cover image Wordhunter


Stella Sands. Harper Paperbacks, $18.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-06334-530-0

True crime author Sands (Wealthy Men Only) makes an auspicious fiction debut with this crackling mystery centered on a Lisbeth Salanderesque savant. Raised in a rusting trailer in Central Florida, 20-something Maggie Moore sees her extraordinary way with words—she can identify nearly anyone based on their syntax and sentence structure—as her only ticket out of poverty. When her linguistics professor recognizes Maggie’s talent and taps her to assist local police on a rape case, she helps nail the perp by decoding the notes he left at his crime scenes. Impressed, the cops enlist Maggie to track down Heidi Hemphill, the mayor’s kidnapped daughter. As Maggie analyzes the linguistic habits of the lead suspects and makes quick friends with Det. Silas Jackson, she starts to notice eerie similarities between Heidi’s case and that of Maggie’s best friend, Lucy Tidwell, who disappeared years earlier. The more Maggie and Jackson dig, the more they worry that the culprit might be too powerful to touch—and that they’ve unwittingly affixed targets to their own backs. Sands nails the genius investigator formula on her first try, spinning Maggie into a memorable heroine and handing her an enthralling first case. This transfixes from the first page. Agent: Anne-Lise Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary. (Aug.)