Our Flynn Berry Reviews Stephen King’s Latest

In Stephen King’s Latest, Beware the Kindly Old Professors

His new novel, “Holly,” charges into thorny contemporary debates with a pair of unassuming fiends.

By Flynn Berry

HOLLY, by Stephen King

A friend of mine has become a scaredy-cat since having a baby. She has been forcing herself to watch horror movies through parted fingers, hoping they will steel her nerves for the frights of everyday life. I thought of my friend’s experiment while reading “Holly,” the new mystery from Stephen King: Here is a thriller scary enough to test its readers’ mettle — and toughen them up.

Holly Gibney, a private investigator, is attending her mother’s funeral when a woman calls asking for help finding her missing daughter. From a classic hard-boiled premise, the investigation unspools in rich, generous storytelling, its tone more color-saturated than noir. Like Kate Atkinson in her Jackson Brodie series, King writes a procedural with Dickensian scope: In “Holly,” we encounter reversals of fortune, a surprise inheritance, and a wide cast of friends and adversaries.

Holly once wanted to be a poet. She is partial to a mai tai “because it makes her think of palm trees, turquoise water and white sand beaches.” She likes movies, and has a habit of quoting scraps of dialogue to herself. She was raised by a difficult, overbearing mother whose remembered maxims continue to scold her, and she’s still wary around teenage boys after being bullied in school. Holly is loyal, resourceful and unstintingly conscientious: She carries around an empty cough drop tin as a personal ashtray. Other people might toss their cigarettes on the ground, “but that doesn’t mean she has to add her own filth to the general litter.”

When Holly appears on the page, you never have the sense of an author pulling her strings. Her decisions feel genuine, like Holly herself is running the show. She first appeared in “Mr. Mercedes,” the start of King’s Detective Bill Hodges trilogy, and continued to evolve in “Finders Keepers” and “End of Watch.” King has said that Holly “was supposed to be a walk-on character in ‘Mr. Mercedes’ and she just kind of stole the book and stole my heart.” Her presence balances the new novel’s darkness. And there is quite a lot of darkness. Read the full review at the New York Times.

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