the past two years, the community that gathers for Malice Domestic has missed its annual reunion. From Wednesday through Saturday, the Malice board organized and presented a series of online panels and interviews that helped those of us missing the in-person event to feel as if we reconnected virtually.

More Than Malice ended on Saturday with the announcement of the Agatha awards. The teapots for the past two years will be awarded when we’re all together again, but in the meantime, today and tomorrow on Writers Who Kill, I wanted to recognize the Agatha nominees for Best First Novel and Best Short Story. They are a wonderful group of writers. If you haven’t discovered them yet, please consider reading their work.

Here are the Agatha nominees for Best First Novel (award noted by **):

2019 Agatha Nominees for Best First Novel

Connie Berry
A Dream of Death by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books)

**One Night Gone by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House)

Murder Once Removed by S. C. Perkins (Minotaur Books)

When It’s Time for Leaving by Ang Pompano (Thimble Island Press, 2nd edition)

Staging for Murder by Grace Topping (Henery Press)

Tara Laskowski

Connie Berry is one of my blogging partners at Writers Who Kill. Her first Kate Hamilton novel was nominated for an Agatha.
A Dream of Death also was a finalist for the Silver Falchion and won the IPPY Gold Medal for Mystery. Since then, two additional books in the series have been released, A Legacy of Murder (October 2019) and The Art of Betrayal (June 2021). The Shadow of Memory is the next Kate Hamilton adventure.

Tara Laskowski’s first novel One Night Gone, not only won the Agatha, but also the Macavity and Anthony awards and was a finalist for the Lefty, the Simon and Schuster Mary Higgins Clark, the Strand Critics, and the Library of VA Literary awards. Her second novel, The Mother Next Door, will be published in October 2021. She, her husband Art Taylor, and son Dash will be guests of honor at Murder in the Magic City in February 2022.

S.C. Perkins
S.C. Perkins is a fifth generation Texan, who grew up listening to stories about her ancestry and eating Tex Mex, experiences that contribute to her Ancestry Detective series. Her first book, Murder Once Removed, won the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Novel competition prior to being nominated for an Agatha. Lineage Most Lethal will be released July 21, 2021, and Fatal Family Ties is next book.

Ang Pompano
Ang Pompano proves how perseverance leads to publication. In his blog post in Writers Who Kill, he describes how he kept moving the location of his novel in order to sell it. When It’s Time for Leaving takes place just outside Savannah, an evocative place that becomes a character in the story. His next novel, Diet of Death, is about a reluctant food columnist.

Grace Topping
Grace Topping, another of my blogging partners at Writers Who Kill, became an author after a career in technical writing and as an IT project manage. Her Laura Bishop home staging mystery series has made her an Agatha finalist and bestselling author. Staging for Murder has been followed by Staging Wars and Upstaged by Murder.

2020 Agatha Nominees for Best First Novel

A Spell for Trouble by Esme Addison (Crooked Lane Books)

Esme Addison

Winter Witness by Tina deBellegarde (Level Best Books)

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa (Epicenter Press, Inc.)

**Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer (Kensington)

Murder Most Sweet by Laura Jensen Walker (Crooked Lane Books)

Tina deBellegarde
Esme Addison, originally from Raleigh, NC, but having traveled a great deal as a military spouse, based her Enchanted Bay Mystery series on the Polish myth of the Mermaid of Warsaw, which she learned from marrying into a first generation Polish family. Her second book is A Hex for Danger.

Tina deBellegarde has written short stories and flash fiction. Her first novel,
Winter Witness, begins the Batavia-on-Hudson series. She lives with her husband and cat Shelby in the Catskills where she tends bees and harvests shiitakes and vegetables.

Mary Keliikoa

Mary Keliikoa’s
Derailed, the first in her PI Kelly Pruett books, has been nominated for the Lefty as well as the Agatha. Denied is the second book in the series. She also writes the Mystery Pines mysteries, the first book, Hidden Pieces, will be coming out in September 2022. Her experience as a legal secretary led her to write mysteries.

Erica Ruth Neubauer

Erica Ruth Neubauer’s 
Murder at the Mena House, the first of the Jane Wunderly mysteries, received the Agatha for best first novel. The second in the series, Murder at Wedgefield Manor, was released in March 2021. Erica lives with her husband in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has worked in the military, law enforcement, as a teacher, and as a reviewer.

Laura Jensen Walker
Laura Jensen Walker knew she wanted to be a writer since reading 103 books in first grade. Murder Most Sweet is the first of her Bookish Baker mysteries. The second, Deadly Delights, was released in June. Hope, Faith, and a Corpse, a new cozy series about a pastor in a small California town, came out in January.


  1. Congratulations to all! Thank you for this wonderful reading list, Paula!

  2. Thanks, Paula, for sharing this. Congrats to the nominees and winners! I'm still working my way through the Malice panels, hoping they don't disappear too soon.

  3. Thanks for sharing this pantheon of award-winning authors. Congratulations to all of them!

  4. Congratulations to all the 2019-2020 Agatha Best First Novel nominees! Thanks to all who stopped by and best wishes to the nominees in their future writing!

  5. Paula, thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading through all the nominee tid-bits!!


This is a comment awaiting moderation on the blog.