Hodder & Stoughton £18.99

Full Dark, No Stars, By Stephen King

These tense tales delve into the dark heart of a knitting society and a serial killer's last stand

Stephen King has proven himself to be one of the finest chroniclers of the dark side of the human psyche over the 35 years of his successful career. While literary snobs sometimes cock a snoot at his mainstream appeal, there is no doubt that on his day he can spin as compelling a yarn as anyone.

In a revealing afterword in this collection of four novellas, King states that he has always thought the best fiction to be "propulsive and assaultive", a phrase that nicely nails his own work.

As the title suggests, Full Dark, No Stars delves into some dingy corners of the human mind, and is one of King's most disturbing outings in some time. The four stories are linked by themes of revenge and retribution, and while they include such heavy-duty subject matter as murder, torture, rape and serial killing, there's also something deeply moral about the tales. For the most part, bad deeds don't go unpunished – and how.

The opening story, "1922", is set on a Depression-era Nebraska farmstead and takes the form of a confessional letter by Wilf James, who has persuaded his teenage son to help murder his wife. The tale is dripping with American Gothic, as the mechanics of murder and cover-up are laid bare, and there follows a deeply unsettling descent into guilt-fuelled paranoia and insanity. Utterly convincing and packed with grim atmosphere, it is a story that manages to keep you compulsively turning the pages – despite knowing early on how things will end.

In "Big Driver" we're in the present day and back on familiar King territory: it's a story which features a successful writer stumbling into a world of pain. Tessa Jean is the creator of the cosy Willow Grove Knitting Society mystery novels, a role that takes her to a book signing in small-town Massachusetts. On the advice of a local she takes a short cut home along backwater roads, where she first gets a flat tyre, then is brutally raped, beaten and left for dead by a trucker. The description of events is unflinching but not gratuitously so, as their extreme nature is what drives Tess to seek her own very personal form of revenge.

Of the four stories here, "Fair Extension" is the shortest – and weakest. It is a supernatural fable in which a man dying of cancer stops at a roadside stall run by a mysterious figure called Elvid (rearrange the letters yourself) and cuts a deal: he is miraculously cured at the expense of his more successful friend, whose luck suddenly takes a turn for the worse. It's a pretty silly parable, and one that jars with the compelling fare elsewhere. All the more so because it sits next to the collection's finest story.

"A Good Marriage", in which a happily married woman discovers her husband's secret hiding place in the garage and begins to suspect that he has been a notorious serial killer for 20 years, is King at his absolute best. Her psychology – and that of her husband – is utterly convincing, as she first investigates, then swithers, then is forced to confront him, and King fills every sentence with an almost unbearable tension, building to a visceral climax and then a brilliant, nerve-shredding coda with an old, retired policeman.

Interestingly, the disappointing offering here is the supernatural one – the territory for which King is probably most famous. But with the three other stories, he proves that he is still unrivalled at exploring modern America's heart of darkness.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little