Kemper's Reviews > The Dark Half

The Dark Half by Stephen King
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Sep 22, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: horror, crime-mystery, writers-writing, uncle-stevie

Stephen King once wrote some books under the pen name Richard Bachman, but the gag was blown by a book store clerk in 1985. In The Dark Half, a writer using a pen name is exposed and a murderous rampage occurs as a result with numerous victims getting killed in a variety of gruesome ways, including one guy getting beaten to death with his own prosthetic arm. Uh…Mr. King? I can assure you that I have no interest at all in revealing any secret of yours that I may accidently come across someday. I promise.

Thad Beaumont is a college professor and writer with a wife and baby twins. Thad writes very serious literature and was a National Book Award nominee for his first novel. Unfortunately, he never really found commercial success and got a fat case of writer’s block along the way. So Thad comes up with the pen name, George Stark, that he uses to write gory crime novels, and those books all become popular best sellers. Part of the Stark mystique is the elaborate history Thad devises for him with George sharing a lot of characteristics with the ruthless killer who is the star of the books.

When someone threatens to blow the whistle about who Stark really is, Thad beats them to the punch by going public and declaring that he’s tired of George Stark and will no longer write the crime novels. However, a lot of people connected with ending the Stark name start getting killed. And how can Thad’s fingerprints be all over the crime scenes even though he was hundreds of miles away? Apparently George Stark is a little more real than Thad thought. And he’s very pissed off.

If you ever get into discussions about King’s books with his fans, The Dark Half doesn’t get mentioned a lot, and that’s a shame because I think it’s one of his most underrated books. It’s obvious that the idea was inspired by King’s own use of a pen name, and it’s one of the first books that King really started digging into the idea of what it means to write and create something. Those are themes he’d come to explore a lot more in later years, but when Thad asks himself, “Who am I when I write?”, you can feel King pondering that question himself.

This feels a little bit different from some other King books because it's a hybrid of crime and horror. As always with King, he starts throwing in more detail than he needs to, and it probably would have been a better book if he trimmed a hundred pages. I still think it’s one of his better efforts and that Stark is one of his scarier villains.

I also have a soft spot for this one because it led me to another writer who became one of my favorites. During the story, while Thad is giving an interview about how he came up with George Stark, he mentions being inspired by Donald Westlake using Richard Stark as a pen name for his Parker crime novels. I’d never even heard of Westlake back then in those caveman days before the internet or Amazon, but I thought he sounded interesting so I eventually tracked some of his books down and have been a fan since.

Not as good as The Stand or Salem’s Lot or The Dead Zone, but a helluva lot better than Rose Madder or Desperation, this is one that I think should get more attention from King fans.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent The Dark Half is way underrated. It's one of the few non-Dark Tower King books that hasn't been purged from the collection for store credit over the years.


Kemper Same here. Kept the Dark Towers and few others like The Stand and this one, but most have been sold or given away. Except for Under the Dome. It's too heavy to move. It'll stay on the shelf until I die and someone else can get a hernia carrying it out.


message 3: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent That's the same plan I have for getting rid of the fold out couch in my basement.


Kemper Dan wrote: "That's the same plan I have for getting rid of the fold out couch in my basement."

And as a bonus, they may get a squirrel! (I've been reading your blog.)


message 5: by Dan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dan Schwent I'm convinced that bastard squirrel is long gone.


Michael It's interesting that "Dark Half" and "Misery" came out during the same era for King. The two make an interesting look at the writer and the writing process...and the unintended consequences of both.


message 7: by Kemper (last edited Jun 23, 2010 02:07PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper Michael wrote: "It's interesting that "Dark Half" and "Misery" came out during the same era for King. The two make an interesting look at the writer and the writing process...and the unintended consequences of both."

Agreed. He's written a lot in those books and others like Duma Key about loving the act of creation but of it often having a dark side to it.


Gwynhwyfar Hilarious opening! I must agree w/Dan that this is a seriously underrated book. I hated King before reading it and though he's now one of my fave writers, "Dark Half" will always have a special, disturbing place in my heart (or my brain?).


Kemper Gwynhwyfar wrote: "Hilarious opening! I must agree w/Dan that this is a seriously underrated book. I hated King before reading it and though he's now one of my fave writers, "Dark Half" will always have a special, di..."

Thanks! I've always been a little puzzeld about why this one isn't usually mentioned among King's better stuff.


Erin ☕ *Proud Book Hoarder* I haven't read it for years so need a refresher. Remember it being a gripping, well-written book though.


Trudi Kemper wrote: "but a helluva lot better than Rose Madder or Desperation..."

I certainly won't argue with that. The Dark Half is one I have to read again. It's been years, and when I read it the hybrid of crime and horror that you refer to might have just thrown me off since I wasn't reading any crime fiction back then. I'd be curious to see how it would come across today.


message 12: by Kemper (last edited Dec 10, 2012 08:21AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper Trudi wrote: "Kemper wrote: "but a helluva lot better than Rose Madder or Desperation..."

I certainly won't argue with that. The Dark Half is one I have to read again. It's been years, and when I read it the hy..."


It's definitely one of King's that seems to get overlooked.


message 13: by Bill (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bill One of the few of his I haven't read...good, I'll have to check this one out!


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I have always liked this book a lot too. This was actually how I first heard of Richard Stark, back when I was 14. Funny how it took me ten years to finally get around to reading a book by him. I also kind of wished King had written those Machine novels because they sounded ridiculous.


message 15: by Nick (new) - added it

Nick Craven This sounds like a great book! I'll have to check it out.


message 16: by Ryon (new) - added it

Ryon Hallman I have always considered this book to be a spiritual successor to pet sematary. They both take place in the town of ludlow. The only two king books to do so. They both have a perpetually gloomy atmosphere that most Stephen King books don't have, No matter how dark the subject matter.


message 17: by Leah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leah Polcar Being better than Rose Madder is hardly a compliment really. My Miller Lite can provides more interesting reading.

I agree with you that this is under-rated, or at least under-discussed. It has been years since I read it, and I do remember so many things being overblown, but all that stuff with the sparrows was just too cool for school.


Kemper Leah wrote: "Being better than Rose Madder is hardly a compliment really. My Miller Lite can provides more interesting reading.."

Very true. That's a low bar to clear, but I did say that it was a helluva lot better. And it's light years better than Insomnia and Tommyknockers.


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