Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99, 340 pages

Stephen King’s latest quartet of “long stories” seethes with Old Testament-style justice. Vengeance is his, or at least his characters’, and is wrought with a savagery that would make Cain blush. Full dark indeed: readers will need a strong stomach for the story of a Midwestern farmer’s wife butchered and thrown down a well to be eaten by rats; even more so, when they are confronted with the hillbilly rape of a female crime writer returning from a speaking engagement.

However, brutality is only part of the story, secondary to a more psychological – even philosophical – interest. “How many suspected selves could a person have hidden inside?” the narrator asks. That theme is tenaciously explored in the tales of a dying man offered a life-extension by the Devil at the price of his best friend’s happiness, and that of the wife of a possible serial killer confronting her suspicions. Hardly a comforting view of human nature, it makes for a gripping, and surprisingly thoughtful, read.

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