Winner for Best Novel was John Hart's Down River. Have not read this one so here is a blurb from the starred review in PW:
"Five years earlier, Adam Chase was arrested for murder, largely on the basis of his stepmother's sworn testimony against him. He was acquitted, but nearly everyone, including his father, still thinks he did it, and Adam's deep bitterness has kept him away from home ever since. Now, at the request of a childhood friend, he's back in Salisbury, N.C., where all the old demons still reside and new troubles await. The almost Shakespearean snarl of family ties is complicated by a very modern struggle between economic progress and love for the land, between haves and have-nots. Throughout, Hart expertly weaves his main theme: that by their freedom of choice, humans are capable of betrayal but also of forgiveness and redemption. This book should settle once and for all the question of whether thrillers and mysteries can also be literature."
Winner for Best First Novel by an American Author was Tana French's In the Woods. This one has been on my to buy list for so long that the only I am waiting on now is the paperback release! Here's another blurb from PW:
"Irish author French expertly walks the line between police procedural and psychological thriller in her debut. When Katy Devlin, a 12-year-old girl from Knocknaree, a Dublin suburb, is found murdered at a local archeological dig, Det. Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie Maddox, must probe deep into the victim's troubled family history. There are chilling similarities between the Devlin murder and the disappearance 20 years before of two children from the same neighborhood who were Ryan's best friends. Only Maddox knows Ryan was involved in the 1984 case. The plot climaxes with a taut interrogation by Maddox of a potential suspect, and the reader is floored by the eventual identity and motives of the killer. A distracting political subplot involves a pending motorway in Knocknaree, but Ryan and Maddox are empathetic and flawed heroes, whose partnership and friendship elevate the narrative beyond a gory tale of murdered children and repressed childhood trauma."
Tana French's follow-up, The Likeness, is due out in July.
This year's Stoker Awards were handed out on March 30. The winner in the best novel category was Sarah Langan's The Missing, the follow-up to her 2006 title The Keeper which was nominated for Best First Novel in '07. I have read The Keeper and here is my review from Bookbitch.com:
Susan Marley wanders the town of Bedford, Maine, leaving a trail of nightmares in her wake. Everyone in the town thinks of Susan at their worst moments. Thoughts and dreams of her come unbidden and are beyond the townspeople’s control. Then, Susan Marley is dead. Rather than relief, her death brings a plague of darkness and evil to the dying town of Bedford. Those who are able, leave before the worst of it begins. Everyone who remains hides a dark secret in their past, a secret that the dead Susan Marley can now release upon them. Sarah Langan’s Stoker nominated debut is an absolute must for horror fans. This creepy tale will, at times, remind readers of King’s Needful Things. Like King, Langan’s characters are not ideal small town folk. Most of them are barely able to keep their dirty secrets hidden from the prying eyes of gossipy neighbors. It is just this element that makes the people of Bedford more realistic, if grandiose, depictions of the worst sort of people today. Langan has an impressive voice that is all her own. I recommend you lock your doors and curl up with this book late into the night. The Keeper is only the beginning. Langan’s recent follow-up, The Missing, revisits the cursed town of Bedford.
Finally, the 2008 Stoker for Best First Novel went to the very deserving Joe Hill and his Heart Shaped Box in which rocker Jude Coyne, collector of the weird and macabre, orders a ghost on-line. Turns out it was something of a trick, though, and the ghost is hell-bent on revenge against Coyne himself. Joe Hill is the son of horror master King and is already a force to be reckoned with.
It's hard to find new and original stuff that holds up in the horror genre, but Hill has every bit of talent his father does. I loved Heart Shaped Box as did, I believe, every other person who read it. Hill's collection 20th Century Ghosts was another of my favorites last year. The collection features a wide range of stories, not all of them "horror" but every one of them amazing and fantastic. If you are not familiar with Hill just yet, I strongly encourage you to go out and find a copy of one of his books, you won't regret it!