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Waiting for the next Stephen King masterpiece... an essay on THE DARK TOWER by the editor


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Breaking news: having completed their novelisation of Stephen King's first Dark Tower book, THE GUNSLINGER, Marvel now turn their attention to THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, King's second Dark tower novel, in which he "collects" the characters who will accompany him on his quest to reach the dark tower itself, in a five-issue miniseries centering on Eddie Dean. Click here for further details...


Coming in February:


Stephen King: The Drawing of the Three - The Prisoner


Published by Marvel, paperback, on 10th March 2015


Meet Eddie Dean, a troubled young man gifted with the ability to open doors to other worlds. Can he survive family tragedy, haunting addiction and the deadly forces that conspire to stop him from growing up to challenge the Man in Black? So far Eddie has survived to see his 10th birthday. But will he live to see another? And what horrors await him within the Dutch Hill Mansion? A bold new chapter begins as Stephen King's dark fantasy epic spills over onto the mean streets of 1960s New York City! Collects: Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three - The Prisoner 1-5





Coming in June: Stephen King's Finders Keepers

Published by Hodder, Hardback on 2nd June 2015


'Wake up, genius.' So begins King's instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, a Salinger-like icon who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn't published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.


Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Sauberg finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he's released from prison after thirty-five years.


Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life - for good, for bad, forever.



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Stephen King: Doctor Sleep


Published by Hodder, Paperback, on 22nd May 2014


An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon. King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. The instantly riveting DOCTOR SLEEP picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals. On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the 'steam' that children with the 'shining' produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant 'shining' power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes 'Doctor Sleep.' Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival . . .


There are certain Stephen King books I return to again and again - outside of the Dark Tower series, which I read roughly every other year, my personal favourite has always been IT, then THE STAND, then 11:22:63, BAG OF BONES and THE GREEN MILE. I hadn't thought of re-reading THE SHINING, though it's there, on the shelf, if I want to, and in any case, it's rare these years for me to be stuck for something to read, as you can see from the sheer volume and variety of books that come my way for Books Monthly. Of the most recent novels, I've read 11:22:63 four times now, and I always get something from it that I didn't get before - maybe I wasn't paying the right amount of attention each time, I don't know, there just always seems to be something I missed, or forgot, which is more likely.


I prepared for last September's publication of Doctor Sleep by reading THE SHINING for the first time in probably twenty years, maybe longer. There was a time when, having discovered Stephen King, his books were all I ever wanted to read - that was a long time before Books Monthly, and in any case, it was quite a while before Books Monthly evolved into a book review magazine. THE SHINING is a masterpiece of modern horror fiction, definitely as important to the genre as Dracula and Frankenstein, and probably more approachable than either of those two titles. Kubrick's film is good, but it doesn't capture the essence of Danny Torrance's "shining", and concentrates on moments of shock-horror that were the staple of all horror cinema in the last century. The subtleties of the book were largely ignored, and although there were elements of King's book in the film, it was not representative of the superb prose that has the power to frighten people which is the author's gift and trademark.


I was not disappointed by DOCTOR SLEEP, I was simply blown away, because it was Stephen King at his gigantic best - a portrait of small town America and the kinds of people who inhabit those towns, plunged into a crisis of belief, faith, and peril for family members and friends that simply don't bear thinking about. There are real horrors a-plenty in this world, horrors perpetrated by sick psychotic killers and perverts who take away the lives of the precious and the loved. Adding an element of supernatural only serves to make it worse, because the question of faith, the question of a loving God who, in Danny's words, "sits by and lets this kind of shit happen" (my words, but Danny's sentiment), can be brought into the conversations that the victims of The True Knot can have with each other. In preparation for the imminent paperback release of DOCTOR SLEEP, I re-read it for the first time, and discovered so much that I had missed the first time around. There was the talk of Momo ending her days in Danny's hospice, that I hadn't remembered, for example - and, in the event, it doesn't happen, but I simply didn't remember the discussions that it might happen.


This is, of course, an opportunity for millions more people who don't slavishly collect every new King in hardback format, on release, to discover true literary genius at work. DOCTOR SLEEP is powerful - it's one of those books you want to end in favour of the heroes and heroines, and at the same time you don't want it to end, because it is such a joy to see how King handles prose and dialogue, such a joy to read. I don't need to tell you the story - you can find that out for yourself. Suffice it to say that this is a mature novel, by an author who has honed his skills to a fine point, to a degree that wasn't there in THE SHINING, but was starting to manifest itself in IT and THE STAND, and finally found itself in full in BAG OF BONES, UNDER THE DOME, and 11:22:63. Stephen King is roughly the same age as I am, and he has matured beyond all recognition. DOCTOR SLEEP is another masterpiece of modern horror fiction - but it's also something much more than that - it's a portrait of small town America that is without parallel. Stephen King has come of age with this sequel, and the paperback version is within reach of most collector's budgets. Mature horror fiction at its very finest. No one can touch him...


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Marvel pick up Stephen King's Dark Tower series with a 5-issue miniseries graphic novelisation of the first part of The Drawing of the Three...

Seven years after the initial novelisation of Stephen King's Dark Tower series began, Marvel, after a shortish break, have started to release details of their five-issue series based on the first part of King's second DT novel, The Drawing of the Three, in which Roland becomes aware of his desperate need for medication to battle the illness that has infected him after being attacked on the beach by the lobstrosities. He finds a door, and when he looks through it he sees Eddie Dean, heroin addict, seated in an airliner, and carrying cocaine strapped beneath his armpits. Knowing somehow that Eddie is his only chance of survival. Roland "inhabits" Eddie's consciousness, enables him to bring the cocaine through the door so that when the authorities open the toilet door, they find Eddie but no sign of the drugs, and are forced to let him go. Roland and Eddie then become embroiled in a cocaine war and a desperate search for ammunition for Roland's guns, together with antibiotics that will cure his infection and save his life.


Thus begins the next chapter of the Dark Tower, and Marvel have released a number of illustrations from the miniseries, a couple of which you can see below - that's Henry and little brother Eddie seated on the steps watching a group of girls playing hopscotch - I wasn't aware that American children played hopscotch, and can't recall any reference to it in the book - I'll have to re-read it (again!), as it's almost a year now since I last read the series (once a year is my preferred reading of the finest fantasy series outside of Lord of the Rings). Actually, it doesn't look exactly like hopscotch, as the numbers facing the girls are in ascending order, and from memory, in hopscotch, they're quite random (and unfathomable, if you're a boy!) As you can see, the graphic style is entirely different to that which pervades the first eleven hardback compilations of the graphic novelisation of King's magnum opus - this is more cartoony (artwork is by Piotr Kowalski) than the others in the series, and it will be interesting to see if Marvel have got it right for this new phase of the project, also to know if they will continue with the project and bring in the character of Susannah and follow The Drawing of the Three to its conclusion... This is turning into a really big year for Stephen King, with Mr Mercedes coming a few weeks' time, and then Revival later in the year... Fantastic that Marvel have recommenced work on their Dark Tower project, and the artwork looks really, really good! As of 27th April, there's absolutely nothing about this project on the Marvel site that I can see, I got this information and the associated graphics through the back door, as it were, but when Marvel release more on this new phase of THE DARK TOWER, I'll bring it to you in Books Monthly - for now, let's just be thankful it didn't end with LAST SHOTS...



Paul Simpson: A Brief Guide to Stephen King

Published by Robinson, Paperback


2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Stephen King's first novel Carrie in April 1974. Rescued from the rubbish by his wife Tabitha, the novel launched the Maine schoolteacher on a prolific and extraordinarily successful career. His name has become synonymous with horror and suspense through over fifty works, including The Dark Tower, a retelling of Byron's Childe Harold to the Dark Tower Came. Simpson traces the writer's life from his difficult childhood - his father went out to the shops and never came back - through his initial books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman to the success of Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining in the 1970s, and beyond. He examines how King's writing was affected by the accident that nearly killed him in 1999 and how his battles with alcohol and addiction to medication have been reflected in his stories. The guide will also take a look at the very many adaptation's of King's work in movies, on television and radio, and in comic books.


Brief this is not (over 250 pages); informative and fascinating it is. The author looks at Stephen King's life, his battles with addiction and alcohol (some of his early titles were written whilst he was more or less out of it, and Simpson describes how King can not remember writing particular books), and his gradual acceptance by the establishment until he becomes one of the most important and valued contributors to the world of fiction (and to a lesser extent, non-fiction). The various titles are examined in detail, with Simpson revealing far more than any previous examination of King's works, the inspirations, the publishing histories, the circumstances under which King was working at the time... This is a brilliant exposé of the life and times of Stephen King, and a thorough and far-reaching analysis of the stories he created. Compared to King's own blockbuster giants, this book may seem small, but I would never describe it as brief. Essential reading for anyone who likes Stephen King - after all, if there is no new King out at the moment, what better than to read about him? The man is as fascinating as the work he produces. I have learned so much from this book that I didn't know about King and his creations - how did I survive without it? A fantastic book, the best book about King and his work I have ever read.

The cover for Revival has been released (I would guess this is the American cover, Hodder UK's cover to follow - Revival is published in November of this year):

A dark and electrifying novel about addiction, fanaticism, and what might exist on the other side of life. In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs—including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.


Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties—addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate—Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings. This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It’s a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

Hodder will publish a new novel by STEPHEN KING on 3 June, 2014.

MR MERCEDES was acquired from Chuck Verrill at Darhansoff & Verrill.

Following the phenomenal success of DOCTOR SLEEP, a No. 1 international hardback bestseller, Stephen King has written a riveting cat-and-mouse suspense thriller about a retired cop and a couple of unlikely allies who race against time to stop a lone killer intent on blowing up thousands.

Retired homicide detective Bill Hodges is haunted by the few cases he left open, and by one in particular: in the pre-dawn hours, hundreds of desperate unemployed people were lined up for a spot at a job fair in a distressed Midwestern city. Without warning, a lone driver ploughed through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes. Eight people were killed, fifteen wounded. The killer escaped.

Months later, on the other side of the city, Bill Hodges gets a letter in the mail, from a man claiming to be the perpetrator. He taunts Hodges with the notion that he will strike again. Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing that from happening.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. And he is indeed preparing to kill again. Hodges, with a couple of misfit friends, must apprehend the killer in this high-stakes race against time because Brady's next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim hundreds, even thousands.

Mr Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable. Editor Philippa Pride says:  ‘Once again King shows the range and versatility of his writing as well as the sheer power of his storytelling.  We are excited to be publishing a thriller by Stephen King in which he paints a brilliantly insightful portrait of a serial mass-murderer.  The result?  It is as scary as any supernatural horror story.’

Hodder are publishing the paperback edition of DOCTOR SLEEP in May and readers can leap to buy MR MERCEDES without a long wait. 

Waiting for the next Stephen King masterpiece: a brief essay on The Dark Tower: his finest work

by Paul Norman

It's always been a case of waiting, because we're in the presence of a living author. Once you've discovered Charles Dickens, all of his works become instantly available to you; if you live in a town or a city with a big library, you might find them all on the shelves. You might have to request them, but they'll be there somewhere. If you live in a rural town or village, chances are there'll be one, or none, but they'll get them for you. A decent independent bookshop will have some, and get the rest for you, or you can get them lightning quick from Amazon. There are no new Charles Dickens novels to wait for. Not so with possibly the most popular and most successful novelist in modern history, because Sai King is very much still alive, and he is still writing. As I type this I've just been informed that his latest published novel, Dr Sleep, will be available in paperback from May this year, and the following month sees the worldwide release of his latest novel, MR MERCEDES.


The first Stephen King novel I ever read was IT. I disremember how I came by it. One moment it was just there, on the coffee table, and I picked it up and began reading. Needless to say, I couldn't put it down - I had discovered Stephen King. Outside of The Dark Tower seven books, I count IT as his finest story. I marvelled at the way he would stop a sentence in the middle, unfinished, and pick it up in the next chapter as a transition from one era (1950s) to another (25 years further on, the present "when" in the story), a device I was unfamiliar with and marked him, for me, as original. I set out to procure his back catalogue, discovering CARRIE, SALEM'S LOT, THE DEAD ZONE, CHRISTINE, CUJO et al along the way, and waited impatiently for his next work. At this time, my Mum was still alive, and September, the month of my birthday, usually saw a brand new, gleaming hardback Stephen King, and usually in Safeway, because by then supermarkets in the UK had taken over the selling of new books, and there was usually a big display of them in the foyer.


One year, in the 1990s, thinking back, there was no new hardback, but there was what in the trade is called a trade paperback - bright red, with silvery titles: WIZARD AND GLASS. I had it as my birthday present from Mum, but it lay unopened for many months. It was a fantasy novel, and Stephen King didn't write fantasy novels, he wrote horror-thrillers! I wanted to be scared witless by Stephen King, not transported to a fantasy land - I had my stalwarts, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard, and, most importantly of all, J R R Tolkien for fantasy... It was 1997 that saw the first publication of WIZARD AND GLASS, but it was probably 1998 before I picked it up and began to read it. I forget how much of it I read before finding out copies of the previous three novels in the series - probably half of it, but I really needed to read what had happened before, how the four of them had come to be on the train, on Blaine the Mono. I found copies of THE GUNSLINGER, THE WASTE LANDS and THE DRAWING OF THE THREE in secondhand bookshops in East Dereham, and started at the beginning. I was hooked. This was more than fantasy, this was the finest adventure series I had ever read in my entire life, eclipsing every favourite fantasy author there and then. In my mind's eye I saw myself on Desert Island Discs faced with the question of which book other than the Bible I would like to take. My music choices had been clear, and cheats: complete Mahler symphonies, complete Shostakovich symphonies, complete Beethoven symphonies, complete oeuvres of The Beatles, of ELO, etc., etc. My book choice would be THE DARK TOWER, by Stephen King - all four volumes...


But the saga was unfinished. From waiting for a birthday Stephen King, I graduated to waiting for a new Dark Tower book, and reading whatever came in between gratefully but wondering when the master would get round to writing more about Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake. The closest I've got to this in the last few years is waiting for BERNARD CORNWELL to write another instalment in his DARK AGES series... We none of us knew then that there would be a further three Dark Tower novels - that came about in 1999, when King was knocked over whilst walking in Maine, and almost lost his life. I'd just started publishing GATEWAY, the forerunner of BOOKS MONTHLY the year before, the Internet was just taking off as a source of news, a place to research your favourite authors etc. I watched and waited anxiously as news of King's injuries came, and eventually we heard that he had vowed to concentrate all his efforts on finishing the Dark Tower series, with three more novels - WOLVES OF THE CALLA, SONG OF SUSANNAH, and THE DARK TOWER. WOLVES was published in 2003, SUSANNAH and THE DARK TOWER in 2004. Then he intended to retire from writing altogether - thankfully, that didn't happen, but I firmly believe, along with millions of other King fans, that the Dark Tower series is the very finest fantasy-adventure cycle in the history of literature. Most people believe it to be King's finest work, eclipsing even THE STAND, and I'm no exception.


There have been outstanding King books since THE DARK TOWER; UNDER THE DOME is a masterpiece, 11:22:63 is even better, and is the one book I've read more times than even IT and THE STAND. I return to the Dark Tower series every two years or so, and set out to read it in its entirety over the Christmas period just gone. I'm OK till I get to THE DARK TOWER - the first six books in the series are fine - adventure-fantasy tales told by a master-storyteller, epic, delicious fantasy. But reading THE DARK TOWER is a little like listening to Mahler's Eighth Symphony, the "symphony of a thousand". There are passages in The Dark Tower where I catch my breath, and find myself wanting to cry, and a shiver runs up and down my spine because I'm so moved. Because Stephen King, damn him, has that way with words, he knows their power, and he uses it to scare us, but also, occasionally, to make us cry. The intensity of the writing in THE DARK TOWER is unlike anything else he's ever written. There's a passage in THE STAND, when Nick Andros is burying the Sheriff's wife, when King writes with the mind of a poet, and that passage sticks in my mind. He writes with a poet's mind again in THE DARK TOWER, first when Eddie dies, and then again when Jake dies. And that brings me to Oy.


For me, Oy is and has always been the finest character in The Dark Tower series, in fact the finest character in anything Sai King has ever written. Everyone who reads and loves Stephen King's work and who owns a dog knows that Oy is the fantasy equivalent of a dog. I look at my two dogs and I see elements of Oy in them. He comes into the series halfway through, but he takes it over, he dominates it like no other character, and for me he is the central character in the final novel.


"Oy?" he asked. "Will you say goodbye?"

Oy looked at Roland, and for a moment the gunslinger wasn't sure he understood. Then the bumbler extended his neck and caressed the boy's cheek a last time with his tongue. "I, Ake," he said: Bye, Jake or I ache, it came to the same.


It's at this point that I'm close to crying - it affects me, those words bite deep into me and I'm upset by them. The sheer intensity of this passage, and later on in the book, when Oy makes his final sacrifice to save "'Olan'" from Mordred, and dies, the day after Roland has castigated him for not accompanying Susannah back to New York, are almost too much to bear. I doubt Stephen King will ever achieve anything quite like this again. He will continue to dazzle us with his creativity, people will make films of his works (still no word on whether or not The Dark Tower - three films and a TV series - will ever make it to our screens), and millions of people will worship the writer who denigrates himself to such an extent in the final volume of his magnum opus. But the writing in THE DARK TOWER is on a different level to anything else he has ever written, and it's hard to see how he can ever attain those heights again. Don't wait any longer. Read the series, start with The Gunslinger and perhaps the most memorable opening line of any novel: "The Man in Black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed." It may have taken him more than thirty years to complete his own personal quest - to reach the end of the Dark Tower series, but it was worth it.


I have other favourite authors, of course I do - there's Bernard Cornwell - anything he writes I read and love; there are the new Arthurian legends by Marilyn Hume, who can do no wrong in my eyes; there is the peerless Philippa Gregory, who has taken over Medieval Britain and made it her own.


And there are my old, constant companions, Enid Blyton, Leslie Charteris and Edgar Rice Burroughs; then, too, there are the new wave crime authors, such as Stuart MacBride, who are magnificent. But I don't remember any of them creating characters who affected me so deeply, especially Oy of Mid-World, and I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say that none of them has ever made me want to cry like Stephen King makes me want to cry in the final volume of The Dark Tower. That's it. That's me done - for the moment. I finished reading The Dark Tower a few nights ago, and although I know what's going to happen, and I know how it ends - after all, I've read it six or maybe seven times, now - I still let it into my heart, I still let it affect me, and I still think it is the finest piece of writing I have ever read. If I had to compare it with another piece of classic literature, it would have to be BLACK BEAUTY, for that tugs at the heartstrings in the same way. There are thousands of books about animals sacrificing themselves for their human companions, but for me, because I'm a Stephen King fan, because I'm a Dark Tower fan, it will always be Oy of Mid-World - my favourite character in my favourite book. I hope he will return to The Dark Tower again some time, and tell us more tales of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy - I wait patiently - two new Stephen Kings this year, as you'll have already read, above, but I'm still waiting for the next DT novel...


Paul Norman

February 2014



The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.