Book: Full Dark, No Stars

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Full Dark, No Stars

Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger…writes Wilfred Leland James in the early pages of the riveting confession that makes up “1922,” the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerizing tales from Stephen King. For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife, Arlette, proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness.

In “Big Driver,” a cozy-mystery writer named Tess encounters the stranger along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face-to-face with another stranger: the one inside herself.

“Fair Extension,” the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil not only saves Dave Streeter from a fatal cancer but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment.

When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It’s a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends a good marriage.

Like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, which generated such enduring films as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, Full Dark, No Stars proves Stephen King a master of the long story form.


When a master of horror and heebie-jeebies like Stephen King calls his book Full Dark, No Stars, you know you’re in for a treat—that is, if your idea of a good time is spent curled up in a ball wondering why-oh-why you started reading after dark. King fans (and those who have always wanted to give him a shot) will devour this collection of campfire tales where marriages sway under the weight of pitch-black secrets, greed and guilt poison and fester, and the only thing you can count on is that “there are always worse things waiting.” Full Dark, No Stars features four one-sitting yarns showcasing King at his gritty, gruesome, giddy best, so be sure to check under the bed before getting started. —Daphne Durham

As well as being the most celebrated horror and fantasy writer of the modern age, Stephen King is a noted commentator on the genre, and some of his most intriguing writing includes studies of his great predecessors. The first story in the mesmerising collection of novellas which is Full Dark, No Stars bears the imprint of one of King’s favourite writers, Edgar Allen Poe: it is the first-person confession of a murderer, in which he invites us not to judge him—not unlike the narrator of Poe’s ‘The Tell-tale Heart’. King’s protagonist, an unlettered farmer, does not relate his gruesome story in an elegant fashion. But King, of course, as well as being adroit at chilling our blood, has few equals at finding the right voice for his characters, whatever background they come from. That is precisely what happens here, as the farmer, Wilfred James, tells us how he planned the murder of his unsympathetic wife with the aid of his reluctance son. The murder itself has all the typical King flair for the macabre, but it is the steady unravelling of the killer’s plans that fascinates here—a theme that reappears in a grim tale involving a young woman’s revenge on a man who raped her. As always with King’s novellas, characterisation is strongly to the fore in these pieces, but the principle appeal of this form for the author would appear to be the opportunity to exercise his steely grasp of narrative technique, displayed in all the stories on offer here.

These King novellas are perhaps something of a relaxation for the author after the massive The Dome; for readers, Full Dark, No Stars is a reminder that this is a writer for whom both long and short formats are firmly in his grasp.

Some years ago, Stephen King announced that he was planning to cut down on his astonishing level of productivity, but this promise was barely kept (even a grim car accident was weathered—albeit with a heavy price paid—by the author), and though the exalted standard of the early books has faltered at times, he still has the knack of pulling that rabbit out of the hat (usually covered with blood).—Barry Forshaw

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