Stephen King had such fun recording the epic, unabridged audio version of his haunting novel Bag of Bones
, he decided to publish the three-story collection Blood and Smoke exclusively on audio. They're horror stories, good and dark, loosely linked by the theme of cigarettes and a macabre humor. The flip-top cigarette-box package is amusingly cool, too.
In the first tale, "Lunch at the Gotham Café," Steve Davis quits smoking two days after his wife dumps him. King cleverly compares the two kinds of withdrawal: obsession blends with emotional flatness, and you're left "with a feeling the world has taken on a decidedly dreamy cast." Driven, Steve meets with his wife and her lawyer at a midtown Manhattan restaurant, where the nightmare begins. "I was pretty sure something was wrong with the maitre d' almost as soon as I saw him," says Steve, and gothic café events soon prove him right.
But the gory denouement actually worked better on the page, in the 1995 book Dark Love. King's two new stories, written directly for audio, outdo the first. In "1408," Mike Enslin, a writer who once studied with Jane Smiley, dreamed of being a Yale Younger Poet, and "starved on the payroll of The Village Voice," is reduced to hacking out stuff like "10 Nights in 10 Haunted Houses." For a follow-up, he visits room 1408 of the film noir-ish Dolphin Hotel. "Five women and one man have jumped from that room's single window, Mr. Enslin," notes the proprietor. "Twelve suicides in 68 years." Ah, but Mike is wearing his "lucky Hawaiian shirt--it's the one with the ghost repellent," and an unlit cigarette is tucked behind his ear.
"In the Deathroom" evokes another scary small space: a bloodstained basement Ministry of Information in which Fletcher, a reporter who quit smoking long ago, asks Escobar and his torturer's assistants--Ramon and a woman who reminds Fletcher of the Bride of Frankenstein--for a last cigarette. Fletcher recognizes the "we don't need no steenkeeng badges" cliché he's trapped in, and is "amazed to discover that one's sense of humor ... could function this far into a state of terror." But when Fletcher takes a drag, "knowing he might be dead before it burned down to the filter," you'll be tense. King's nasal, sarcastic delivery puts you right in there with his horrified protagonists. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.