Audible listener who's grateful for a long commute!
I discovered Stephen King the summer I was 13 years old. I remember reading "The Shining" (1976), "'Salem's Lot" (1975), "Carrie" (1974), and "Night Shift" (1977) over a hot and humid week. When the weather broke one night with a spectacular summer thunderstorm, I woke up screaming, convinced that a long-dead priest was in my room.
Carrietta White and Danny Torrance psychic abilities - their shines - fascinated me. Wouldn't it be fun to make the tight Jordache jeans the tall blonde who was "going with" the boy I had a crush, on split the bottom of her jeans wide open, just as she tossed her perfectly feathered Farrah Fawcett hair? But Margaret White, Carrie's mother was a religious zealot; and Jack Torrance, Danny's father, was a raging alcoholic. Carrie and Danny didn't use their shine for fun, they used it because the people who loved them were murderous. Only Danny survived his childhood.
In 2001, about the time Danny is learning to become sober, Abra Stone is born into a family with two (mostly) normal parents and an adoring great grandmother. Abra shines, and shines brightly. Her parents realize it, and take an approach to the situation Andrew Solomon (Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, 2012) would approve of: they have a pediatrician observe her, confirm what they know - and love and support her.
Danny has a great evil to fight - alcoholism. He started drinking at 13. It dulls his shine, and considering what he does for a living - he's an orderly at hospices, and he helps people pass on, who could blame him? But, as any alcoholic knows, Danny drinks because he is a drunk. King has been sober for 26 years, and writes about Alcoholics Anonymous - 'the program' - with the passion, clear head, and understanding of someone who knows the program far deeper than being able to recite the Serenity Prayer from memory. King's description of Danny's longing for a drink at a dive bar with neon lights advertising $2 pitchers was so vivid, in one of the most narratively tense parts of Doctor Sleep, I found myself thinking, "Don't do it Danny, don't do it!"
Danny and Abra have another, prescient and cannabalistic evil to fight - Rose the Hat and "The True Knot," a band of seemingly ordinary people criss-crossing the United States in those spectacularly expensive RVs you sometimes see on long drives on the 10 West, heading into Arizona; or parked in a Walmart lot, easily taking up a dozen parking places. The people in them look normal - even dull - but . . . and Rose and the True Knot are very, very old - because they take something from children with the shine.
Would I have enjoyed Doctor Sleep as much as I did if I hadn't read "The Shining," or for that matter, "Carrie"? I think I might have liked it even more, because I would have been truly surprised by the Overlook Hotel/Lodge - and frightened by the ghosts, maybe as I was that long ago summer.
I'm giving the audio a 4, not because Will Patton isn't a fantastic narrator - he is. He's got the characters to a t. When he was Dick Hallorann, I actually saw Scatman Crothers from the 1980 movie "The Shining" in my mind. However, there's a small portion of the narrative that is difficult to follow as an audio book. It sorts itself out eventually, but that's why I knocked a point off.
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There was something unique about the publication of Stephen King's 2014 "Mr. Mercedes". There wasn't a whole lot of publicity when it came out. Teasers didn't show up on my Facebook and Twitter feed, as they had for King's 2013 charmer, "Joyland." There was an unfortunately coincidence that warranted the silence.
I purchased the Audible "Mr. Mercedes" without reading the Publisher's Summary, so I could enjoy the surprise of knowing I would almost certainly like it, since it was King - but not knowing the genre or story before I listened. Was it Sci-Fi, like "The Tommyknockers" (1987)? A coming-of-age story, like the 1982 novella, "The Body: Fall from Innocence", which was adapted into Rob Reiner's 1986 "Stand by Me"? Of was it horror/supernatural, like - well, most of his books?
"Mr. Mercedes" turned out to be fan fiction - a modern tribute to Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade ("The Maltese Falcon" (1929) etc.) mixed in with the brilliant, quirky women who intrigue Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe ("The Big Sleep" (1939), etc.). There's also a hint of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch ("Blood Work", 1998").
King's making a nod to nearly a century of hard-boiled detective fiction, and it's a fedora wearing trip to ethically challenged but morally pure shamuses.
King introduces retired detective Bill Hodges, who is eating himself to death in his La-Z-Boy, but if that doesn't work, has a .38 at the ready. Hodges is pulled out of retirement by an unsolved mass murder. Hodges' Watson is a deep voiced 17 year old Jerome Robinson, a brilliant, fearless young man from the most all-American family ever who has an uncanny knack for filling in Hodges' thoughts and seeing danger.
Unfortunately. there were some plot holes big enough to drive a Mercedes - or maybe even a Hummer - through. I enjoyed the book - especially the dialogue - but King's usually a tighter writer. That's why the 3 on the story.
Now for the reason this book was probably rolled out with such little fanfare: Brady Hartsfield, King's imagined serial/mass killer. Hartsfield's sad lack of friends - he has just one, a co-worker who probably has no idea she is his only friend; his social awkwardness; his twisted sexuality; and his hatred of almost everyone, especially minorities, is eerily close to real life mass murderer Elliott Rodgers. Rodgers killed 6 people and injured 13 in Isla Vista, CA, on May 23, 2014, and then killed himself. Rodgers' "My Twisted Life" (2014) is essentially a 141-page suicide note, explaining why Rodgers was going to slaughter as many women as he could - and it isn't so far from what the fictional Hartsfield intended to do. "Mr. Mercedes" was released just 10 days later. It had to have been finished long before Rodgers' rampage - but the timing was truly unfortunate.
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I downloaded a copy of "Road Rage" (2009) to listen to on a trip from Southern California to Arizona. If you want to make sure that you'll be hyper vigilant for semis and motorcycles, and in no danger of falling asleep on a long and lonely stretch of I-40 or 89A, this Audible will do it for you.
"Road Rage" is a themed collection of two novellas. The first story is Richard Matheson's "Duel" (1971), which pits a salesman with an appointment to keep against an ancient tanker truck with a mysterious driver. The salesman duels across the desert with a tanker driver intent on killing him. When I Googled "Duel" to get the original publication date, I learned it had been adapted into a 1971 Emmy award winning television movie - directed by Steven Speilberg. I plan to find it on line and watch.
"Throttle" (2012) by Stephen King and Joe Hill clearly was inspired by, and a tribute to Matheson's "Duel". It begins with, "They rode west from the slaughter, through the Painted Desert . . ." "They" are "The Tribe", a motorcycle gang of military veterans who handle a failed illegal business venture terribly. A vengeful semi with a wronged driver is involved in this story, too.
Stephen Lang's narration sounded gravelly, roughened by too many cigarettes, not enough sleep, and a tough day driving. He was an excellent choice for this listen.
I wanted to mention that when I researched "Duel", I found out Richard Matheson died on June 23, 2013. Audible, how about a featured obit for this influential writer?
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I'm a big fan of SF/F/Horror, and all things in between and out.
What do you want from a sequel? Comfort? More of the same? Or simply a continuation? A further exploration that goes somewhere different? There isn't one right or wrong answer. Sometimes it's one thing, sometimes it's something else, sometimes it's a mixture. Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves falls into the latter category - there are similarities to its predecessor, but it is also very much its own book.
You should know upfront that Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her Regard is one of (if not my all time) favorite vampire books of all time. It was one of the first things I reviewed here, and it unlike any other vampire story I’d ever read. What was terrifying about it wasn’t just the inhuman vampires (though they were), but the way it examined the notions of the muse, as well as success and the arts. It remains to this day one of the most frightening books I've read.
Hide Me Among the Graves includes vampires, and some minor characters return, but it’s much more of a dark fantasy adventure than it is dark fantasy horror. It's Doctor Sleep to The Shining. There is plenty of spookiness afoot in séances, ghosts cursed to swim the Thames, and spiritualism. But it never achieves the shocking horror awful lusts of The Stress of Her Regard. It’s almost like the second half of Dracula, where Van Helsing organizes Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, and the rest of the gang to go a vampire-hunting. There’s danger, but it’s matched with humor and excitement.
It’s also features much more of an ensemble. Where the first book held a relatively tight focus on Michael Crawford (with occasional dalliances into Percy Shelley), the net here is cast much broader. Happily, the ratio of male/female heroes is much more even, which is good. One of the main issues with The Stress of Her Regard is that Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) had so little to do, and was pushed to the side for her husband and friends. This time out, we get the poet Christina Rosetti, street smart former prostitute Adelaide McKee, and young Johanna. They’re joined by veterinarian John Crawford, poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and elderly former explorer and adventurer Edward Trelawney. They’re all very different from each other, and due to some of the conflict that arises, the book is surprisingly quite a bit funnier. But that doesn't make this book a comedy by any stretch. There's an unsettling scene early on when teenaged Christina's father essentially forces her to take one of the demonic statues, and sacrificing her to save himself. Many of the characters suffer hellish graveyard sequences and haunted seas. But it's not as disturbing or challenging a novel as The Stress of Her Regard.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite readers in the business, so I was sad he didn’t return here. However, Fiona Hardingham narration was nothing short of excellent. This was no small task, as she had to work to differentiate the various characters – who were often in the same place together, or whose narratives jumped from one to the other. McKee in particular was a lot of fun to listen, as was her salty old-dog take on Trelawney (and when the two of them were playing off each other, it was listening bliss). The rest of the characters felt not only like individuals, but the protagonists of their own stories under Hardingham's voice. It’s the first time I’ve listened to Hardingham narrate, but her voice was easy to settle into hearing, and I hope to hear much more of her work.
All in all, Hide Me Among the Graves is a welcome return to Powers dark, mysterious world of vampires, art, and the muse. I’d be happy to go back again if Powers found himself inspired to keep us up late at night again.
(Originally posted at the AudioBookaneers)