Book festivals have had to adapt to covid, moving events to be fully or partly online, which is a shame in many ways but does mean that this September, Bloody Scotland, the annual crime and thrillers book festival in Stirling, was able to host none other than the master of the genre, Stephen King. (You might still be able to watch the event online – it was very entertaining).
In honour of this event, here are my favourite Stephen King novels.
1. Misery. The story of the disaffected writer, rescued from a car crash and nursed back to health in a remote, snowed in cabin by his ‘number one fan’ is an absolute masterclass in suspense. No supernatural elements, just one person trying to escape another. Interestingly, King says his favourite book is Lisey’s Story, which I’ve read but not included in my top ten. It’s about the wife of a dead writer, dealing with his files and papers, menaced by a fan who wants to get his hands on them. It’s good, but it’s not a patch on Misery.
2. Carrie. The bullied and slightly odd teenager with telekinetic powers is scary, and maybe you know enough about the plot to feel there is no point in reading the book, but I enjoyed how King told the story through newspaper reports interspersed with narrative. His first published novel, I don’t believe he ever revisited this type of narrative again, but it’s certainly an interesting device.
3. Pet Sematary. A cemetery where things don’t stay buried. I think this is his creepiest and most haunting story. It’s not actually that scary or gory, but it preys on every parent’s worst nightmare and so it packs an awful punch. King himself has said this is the scariest book he ever wrote.
4. Mr Mercedes. I think this was Stephen King’s first detective novel, or at least his first novel with a detective trying to solve a crime, but don’t expect Miss Marple. There is mass murder and weird supernatural stuff. What I love about this book, and its sequels, is the host of memorable characters he assembles and the fact that we know whodunnit right from the get go, but we don’t know if the detective will get to him in time to stop further atrocities. The second and third books in the trilogy – Finders Keepers and End of Watch, are equally good. King obviously loved the characters as well, especially Holly Gibney, as he then wrote The Outsider for her. She’s just appeared in a novella If It Bleeds, in a collection of the same name.
5. Under the Dome. This is the first Stephen King novel I read and it took my family a long time to forgive me for the lack of meals that day. Unputdownable, despite its length, it’s about a small town which finds itself under an invisible dome. Things go from bad to worse, and as a reader, you keep wondering what else he’s going to throw at the hapless and helpless characters.
6. 11/22/63. I’m a sucker for time travel novels. Many of them play with the idea of changing something significant in history – here it’s about Kennedy’s assassination- but I love the focus on the small person and what time travel does to them.
7. Cell. This was published just as cell (mobile) phones were pretty common, but before smartphones, at a time when they were still novel enough to be annoying or odd. In this book, cellphones turn people into crazed killing zombies. Loved it.
8. Sleeping Beauties. I’ve always felt that Stephen King writes women well, and despite being a horror writer, he steers away from gratuitous male violence (or at least accepted, unavenged male violence) but in this book, co-written with his son Owen King, he goes further. Women are falling asleep, and it’s dangerous to wake them. Meanwhile, where are the women going? It’s a great premise.
9. The Institute. Psychic children are taken to The Insitute. Why? By whom? If you’re a fan of Stranger Things you’ll love this story.
10. The Stand. His longest book and one that will haunt you if you do get through it’s 1000+ pages. Post apocalyptic, horror and supernatural. With elements of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
I haven’t mentioned On Writing, which is one of my favourite non-fiction books, and a must read, not only for writers, but for anyone interested in finding out the stories behind King’s fiction.
Enjoy! Let me know if you agree with my list or if I’ve left off one of your favourites