Best First Novel by American Author…

Just finished the final nominee for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award for Best First Novel by an American Author, David Cristofano’s The Girl She Used to Be.  Someone once said that any book can be described using a “what if?” sentence.  In the case of this suspenseful story, the sentence would be “What if a girl in the Witness Protection Program fell in love with the son of the man who killed her parents?”

Melody Grace McCartney was only six when her desire for a special breakfast changed their lives forever, when the family witnessed a mob murder. Persuaded to give evidence by the promise of protection, the McCartneys entered into a nomadic existence that ended for the parents in a hail of bullets.  Since then, Melody’s been on her own, moving on when restlessness and vague anxiety spur her to do so.

Imagine her surprise when she finds out, from the man deputized to find and kill her, that he’s been following her movements for years… knows her intimately… and has a plan to save her.  Add in his abs of steel, intelligence, and numerous scars to show he’s been hurt, too, and who wouldn’t fall in love?

More romantic suspense than mystery, The Girl She Used to Be packs plenty of action and nail-biting tension into its pages, with a resolution that has a strong Gift of the Magi-like quality.  Overall, I liked it.  Melody has a certain sass and determination.  Jonathan – or Little Johnny as the family call him – has an air of quiet desperation and determination.  As I was reading it, it occurred to me that it would make a great date movie.  It’s just the right scope, the characters are just the right age, it has lots of tension, romance and action, and you’re filled with hope even as you are certain the lovers are doomed.  And sure enough, on David Cristofano’s web site is the news that the movie rights have been sold to the same folks who made The Notebook (book by Nicholas Sparks) and My Sister’s Keeper (author Jodi Picoult).

Still, the book doesn’t quite come up to the standard I set for a mystery.  As a result, The Girl She Used to Be lands smack in the midlist of the Literary Lunchbox Edgar Awards.  Congrats to winner Stefanie Pintoff for In the Shadow of Gotham… if the Edgar judges follow my lead, she’ll be picking up her award on April 29th!  Here’s the final line-up:

  1. In the Shadow of Gotham – Stefanie Pintoff
  2. Starvation Lake – Bryan Gruley
  3. The Girl She Used to Be – David Cristofano
  4. A Bad Day for Sorry – Sophie Littlefield
  5. Blackwater Rising – Attica Locke
  6. The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf
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