Books Monthly July 2020 The Stephen King page - this month: The Holly Gibney Novels...
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The Stephen King Page...


Stephen King: The Institute

Published by Hodder Paperbacks 23rd July 2020


Luke Ellis, a super-smart twelve-year-old with an exceptional gift, is the latest in a long line of kids abducted and taken to a secret government facility, hidden deep in the forest in Maine.

Here, kids with special talents - telekinesis and telepathy - like Luke's new friends Kalisha, Nick and Iris, are subjected to a series of experiments.

There seems to be no hope of escape. Until Luke teams up with an even younger boy whose powers of telepathy are off the scale.

Meanwhile, far away in a small town in South Carolina, former cop Tim Jamieson, looking for the quiet life, has taken a job working for the local sheriff. He doesn't know he's about to take on the biggest case of his career . . .


This is superlative Stephen King - vintage Stephen King, almost. As I said in my original review, King has tackled the subject of abducted children several times in previous works, most notably in FIRESTARTER, and then in the final volumes of the DARK TOWER series. His villains are as villanous as it's humanly possible for a depraved human being to be, and his children bond, as always, in their attempt to overcome the atrocities that are played out on them. This is mind-stretching, thrilling, a huge adventure carefully and brilliantly crafted by one of the world's greatest ever popular fiction writers. The paperback is well worth waiting for, and carries an enhanced cover compared to the original hardcover version. Not long to wait for this gem!

The Holly Gibney Novels of Stephen King

Stephen King: Mr Mercedes

The first standalone novel in Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) - and the basis of Mr Mercedes, an AT&T Audience Original Series starring Brendon Gleeson.

Described as 'the best thriller of the year' Sunday Express, the No. 1 bestseller introduces retired cop Bill Hodges in a race against time to apprehend a killer.

A cat-and-mouse suspense thriller featuring Bill Hodges, a retired cop who is tormented by 'the Mercedes massacre', a case he never solved.

Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of that notorious crime, has sent Hodges a taunting letter. Now he's preparing to kill again.

Each starts to close in on the other in a mega-stakes race against time.

Stephen King: Finders Keepers

The second standalone novel in Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) - and the basis of the third season of Mr Mercedes, an AT&T Audience Original Series (10 September 2019).


Morris Bellamy is a reader so obsessed by America's iconic author John Rothstein that he is prepared to kill for a trove of notebooks containing at least one more unpublished novel.


Pete Saubers, a boy whose father was brutally injured by a stolen Mercedes, discovers a buried trunk containing cash and Rothstein's notebooks.


After thirty-five years in prison, Morris is up for parole. And he's hell-bent on recovering his treasure.Now it's up to retired detective Bill Hodges - running an investigative company called 'Finders Keepers' - to rescue Pete from an ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris...Not since Misery has King written with such visceral power about a reader with such a dangerous obsession. Finders Keepers is spectacular suspense, and it is King writing about how literature shapes a life for good, for bad, for ever.

Stephen King: End of Watch

The cell rings twice, and then his old partner in his ear . . . 'I'm at the scene of what appears to be a murder-suicide . . . Come and take a look. Bring your sidekick with you.'

Bill Hodges, who now runs a two-person agency called Finders Keepers with partner Holly Gibney, is intrigued by the letter Z written with a marker at the scene of the crime.

As similar cases mount up, Hodges is stunned to discover the evidence points to Brady Hartsfield, the notorious 'Mercedes Killer' who they helped to convict. It should be impossible: Brady is confined to a hospital room in a seemingly unresponsive state.

But Brady Hartsfield has lethal new powers. And he's planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.

The clock is ticking in unexpected ways...

Stephen King: The Outsider

Now a major HBO and Sky Atlantic limited series starring Ben Mendelsohn.

'If you read only one thriller this summer, make it this one' Daily Mail

A horrifying crime.

Water-tight evidence points to a single suspect.

Except he was seventy miles away, with an iron-clad alibi.

Detective Anderson sets out to investigate the impossible: how can the suspect have been both at the scene of the crime and in another town?


The Holly Gibney stories have been interspersed with a couple of works, one major, THE INSTITUTE, one fairly good, REVIVAL but it's not one you'd count among King's finest, a novella curio, ELEVATION, and finally this year's major Stephen King offering: IF IT BLEEDS, which features a Holly Gibney novella. King occasionally references major characters in other books, especially when he's referring to the Dark Tower series - as in INSOMNIA, IT, THE INSTITUTE (references to men in dark cars), HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (Low men in dark cars) etc., etc., but it's rare to find a sequel, (apart from Doctor Sleep, of course) let alone a series of novels by King all centering on one or in this case two main characters - for Holly Gibney, who comes into her own in THE OUTSIDER, often makes reference herself to her beloved partner Bill Hodges, asking herself "what would Bill do", for example. Holly isn't an out and out heroine like Supergirl, or Scout Finch, though. She has many, many quirks, not least OCD. She's not beautiful, at least, there's no suggestion that she's a beauty, like Sadie in 11:22:63, or like Beverley Marsh in IT. She's rapidly approaching middle age. But she's tenacious, and she's determined. After meeting Bill Hodges in MR MERCEDES at Janey Trelawney's funeral, Holly begins to come out of her shell and from behind the shadow of her domineering and deeply unpleasant mother.

By the end of the story, she's ready to take on a partnership with Bill in his newly formed private investigation company, Finders Keepers. The one constant evil throughout the original trilogy is Brady Hartsfield, and in this respect, the trio of thrillers is slightly more than just that, it starts to take on a small matter of the supernatural. Because Hartsfield, although more or less clinically dead in all three novels, is able to transfer his monstrous capabilities into firstly the brains of the people who are looking after him, and then into their actual bodies. The supernatural theme continues in The Outsider and in the novella IF IT BLEEDS, as Holly comes face to face with a vampiric being that feeds off people's emotions and is capable of shape shifting and metamorphosing into other people. It's tempting to think that King wanted a change of direction after many, many years of scaring the pants off people, and this has occurred at regular intervals throughout his career, with non-supernatural and horror novels such as The STAND, ROSE MADDER, BAG OF BONES etc. And most of the mainstream press describe the Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney trio as "thrillers".

But they're more than thrillers. And when Holly becomes the central character in THE OUTSIDER, it's confirmation that King's obsession with the supernatural has been there all along. I really enjoy reading the Holly Gibney novels, although I have to say that IF IT BLEEDS was really a repeat of what went on in THE OUTSIDER. Good, but not great. I think that King's great, glory days are behind him, and there are perhaps two dozen brilliant novels (I won't name them here, it would turn out to be just my personal selection, after all), and many, many more really good novels. By and large, King doesn't have a great many female heroes - there is the aforementioned Beverley Marsh in IT; there's Frannie Goldsmith in THE STAND; there's Sadie Clayton in 11:22:63; and there are various female characters that are worthy of note but who do not generally take centre stage in the way the male characters do. Holly Gibney is the first central female hero that I can remember, and I've read 99% of what's on offer from Stephen King. The Mr Mercedes trio and THE OUTSIDER are great supernatural thrillers, the IF IT BLEEDS novella is not great but very good, and the book does contain one standout novella, which is MR HARRIGAN'S PHONE. The last really great novel by King, in my opinion, is THE INSTITUTE, which I'm currently reading for the second time, and thoroughly enjoying it, while I look forward to the paperback edition coming in July, and which you can find on the Fantasy and SF page in this issue.

More about Stephen King next month...

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its 22nd year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email at and I'll let you know where to send it.

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