In his latest collection of never-before-published stories, Stephen King proves once again that he has no equal at delivering chills. While one can debate whether at least two of these stories might qualify as novellas, all four are meaty tales of humans in extremis, narrated with the propulsive energy that’s the hallmark of King’s work.
Tess, the protagonist of “Big Driver,” is a writer of cozy mysteries who is raped on her way home from a library tea. Calling on her skills as a mystery writer, and with the aid of an unusual GPS device, she methodically stalks her attacker, unleashing some unintended consequences in the process. In “A Good Marriage,” inspired by the grisly story of Wichita’s BTK killer, King imagines with clinical skill how a wife might react when she discovers her husband of 27 years, an accountant and coin collector, is a serial killer.
There’s only one story in which the supernatural predominates. “Fair Extension” is a clever account of the pitfalls of selling one’s soul to the devil. Dave Streeter, a middle-aged bank manager dying of cancer, meets the mysterious George Elvid, who offers to trade him at least 15 years of life in exchange for giving up the name of someone he hates, in this case a lifelong friend whose success has gnawed at Streeter.
The collection’s title story, its longest, is set in 1920s rural Nebraska. Told in the form of a confession by Wilfred James, a farmer who brutally murders his wife to prevent her from selling an inheritance of 100 acres to a meatpacking company, it recounts the eight years he spends haunted by memories of the crime. The story is also noteworthy for its stark depiction of the travails of the country’s midsection on the eve of the Great Depression.
Each of the tales in this strong collection features enough frightening scenes to provoke a spate of nightmares. And yet, like all the work of this master of suspense and the macabre, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to put any of them down until you’ve reached the end.