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Full Dark, No Stars

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I reckon that Stephen King should just give up writing novels. Yes, I added novels to the end of that sentence just in case some books snobs paraphrase me. His last full length book, Under the Dome, I found bloated and similar in oh-so-many ways to most of his previous books. I gave up on it. But I still have fresh in my mind his excellent short story collection, Just After Sunset, so the warm buzz of that persuaded me to give his new collection, Full Dark, No Stars a go.


This collection comprises of 4 stories, 2 rather long, 2 short: 1922 is 124 pages long, Big Driver about the same, followed by Fair Extension and A Good Marriage. The book also has a short afterword by Mr King which notes how he came up with the ideas for his stories within but mostly a 'harumph' at book snobs and the literary fiction/genre fiction divide. His main point is that literary fiction is about extraordinary people in ordinary situations and that genre fiction is ordinary people in extraordinary situations, which is what he'd both rather read and write about. I agree to some extent except to add that literary fiction can also be about ordinary people in ordinary situations. But ultimately, who cares what you read really? A long as you enjoy it, you shouldn't have to feel compelled to justify it.


Anyway, to the stories. I can say without reservation that I thoroughly enjoyed every single story here, there isn't a weak one in the collection and to be honest a couple of them downright scared me. It's always the worst luck that you read a scary story in bed, and then something trivial but unusual happens that very same night that leaves you rigid with fear. After reading the first story, '1922', in this collection, a poster slowly peeled off from my son's bedroom door when I was drifting off to sleep and bloody hell, I broke out in cold sweats, eyes fixated to my closed bedroom door, wondering who the hell was in my hall making such a terrific noise.


1922 - Wilfred James begins a confession from a dingy hotel room, confessing to the events of 1922 when his life went awry. His wife had inherited 100 acres of rural land, adjacent to the James' farm. She wanted to sell it to a corporation who would turn it into beef cattle for the food industry. Wilf doesn't want to do this so with his son reluctantly and manipulatively involved, he plots to kill his wife and retain the farm and all the land.


After killing her, a bungled job, he throws her down a deep well on their land. Slowly things start to go wrong for Wilf and Hank (their son). Rats begin to infest and infect their lives. Hank turns from a sweet-natured boy to a wilful, silent, brooding boy whose life turns tragic. He gets his teenage girlfriend pregnant and when she is sent away to 'deal' with the pregnancy, Hank goes after her and their lives on the run are short-lived.


Wilf meanwhile struggles to keep the farm whilst being haunted by rats, one in particular is very difficult to get rid of. All the while he can't get the picture out of his head of his wife at the bottom of the well, slowly decomposing. And it is in these images that the most horror and scares come. King is the...king...at the horrific description and really can paint quite a vivid picture to scare you. One displaced jaw and I was scared.


Big Driver - Tess is a writer (what else?) and she does speaking engagements every so often in order to pad out her pension. She writes cuddly, cosy mysteries around a Knitting Society who also solve crimes in their spare time. At the last minute she is asked to do a gig a few hours away as another writer has pulled out. They promise extra money and off she goes leaving her cat behind. But she has Tom - her GPS for company.


The gig goes well and before leaving, the organiser, a big woman, tells her to take a shortcut home that will shave 90 minutes from her journey time. She helpfully programs the route into Tom. And off Tess goes.


But she gets a flat. (You know where this is going don't you? It's inevitable really). In a deserted area with an old and unused gas station. Luckily, a recovery driver comes along, and he seems really nice, very helpful. Until he rapes and brutalises her then leaves her for dead in a culvert. When he is safely gone, Tess opens her eyes and notices that she is not alone. She struggles to get to safety and when she does she has to think. Should she report this? Can it do her career harm? Will there be more lasting public interest because she is famous? How intrusive will the police and press be? But what about the other women? Was there a child in that pile?


Inspired by a recent viewing of Jodie Foster's film, The Brave One, Tess decides to deal with things her own way and a Death Wish-type story evolves. But life conspires against Tess and what seemed to be a straightforward act of vengeance proves to be more difficult than planned.


Fair Extension - A deal with the devil type story here. Streeter has terminal cancer and during a drive home he comes across a roadside seller offering Fair Extensions. Extensions to whatever you want. His name is Elvid (see what Stephen did there?). Clearly, what Street needs is a life extension but for that he has to pay the price. He has to give his misfortune to someone he really hates. He picks his best friend Tom. After all, Tom stole his girl in high school, got a loan from Streeter's bank for a risky deal which went North and made Tom a millionaire, he has successful and beautiful kids and is still happily married to Streeter's high school sweetheart. Who could Streeter hate more?


Life changes immediately. Streeter's cancer disappears, reappearing in Tom's life. His wife dies, his children suffer great tragedies, he loses his house, tradegy ad infinitum. But does Streeter have buyer's remorse?


A Good Marriage - Surely she must have known? The premise for the last tale in this collection. When a serial killer is discovered people wonder about the partner - how did she not know? She must have colluded. How did he hide it for so long?


Darcy marries young to Bob, a nice man, not outstanding in anyway, but a kind and loving man. They have 27 long years of happy marriage, fair, full of compromise and care, with 2 beautiful and happy children. She really couldn't have asked for more. They prosper financially and emotionally. Bob works his normal job but they both run a coin collection company specialising in obtaining rare coins for collectors. This means that Bob has to be away a couple of times a month - but that's ok, it's something they share, the company and the desire for it to do well.


One such trip and Darcy runs out of batteries, but Bob has a stash in the garage. Looking for them she finds a box of catalogues - her catalogues, Bob's attempt to curb her mail-order spending. But buried below them is a bondage/fetish magazine. Shocked, she manages to rationalize it, and shoves it under the table. Clunk.


She returns sometime later to that 'clunk' unable to get it out of her mind. She finds a box, one she gave Bob as a gift a long time ago, and in it 3 cards belonging to a woman: a blood donor card, a bank card and a driving licence, all bound in an elastic band. The name is one she recognises from the news.


Further investigation reveals her husband to be a serial killer, Beadie, one that the police have been searching for for a very long time. In the midst of her panic, Bob phones and she manages to cover her upset. Until he returns home that night unexpectedly. Does she collude? Does she tell the police? Or does she deny?


I guess it's rare to get a collection of shorts that are all as good as each other, when it's only 4 there's got to be one that's not quite as good, but here I'd be hard-pushed to pick a weak one. Each story is pretty gripping, a couple to the point of being scary and while you think they are going to play out as you expect, King keeps things twisting and you just don't know what will happen.


We can only hope and pray that King sticks with the shorts and gives the novels the short-shrift.

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i really like full dark, no stars. It was diffferent for King. I think his latest book joyland was a bit of a letdown. Its a crime story about a young man who takes a summer job at a carnival to forget about a girl who broke his heart. Its quite slow to get into and the ending isn't that thrilling as you kind of guessed the killer half way thru. I'm looking forward to his next book Doctor Sleep which is the sequal to the shining which is my favourite king book.

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I think Doctor Sleep might be interesting, too.  The Shining was a very good book.  I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, but I liked that one enough that I'm looking forward to Doctor Sleep.  Might have to re-read The Shining before reading it, though.

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i really like full dark, no stars. It was diffferent for King. I think his latest book joyland was a bit of a letdown. Its a crime story about a young man who takes a summer job at a carnival to forget about a girl who broke his heart. Its quite slow to get into and the ending isn't that thrilling as you kind of guessed the killer half way thru. I'm looking forward to his next book Doctor Sleep which is the sequal to the shining which is my favourite king book.

I am reading Joyland just now and enjoying it. SK is very good at setting his scene. I have Doctor Sleep on pre-order and am very much looking forward to receiving it this week.

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