The newest Stephen King, and I feel like his last couple have been clicking for me in good ways. I don’t think that each of the novellas from If It Bleeds were great, but a few were. I also really liked The Outsider and very much liked The Institute. You can tell from the cover of this book that it’s part of the Hard Case Files series, but like Joyland, and even like his straight-up hardboiled detective novels, the Bill Hodges series, this book is not really a hardboiled detective. Instead, it’s more in the vein of his collaboration with Peter Straub, Black House, but I liked this one a lot more.
We begin with our narrator, an adolescent boy who lives with his single mother, telling us that a) this will be a horror story (he repeats this a few times — and a few too many times) and b) he can see dead people. He says it’s NOT like The Sixth Sense, but it kind of is. When we begin his mom, who runs a literary agency, is struggling financially as more than a few things begin to go wrong all at the same time. Namely, her cash cow, a not very literary historical fiction writer who writes about colonial American interactions with Native Americans, has died. The mom takes our narrator to the house of the dead writer, where he is able to get the important details about the final, unfinished novel that will help to right the ship of the agency if the mom can finish the manuscript.
From there, now with our conceit well-established, we can get to the heart of the story, where our narrator uses his ability to solve and then stop a serial bomber leading to his becoming haunted by the killer’s ghost (which seems to be haunted itself by a demon of sorts). It goes from there.
The good: this is a very focused novel. There’s a few good digressions that really help us better understand the conceit, how it works, and helps to establish that this is not just a story of EVERY single use of the ability, something that narrows a plot well in a movie, but can feel trite in a novel. It’s a cinematic novel more than other King works and I think would make very good movie. It’s also drenched in noirish feels, while being entirely contemporary.
The less good: for the most part the King lexicon is pretty tamped down here. One recent phrase that has cropped more and more in his writing is “doc in a box” and I swear to God I’ve never heard anyone say it outside of a Stephen King story, but it’s tossed in like it’s regular fare.