Agatha Best First Novel Nominees

We are so tickled to host all of the nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best First Novel today on Mysteristas – including Mysterista emerita Cynthia Kuhn. Take it away, ladies!


What book inspired you to start writing mysteries?

Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta (Minotaur Books)

Count me in for Nancy Drew! I used to read them and re-read them to the point where I could practically recite the plots. While Nancy Drew was definitely an early influence, I wasn’t reading them thinking, “Someday I’m going to be a mystery author.” That came a lot later. In fact, I never really saw myself writing a novel until I read Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. I loved his use of dialogue, his fast-paced plots, and the sheer amount of fun he seemed to be having. As for what steered me to mysteries specifically? I’d have to thank Jerrilyn Farmer and Laura Levine for that. Both of them are former TV writers who write humorous mysteries, and when I read their books, I got that little tickle in the back of my brain that said, “This!”

Alexia Gordon, author of Murder in G Major (Henery Press)

I’ll have to credit two sleuths instead of one book: Nancy Drew and Hercule Poirot. I devoured their series as a kid. Nancy Drew was a girl not much older than me at the time who was brave and smart and outwitted older, stronger criminals. Poirot was dapper and eccentric and the smartest guy in the room. As a teen I discovered Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. I have to give them credit, too. I loved hanging out in the New York brownstone with Nero, Archie, Fritz, Theodore, and the orchids. I never could solve the case before the big genius, or even before Archie, but I tried. And I loved trying so much, I knew someday I wanted to create my own puzzles for a sleuth to solve.

Cynthia Kuhn, author of The Semester of Our Discontent (Henery Press)

Officially, Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew were the initial inspiration. They are the first mysteries I read, and I fell wholeheartedly in love with the genre. But it was Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross (Dr. Carolyn G. Heilbrun) that introduced me to academic mystery and inspired me to begin thinking about writing my own mystery set at a college. Before I read that book in grad school, my mystery-writing plans were sort of like yes, someday (insert vague wave to indicate Down The Road); afterwards, I couldn’t wait to start writing one at the earliest possible moment. That’s how much of an effect it had. A little gentle satire that speaks to the environment in which you have been immersed for a long time is a powerful thing!

Nadine Nettmann, author of Decanting a Murder (Midnight Ink)

I grew up reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series and loved every single one I could get my hands on. I dreamt of exploring the English countryside and solving mysteries along the way with Julian, Dick, Anne, George (Georgina) and her dog, Timmy. If I had to pinpoint my love of the genre, I would say it began there. I also enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown and The Westing Game, but when I started reading Daphne du Maurier novels, I was swept away by the language, setting, and intrigue. I knew I wanted to create worlds full of questions and suspense, but where there was always an answer.

Renee Patrick (Rosemarie and Vince Keenan), author of Design for Dying (Forge)

VINCE: If we’re truly being honest, I have to reach deep into my childhood and pick any of the Three Investigators books, like The Mystery of the Screaming Clock. They were Hardy Boys books for kids who appreciated well-plotted mysteries. I loved them for two reasons. One of the titular trio specialized in library research, a job I felt I could do. And at the end of each adventure they’d go onto a movie lot and explain how they solved the case to Alfred Hitchcock, nurturing my love of show business.

ROSEMARIE: Even when I was in pigtails, my favorite books were mysteries. The ones I loved best were about a crime-solving family of five siblings: The Happy Hollisters. I had five brothers and sisters myself, and I’d picture us following a trail of clues to Ryskind’s candy store or Flushing Meadow Park. It wasn’t a big leap from imagining myself in those stories to writing my own.


Marla Cooper is the author of Terror in Taffeta, an Agatha and Lefty nominee for Best First Mystery and book one in the Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries. Her second book, Dying on the Vine, is set in the California wine country and comes out April 4. As a freelance writer, Marla has written all sorts of things, from advertising copy to travel guidebooks to the occasional haiku, and it was while ghostwriting a guide to destination weddings that she found inspiration for her series. Originally hailing from Texas, Marla lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and her polydactyl tuxedo cat. Learn more at

Alexia Gordon has been a writer since childhood. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, she returned to writing fiction. She completed SMU’s Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published her first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, premiers July 2017. A member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Writers’ League of Texas, she listens to classical music, drinks whiskey, and blogs at

Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series, which includes The Semester of Our Discontent and The Art of Vanishing. She teaches English in Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado. For more information, please visit

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from France to Chile to South Africa, but chose Napa Valley as the setting for her debut novel, Decanting a Murder. The next book in the Sommelier Mystery Series, Uncorking a Lie, releases in May 2017. Chapters are paired with wine recommendations.

Renee Patrick is the pseudonym of married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington.


8 thoughts on “Agatha Best First Novel Nominees”

  1. Such a great group post here–and such a great group of writers overall! Thanks for the insights into your inspirations. Hope you’re enjoying your blog tour and look forward to seeing you all in person in a couple of weeks!


  2. Wonder how many mystery writers cite childhood reading as early inspiration? Seems like the overwhelming trend here, anyway…

    Thanks for the comments, Keenan and Art. And thanks for letting us visit, Mysteristas! Looking forward to connecting at Malice. (Have missed you, sisters. xo)


  3. Congratulations to all! So fun to read your inspiration. Thank you for sharing 🙂 (It’s so great having you visit, Cynthia! We’ve missed you too!)


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