Hodder & Stoughton, out now
Five tales about the darker side of life from the maestro of horror…
Anyone expecting another magnum opus from King on the lines of 2009’s Under the Dome might be disappointed when they pick up this new collection, which features three stories and what might best be described as two Tales of the Unexpected – a second, Under the Weather, has been added for the paperback edition – but this anthology contains some of King’s most powerful writing.
King tackles familiar themes in this volume: revenge, retribution, the role of the innocent caught up in a world of darkness and despair, and the bonds that form between battered women (so memorably seen previously in Dolores Claiborne). There are occasional overlaps between the tales: more than one central character ascribes voices to creatures that can’t possibly have them, which means that these are probably best sampled separately rather than in one sitting.
While the descriptions are strong enough to turn weak stomachs, this isn’t gross-out horror for its own sake. All the central characters are credible, even as they begin to succumb to whatever outside influence is upon them.
The fourth story brings King full circle to the themes and motivations of one of his very earliest stories, Rage, originally credited to Richard Bachman. The perspective of the older King makes for interesting reading, particularly given what the writer has said over the years about some of that earlier material.
Verdict: Unsettling, and, as King himself says in his afterword, harsh tales that resonate after reading. 8/10