Halloween reads: Stephen King’s Holly – Silence of the Lambs meets Misery

Bill Hodges told Holly once that a case was like an egg. 'Most cases are fragile, the way eggs are fragile. Why? because most criminals are dopes. ...So you treat a case like an egg. You crack it, you beat it, you put it in a pan with some butter. Then you make yourself a nice little omelet.'


When a librarian (!) goes missing, Holly Gibney, a favourite character from Mr Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch, The Outsider and If It Bleeds, gets on the case.

Set during the Covid pandemic, (there's been trend in pandemic-based books this year), and the time of Trump the Chump, this book is 'all Holly', says King.

Holly's very much on her own, which is a mixed blessing.

Her friend and mentor Bill Hodges (we loved Bill Hodges!) passed on some time ago. Her new partner in crime, ex-cop Pete, is struggling with long Covid. Jerome has swanned off to New York to sign a publishing deal on his own book, while his sister Barbara, now a senior in school, is secretly pursuing a prize of her own - poetry.

Holly's called in by a very desperate mom to find her daughter. Penny Dahl is a woman whose control over missing twenty-something Bonnie resembles that of Holly's own mother. Charlotte Gibney has only just passed away from Covid, and Holly is reluctant, almost unable to take the case. Until she gets her teeth into it.

King makes the character of the overbearing mother so convincing; I wonder if he had one? 

Two elderly cannibals raise the bar in this Finders Keepers story. Holly's instincts and sympathies prick her into joining the dots, unearthing enough missing persons to form an unsettling pattern. Others have gone missing in the same place over the years. People with little or no family to keep tabs on them.

King is skilled at characterisation. It's one of the things that draws me to his stories. In Holly, he fleshes his characters out to the extent that the reader feels they know them well enough to share their pain and grieve for them. I loved the character of Olivia Kingsbury, Barbara's mentor. She reminded me of Mother Abigail, from The Stand.

What, or who is the connection? Is someone profiling the missing people?

Holly is a slow burn, as detective stories often are. It's an ominous read with some quite yuck moments, which gains speed as Holly hurtles towards a startling conclusion. It gets pretty nail biting as both Barbara, and Holly, come under the killers' radar. Will one of them become the Red Park Predator's next victim?!

King has much to say about the pandemic (he's pro-vax) and Donald Trump (he's anti Trump), but he's not 'soapboxing' as he says in the book's appendix - it sets up the story in context; the police in Holly's hometown are severely understaffed. King's text, he says, relates both points of view on both topics.

He also says that the science behind the killers' motive; that eating human bits can stave off dementia, or cure sciatica, is bogus. Lol. That's good, because I have sciatica and I began to wonder...

There are some great one-liners in the text, and aged serial killer Roddy Harris is darkly funny:

Holly thinks, I am speaking to an authentic mad scientist.

'Lysine cures anxiety! Lysine heals wounds! The liver is a lysine treasure-chest! It also revitalizes the thymus gland, which creates T-cells! '

Emily Harris is frightening as Roddy's harrying wife, driving him to make his theories real, to cure her bad back. She brings Annie Wilkes from Misery to life again.

Consuming people seems to be a King thing. A lot of his later writing, bar Fairytale and The Outsider, has focused on how monstrous humans can be, without the supernatural element.

Just when you think you've seen the worst human beings have to offer, you find out you're wrong. There's no end to evil. 

But King, and Holly, believe in providence. The intervention of a higher power. SK refers to it as 'the universe throwing a rope.'

(Holly) likes to think there's a kind of providence at work in matters of right and wrong, blind but powerful, like that of Lady Justice holding out her scales. That there's a force in the affairs of men and women standing on the side of the weak and unsuspecting, and against evil.

I Loved it! But it was ooghy (Holly's word). It was good to revisit these characters; in my humble opinion their creator still has his creepy mojo.

Stephen King just celebrated his 76th birthday. He says he's as old as the trombones in the parade.

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