Title: Four Past Midnight
Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 934
I read this book over Christmas because when I spend a bunch of time away from home, I like to take the biggest and thickest book on my TBR pile. In this case, it was Four Past Midnight, a collection of four Stephen King novellas that was published in 1990. Those stories are The Langoliers, Secret Window, Secret Garden, The Library Policeman and The Sun Dog, so I guess I’ll dedicate a paragraph to each of them before sharing what I thought of the book as a whole.
The Langoliers was incredible, and it even made me think that the book had the potential to be a five-star read. I think it’s one of King’s finest novellas and it certainly put the scares into me. In it, a bunch of passengers fall asleep on a plane and find themselves waking up in some sort of alternate universe. But there’s a horrifying sound approaching from the east, a sound like the whole world is falling apart, and the passengers have to band together to try to escape. What’s great about this story is that King stacks the odds so firmly against them that it seems almost impossible for them to escape. It just keeps you gripped from start to finish, and that can only be a good thing when you’re trying to get through a 950-page book.
Unfortunately, I found that The Langoliers was also the finest story in the collection. Its follow up, Secret Window, Secret Garden, was a story about a writer who’s confronted by a man who accuses him of plagiarism, but the stakes weren’t as high as they were in The Langoliers and I found it difficult to get fully absorbed into the story. I also predicted a lot of the different turns, including the main one at the end, and so as a result it felt kind of stilted and unsatisfying. King includes a short introductory essay in which he explains the circumstances behind the story’s creation and for me, it seemed like a pretty poorly thought out idea to begin with. It was just okay.
Then we have The Library Policeman, which was based on an old story that used to be told of a special library policeman going around to hunt people down if they fail to return their books. It’s not a legend that I’d heard of before, but it’s a pretty cool basis for a story and I like the way that the story all ties together at the end. It’s also a great read for people who are into books and stuff, which you presumably are if you’re reading a 950-page Stephen King book, but it wasn’t his best and it wasn’t as good as The Langoliers. It also takes a while for the sense of menace to grow, but once it does, you’ll be sure to feel it.
The final story is The Sun Dog, which is all about a haunted camera that shows a sort of ghost dog getting closer and closer every time it takes a picture. A young boy is given the camera as a birthday present and subsequently finds himself in charge of destroying it. Again, it took a while for the underlying threat in the story to start to build, but once it did it felt omnipresent, and I think its placement at the end did a lot to round out the book. It was pretty much just a piece of classic King horror and it worked well as the dessert. The Langoliers was one hell of a starter though, so much so that I filled myself up on it and it spoiled the main.
All in all, though, I still thought this was one hell of a book, and it’s worth buying for the first novella alone. It could have been better, because I wasn’t super keen on each and every one of the stories, but I would still have read them anyway. I just have a thing for Stephen King and I’d read his shopping list if it was available in paperback. And honestly as a book overall, it stands up there amongst some of his best. I also think that different people would probably prefer different stories.
The main fault that I could see is that a lot of it was kind of predictable. That’s because of the Twilight Zone influence – if you’ve seen plenty of those shows and read a lot of Stephen King, as I have, then you’ll probably be able to anticipate what’s about to happen without too much of a problem. Strangely, though, that doesn’t take away from the stories themselves. I think they’re kind of meant to be like that, and it’s certainly not as though the stories rely on these twists. In fact, many of them are actually more interesting when you dig into the backstory than they are if you’re only interested in the plot and the way in which it develops.
Still, despite any criticisms that I have, it’s also clear that King is a master at his craft, and that makes these stories enjoyable no matter whether you read them one after another or whether you dip in and out of them whenever you’re in the mood for it. It might not be the best place to start if you’re new to Stephen King purely because of the length of it, but what I will say is that there’s plenty of stuff here for the seasoned fan.