Fans of Stephen King's short fiction should be grateful he was selected to edit the 2007 Best American Short Stories. That assignment rekindled his enthusiasm for the form, and the result is this richly varied collection of 13 tales that display his mastery of horror fiction.

Published originally in magazines as disparate as The New Yorker and Playboy, the stories touch on all aspects of the genre, from heart - pounding thrillers ("The Gingerbread Girl" and "A Very Tight Place") to tales of the supernatural ("Harvey's Dream" and "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates"). The most moving story in the collection is "The Things They Left Behind," which describes an insurance company employee at the World Trade Center who's lucky enough to miss work on 9/11. When belongings of his deceased co - workers begin mysteriously turning up in his apartment, he's forced to come to terms with his loss.

There's no writer better than King at creating a story that will prickle the hairs on the back of the neck. One of those is "N.," (previously unpublished) a psychiatrist's account of an obsessive - compulsive patient whose discovery of a Stonehenge - like collection of stones in a Maine field leads to tragedy. Another is "The Cat From Hell," the chilling story of a murderous feline and the hit man hired to kill him. King's stories are not without their touches of humor, at least of the dark variety: "Stationary Bike" will appeal to anyone who's ever balked at the idea of mounting a piece of exercise equipment. King helpfully adds what he calls "Sunset Notes" at the conclusion of the volume. These capsules provide insight into the inspiration for the stories or describe the circumstances in which they were written, and they're an entertaining enhancement for anyone interested in the creative process.

Just After Sunset is more than a volume to keep King's fans occupied while they wait for his next novel. His zest for stories that expose the terror lurking under the placid surface of daily life is evident on every page. If you're looking for some unsettling reading on a chilly November night, this book will serve quite well.

Harvey Freedenberg writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

 

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