- 07 May 20
Modern day seanchaí remains a master of his craft.
While it’s always been good to be the King, the Maine-loving literary luminary’s proverbial garden has been particularly rosy in recent times. His many tales have not just broken sales records, but busted the box office too and with the likes of Castle Rock and the increasingly awesome Mr Mercedes (starring our own Brendan Gleeson) lighting up the small(er) screens, the scribe with the
best middle name in the business (*cough*) continues to grow and dominate many different forms of story-telling. In fact, so mighty is the Duke of Spook’s grasp around pop culture’s collective throat right now, that pretty much everyone has taken to describe our current predicament as “like something from a Stephen King novel.”
While sadly even he can’t provide us with the key to help us escape the present lockdown (the likes of Stu Redman and Dale Barbara are unfortunately entirely fictional), he can offer us a wee dollop of delicious terror to keep us entertained with his latest work If It Bleeds. Following (relatively) hot on the heels of 2019’s The Institute (AKA one of his finest novels of the last decade), the book features four spine tingling stories which proudly bear all the hallmarks of this ferociously gifted modern day seanchaí.
First up is Mr Harrigan’s Phone. A tale about modern life, death, loyalty and, erm, even more death actually, it’s sweet and sinister in equal measure and suggests that the real terror to be feared isn’t the afterlife, but technology. Next is the weird, sometimes wonderful curveball that is The Life Of Chuck. A story of an unremarkable-but also kinda wonderful-life told in reverse, the King is in a playful, experimental mood throughout and while it doesn’t quite hit the mark it’s an enjoyable oddity that has a powerful pay off.
If It Bleeds is the book’s centrepiece, and sees the author rekindle his love affair with Holly Gibney. Initially intended as a brief walk-in character in Mr Mercedes, she’s survived multiple threats on her life and, perhaps most importantly, the red pen of a ruthless editor to become one of King’s most popular creations, featuring in four novels and now her own spin off. Following on from the events of 2018’s The Outsider, getting reacquainted with Holly is a little like slipping on your favourite pyjamas before being thrown off a cliff. Comforting, but also quite terrifying too.
Without delving into the realm of spoilers (“Oough!” as Holly herself would exclaim), this latest addition to her story sees the brilliant but bruised P.I. investigate a bombing at a school and along the way we get a bigger peak into her life. While I would’ve liked a little more to sink my teeth into, If It Bleeds offers enough to chew on, at least for the time being...
Saving the best for last, Rat calls to mind those deceptively simple, devilishly clever evergreen episodes of Hammer House Of Horror from yesteryear and tells the story of wannabe writer Drew Larson. Opting to leave behind a rather idyllic sounding life to temporarily live in a remote cabin to have yet another stab at writing a book (yes, some people never learn) our “hero” encounters odd balls, writer’s block, apocalyptic weather and, of course, the titular rodent itself. A macabre story about a life polluted by hopes and dreams, it leaves little doubt that Stephen King still rules.
- 'If It Bleeds' is available from Hodder & Stoughton.