CriminOlly thinks: Enjoyable but average collection of novellas from the grand old man of horror that feels like a bad photocopy of his best work 3/5
Title: If It Bleeds | Author: Stephen King | Publisher: Scribner | Pages: 416 | ISBN: 9781529391572 | Publication date: 21st April 2020 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: No
‘If It Bleeds’ is a collection of four Stephen King novellas that’s enjoyable enough but suffers from containing stories that often feel like retreads of things King has written before. I powered through it in a couple of days and had fun with it, but unless you’re a die hard fan I’m not sure I’d unreservedly recommend it.
The first story, ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’ is a good example of the book as a whole. It’s a classic King tale about am everyday object with apparently supernatural powers (evil ones of course). In this case it’s an iPhone, by which I mean the very first one, from back in 2007. The benefit of hindsight allows King to make some decent points about the impact smart phones on modern life, but the actual horror part of the story feels overly familiar. There are coming of age themes too, which he always does well, and they lift the story a little, but overall it’s nothing to write (or text) home about.
Story number two ‘The Life of Chuck’ is told in three parts. The first is a wonderfully surreal apocalyptic comedy. The world is ending, and all anyone seems to care about it the fact that Chuck Krantz, an accountant, is retiring. Parts two and three detail earlier chapters in Chuck’s life. They’re fun enough, but the triptych just didn’t hang together as a whole for me.
Title story ‘If it Bleeds’ comes next and is the one I (and I suspect many other readers) was most anticipating. It’s a sequel to King’s 2018 novel ‘The Outsider’, featuring the enormously appealing Holly Gibney, who also appears in the Bill Hodges books. King writes in the afterword that Holly was originally just supposed to be an incidental character but that she grew and grew. It’s not hard to see why. She’s an enormously principled neurodiverse detective who it’s impossible not to root for. I really enjoyed spending time with her again, even if the actual story isn’t amazing. It reads a bit like a rehash of ‘The Outsider’, but without the sense of horror that book had. Appropriately perhaps, I couldn’t help feeling it played like a TV movie spin off to the blockbuster ‘The Outsider’. Watered down and less ambitious, but still a fun ride.
Final tale, ‘Rat’, is the best one. A story of a struggling writer trying to finally complete a novel it features so many of King’s favourite themes it’s hard not to enjoy as a fan. Writing, isolation and supernatural weirdness combine to make a story that’s fun to read and will probably ring true for anyone who has tried to write themselves.
Overall then, ‘If It Bleeds’ is a fun diversion, but feels like little more than that.
News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.
Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realises something is not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’, a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling THE OUTSIDER featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.
Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’. All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humour, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination
Content Warning: Bullying
Tolerance Warning: All good