Monday, 12 April 2010

Blaze by Richard Bachman - classic horror

Between 1977 and 1984 author Richard Bachman published five novels before his sudden and unexpected death in 1985 of cancer of the pseudonym. Dicky (as he was known to his friends) was never a major player in the world of literature, he never made the best-sellers list (his final novel Thinner sold around 28,000 copies) but during his brief seven year career he managed to build up a sturdy and somewhat faithful cult following, before being ‘outed’ as best-selling novelist Stephen King by a Washington book clerk and writer, Steve Brown. Rather tellingly after that Thinner went on to sell over £280,000 copies! Who said you should never judge a book by it’s cover…or author?!

Written in late 1972 – early 1973 during his ‘Bachman’ writing era King soon lost confidence in the novel, considering it to be “crap” and, although it was briefly considered as a follow up to his debut novel Carrie (it would lose out to the vampire infested book Second Coming, soon to be re-titled as ‘Salem’s Lot) he abandoned it without showing it to a single publisher. Instead it languished for thirty-four years as an infamous ‘trunk’ novel, packed away in a cardboard box, pushed into the corner of a cupboard before being dusted off in 2006, extensively revised and rewritten and released as Bachman’s (until now undiscovered) seventh, and final, novel.

Blaze, like Bachman’s 1981 novel Roadwork, is an attempt at what King himself calls a “serious novel”; all supernatural, horror or Sci-Fi elements ejected in favour of gritty realism and bare-bones story-telling. Clayton (Blaze) Blaisdell Jr, thrown down the stairs by an abusive alcoholic father when he was only six years old, stumbles through life as a semi-retarded giant, friendless save for the weasely, manipulative con-artist George Rackley. As the novel opens George is dead and the clueless Blaze finds himself alone once again; frightened and confused, yet resolutely determined to put George’s final plan into action – kidnapping a baby and ransoming it back to it’s rich parents for a million dollars. Things start to get a bit complicated however when Blaze finds himself unexpectedly falling in love with the little ankle-snapper and gradually becomes reluctant about giving him back.

There is no doubting that this is classic King at his yarn-spinning best. Following hot on the heels of the wonderfully apocalyptic Cell and the poignantly touching Lisey’s Story, Blaze is a ruthless and unflinching study of child abuse, mental cruelty and social ignorance in small town America. Original conceived as a follow up to his novel The Colorado Kid for Hard Case Crime publishers it’s flat, disconnected tones brilliantly hark back to the pulpy noir fiction of the 1950s creating a stark, unrelenting tale of pain, rejection and, ultimately, crime. Rewritten by King at a furious pace the narrative rattles along at breakneck speed hardly giving the reader time to catch their collective breath, and although it lacks some of the warmth and familiarity often associated with the author’s longer novels (at a mere 291 pages little time is given for any real in depth character development) Blaze still fails to disappoint and contains everything we’ve come to expect and love from a Stephen King novel. It’s just a pity that we’ve had to wait thirty-four years for this little gem to finally hit our local book shops!

Interestingly, all proceeds from Blaze go to The Haven Foundation, an organization specially created to help down on their luck freelance writers, so if you buy this book not only will you be getting a thumping good read but you’ll also be doing your bit for the odd struggling artiste! Now, doesn’t that give you a lovely warm glow inside!

Up next a review of Lavie Tidhar's new steampunk bestseller The Bookman.

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