Holly, a Politically-Charged Horror Novel by Stephen King

The Bottom Line: Fans of King’s hugely successful Mr. Mercedes series may cheer Holly’s return to the King universe, but only if they’re ready to revisit the divisive political discourse of the COVID era.

People are disappearing from a small New England town, and the bloodthirsty perpetrators are about the last people you’d expect.

Named for the character at its core, Stephen King completed the Mr. Mercedes trilogy where readers first met private investegator Holly years ago. King describes her reappearance as follows: “I could never let Holly Gibney go. She was supposed to be a walk-on character in Mr. Mercedes and she just kind of stole the book and stole my heart. Holly is all her.”  

In Mr. Mercedes, Holly was a quirky and skiddish supporting character who gradually escaped her limitations and matriculated into a full-on heroine.  Here, Holly is on her own, and up against a pair of unimaginably depraved and brilliantly disguised adversaries. When Penny Dahl calls the Finders Keepers detective agency hoping for help locating her missing daughter, Holly is reluctant to accept the case. Her partner, Pete, has Covid. Her mother has just died and Holly is meant to be on leave. But something in Penny Dahl’s desperate voice makes it impossible for Holly to turn her down.

Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in the basement of their well-kept, book-lined home.

Because the couple are unveiled as the perps early on, the book’s primary suspense is limited to how long it will take Holly to discover them. In addition, Holly isn’t the only character from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy to reappear. In Holly, everyone is in danger.

While the plot is fully absorbing, and its characters typically well-drawn, this reviewer wasn’t quite prepared to revisit the political divisiveness of the COVID-era so fully. While King has accurately recreated the horror of America’s bitter debate over masks and vaccines, the surrounding political and social issues are absolutely inescapable here. Unfortunately, jabs at Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis – and the mentality of his supporters – are so frequent that each mention becomes a jarring trigger from King’s fictional world into the present-day political reality. It’s a tribute to King’s craft that the joys of the story were enough to propel this reader to the book’s satisfying conclusion.

Bella Wright

Bella Wright blogs about books, film and media.

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