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‘The Cold Dish’ – Craig Johnson

Review by Gavin Dimmock

The Cold Dish – Craig Johnson

For me, one of the greatest joys of settling down with a book is how the author’s words transport you to a different time and place and, for a while, leave you in the company of the fictional characters they have created. A little over a week ago, I decided to try a book by Craig Johnson and to explore the world of Sheriff Walt Longmire and his investigations in and around Absaroka County in Wyoming.

I’m glad I did.

“The Cold Dish” is the first tale in the series and was published in 2004. The series now numbers thirteen novels with the next installment, “Depth of Winter”, due in early September 2018. There has also been a half dozen shorter stories and ebooks which slot in and among the chronology of the series.

Walt Longmire is a decorated veteran of the Marine Corps and served as a Military Police officer in Vietnam during that war. After his service, Walt finds himself as deputy to Sheriff Lucian Connally before, eventually, being elected as Absaroka County Sheriff.

Johnson writes terrific characters; Walt is a joy to be with and his longtime friend, Henry Standing Bear, is the type of reliable and solid guy we would all want standing beside us when the chips are down. The larger cast includes Vic Moretti, Walt’s wonderfully foul-mouthed and cynical lead deputy, Ruby, his PA/secretary and a host of townsfolk, both good and bad. Oh, and there’s his dog, too. He’s called Dog. The name suits him perfectly.

However wonderful these characters are, though – and, believe me, they are wonderful – Johnson has two others that almost steal the show. They are both majestic, inspiring and beautiful in the extreme; welcome to the landscape of Wyoming and the weather that shapes it. I have been lucky to have visited America on several occasions but I have never been to the state of Wyoming. Oddly though, I do have a Rand McNally map of Wyoming and Montanna. It’s proved handy while reading these books.

With Johnson’s prose, I feel that I am getting to know the state. He breathes life and colour and vitality into the pages and the mountains, valleys, and plains rise up and loom large and dominant in his tales. For an Englishman like myself and, I suspect, for other men of my age, the pull of the Wild West, admittedly gleaned only from films and TV, is romantic, powerful and ever so evocative. Which little boy didn’t yearn to be a cowboy? To be tough, resilient, resourceful, silent and strong with a fierce sense of justice. To ride the plains and help people on the way by righting wrongs.

This is what Walt Longmire is and what he does.

In this first tale, the body of Cody Pritchard is found shot to death. Several years earlier, Cody and three of his friends were found guilty of raping and torturing a local Cheyenne teenager. It appears that someone is bent on revenge. Longmire is tasked with finding the murderer while keeping the remaining three assailants alive. His investigation is hampered by the weather and complicated by the fact that the victim is the niece of his friend, Henry Standing Bear.

In addition to the taut plotting, the stunning landscape, and the incredible weather, Johnson delivers terrific dialogue between his characters. The warmth and affection they have for one another – other than those they are pointing a gun at – is evident in their conversations and, often, by what is not said. You feel as if you have stepped into a community that lives and breathes and where the relationships between the characters are real and tangible.

There is also an awful lot of humour in the tale. Both Vic and Henry Standing Bear possess a fabulous sense of comic timing and they are able to deliver perfectly executed one-liners and put-downs, mostly at the expense of Walt. This light, comedic touch lifts the tale and really helps to establish the relationships between the central characters.

I found the story to be exciting – it is a thrilling murder investigation at heart – and the plot develops easily and quickly. Johnson has a real knack of propelling the story along and for achieving this without detriment to the development of the characters, major or minor. In fact, even the most minor of characters is well delivered and believable.

I may not yet understand all the references to specific items and one or two terms are a little off my radar (in book two, I had to Google what “Wayfarers” are) but this has not diminished my enjoyment in any way.

The covers of the books are also very striking and help to set the tone for the novels. My favourites are the covers featuring the simple, stylised artwork with its restricted colour palette and prominent, bold typography. The more recent covers are equally fine and the use of striking and atmospheric imagery is very appealing to the eye.

Would I read another Walt Longmire book? Well, put it this way, I finished book two late last night and am already well on with the third.

Additionally, though I was considering getting one before I picked up the books, Walt and Mr Johnson have nudged me into placing an order for my very own coat from the respected and long-established workwear manufacturer, Carhartt, that features so prominently in these Longmire books. Hopefully the coat will arrive in time for the latest adventure to hit the shelves.

Gavin Dimmock is a ‘New Voices’ Award Nominee Capital Crime 2019, Northern Noir Winner, Bradford Lit Festival 2018 and we will be featuring his work very soon…in the meantime you can find more at www.GavinDimmock.com

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‘Streets of Darkness’ – A.A. Dhand

Streets of Darkness – A.A. Dhand

Review by Gavin Dimmock


Young Mr. Dhand has a lot to answer for in my view. It is (almost) exclusively down to him that I have been distracted from my own shabby attempts at writing and, instead, have been absorbed in the world he has created in his debut novel.
Despite being born abroad and spending my early years elsewhere, I count myself as a Bradford chap – my mother’s side of our family is Bradford born, bred and dead (indeed, buried at one of the settings from this superb novel), my sister and her children live a mile or so from the centre and I have been a fervent fan of the city’s football team since I moved near to the area in the late 1970’s – and, as a regular visitor to the city, I am familiar with its landmarks, people and life. However, AA Dhand, has led me to a dirty, unpleasant and violent side of the city. He shows us the scary side of the city, the one filled with dangerous, dark souls and which, were I not being safely guided through it by DI Harry Virdee, I would feel terribly ill at ease exploring.
This is a fast paced crime thriller that positively snaps along and it leaves you gasping as you turn the pages and are drawn ever deeper into the murky underbelly of a city riven with division and mistrust. But, out of the shadows and dark streets of Dhand’s Bradford, his vividly drawn Gotham City, comes Harry, our very own Dark Knight.
So, to the plot. Harry discovers the crucified body of a prominent Asian businessman and, despite being suspended from duty, is tasked with tracking down the killer and solving the racially motivated crime. He faces a race against time as unseen forces conspire against him and racial tensions threaten to tear the city apart. Additionally, his wife is due to give birth to their first child at any moment. The pressure is on and Harry is thrust into a frenzied fight to save his career, his city and his family.
Harry is estranged from his Sikh family following his marriage to Saima, a Muslim, and has to battle religious intolerance and fight to overcome his own demons. He is a complex character, we see several sides to him on this engaging first encounter, and I feel we have a lot more to learn about Harry as his journey continues.
This is an absolutely terrific read; it has been on my radar to read for a short while now and, prompted by the author appearing at the recent Bradford Literature Festival, I took the plunge into his dark Bradford. Now, after safely surviving the first Harry Virdee novel, I am looking forward to being led, very soon, back onto his streets of darkness.

Gavin Dimmock is a ‘New Voices’ Award Nominee Capital Crime 2019, Northern Noir Winner, Bradford Lit Festival 2018 and we will be featuring his work very soon…in the meantime you can find more at www.GavinDimmock.com

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‘A Book of Bones’ – John Connolly

Review by Gavin Dimmock

A Book of Bones

Firstly, before I write my review, an admission.

I am a fan of the aforementioned Charlie Parker novels and of John Connolly, the man who brings the private detective to life in his writing. Despite my whole-hearted love and appreciation of the series, I hope to be honest in my review. Although, forgive me, if it is, perhaps, flavoured!

Secondly, some facts.

It is twenty years since the first Charlie Parker book hit the shelves in 1999 and “A Book of Bones” is now the seventeenth in the series. And, with the hardcover edition coming in at over 700 pages in length, it is the longest of them to date. Mr Connolly himself has stated that the word count stands at an impressive 205,000.

Give or take a few words.

Additionally, the book weighs in at a shade under two-and-a-half pounds on the scales – or, 1039 grammes if you prefer metric – and is around two-and-a-quarter inches in thickness (metric, that equates to 60mm). I know this because my tape measure lays beside my laptop and I have just been in the kitchen to weigh one of my copies of this book.

(One of my copies? I hear you ask. Well, the review copy was given to me but, as a fan of Mr C’s work, I simply had to buy my own copy. Support the artists you love and all that.)

I won’t do all the maths (math?) and work out a cost per page or per word but it suffices to say that, with the experience and skill acquired through twenty years as a professional novelist, Mr C has delivered excellent value for money with “A Book of Bones”. The twenty quid you hand over to your chosen bookseller may be the best return you get on your money this year.

So, to the plot. And, it is an epic one. I will attempt to reveal no spoilers!

The ancient lawyer, Quayle, aided by his terrifying companion, Pallida Mors, is closing in on his centuries-old hunt for the missing pages of The Fractured Atlas – a book of inconceivable evil which has the power to alter reality and bring absolute terror into being. Parker is determined to hunt Quayle down before the Atlas is made complete and prevent his enemy from changing the world forever.

The body of a young woman is discovered on the moors in the northeast of England. Other bodies are soon found in other parts of the country, in places once used for the burial and sacrifice of innocents.

It is to England that Parker travels as his hunt for his opponent from the previous book, “The Woman in the Woods”, continues. Parker follows the two evil-doers, via Mexico and Amsterdam, to their lair in London.

Age and injuries have taken their toll on Parker and his allies, Angel and Louis. They are all older and slower than before and their enemies are powerful and many. Furthermore, Parker is on unfamiliar ground in England – ground that is tainted by blood and pain, earth that has long been soiled by torture and by sacrifice. But, Quayle knows that Parker is coming. More than that, Quayle wants him to come.

I won’t reveal any more of the plot, except to say that this is one heck of a read!

What did I think?

Quite simply, “A Book of Bones” is an impressive achievement. Not just for the facts that I playfully referred to earlier but, more, for its sheer scale and depth and for the way in which Mr C continues to skillfully weave his “Honeycombed World” and which continues to delight the reader, keeping us breathtakingly turning each new page.

Whilst this is a long book, it never feels like an overly long or laboured read. Interspersed throughout the book, on subtly different coloured pages and printed in a different typeface, are short tales and histories that allow the reader a chance to pause and take a breather if needed. These little vignettes can be skipped by if one wishes to remain steadfastly on the main Parker plot but they add extra flavour to the novel, providing depth and nuance to the overarching story behind Parker’s honeycomb world.

At a recent date on his current promotional tour (Kendal, April 27 2019), Mr C stated that he could quite easily serve up a formulaic book with each new title. And, as readers and fans, we would eagerly buy them. But, Mr C chooses to expand his craft with every new book he writes, stretching himself and adding to his skill set. This determination to improve on, what is already a pretty darn good read, means that we readers get the new Parker book we long for, filled with all our favourite ingredients, but that each new story comes with a freshness and a little added zest that we didn’t know we wanted but which we adore when we get it.

In “A Book of Bones’, Mr C makes greater use of dialogue than previously. This again provides space within the narrative, making the book a compelling and highly enjoyable read that belies its hefty size.

The writing is crisp and taut and the plot is perfectly paced and devilishly cunning. Mr C knows just how to keep you off-guard and on your toes. There is one chapter in particular that had me reeling with its very last line; for me, it was one of those, “insert own favoured expletive, I never saw that coming” moments.

In reading this book, I got a sense of Parker’s unfamiliarity at being in an alien country. Mr Connolly has successfully conveyed his hero’s unease without relenting on what it is that we read a Parker book for. The book carries all the hallmarks that we look for in a Charlie Parker novel; terrifying and macabre opponents; intriguing plotline; interesting new characters that are fully fleshed, believable and convincing; dialogue that propels the story; snappy conversations and comedic turns from Angel and Louis – two of crime fictions most likable bad (good?) guys!

Truly, who wouldn’t love for Angel and Louis to move in next door? Sure, you’d have to change your locks and improve security, as well as ensure you did nothing at all to annoy your new neighbours, but wouldn’t they be the coolest neighbours to have?

For anyone yet to read a Charlie Parker novel, I’d say this, pick one up – choose any book from the series (“The Killing Kind”, book three, was my first initiation into the series) – and just dive right on in. Whilst, as with most series, you get the most enjoyment from starting at the beginning and following the journey, you can start anywhere. Each book in the series, and “A Book of Bones” is no different, can be enjoyed as a “stand-alone”, as sufficient explanation is given to previous events and characters that you never feel adrift or unsure of your place.

So, now that I have finished this terrific book, what next? Well, on Saturday, I discovered that the next Parker novel will be called “The Dirty South”. Now that I know the title of the eighteenth book in the series I just need to be patient until next April (Editor note: Paperback version).

That’s gonna be difficult!

Thirdly, and lastly, what three words would I use to describe “A Book of Bones”?

Enjoyable. Tantalising. Immense.

Gavin Dimmock is a ‘New Voices’ Award Nominee Capital Crime 2019, Northern Noir Winner, Bradford Lit Festival 2018 and we will be featuring his work very soon…in the meantime you can find more at www.GavinDimmock.com

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‘The Last Thing to Burn’ – Will Dean

Review by Linda Hill

The Last Thing To Burn

The Last Thing to Burn is an absolute masterpiece. It is one of those books that will stay with me for a very long time because it gets under the skin of the reader from the very first sentence and holds them spellbound throughout. Will Dean’s prose is sparse and starkly beautiful so that not a syllable is wasted in conveying character, creating setting, and imbuing his narrative with such tension that I found it a physical experience to read The Last Thing to Burn. It is a stunning book.

I live in the Fens and the descriptions of the farm, the skies and the oppressive nothingness are fabulously evocative. Subtle references to local landmarks give an authenticity that slams the reader into the action with filmic clarity. There is so much isolation at all levels – the actual and the emotional – that somehow The Last Thing to Burn could not have been set anywhere else. Will Dean captures the very essence of the place.

There’s an intensity that is almost visceral in The Last Thing to Burn. I could feel Will Dean’s words seeping into me, making me tense so that I experienced Jane’s life as if it were my own. And although Jane is not his protagonist’s name, I feel I have to call her that in this review because I was so convinced by her narrative voice that I don’t believe I have the right to uncover her full identity for readers. This is her story completely whilst simultaneously being a tale that could apply to so many trapped in modern day slavery. I found her strength of character, her intelligence and her sense of love and loyalty almost too great to bear at times because the writing made me feel as she felt and experience what ‘Jane’ endured so absolutely realistically. As she is subsumed into life on the farm and her real identity is eroded both physically and emotionally, she illustrates the utter power of human resilience and love.

Jane’s husband is terrifying. It is his ordinariness and his routines, contrasting with his systematic psychological and actual brutality, that make him so compelling. When he was away from Jane in the farmhouse I was permanently on edge wondering when he might return. It’s the way Will Dean omits parts of the husband’s background that makes him so scary. We don’t know him fully or understand completely why he behaves the way he does and we can only guess at the atrocities he might be capable of so that our imaginations feed into the tension and atmosphere created. I thought this was sublime writing. I must also mention the gradual increase in burning that links so effortlessly with the gradual increase in violence referenced by Of Mice and Men throughout the text that also enhances the tension. I’d even go far as to say that Will Dean’s creation of this atmosphere surpasses Steinbeck’s writing in affecting the reader.

Alongside a superb narrative that propels the reader into Jane’s petrifying world, Will Dean manages to illustrate all too realistically the lives of those exploited in the shady world of illegal immigration. I think The Last Thing to Burn shows more effectively than any newspaper article about gangmasters and containers the suffering so many have to endure simply to try to do their best for families back home. Yes, The Last Thing to Burn is a fantastic fictional thriller but it is also an example of compassion, realism and a lesson for us all in looking beyond appearances and not taking for granted the lives we have and what might be happening to others.

Heartbreakingly possible, terrifying and, I am sure, about to win all the accolades in 2021, The Last Thing to Burn is astonishing. I can’t stop thinking about it and feel privileged to have read it. Do not miss this one.

Linda is a passionate reader blogging at https://lindasbookbag.com/ , reviewing and featuring a broad spectrum of books including poetry, non-fiction, children’s fiction and the full range of adult genres, but she still rereads her childhood Paddington books annually. Find her on
https://twitter.com/Lindahill50Hill https://www.instagram.com/ljh50hill/
https://www.facebook.com/LindasBookBag/

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‘Sleep’ – C. L. Taylor

Review by Roxie Key


Seven guests. Seven secrets. One killer. Do you dare to sleep?

Sleep - CL Taylor
Sleep – CL Taylor


I love a good psychological thriller and Sleep did not disappoint. Nor did I get any sleep during the week I was reading this book. But I have zero regrets.
Anna is plagued by gut-wrenching guilt following a serious car crash where she was the only person to escape unscathed. This all-consuming guilt coupled with a series of threatening notes and unbearable insomnia causes her relationship to break down. Anna decides to escape to the remote Scottish island of Rum, about as far away from home as she can get, where she takes a job in a small hotel. But things soon take a turn for the worse, someone is murdered, and Anna realises she isn’t any safer in Rum. A raging storm batters the island, ensuring all the hotel guests are contained within one place until the killer is satisfyingly revealed. The ending left a little prickle on my skin that I don’t think will go away any time soon.
I won’t tell you anymore, but what I can say is this Agatha Christie-style locked-room mystery is chilling, and made me feel delightfully uncomfortable. It’s one of those books that make you triple check your locks each night.
It is expertly written, with each character feeling like a very real person. The sense of setting is incredible, and really comes to life when you’re reading it. And the atmosphere! That’s the best part. I find it so very fascinating how certain authors can create such intense atmosphere and creepiness using pure sentences… expertly crafted words, dialogue and punctuation that make you feel it like it’s really happening, and you want to stop reading because you’re terrified but at the same time you just… can’t… put… it… down.
No wonder it’s a Richard and Judy Book Club read and Sunday Times best seller! If you want to read something that sends a shiver down your spine, open a copy of Sleep (just don’t expect to get any actual sleep). Who needs sleep anyway? We can sleep when we’re dead.

Note: if you’re a member of Friends of the Bay you can read an exclusive short story by Roxie Key here

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‘Firewatching’ – Russ Thomas

Review by Roxie Key

Firewatching


A cold case that burns. A city about to ignite.

If I had to describe Firewatching by Russ Thomas in one word, it would be wow. And if I’m honest, that doesn’t even give this book justice. 
Told over the period of a week and set in the sleepy village of Castledene, Sheffield, Firewatching is a dark and twisty police procedural introducing Detective Sergeant Adam Tyler, a cold case reviewer with a troubled past, and the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit. When the skeleton of corrupt businessman Gerald Cartwright is discovered bricked-up behind a false wall in the cellar of the Old Vicarage, Adam lands himself this high-profile murder investigation, only to find himself in hot water.
The good news is that they have a prime suspect. The bad news? That suspect is Oscar, his recent one-night stand.
Russ is unbelievably good at writing character. I love a memorable, flawed protagonist and Adam does not disappoint; I found myself rooting for this tenacious character from the very beginning. Along with ambitious Constable Amina Rabbani and despite his link to the suspect, Adam manages to stay on the case, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Will this be the case that finally allows him to show his superiors what he’s made of?
And then there’s Lily Bainbridge and Edna Burnside, an elderly couple who looked after Oscar as a child. The hand-delivered notes that keep being pushed through Lily’s door terrify her. I know what you did. If only the dementia wasn’t stopping her from knowing what she did. 
As more and more fires spring up all over Castledene, it’s clear that a pyromaniac is on the loose, dead set on watching the world burn. But why? Told from the perspectives of Adam, Rabbani, Lily and a mysterious, anonymous blogger known only as the Fire Watcher, this
story scorches with a tangle of threads that I challenge even the most seasoned of thriller readers to tie together before the incredible, unpredictable ending. An ending I did not see it coming. At all. 
Firewatching is a tense, suspenseful read that is as intriguing as it is gripping. The writing is sharp and meticulously plotted. I blazed through this unputdownable book in a matter of days, and I’m confident you will too.

Note: If you’re a Friend of the Bay you can read an exclusive short story from Russ here.

Note 2: If you’re a Friend of the Bay you can read an exclusive short story from Roxie Key here.

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‘Cruel Acts’ – Jane Casey

Review by Roxie Key

Cruel Acts Book Cover
Cruel Acts – Jane Casey


They said he was a serial killer… but now they’ve set him free.

Cruel Acts is the 8th book in Jane Casey’s DS Maeve Kerrigan series, which follows the feisty and driven Maeve Kerrigan through her career in the Met Police alongside her partner, DI Josh Derwent. Their working relationship is a turbulent whirlwind of friendship, annoyance, affection, jealousy, protectiveness and banter. 
Cruel Acts follows Mauve and Derwent as they investigate Leo Stone, a man who is one of two things: a cold-blooded murderer, or a victim of a miscarriage of justice. Stone was convicted of murdering two young women, but when it comes to light certain rules weren’t followed during the initial investigation and trial, Maeve and Derwent rip apart the original investigation and start from scratch, leaving no stone unturned.
Just when you think you know the answer, Jane swiftly serves you off-course and sends you hurtling in the opposite direction. The cast of believable, leap-off-the-page characters bring the story to life and stay with you for months after putting the book down. The writing is delightfully sharp, deliciously entertaining, and utterly devourable.
I won’t reveal much about the plot itself because I want you to experience the twists and turns for yourself. I want your heart to pound like it wants to escape your chest. I want you to lose hours of sleep because ‘one more chapter’ turned into twenty. I’m not surprised it made it to the Sunday Times top 10.

Note: if you’re a member of Friends of the Bay you can read an exclusive short story by Roxie Key here.

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‘The Institute’ – Stephen King

Review by Simon Bewick

The Institute – Stephen King

(A caveat before the review: I listened to this one on Audible as I had a long car journey ahead of me. My print version of the book arrived today. The audio version was one of the better readings I’ve listened to courtesy of Santino Fontana)

Some ‘serious’ critics have claimed this is Stephen King ‘going over old ground’. In a sense, it is – the most obvious comparison in this tale of psychically gifted children held against their will in the titular ‘Institute’ is King’s novel Firestarter, almost 40 years old now, but those forty years have seen King write a lot of very different stories – different in terms of length, style, genre and medium,  and this book feels as if it uses those years’ of experience in its telling to give a ‘bigger’ story than all those years ago when he wrote about little Charlie McGee and her experiences with ‘The Shop’. There are touches of themes and stories ranging from ‘It’ (a rag-tag group of children) to ‘Shawshank’ (prison life and break) to ‘Misery’ (the hopelessness of capture and brutality of the captors) ‘The Talisman’ (a young boy forced to undertake a mental and physical journey as well as parallels to Sunlight Gardener’s School), and of certain themes explored in the likes of ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ and ‘The Black House’ in the putting to nefarious work of ‘special’ children , to name just a few: not that these other works are explicitly referenced or act as Easter eggs in any way: it’s more a constant reader will recognise that this is King drawing on almost half a century of writing to tell the tale – after all, the idea of children/ young adults with TK or TP powers goes all the way back to his very first novel ‘Carrie’. If this makes it akin to a ‘greatest hits’, then for a lot of faithful readers that’s not in any way a bad thing.

The novel starts with Tim Jamieson, an ex-cop, new drifter, arriving in the small town of DuPray: aimless and happy to take on a low-level law job. Just as we’re getting into Tim’s story, the novel switches to the murderous kidnapping of twelve-year-old Luke Ellis – a child genius with limited Telekinetic powers. Ellis awakes in a mysterious facility where, along with other children of varying ages are being tested for…something. It says something of King’s confidence in that he’s content to leave any further involvement of his opening scenario and characters until some 300 pages in. To this end, there’s a pretty major hint to the reader that the two central characters are going to cross paths at some point and given it is unlikely to happen in the confines of the prison gives a pretty big clue to how events are going to progress.

Stephen King has never been less than prolific – this is his 14th book in the last ten years and during that time he’s explored straight (and not so straight) crime novels, alt-history time travel, family collaborations, small Press experiments, but this, more even that his Shining sequel Dr Sleep, feels like a revisit to the themes and style of his late ‘70s/ early ‘80s works. It’s Firestarter + – and not just in length (150 pages longer), but in scope, characters and themes.

There has been some criticism that this is King ‘getting political’ and there are obvious parallels to current events – it could be argued that the whole issue of child internment is a non-too-subtle allegory to recent events in the US. The fact that King dedicates the book to his grandsons adds to the belief he is clearly ‘saying something’ and over recent months/ years there have been plenty of articles written about King’s feelings towards Donald Trump – not least in his own statements that Trump is ‘worse than any bad guy’ he has ever created, even as King’s own pre-cog abilities have been mentioned in his creation of Greg Stillson, the shady politician looking for presidential candidacy way back in The Dead Zone published forty years before this offering. King says that this book was started before Trump’s campaign had begun. That may be so but somewhere along the line there has certainly been rewrites and additions made to directly reference Trump, through the mouths of his characters and the author’s voice. Personally, I have no problem with artists of any medium expressing their own beliefs: if it conflicts with my delicate feelings or I find it is detracting from the basics of creating a strong piece of work, I’ll walk away from it. For whatever reasons – politically or artistically, I’ve never felt that need to give up on King because of his views and his expression of them.

So for long term fans of King this MAY well feel like a throwback – in the best possible way – to those earlier works. His writing of child characters is as good as ever, even if we don’t get quite the level of detail from previous works like The Body or IT, and his pacing is… well, some might say ‘plodding’ – I’d disagree with that strongly and say it’s assured. King, for me (and as I wrote about yesterday) is at his best when he’s painting the smaller picture: giving you the detail, in the feel of a place and its’ inhabitants through the small detail – the dialogue, the thinking, the actions. It’s what make his characters and his scenarios three dimensional, and the way he does it keeps me hooked even as I wait for major plot developments.  And the bureaucratic bad guys and girls? They’re as drawn as you’d expect from someone who has considered them throughout the history of his work. It’s not even possible to say it was his near fatal accident back in 1999 that has given King such a view of so many of institutional workers: going all the way back to The Stand he’s seemed to have a thing about a lot of those people in the white coats.

And the ending? Well, no spoilers, but it’s worth mentioning given the other lazy critical comment that King simply cannot end books. Suffice to say that here it’s definitive up to a point but twists a few ideologies-  if not on their head then at least slightly lopsided for consideration of what we have read over the 500+ pages preceding. There’s nothing ‘easy’ about it: perhaps the most political statement of all in the book – and not in any obvious, facetious way. It’s something that might well make the reader think on after the last page has been turned.

Where does it fit in King’s works? It’s good. And it’s old-school. Is it as good as The Stand or the comparable Firestarter? Well, that’s tricky to say: in my case we’re talking about books which I’ve read and re-read multiple times over the years so maybe I’ll wait to consider that for a while. What I DO think is that The Institute is a book I will return to: that’s not something I’ve said about every book King has written over the last ten years.

Of course, there’s already a mini-series in the works, and I can see it’s the sort of story that will benefit over an extended run. Will that, ironically get compared to Stranger Things? We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime it’s good to have a new…old…King novel out there.

Note: If you’re a member of Friends of the Bay you can read a short story by Simon Bewick here.