I last read THE DARK HALF not long after it came out in theearly nineties. It’s a book I loved. A book that gripped me and stayed with meso much so that, until recently, I would have named it as one of my favouriteof Stephen King’s oeuvre.

It just goes to show that you should never go back.

THE DARK HALF isn’t a bad book as such, yet reading again it again, I can’t help thinking it’s somewhat insubstantial. There’s one fantastic chapter where our villain goes on a murder spree in NYC, which is great gory fun and you can feel King letting go. But a lot of the rest is just people sitting around and talking about what’s happening. It’s at least a hundred pages too long (yeah, that’s a complaint I’ve never made about a King novel before), spends an age getting anywhere and – when it does – the denouement feels oddly rushed.

Suffice to say, I would no longer regard it as one of myfavourite King books.

Thad Beaumont is an unsuccessful literary author who makesmost of his money writing brutal crime fiction under the name George Stark. Forvarious reasons he decides to kill his Stark nom de plume off, but thispseudonym is suddenly made flesh and goes on a murderous spree.

The fact that Stark wants Beaumont to write a new book has, ofcourse, real shades of MISERY. But the work it reminded me most of is the lastKing novel I read – this year’s THE OUTSIDER. Both have killers who are prettymuch exact doubles of our hero, who have the same fingerprints (and DNA) andcause all kinds of problems when they go on a murderous spree.

This notion of duality is clearly one which interests King,but he hasn’t got it right with either book. He hasn’t yet given us his versionof Jekyll and Hyde that we can all love.

THE OUTSIDER went wrong as he tried to write it as a straightthriller and couldn’t pull the material together. THE DARK HALF – in contrast –is a far more magical horror novel, but he can’t pull it together here either.The dramatic momentum is bumpy, the ending feels convenient rather than earned,and there are all kind of odd loose threads if you sit back and think about it foreven a moment. (I’m not sure how Thad and the sheriff are going to convince theother police officers that Thad isn’t the guilty man, after all.)

That’s a shame as I think there is a great King novel that hinges around the idea of an untethered self, but unless I’m missing it elsewhere in the man’s canon, we still don’t have it. Third time lucky then?

If you’re interested in my own writings, SOMETHING WENT WRONG AND OTHER STRANGE TALES – my frankly must read collection of scary and quirky short stories is available for free now!

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