Can crime stories reveal something about who we are?
That’s the goal of a new publishing imprint devoted to encouraging diversity among storytellers who use the genre of mystery thriller to explore right and wrong.
EW has the cover reveals for three of the first suspense titles from the Agora imprint of Polis Books — John Vercher’s Three-Fifths, Patricia Smith’s Remember, and Tori Eldridge’s The Ninja Daughter.
Each book is a debut novel, each is about identity, and each tells a harrowing tale of crime and intrigue.
Polis says it wants Agora to focus on “crime novels that delve into the most important issues of our time. We want Agora titles to explore society, economy, politics, and culture, race, and gender in unique and different ways, from a roster of diverse authors from varying backgrounds.”
Here are the first titles they’ll be putting on shelves:
Three-Fifths by John Vercher — Out Sept. 10
It’s Pittsburgh, 1995. Bobby Saraceno is 22-years-old — and passing for white in circles where his truth would put him in serious danger.
Bobby is “the son of a black father he’s never known, and a white mother he sometimes wishes he didn’t,” as the jacket copy reveals, and his best friend, Aaron, has just been released from prison.
Before long, his friend has involved him in a hate crime against another person of color.
Aaron did not come back from prison redeemed. The two young men once bonded over comic books, but Aaron’s stint behind bars has blurred his sense of right and wrong, twisted his perspective, and left him brimming with unreasonable hatred.
“Bobby’s disparate worlds collide when his and Aaron’s reunion is interrupted by a confrontation where Bobby witnesses Aaron assault a young black man with a brick,” the description reads.
What would Aaron do if he realized his friend — and witness — is also part black? “Fearing for his safety and his freedom, Bobby must keep his secret from Aaron and conceal his unwitting involvement in the hate crime from the police,” the jacket copy reads.
Things get even more complicated when Bobby’s father re-enters the picture, which threatens to expose all.
The Philadelphia-based Vercher says he was inspired by his own “struggles with identity as a biracial man during my time as a student in Pittsburgh amidst the simmering racial tension produced by the L.A. Riots and the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-‘90s.”
John Vercher’s fiction has been published in Akashic Books’ noir series Mondays are Murder and the flash-fiction series Fri-SciFi. He’s a contributing writer for Cognoscenti, WBUR Boston, and his non-fiction has also appeared in Entropy Magazine.
Remember by Patricia Smith — Out Oct. 8
A story of psychological suspense, even the central character in the story is struggling to understand what’s real and what isn’t.
“Portia Willows was a senior in high school in Los Angeles when her world fell apart,” the official description states. “But she was already not your average teenage girl.”
Portia’s severe anxiety disorder had left her isolated, and her kid sister Piper was her only friend.
“One night, while Portia was at home, her family was involved in a car accident that killed Portia’s entire world,” the jacket copy reads.
Five years later, Portia must recall this painful past while being questioned about another crime she doesn’t even recall happening.
In the years between, Portia has become agoraphobic, shut away from the outside world, and locked in with her toxic relationship with her father. She’s smoking, she’s drinking, and still agonizing over the grief of the accident.
Then a person named Ethan Tork moves in across the street, which leads her to face the truths she doesn’t think she can confront.
Patricia Smith was born and raised in Los Angeles, and says Remember was also inspired by her own battles with depression, cutting, eating disorders, and addiction. Putting the story on paper is a way she hopes to “save lives with words.”
She also hosts an online community where people who are going through difficulties can share their stories at Tell Patricia.
The Ninja Daughter by Tori Eldridge — Out Nov. 5.
Even the official description leaves you out of breath:
“An action-packed thriller about a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja with Joy Luck Club-family issues who fights the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob, sex traffickers, and her own family to save two desperate women and an innocent child from a violent land-grab scheme.”
Lily Wong has dedicated her life to the protection of women after the brutal murder of her sister. She lives above the family’s Chinese restaurant, where her Norwegian father cooks the recipes of her Chinese mother, but — like any superhero — she has to hide her true identity.
“Her Hong Kong tiger mom is already disappointed at her less than feminine ways,” the jacket copy reads. Mom would be horrified by her daughter’s vigilante secret.
After rescuing a woman and her son, and guiding them to a shelter for the abused, Lily discovers that the pair have been kidnapped.
“Lily is forced to not only confront her family and her past, but team up with a mysterious ― and very lethal ― stranger to rescue them.”
In real life, the author describes herself as a “Hawaiian-Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja.” Tori Eldridge has a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do Ninjutsu and is a teacher of martial arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection.
The Ninja Daughter is her first novel, inspired by her 2014 short story “They Call Me Dumpling,” listed in Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2014. Her horror screenplay Rio’s Cross earned a semi-finalist place with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowship.