Louise Penny and Michael Connelly Among Nominees for 2023 Strand

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Quarterly crime-fiction and mystery magazine The Strand has announced its list of nominees for the annual Strand Magazine Critics Awards.

Authors Louise Penny, Michael Connelly, and Alex Segura headline this year’s nominees for best novel, while Dan Smetanka of Counterpoint Press receives the Publisher of the Year Award. James Lee Burke and Lee Child are both honored with Strand Lifetime Achievement awards.

Recognizing excellence in the field of mystery fiction and publishing, The Strand Critics Awards are judged by an ever-changing group of book critics and journalists. This year’s judges were chosen from The Boston Globe, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press. The Strand Critics Awards will be held virtually in September 2023.

The 2023 Strand Critics Awards nominees for Best Novel and Best Debut are:


Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris (William Morrow)

The award-winning author of All Her Little Secrets shares this gripping, suspenseful novel where, after the murder of a white man in Jim Crow Mississippi, two Black sisters run away to different parts of the country to escape the secrets they left behind.

Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King (Bantam)

When the renovation of an estate unearths a skull, a 50-year-old cold case involving California royalty comes back to life. Does this have something to do with the estate’s counterculture commune, or is something more sinister at play?

Desert Star by Michael Connelly (Little Brown)

This thinking person’s police thriller moves methodically and relentlessly forward as Harry Bosch is recruited by his protege, Renée Ballard, recruits Harry as a volunteer for the Los Angeles Police Department’s newly reconstituted cold-case unit that she’s heading. Together they work to understand two seemingly unrelated cases, and find that there may be threads that connect them. (Read BookTrib’s review here.)

Her Last Affair by John Searles (Mariner Books)

Every marriage has secrets in this tense and atmospheric novel of love lost and found again, where multiple lives intersect. Part page-turning thriller, part homage to film noir, this novel offers dazzling insight into the often desperate desires of the human heart.

A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache returns to investigate murders while dredging up old village secrets and facing his own demons. From a past enemy that returns to Three Pines, a secret room is discovered, and Armand is forced to protect the people closest to him. (Read BookTrib’s review here.)

Secret Identity by Alex Segura (Flatiron Books)

This rollicking literary mystery, set in the world of comic books, is about a woman with a dream of writing a superhero book. When she is enlisted to create a new character, she quickly realizes that things are not as they seem, and when her colleague ends up dead, she knows something darker is going on.


Jackal by Erin E. Adams (Bantam)

When Liz reluctantly returns to her hometown for a wedding, the last thing she expects is the newlyweds’ daughter, a young Black girl, to go missing in the woods outside her white rust belt town. But she’s not the first to go missing — and she may not be the last.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham (Minotaur)

When Chloe was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small Louisiana town. By the end of the summer, her own father had confessed to the crimes and was put away for life. Twenty years later, still dealing with the aftermath, another teenage girl goes missing, and Chloe isn’t sure she’s ready to unmask another killer.

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz (Atria/Emily Bestler)

Two women — one alive, one dead — are brought together in the dark underbelly of New York City to solve a tragic murder. The novel doesn’t just wonder whodunnit. It also asks, who was she? And what did she leave behind?

Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor (Soho)

In this dark Southern Gothic novel, a high school football player uses the sport to release his anger and frustration as he deals with abuse at home. But when his abuser is found dead, all signs point to the football star. Nothing can stop an explosive chain of violence that could tear the whole town apart on the eve of the playoffs.

Shutter by Ramona Emerson (Soho)

Crime and the supernatural combine in this Navajo-led thriller. A forensic photographer for the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police department sees the ghosts of the departed and is dragged deeper into the shadow world while investigating a suicide. (Read BookTrib’s review here.)

Past recipients of The Strand Critics Awards include Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Richard Price, John Banville, Megan Abbot, Sheena Kamal, and William Landay.

“It’s great to see new faces for the best novel award this year,” said Andrew F. Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine. “And Counterpoint Press is an unstoppable publishing house, always releasing interesting and eclectic books. It’s also wonderful to see James Lee Burke and Lee Child getting the recognition they deserve. Both have contributed to the genre in a way that’s unparalleled, and on a personal level they are among the most generous and supportive authors around.” 


Adding to an already impressive list of awards, James Lee Burke receives The Strand’s Lifetime Achievement Award. After finding early publishing success in the 1960s and early 70s, Burke’s works were largely ignored for over a decade. However, thanks to his undeniable versatility and talent, and the persistence of his legendary literary agent, Philip Spitzer, Burke’s 1986 novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was finally published to critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Since then, he hasn’t looked back. In a career spanning six decades, he has received continuous praise and comparisons to an illustrious set of authors ranging from Sartre to Hemingway.

“I’m very honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Strand and its publisher Andrew F. Gulli,” Burke said in response to the news. “The term ‘light bearer’ may seem a reach, but it is not. Every good writer has one raison d’etre for his or her art. It is the compulsion to describe a piece of the firmament in a perfect way, one that the reader will never forget … I cannot tell you how nice it is to receive such a fine award from such a nice group of literary people.”

After writing for television for many years, Lee Child turned his talents to novels. The result? A highly successful career as one of the most popular thriller authors of the last 25 years. His very first novel, The Killing Floor (1997), hit the best-sellers lists and marked the debut of Jack Reacher, who quickly became one of the most iconic action heroes of the thriller genre. The Jack Reacher books have sold millions of copies in dozens of languages around the world and have been successfully adapted into blockbuster films.

The Strand Magazine has been an absolute icon in our genre since its first issue in 1890,” Child said. “Its history is our history. To be recognized by it for my body of work is an unparalleled honor, which I accept with gratitude — and, to be honest, a touch of imposter syndrome.”

Past lifetime achievement award-winners include Walter Mosley, Heather Graham, Joyce Carol Oates, J.A. Jance, Sandra Brown, Nelson DeMille, Jeffery Deaver, Alexander McCall Smith, and Elmore Leonard.

This year’s recipient of The Strand Magazine’s Publisher of the Year Award is Dan Smetanka, Vice President and Editorial Chief of Counterpoint Press. During his tenure with Counterpoint Press, Smetanka has presided over record growth and distribution, launched critically acclaimed books by authors such as Tod Goldberg, Peter Houlahan, Dana Johnson, and John Verdon, and has also been instrumental in reviving the works of Eve Babitz. 

Based in Southern California and describing themselves as “an author-driven publishing house” centering on new literary voices, the team at Counterpoint is part of a movement of publishers like Blackstone, Sourcebooks, Bancroft Press, and Camcat Books that are helping to transform and diversify the industry. Moreover, Smetanka has been described as an editor’s editor. Unafraid to take risks, he is beloved by his authors for his hands-on approach and sharp attention to even the smallest details.

Past recipients of the Strand Publisher of the Year Award include Tom Doherty, Morgan Entrekin, Josh Stanton, and Bronwen Hruska.

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