Editor Sarah Knight on Will Lavender’s “Puzzle-Thrillers”

“Mr. Lavender should be able to write his third, fourth and fifth puzzle-crazy potboilers on the visceral strength of the first two.” -Janet Maslin, The New York Times

I love puzzles. Crosswords, Jumbles, the Cryptoquip that ran in my Sunday paper as a kid. For me, working on a puzzle is both soothing and exhilarating – and of course the biggest rush of all comes from solving one.

So it’s kind of funny that the thing I love most about Will Lavender’s puzzle-thrillers is that they are impossible to solve.

I read a lot of thrillers before they are ever published. As an editor, I see roughly seven hundred manuscripts a year, and on average, I buy about seven books. Of that 1%, historically two or three of them have been thrillers. Here’s why I just snapped up two more from Will Lavender:

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In 2007, the manuscript for Obedience crossed my desk. It was a college-set psychological thriller about students in a Logic & Reasoning class who are led by their professor on a mysterious and increasingly terrifying assignment. Obedience had the best ending of any book I’d read in a long time. Like, Sixth Sense best. I knew right then that Will Lavender was a special writer, a talented wordsmith who understood the value of surprise, the element of the unexpected, and yet, could work within the established tropes of mystery writing as a true student of the genre. Will was taking the cerebral halls of academia and turning them into sinister, frenzied tunnels of murder and misdirection. It was exciting and unique in that way for which there is just no substitute – you can’t teach what Will Lavender knows.

And so I was absolutely crushed when another editor outbid me in an auction and I lost the book. I kept the manuscript (along with a couple others over the years; The Thirteenth Tale and Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World among them) on my bookshelf in what I called my I-told-you-so pile.

In January of 2008, Obedience debuted to rave reviews and went on to hit the New York Times bestseller list. The Wall Street Journal said, “Obedience is evidence that crime fiction is hardly a played-out genre …. [G]rafts the world-turned-upside-down suspense of a Harlan Coben thriller to the hall-of-mirrors vertigo of a novel by Paul Auster.”

Yep. Harlan Coben meets Paul Auster. How many of those writers do you encounter every day?

Then in June of that year, the migratory nature of the book industry found me working for Will’s publisher – his previous editor had moved on to another job, and when the time came for Will to write a treatment for his second novel, Dominance, I was thrilled to make an offer and become his editor in earnest.

We worked on that book (fair to say, I think, we slaved over it) for a year, and just as it was nearing its final draft state – with another trademark whopper of an ending which I heretofore dub “Lavenderian” – I received an offer for a job I couldn’t refuse. An editor both hopes for and dreads this moment, because the lure of greater success and bigger opportunities to do the job you love and promote the careers of the writers you believe in comes with the cost of leaving books, and writers, behind. It’s torture. But luckily for me, in a twist worthy of one of his novels, Will Lavender was able to follow me to my new gig.

Another year later – and every bit worth the wait – his second puzzle-thriller, Dominance, made its way to the shelves on July 5th. And once again, Will set out to both honor the genre and turn it on its head.

He says on his blog, “I picked two novels that were as different as I could possibly make them. Those two novels were Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs.” In Dominance, the students of a special night class—taught by a convicted murderer—set out to unravel an elaborate literary hoax before they are picked off one-by-one in a classic locked-room mystery gone feral.

Dominance has everything I want in a thriller, and everything I want in a puzzle—except that it’s impossible to solve until the very last page. And even then . . . well, let’s just say, the Lavenderian twists keep on coming.

Sarah KnightSARAH KNIGHT is a book editor in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @MCSnugz.

Read an excerpt of Dominance by Will Lavender.

Visit Will online at WillLavender.com, become a fan on Facebook, and follow Will on Twitter @willlavender.

Arizona fans, join Will Lavender on July 27 at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. Talk, Q&A, signing at 7 PM.

Many more chances to meet Will Lavender in person! Check his events calendar at WillLavender.com.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

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