Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
The prolific Stephen King’s latest is a feast of short stories and novellas that indicate that what we see as reality is far from benign; and can induce nightmares.
Having been a reader of King since my teenage years, I have found that his Novellas and Short Stories to be particularly unsettling. This new collection contains some of his darkest tales, often with a spin on morality and social norms. They also allow us to peep into one of King’s themes; that our reality may coexist with others, in terms of shared dimensions.
As this is a collection by the King of Horror, these dimensions that impinge upon our own; contain horrors that we have difficulty comprehending, like ‘Mile 81’ where a dangerous vehicle stalks an abandoned freeway rest-area [aka ‘Motorway Services’], or the evil child in ‘The Bad Kid’, who causes death and mayhem to whom he stalks; even right up to the final walk of a death row prisoner.
It contains some new work, though a significant proportion of the stories here have been available previously; but King has updated them for this collection [as he indicates in his introduction].
I would make specific mention of the surreal ‘Ur’ which was first published when the eBook / Kindle boom gathered momentum. Though one should remember that King was an early pioneer of the ebook, with his first forays being ‘The Plant’ [which remains uncompleted], and ‘Riding the Bullet’. ‘Ur’ features a college professor whose strange eReader is one that contains work by established and famous writers, now deceased – but the works within the eReader are from a different dimension, or are they?
There is also pathos blended in with the horror, such as in ‘Batman and Robin have an Altercation’, which has the theme of the ravages of age upon a Son and his elderly Father whose mental faculties are dimmed, but not totally gone.
The short introductions by King where he prefaces the stories add welcome insight, showing the story in context as well as inception.
Specific favourites are the very droll ‘Drunken Fireworks’, which started life as an audio novella, and is indeed a very engaging morality tale that when placed into context, mirrors the inherent madness in humanity’s need for the arms race. Though my favourite is the dark reflection of age and the mysteries of death in ‘The Dune’ [originally published as a story in the British literary journal Granta].
I subsequently purchased the audio version of this collection from Audible, which is remarkable, as King prefaces the stories vocally, but each is narrated by professional actors and vocal artists, such as Craig Wasson; and these narrations brings the stories to life [and death].
It is of little surprise that this collection was recognised by The Mystery Writers of America [MWA], with the story ‘Obits’ gaining an Edgar Award.
Highly recommended, and as a paperback or audiobook, these tales will unsettle as well as entertain in equal measure, with the promise of the Bad Dreams as alluded to by the title.