Much of Stephen King’s recent work has been relatively lighthearted, but in Full Dark, No Stars (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) he returns with gusto to his dark side and explores the perils of getting what you ask for.

Much of Stephen King’s recent work has been relatively lighthearted, but in Full Dark, No Stars (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99) he returns with gusto to his dark side and explores the perils of getting what you ask for. The first and longest of these four novellas, ‘1922’, is a murderer’s confession: a farmer describes murdering his wife in Nebraska just after the first world war and the unexpected consequences that gradually destroy his life. It’s stark and compelling, and should be avoided at all costs by readers with a phobia of rats. In ‘Big Driver’, an author of cosy crime novels is raped and left for dead. She sets out to look for revenge, finds rather more than she expected, and develops an unusual relationship with her SatNav. ‘Fair Extension’ is a variant on the Faust theme. A bank official is dying of cancer. ‘Mr Elvid’ offers him a life extension in return for 15 per cent of his income and the transference of his bad luck to his best friend. ‘A Good Marriage’ explores how a woman deals with the discovery that her much-cherished husband is a serial killer.  

King has a unique talent for gothic fables about contemporary America. As he notes in his afterword, these uncomfortably readable stories are about ordinary people put in extraordinary situations. The elements of horror and fantasy are all the more effective as they spring from the plausible stresses that afflict his characters in their humdrum, beautifully observed lives. God is in the detail — and in this case the devil is lurking there as well.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

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