11.22.63 by Stephen King Review

If you could go back in time and change the course of human history would you do it? Even if it meant sacrificing so much of your own life in the process?

Well that’s the premise of Stephen Kings 54th fiction book, 11.22.63.

King gives us a new protagonist in the form of Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from Lisbon Falls Maine, because of course he is. It doesn’t take long for King to uproot our heroes life and sent him hurting back through time to the world of 1958 small town America.

Gone are the cell phones and tablet computers, now Jake finds himself in a world filled with Elvis, Plymouth cars, a beautiful librarian called Sadie Dunhill, and of course a troubled loner called Lee Harvey Oswald, a man who slowly comes to dominate Jake’s life.

11.22.63 is Stephen King at something resembling his best. His prowess with weaving together political, social and popular culture into this version of baby-boom America is exquisite. The suspense is palpable across most of its many pages, not to mention its many trips through time.

King is best known for his out and out horror novels, and while this certainly isn’t a horror book it does have enough existential and psychological dread to keep the heart pounding and the mind racing.

The complexities and ethical dilemmas of time travel are well explored in 11.22.63, what will altering the past do to the future? What will it mean for Jake personally? Will he really be creating a better world or is that some naïve hope he must cling to to see his mission fulfilled?

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You see no matter how long Jake spends in the past when he returns to his own time only two minutes will have elapsed, this allows him the chance to go back in time over and over again to the same point and keep trying to change the past and the future. If something doesn’t work out to his liking, and quite often it doesn’t, he can try again, but something, perhaps the past itself, really doesn’t like being changed. The closer Jake gets to his goal the more something out their in the universe wants him to fail.

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While this was a good read, with many interesting questions to ponder, it does get bogged down a little during the middle section. Across many of the middle chapters the suspense and tension we had come to love waned slightly, never disappearing but certainly lessening its grip upon you. During this part King focuses on the romance between Jake and Sadie, which while interesting was certainly a good deal longer than it needed to be, about two hundred pages longer if I’m honest.

Once we get into the final third of the book though the action picks up once again and King does a good job at answering most of the questions he posed at the beginning. It’s a mostly satisfying conclusion which wasn’t quite worth the lengthy wait but rounded out the story nicely enough.

All in all this was a good read that I’d recommend for fans of King or time travel stories in general. Just be warned it is a long slog and the ending isn’t quite worth the time invested. King is great at creating his characters, and Jake is no exception, he’s a down on his luck teacher striving to find purpose in the mess that his life has become, he’s no larger than life hero, he’s simply a man doing what he believes is right. But not amount of interesting characters will improve the poor pacing on offer here.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

11.22.63 is available from Amazon.

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King Review

Second novels are difficult. You have numerous expectations on your shoulders, both from fans of your first book and from your publishers. The fans of your first book want to also enjoy your second novel, and the publishers want you to also widen your audience, that’s a lot of pressure.

It must have been a bit of shock to both then when Stephen King suddenly changed from the abuse-terror and semi-realisitc plot of Carrie to vampires for his followup. I bet there were a few concerned looks in the publishers offices.

It was a good job that Salems Lot is a damn fine novel.

What’s surprising about Salem’s Lot is its slow build up, which even at its most long winded is still enjoyable to read. A good portion of the book is taken up with introducing us to its main character, Jerusalem’s Lot (Salem to the locals).

Yep you read that right, it’s the town itself that’s the star of the show. This was a kind of warm up for what King would later do to his more famous fictional towns of Derry and Castle Rock.

He gives us vivid descriptions, details and nuances of the town, then he slowly and methodically populates it with a host of characters so unique and outlandish as to rival any daytime soap opera. Every facet of human life can be found within the boundary lines of Salem’s Lot, and they all want to know who the stranger is that just moved into town.

This stranger is a writer called Ben Mears and he grew up in the titular town, and let’s just say he has some bad memories of it. In particular of the Marsten house, which looms across the rest of the town from a nearby hill.

Ben has returned to his hometown to work on his next novel, the details of which we never discover, except beyond the fact that it involves “the recurrent power of evil”, and the creepy gothic house atop the hill.

As you’d expect Ben gets straight to stomping around his old town, giving King ample opportunity to expand the details of the main setting. Ben doesn’t do a lot of writing, instead he meets and befriends a wild collection of townsfolk, including Father Callahan, a priest with a drinking problem, a kid who loves old horror films, and Susan a girl who loves his writing skills.

This total disregard for his main objective allows King to spend half the novel simply establishing the town and the world it inhabits. And as for the actual vampires, well you won’t be seeing them just yet.

They are hinted at though, and the biggest hint comes in the form of Mr Straker, who along with an absent Mr Barlow has opened up an antique shop in the town. They have also bought the Marsten house to live in while they set up their business.

When a young boy dies under mysterious circumstances the only person who pays any real attention outside of his family is the inept local lawman.

As a reader the townsfolk are frustrating, they’re all so wrapped up in their own lives that they cannot see the inevitable death and destruction that is barrelling quickly towards them.

Around the halfway mark though the proverbial shit finally hits the fan. More people begin to die, babies come back to life and seek blood instead of milk. Nighttime is no longer safe.

The first half of the novel is slow and deliberately plodding, it lulls you into a false sense of security so that when the vampires eventually show themselves you are whisked off into a whirlwind of action, it barely lets you take a breathe.

This action heavy portion of the novel takes place over just two days and sees Ben and his new friends try to end the quickly spreading vampire threat.

When I first read this book years ago I didn’t like the slow first part and I loved the action heavy finale. Now though, for whatever reason, its the opening that intrigues me the most.

This is a slow opening for a novel, make no mistakes, this is a drip feed of a build-up, but boy is it worth it. King imbues every passage with impending dread, and when the action finally unfolds it is a real payoff.

This isn’t the greatest vampire novel ever written, for me Bram Stoker’s masterpiece still holds the crown over everything else, but it is certainly one of the most entertaining. It takes the monstrous creature, puts it in a small town and sits back to watch the blood flow, and flow it most certainly does.

I highly recommend Salem’s Lot to previous fans of Kings other novels and to anyone interested in the horror or vampire genres. If you don’t like slow burning books though I’d recommend staying clear.

Rating

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

You can grab a copy of Salem’s Lot from Amazon.

Stephen King announces new crime novel ‘Later’ coming in 2021

It has been announced that Stephen King will be releasing a new novel in 2021 and that it will be a crime story surrounding a boy with a supernatural ability.

The author made the announcement on Monday when he shared a photo of the upcoming novels cover.

Titled Later the book will be released in march 2021 by Hard Case Crime, the publishing house that previously released two of Kings other novels: 2005’s The Colorado Kid and 2013’s Joyland.

The books tagline reads “Only the dead have no secrets” and will explore some common themes for the master of horror, including coming of age, the loss of innocence, and standing up to evil forces.

The book will focus on Jamie Conklin, a boy with “unusual abilities”, which enable him to ”see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn.”

Jamie is enlisted by an NYPD detective to help track down and stop a dead killer who will strike from beyond the grave, yet Jamie can only use his abilities at a “terrible cost.”

Later is a beautiful story about growing up and facing your demons — whether they’re metaphorical or (as sometimes happens when you’re in a Stephen King novel) the real thing,” Charles Ardai, the editor of Hard Case Crime, said.

“It’s terrifying, tender, heartbreaking and honest, and we’re so excited to bring it to readers,” he continued.

A brief excerpt is available to read on the publisher’s website.

Cell Review

Clayton Riddell was practically skipping down the street in Boston when the event that would come to be known as the PULSE took place.

As is the norm with horror fiction Clayton starts the novel feeling good, very good in fact. He’s just sold his first graphic novel and was heading back to Maine to reconcile with his estranged wife Sharon.

A lady lifts a cell phone to her ear and suddenly sinks her teeth into her friend’s neck. Blood erupts like a geyser. Further along the street a man bites the head off a dog, a plane comes plummeting from the sky and the streets ran red with freshly spilled blood.

Clay seeks safety in his hotel, here he finds another man, Tom, and a fifteen year old girl who’s being attacked by her own mother. Our hero grabs a metal spike and rams it into the crazed woman’s carotid artery.

Our three heroes head out of the city in the cover of darkness and head north, passing countless unspeakable horrors in their way, all of which Stwphen King is more than happy to describe in vivid detail.

The adventure continues with drastic fatalities along the way and a conclusion left up to the readers mind, suffice to say this is not King at his very best.

If you’ve read a bunch of other King novels you’ll see a lot of recycled ideas as you make your way through Cells small scale quest also makes for a tiring read, though I think that’s King’s intention as he paints us a possible future of two wildly different outcomes.

Cell is about survival but it’s also about a war, a war with two sides that will give no mercy or quarter to the other, a war that will decide the fate of humanity.

I liked the storyline of Cell and its action was visceral and had an emotional punch like few others, but they were few and far between. This is a slow book and one that needed an extra edit to take away the unnecessary fat. It could also have done with a rewrite to make some of the characters less annoying.

Overall it’s a decent introduction into King’s writing, it was after all what first got me into the horror genius, but you must remember he’s written far better than this. Then again he’s written far worse too.