Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Being a huge fan of the prolific author’s work, I probably would have bought it anyway. But after hearing that Holly Gibney’s adventure would be included in a collection of four novellas, I was worried. Long form fiction collections almost always end up being a game of deciding which ones suck so badly that they had to be propped up by the others to make a sale.
Thankfully, King packed these four tales with some truly inspired storytelling. Let’s take a brief look at each of them starting with the main reason all of you clicked on this review.
If It Bleeds
First off, this is not Holly Gibney you know from The Outsider or Mr. Mercedes television series. That said, I couldn’t help but see flashes of Cynthia Erivo’s fantastic portrayal while reading this one (I still need to see Justine Lupine play her).
You don’t have to have seen either show to enjoy the story, although it’s highly recommended that you read The Outsider novel beforehand. Being familiar with the Mr. Mercedes book series will also allow you to see how much incredible growth the character has shown since we first met her back in 2015.
As far as the story itself is concerned, we get a thrilling continuation of Holly’s story following her encounter with El Cuco. The story takes the idea of shapeshifters walking among us and raises it to a new and even more terrifying level. It also features Holly forensically dissecting an impossible/supernatural mystery, which is always a great time.
If this tale was a test run to see if Holly Gibney could be the lead character in a full length novel, then it was a huge success…assuming she survives.
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone
Of the many things Stephen King does well, one of my favorites is how he can pull at your heart strings while scaring the hell out of you at the time.
In Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, a young boy (Craig) befriends an elderly business man (Harrigan) who hires him to help around the house. The pair end up developing a close bond that’s both unlikely and completely believable. I know that might sound sappy and contrived, but King totally makes it work.
When the old man dies, Craig puts a phone he got Harrigan in his pocket before he’s buried. One night while missing his deceased friend, he decides to call and leave a message.
You can probably guess where things go from there.
That being said, the story still manages to take things in direction that’s both severely chilling and heartwarming at the same time. By the end I wasn’t sure how to feel, although I’m 100% certain I loved it (and that I slept with my phone off that night).
The Life of Chuck
This one starts off as what appears to be a dystopian/apocalyptic tale and ends up being something completely different. The story is told in three parts in reverse order. In the first section, we see a world crumbling at the seams that also features strange billboards proclaiming ‘CHARLES KRANTZ, 39 GREAT YEARS! THANKS, CHUCK!’
From there, we learn much more about Mr. Krantz and the bizarre/meta reason he’s being celebrated on billboards across a dying world. Things get very introspective and navel gazey, but somehow it works. There’s one particular section about a joyful moment in Chuck’s life that could have been all types of sappy/terrible. Thankfully, King masterfully weaves it into something you can’t help but smile and enjoy.
As painfully cheesy as this might sound, The Life of Chuck shines a beautiful spotlight on what’s truly important in life — and that’s coming from a cynical horror fan like me. This is probably my least favorite of the four novellas in If It Bleeds, but I still enjoyed it immensely.
Drew Larson has an idea for a novel. Unfortunately, the last time he attempted to write one resulted in a complete mental breakdown. This time, however, he has a plan: Isolate himself in an old cabin his family used to visit and write until the novel is finished.
As you might imagine, this doesn’t go well.
In addition to a bad cold and potentially lethal storm, a sick/delirious Larson is losing his previously firm grip on the novel inside his head. He also ends up talking to a rat, who offers him a Faustian bargain: The rodent will magically help the words start flowing again, but someone close to him must die.
The set up is pretty standard stuff, but King once again manages to twist and turn the story in a manner that will turn your blood cold.
If you’re solely looking for a worthy successor to The Outsider, then If It Bleeds delivers in spades. If you want some great stories that will keep you up at night and stick in your mind this Halloween season, then all four of If It Bleeds‘ are well worth your time.
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