Wednesday, January 28, 2009


It goes without saying that I am a huge Stephen King fan. Even during the years when I mostly stopped reading horror, I still kept up with the King. I believe his strength of characterization surpasses many of the more “literary” novelists who turn out turgid, pointless books praised by the critical establishment. So the publication of a new book by King is always a good thing for me.

Blaze is officially credited to Richard Bachman, who some of you may know as the longtime nom de plume of King. King used the Bachman name to write (mostly) crime novels early in his career. Once Bachman was revealed to be King’s alter ego after the publication of Thinner, a press release was issued announcing Bachman had died of “cancer of the pseudonym”. Blaze was a “trunk novel”, written by Bachman/King in 1973, never published, and put in storage for the last 35 years. It has now been published by Signet, with a foreword by Stephen King, who has become something of the executor of Bachman’s imaginary literary estate. While it doesn’t rank among the better books by King, it is much better than you might think, given its history.

This is the story of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., known as Blaze to his friends. As a child, Blaze is big for his age, and extremely intelligent. Until his alcoholic father throws him down a flight of stairs. Three times. When Blaze awakens from the coma, he has a huge dent in his forehead, and the intelligence of someone mildly retarded. He grows up in a series of orphanages and detention centers, ultimately growing to 6’7” and almost 300 pounds. Blaze is good-natured, but prone to being controlled by others. When he reaches adulthood, his friend George leads him into a life of petty crime and small con jobs. After George is killed, Blaze is left adrift, with nothing to focus on but a wild scheme of George’s – to kidnap the infant child of a local millionaire. He doesn’t have the capacity to pull off the crime, but goes forward with it nonetheless.

The book comes off as a bit of a cross between Of Mice and Men and the Lindbergh kidnapping. Blaze doesn’t have the smarts to pull the caper off, so the question is how many will get hurt and killed along the way to the inevitable conclusion. (When Blaze makes the phone call for the ransom demand, he gives the operator his real name). It is a tragic book, as you know you are heading for a grim conclusion, and you can’t help but feel some sympathy for a character that got such a rough deal from life. The book was originally slated to be part of the excellent Hard Case Crime series, but was instead published as an independent novel. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

No comments: