Fond of keeping the blood curdling throughout the month of October, I was looking for only the best of the spine-tinglers, the elite nightmare elicitors, the ones that scare the bejesus out of you and have you even welcoming your dog onto your clean bedspread for the night. While there are some awfully good reads out there, I harkened back to one that I read in 1975 (when I was 5 yrs. old)--one of only 3 books that has truly ever creeped me out (one being The Exorcist and the other scares me too much to mention!). And, it is a pedigreed chiller, claimed by the King himself to be his favorite child...Salem's Lot. He even dedicated this one to his daughter. *Do not think of the terrible mini-series...it did not do this one justice.
Dracula, Count Orlok (Nosferatu), and Mr. Barlow...the aristocracy of vampires (Lestat was just too well behaved). There is something undeniably exclusive to Dracula - despite all the gore clever authors can think up, or all the modern diabolical twists and turns -- Count Dracula still reigns supreme as the black-hearted grandaddy of them all. King takes Stoker's lore of Dracula, revives it, and brings it out of the dank castle cellars of Transylvania to a small town in modern Maine (of course--but it could be anywhere, USA) as Mr. Barlow. There are no new evolved vampirical powers, just the original undiluted horror of the Vampire. [*Note" On this most recent recording, the author gives a brief introduction for the story, explaining how his idea evolved into the book--really fun.]
The battle is between pure good and absolute evil -- and more importantly, convincing townfolk that there is a vampire in town - an actual bloodsucking demon of the night - before they themselves are recruited to this legion of the undead. The 1970's rural town is wonderfully depicted, full of the kind of hay-seed characters, and that small town party-line feeling King is known for creating so richly. His personal bone-to-pick with small towns comes through loud and clear as he devours the residents without mercy, relishing in extinguishing the abusers, gossipers, and Salem's Lot ne'er-do-wells. The narrator enriches the story with the appropriate chills...if you pardon his un-even delivery of Mr.Barlow's dialect (3.5*).
For fans of the good-ol' garlic-hating, crucifix-fearing, coffin-dwelling, sun-dreading vampire...dig this one out and brush off the dust. It holds up perfectly and deserves to be held in equal esteem with the best of the worst vamps and their stories. You don't need my recommendation; if Stephen King -- the man who has defined what goes bump in the night -- says this is his personal favorite out of his own novels, you know it's got to be wonderfully deliciously dreadful.
[*Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of abundant gore, and haven't read much of Koontz or Barker!]
Hearing the final words, "Audible hopes you enjoyed.." it's hard to resist vigorously clapping your hands together and jumping to your feet to whoop out a "Bravo!" While it looks like some reviewers are more familiar with the particulars of each narrator, I must be less fussy; I thought it was a perfect cast that produced a dark gothic atmosphere that Stoker would call worthy of this masterpiece.
The story is longer than I thought it would be, the flowery speech style of the Victorian era no doubt adding to the length of the journals/diaries of each articulate character, that comprise the tale -- a style that, if you are unprepared for, may be too verbose to your liking (but authentic to the time--think Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats). Where one during that period might say:
"Dear Madam, by God, your neck! May perhaps I suggest more wreaths of the garlic flowers to be festooned around your lovely neck to prohibit a further attack from this most vile blood-sucking fiendish creature of the night which has befallen upon you most unfairly, dear sweet lady?"
We today, 100 years later, might say:
"Huh, vampire bite. Want some garlic (was he sparkly)?"
You can see how this could take up some pages. But the profuse Victorian vernacular combined with the fine reading puts you in the necessary frame of mind -- where a dark red-eyed character in a cape could creep around a deteriorating castle, summon wolves from the fog, and morph into a bat flapping against a pane of glass. (It was a little amusing listening to the breathy and fragile Lucy and Mina...considering the time frame in which this was written. While Stoker had them helplessly swooning away, across the pond, Susan B. Anthony was gathering her own minions.)
Bram Stoker truly affected history with this book -- Audible's production was a great homage to a literary icon as well as a fun engaging production, well worth the purchase.
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” Stephen King
The SK Phenomenon...I love to read the reviews of ardent fans that jump in there immediately for King, almost hear the excitement in their words -- so I always hold off and just enjoy the opinions a few days before I put in my 2 cents (?the cents key?!). You'll find a review here to fit your own feelings for Mr. Mercedes. With an author like King, doesn't it come down to we "like him dammit! we really like him!" Most people even enjoy the King books they didn't particularly like. He releases a book and there is a communal feeling amongst readers of all genres, almost holiday-like. Even my sister, the PhD librarian, gets excited and comes down from her snooty literary stratosphere to read (and enjoy) Stephen King.
Mr. Mercedes is a section of newly paved road on King's journey into the realm of crime thrillers. One that proves his belief that monsters are real, and goes on to tell how those seeds are planted and nurtured into monstrously tortured and demented souls. Brady Hartsfield is that monster in full bloom, manipulated by a mother that is akin to a demented bonsai artist, twisting and clipping a little boy until he grows into the dark expression of her own evilness, who reasons he has a license to kill.
King captures and animates our Americana culture into a horribly fun mise en scène: gated mansions, bustling neighborhoods packed with kids running after ice cream trucks; codger-esque neighbors that think aliens walk amongst us and bake nasty ingredients in cookies just for sh__s and giggles; rich eccentric ladies with perfectly observed mannerisms; and behind lowered blinds, a lonely divorcée and retired detective ("ret det"), Bill Hodges, mourning his days of purpose, with a pistol in one hand and pop tart in the other. You can picture it -- like a Norman Rockwell painting/nightmare from the rich imagery King lays down. But before you can imagine chirping birds and dogs barking (or at least one dog that narrowly escapes a dish of special Hamburger Helper), the ice cream turns to you-know-what. King pits the young killer against Det. Hodges and another young teen on-the-verge-of-manhood. The detective recruits his Harvard-bound lawn boy ("don't call him boy") to help track down L'enfant terrible Mercedes. It's younger generation against younger generation with a veteran at the wheel.
Some of the biggest squirm-inducing moments come not from the heinous acts themselves (from baby slaughter to incest), but from the ease with which King makes you a voyeur...that smiley face / "ew gross" look that this author extorts out of his readers; he makes us all mutineers to ourselves. Plot-shmot...this is just top tier fun.
"There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad..."