People who dismiss the idea of literature, both modern and classic, tend to view it as variants on a single story: a middle-aged man grappling with the perceived failures of his life seeks solace in the arms of a much younger woman. This is often further reduced to a professor and student dynamic. In Stay Up With Hugo Best, Erin Somers flips the script with the concept “what if that alleged classic literary had its script flipped: the exact same story from the perspective of the woman”. The thing is that it’s exactly the same. A woman ineffectually tries to save a boring but overly wealthy man from himself. Without finesse or an actual point of difference, Stay Up With Hugo Best doesn’t work.
Karen M. McManus’ second novel is an evolution of her craft. One Of Us Is Lying was a hooky little high school mystery that couldn’t quite grasp the concept of unreliable narrators, but Two Can Keep A Secret is a small town extravaganza that ticks a lot of boxes. If you tick the right boxes in the right ways, it doesn’t matter if they’re clichés. This is a genre based around the right material done well.
You don’t have to always follow your heroes through the gates of Hell. If Indiana Jones asks you to step into the Temple of Doom with him, you say “no thank you, Mister Jones. Call me when you’re looking for the cup of a carpenter, I want something a bit less imperialist.” This is a laboured metaphor already, but it turns out that Danse Macabre, Stephen King’s first non-fiction effort,is full of them. And “heh heh” asides. And blatant errors — Peter Pan and the “Wild Boys”, “Anarchy for the U.K.” — that have not been corrected in thirty years of reprints.
It’s not a case of don’t meet your heroes, but rather a case of “the past is a different country, you weren’t born yet, and nothing in this book means anything to you”. Danse Macabre does not hold up to a modern reader, dealing as it does with works that have largely been obscured by time, none of which have endured like the output of its author. Scrappy, and written with a giant chip on its shoulder, Danse Macabre is a curio.
James Patterson entertained with Killer Chef, a novella about people showing up mysteriously dead at New Orleans restaurants, and the one chef/policeman who has the dual knowledge bases to crack the case. This time, Patterson teams up with a different co-writer, Max Dilallo, switches to first person narration, and flattens his characters and setting into an unfocused terror plot.
There was a time when George RR Martin was a somewhat prolific writer. Before he was sitting on a large pile of money and an even larger writer’s block, Martin wrote a little bit of everything: short stories about psychic rats; novels about Southern vampires long before Sookie Stackhouse; a fantasy history of a fake band. Nightflyers is his psychic science fantasy horror novella.
Everybody knows that James Patterson doesn’t write his own books. That’s what Leonard Cohen was singing about. But Killer Chef, a book shot written “with” Jeffrey J. Keyes, is fun enough that we don’t have to worry about it. The adventures of a man who’s a homicide detective by day and food truck chef by night (because policing is famously a 9 to 5 gig), there’s a faint ridiculous to Killer Chef that it never quite shakes, but it doesn’t have to — and maybe it doesn’t want to.
We’re introduced to Caleb Rooney’s Killer Chef food truck with the knowledge that it is emblazoned with a shrimp and crossbones. This is such an arresting image that you wish there was an illustration accompanying it. Killer Chef includes gems like “Patsy doesn’t have any buttermilk for the traditional southern biscuits he’d hoped to bake, so Killer Chef does some killer improvising” and “Caleb tightens the straps of his Kevlar vest. He rechecks the clip of his trusty Glock 22. He pops one final jalapeño into his mouth.”
At its tiny length, Killer Chef can only offer the broadest strokes, but that’s to its benefit. There are unfortunate optics in its conclusion, the final paragraph both makes a stretch in its estimation of the Rooney’s emotions and has an uncomfortable semi-innuendo to it, but Killer Chef is a silly New Orleans romp that is just wild enough to make you hunger for the Caleb Rooney’s full length debut, The Chef.
This entry does not contain spoilers for the content of Pet Sematary, but it does address the overall tone of the piece, which, to some people, amounts to the same thing. You have been warned about this 36 year old terror.
Stephen King has that weird sort of luck: terrible things happen to him but they’re not as bad as they could have been, or terrible things almost happen to him and they turn into one of his bestsellers, even though he doesn’t like the finished product. Though King’s personal life is now largely defined by his car accident, back in 1979 young Owen King almost got killed by a truck while the King family lived between a busy road and a Pet Sematary. It did a number on King’s psyche, and thus Pet Sematary was born — a book that is too dark and too real for him to enjoy, published largely out of a contractual obligation. Where your standard King novel up to this point (and, admittedly, a few were skipped by this reader to get to Pet Sematary in time for the movie adaptation) offers some degree of hope, regardless of how many terrible events occur between their pages, Pet Sematary is largely a black hole. Abandon all hope ye who inter here.
The Vietnam War, Watergate, the existence of Richard M. Nixon, the Cold War and basically anything overtly political in the wake of World War II bred a healthy distrust of the US Government. Whenever something even vaguely good or hopeful eventuated, like a fresh faced Kennedy with an impenetrably thick accent, it got shot down. It is through all of this that Stephen King brought us Firestarter at the turn of the eighties, just before Ronald Reagan came along to Make America Great Again for the first time, a legacy being paid for – with interest – in the modern era.
Firestarter is the sort of novel that, were it not presented in the traditional King “bestseller with depth” format, is both written and read under the safety of a tinfoil hat. In the world of Firestarter, and our own Keystone Earth, governments are capable of great evil. But in King’s world, evil produces tangible results.
Australians are cannibals. We will claim anyone as our own if given enough ammunition. Russell Crowe? Australian. Nicole Kidman? Australian. Naomi Watts? Australian? Mel Gibson? … you can probably keep him now, America. Dervla McTiernan, an Irish expat situated in Perth since 2008 or thereabouts, has written a crime novel set entirely within Ireland. But sure, she’s ours.
Stephen King’s fifth novel was published eleven months after The Stand, which towered even in its original abridged form. The Dead Zone is a mere half the length, but it takes longer to get somewhere. Some King novels you’re under the spell of at the time, and others you receive in retrospect. The Dead Zone is a novel that exists on the periphery — in its own Dead Zone — and defies expectations. It runs with some themes that are already recurring in King’s work, and introduces the embryos of ideas that will bear such fruit as one could scarcely imagine.