At ThrillerFest this past weekend, the winners of this year’s ITW Thriller Awards were announced.
This year’s winner for Best Hardcover Novel is The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper. Congrats to him and all, but I wasn’t a fan. Here’s my mini-review, from when I first read this one as a new release last year, long before it was nominated:
I was expecting a lot from this book, maybe too much. I felt like it never really settled into what it was meant to be. The writing felt literary, but instead of drawing me in, it seemed to dampen the action. The book was meant more as horror than thriller, I think, but was neither as thrilling nor as terrifying as it could have been. I could appreciate the main character’s devotion to his daughter, but aside from that, there was nothing I could get invested in. Overall, a disappointing novel that doesn’t live up to its promise.
Well, I guess maybe I look stupid now, but I stand by it. If everyone but me thought it was a great book, so be it, but I can’t help how I feel about it.
The funny thing is, when I look back over the Thriller Award winners I have read, the ratings overall are not great. Granted, I do tend to rate lower than a lot of people; 3-stars means I liked it, books I thought were good but not great (but not “only okay” either). Still, these are award winners! They should be great! Even if I’m stingy about my 5’s, I would hope for more 4’s and fewer 2’s… and no 1’s!
2012 Best First Novel – Spiral, by Paul McEuen
The prologue, set during the WWII era, immediately pulled me in. Once the present-day story begins, though, it seemed to take a while to get going. I have read other versions of the “deadly outbreak” premise that I’ve liked better, but aside from some pacing issues, this was a pretty enjoyable novel.
2011 Best First Novel – Still Missing, by Chevy Stevens
I struggled with my rating on this one, because it’s not poorly written or lacking in substance. But the bottom line is just that I didn’t like it. It was far too disturbing… which I should have expected given the subject matter. But for me, there just wasn’t enough payoff. When I got to the twist, my reaction was, “Oh, that’s it?” I kept waiting for something phenomenal to make all of the extreme scenes worth it, and that never happened.
2010 Best First Novel – Running from the Devil, by Jamie Freveletti
Not until about halfway through do you start to get little hints of the significance of the events and the main characters. Up until then I wasn’t really caring too much about what happened… perhaps a harsh statement when talking about a hijacking/mass-kidnapping in Columbia, but it was more that I knew there was more to the story and was impatient to get to it. Once I hit that halfway point, though, it really picked up from there to the end.
2008 Best Novel – The Ghost, by Robert Harris
This sounded like the kind of book I usually enjoy, but in the end I thought it was only okay. I kept reading out of curiosity, and because it wasn’t outright bad, rather than because I was drawn into the story. Something in the pacing just didn’t create the right sense of urgency for me. I did think the ending was an interesting twist, but it wasn’t enough to pull up my rating.
2008 Best First Novel – Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
There are some horrific things in these pages, and the worst of them are, predictably, the real things rather than the supernatural. If you don’t like reading things that make you uncomfortable, this is probably not the book for you. Because it is uncomfortable, in many different ways. But it’s compulsively readable. My second Joe Hill book, and certainly not my last.
2006 Best First Novel – Improbable, by Adam Fawer
This book was a pretty quick read, and enjoyable, though it isn’t exactly the pulse-pounding thriller I was expecting. “Interesting” is probably the best adjective to describe it. This novel is about ideas, and plot sometimes takes a backseat to that. There are several spots where the author slips into lecture mode. But, though it certainly wasn’t the strongest story I’ve ever read, I still had fun along the way.
As you can see, I especially try to make an effort to read the debuts (although I’m missing a few). This year’s winner for Best First Novel – Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews – will be added to my TBR, along with all the other winners I haven’t gotten to yet.
What are some of your favorite award-winning books? Which award winners haven’t lived up to your expectations?