It’s a creative premise, and King does a great job pulling it off. This was one of the tightest of his books I’ve read, with little in the way of extraneous detail. King has a tendency to overwrite, and I was pleased that he didn’t seem to give into that urge here.
The story is gripping and clever. I was reminded at times of Thomas Harris, in the way it follows the cat-and-mouse game between a serial killer and the person trying to catch him. George Stark is a memorable villain, made believable in the way he’s driven by sheer need. King leans heavily into his nastiness, yet manages to draw some sympathy for him by the end – all he wants, after all, is not to die.
Thad is in many ways a typical King protagonist – a writer, a family man, the picture of a regular guy – but what makes him interesting is the need he has for Stark, and vice versa. Stark is everything he’s not, strong, hyper-masculine, independent, and he envies the freedom Stark has, even as he’s repulsed by his actions. Stark hates Thad, viewing him as weak, but in his way envies Thad for having what he doesn’t – stability, talent, love. There’s echoes of Frankenstein in their relationship, the monster taking his revenge against his creator.
The Dark Half is Stephen King at his best. A brilliant idea, executed well, with good characters and plenty of suspense. At its core, it’s about coming to terms with the uglier parts of yourself, learning to accept them, but not letting them take over. It’s also a fascinating window into how King feels about his own writing, and the circumstances by which his own pseudonym was revealed. If you’ve not read any King before, it’s a good place to start, and if you have, it’s not one to be missed.
Review by Charlie Alcock