- If It Bleeds.
- Stephen King.
- 384 pages.
- Crime / Thriller / Mystery / Horror / Short Story Collection.
- My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.
A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.
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 realizes there is something 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, humor, 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.
If It Bleeds is a collection of four novellas from Stephen King. The included novellas are:
Mr Harrigan’s Phone.
Craig, a young boy, at the age of nine-years-old starts working for Mr Harrigan and gets paid $5 dollars an hour to do odd jobs around the house, gardening and to read to Mr Harrigan. Each year Craig receives four cards from Mr Harrigan, a Valentine’s Day card, a birthday card, a Thanksgiving Day card and a Christmas card all with a single $1 dollar scratchcard included as a gift.
After a couple of years working for Mr Harrigan and receiving the cards, Craig wins $3,000 dollars on one of the scratchcards. With part of his winnings, Craig buys Mr Harrigan an iPhone as a gift and as a thank you.
Mr Harrigan hates technology, doesn’t have a TV and he only listens to the radio (he has a fondness for country music) in the car. He is an ex-businessman who retired to a quiet life in the small village of Harlow away from the hustle and bustle of the city, away from it all to a reclusive and simple life.and keeps up on the stock market, his finances and his investments with newspapers. Stubborn and set in his ways he initially declines the iPhone from Craig, but when Craig shows him an app that shows the real-time movement and up to date information on the stock market Mr Harrigan changes his mind. He accepts the gift, opens his eyes to the possibilities and embraces the technology. Harrigan goes from living in the past with his newspapers and becomes part of the new world, the ancient joining the modern.
Over their time spent together the pair develop a friendship and a bond between them is formed akin to a grandfather and his grandson. Craig is just starting his life, on the verge of growing up, his time only just begun while Harrigan is nearing the end, his time on the verge of running out and the end drawing nearer. Mr Harrigan dies and at the funeral, saying his last goodbye Craig slips the iPhone into his pocket before the coffin lid is closed. However, it’s not the last goodbye, Mr Harrigan is dead but, he isn’t gone and with the iPhone, he reaches out to Craig from beyond the grave as a message in reply to Craig’s last message appears on Craig’s phone.
One night, further down the line Craig can’t sleep, he’s feeling lonely and he is missing Mr Harrigan. So, he rings Mr Harrigan’s iPhone and through the recorded voicemail answering message that Mr Harrigan used he is able once more to hear his voice, to calm and to settle him. He then leaves him a voice mail message. When he wakes in the morning there is another text message from Mr Harrigan.
Craig puts the messages out of his mind but he still occasionally thinks about his old friend Mr Harrigan and when he starts middle-school he gets bullied. He decides to call Mr Harrigan and tell him what happened to him. Later, the bully dies, mysteriously and the gnarly old voice, like rusted nails that once brought Craig comfort now seems sinister to him.
The Life of Chuck.
The Life of Chuck is told in three acts and it is a life told backwards, not from the beginning to the end but, the reverse, from the end to the beginning with snapshots of moments that have left an impression on Chuck.
In the first act, a picture of Charles ‘Chuck’ Krantz, an accountant for the Midwest Trust bank appears on a huge billboard looming large across the city with the message ‘Charles Krantz, 39 Great Years! Thanks, Chuck!’ written beneath. Chuck also appears on TV adverts with the same picture and the same message written underneath, he is everywhere and yet no-one knows who he is. At the same time as the images of Chuck are mysteriously appearing Chuck, himself lays dying in a hospital bed and the world is dying too. The phone towers are down, the Internet doesn’t work, bridges are collapsing, fires are raging, sinkholes are forming and massive earthquakes are destroying large areas of the country as the world is fraying at the seams and tearing itself apart
In the second act, Chuck is on a week-long banking conference in Boston. As he is walking along a street Chuck passes a busker who is drumming a tune and hoping for the passers-by to offer up a few coins or notes into his hat. Chuck gets caught up in the music, the beat and the tune and starts dancing, something that he hasn’t done in years. Remembering his old high-school rock and roll band where Chuck was the lead singer and he used to dance with the lead guitarists younger sister. He is swept away on the beat for a moment of musical magic. It is a brief moment in time where the respectable accountant falls away to be replaced by the young Chuck who loved to dance.
In the third act, Chuck, aged seven-years-old is orphaned after both of his parents die and he goes to live with his grandparents. Grief takes hold over the household with the loss but, over the following years things start to go back to normal, colour returning and dark giving way to light. His grandma loves to dance and she teaches young Chuck the moves as they dance around the house and listen to rock and roll music.
They live in a Victorian house with a cupola, but both his grandma and his grandpa warn Chuck never to go up the cupola as his grandpa says that there are ghosts, spirits that are lingering up there that shouldn’t be disturbed. Young boys (and girls) are fascinated by the unknown and the lure, the pull to find out the truth and Chuck wants to know what is behind the locked door, where secrets are hidden and the ghosts dwell.
If It Bleeds.
If It Bleeds is the longest novella in the collection at over double the length of each of the other three included and it is the first time that Holly Gibney has been the main character in a story. Given her chance by King in If It Bleeds she shines in the role. I really do love Holly and she is a wonderful character. She is brave, determined, plucky, resilient and quirky. She has some eccentricities and issues and she is highly likeable. I hope that a full-length novel is in the not-so-distant future for her.
A padded envelope is sent by Holly Gibney to Detective Ralph Anderson containing a flash drive labelled ‘If It Bleeds’. On the flash drive, there are two files. One a collection of photographs and spectrograms. The other, an audio diary by Holly that ends with a warning to Ralph saying that ‘If I do die, and you choose to continue what I’ve started, please be careful. You have a wife and son’.
Holly became firm friends with Anderson when she met and aided him while he was investigating the case that features in ‘The Outsider’. I haven’t read the Bill Hodges trilogy in which Holly Gibney first appeared (I really need to). But, I have read The Outsider to which If It Bleeds is a stand-alone sequel. While it isn’t essential to have read that book first. For me, personally, I was pleased that I had read The Outsider previously for the added depth and knowledge that it brings to the story in I read If It Bleeds.
A bomb explodes at the Albert Macready High School in Pineborough near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania causing mass destruction and resulting in the deaths of students and teachers and with many severe casualties too.
Chet Ondowsky the TV news reporter who arrived first at the scene of the tragedy is still reporting from the school on the nightly news report. Gone are the clean and TV-ready appearance and in there place, Ondowsky is unkempt and covered in dust, grime and specks of blood from helping in the search for any survivors. Holly is watching the report on the TV in her apartment and while part of her wants to praise the efforts of Ondowsky who has actually been helping with the rescue and being human rather than just reporting the facts from a distance something to her seems ‘off’ about him. She can’t pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the picture, but there is something there gnawing away at her, that is just out of her reach and waiting for her to grasp.
Holly and the rest of the team at Finders Keepers are busy with their own cases and clients, but the school bombing and Ondowsky have been lingering in the back of her thoughts, like an itch that she just can’t scratch. In-between Finders Keepers own investigations and dealing with familial problems she has tried to keep up to date with the reports and any new developments regarding the bombing. Suddenly, like a ray of sunlight breaking through a cloudy and grey sky it hits her and Holly realises what it is that has been bugging her about Ondowsky.
The events of The Outsider pulled back the veil and that there is far more evil in the world than just the humankind and the evil that men (and women) can do. That supernatural forces, the things that go bump on the night and that monsters who feed on pain, suffering, terror and tragedy exist, they are real and they are roaming the world.
The bombing isn’t her investigation and it has nothing to do with her, but she can’t let what she has found out about Ondowsky go and she has to do something.
Drew Larson is an author, struggling, he has had a couple of short stories published though they were written years apart. All his attempts at writing a full-length novel have failed and the last attempt resulted in an accident that required the emergency services and a breakdown for Drew.
Since then, Drew has been on the mend, still fragile but recovering and starting to function again, he is back at work and life has returned more or less to normal. One day, he gets an idea for a novel, fully-formed comes with crystal clear clarity into his mind, he can see the characters, the setting and the story all there waiting to be written.
His wife is worried that what happened before will happen again to him and that the pressure, the stress that he will put himself under to write the novel will cause him to crack, to start breaking apart again. With the promise of constant phone calls and that he will look after himself Drew gets his wife’s begrudging blessing to go alone to his Dad’s remote cabin in the woods, miles from anywhere, secluded and with nature as his only companion to kick-start the writing process and to begin work on the novel.
Drew leaves behind his wife and two children for a few weeks of isolation and solitude. Locking himself away from the wider world and any distractions that might destroy his creativity in the hope that he will be able to lose himself in the unfolding story that he is writing as it makes its way from his imagination to words on pages. He needs to write a novel, it is like a wound that won’t heal and a hole inside of him that he needs to fill.
After a few days in the cabin and with the writing going well and the words flowing Drew starts to feel ill, developing flu-like symptoms, a cough, a sore throat and a fever. At the same time, as he starts to feel unwell, a storm is approaching that will bring bad weather, gales, a drop in temperatures and will likely result in damage to property and trees being blown down. As the flu takes hold and as the storm rolls in Drew ends up sick and stranded in the cabin.
With the onset of illness things start going wrong, he starts having trouble writing, finding the right words, the words themselves faltering and focusing on the story. He has writer’s block and worse, he seems to be repeating what happened before and beginning the journey that saw him travelling down a road that led him to a breakdown.
At night he hears a scratching sound coming from the cabin door, the storm is in full-swing and standing there, on the porch is a rat. With the wind howling, the rain lashing down Drew takes pity on the poor creature and brings it inside out of the storm and into the dry and relatively warm cabin.
With the fever raging, delirium taking hold and hallucinations blurring the line between reality and imagination the rat talks, offering Drew a deal. The rat offers Drew a Faustian bargain, a way to finish his novel but, if Drew accepts the pact between rodent and man there will be consequences and there will be a cost…
There is something effortless and easy to read about King’s writing and If It Bleeds finds the old master and veteran wordsmith on top form. The collection is well-written in King’s own style where he is able to make the everyday and mundane seem magical and engrossing and also features some stellar characterisation, sense of setting and storytelling all on display within the pages. The sense of setting that King creates is tremendous and particularly worthy of mention are the village of Harlow and the small-town way of life in Mr Harrigan’s Phone and, the isolated cabin in the remote woods in Rat which is a highly atmospheric location. Throughout the four stories, there are some well-developed and vivid characters that populate the four included stories and there is a strength to King’s characterisation. Whether his characters appear for only a few pages or many more, are major players or minor in the unfolding story his creations come to life, have a strong presence and they feel like real people.
Each individual story in If It Bleeds is fulfilling and as a whole, the collection gives the reader a varied, enjoyable and entertaining reading experience. Mr Harrigan’s Phone is a bittersweet and creepy coming-of-age story about a friendship between two different generations, loss, hurting people and letting go. The Life of Chuck which, on first appearances is rather strange turns into a story that is clever, moving, poignant and touching. If It Bleeds, the story that shares its name with the title of the book is compelling, full of suspense and blends together a thriller with the supernatural which is a combination that I love and that when done right works extremely well. In King’s hand’s simply, he does it right. And, to end the collection Rat is a delightfully dark and atmospheric little fable that delves into the mind of a tortured writer.
Purchase If It Bleeds by Stephen King.
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