A little while ago, when I was suffering from a bout of insomnia, I got the idea that playing spoken word tapes whilst I was trying to sleep might help me to drift off. I soon owned a couple of “Red Dwarf” tapes, one read by Chris Barrie, and one by Craig Charles, both actors and, in the case of Chris Barrie, a skilled mimic. So when I happened upon “Blood and Smoke”, promising three of his own stories read by Stephen King, who I have long been a huge fan of, I snapped it up immediately. For nearly a year, I listened to these stories, discovering that they do help me get to sleep. Especially after listening to King’s fairly boring voice for a little while. The packaging offers a warning – “Listening after dark may cause fear, trembling and, ultimately, insanity.” This was not to prove true in my case. Listening after dark merely caused mild irritation as I kept missing the ends of the stories. Eventually I gave up, and played them in the car whilst driving to and from work. Stephen King is undoubtedly a great writer. However, in recent years, he has developed a tendency to go on a bit too much, and his short stories have been better than the majority of his novels. However, the stories in “Blood and Smoke” are by no means his best work. It almost feels as if someone, probably in Marketing somewhere, has looked at one of his stories, “Lunch at the Gotham Café”, the only previously published story here, and thought “Hmm, let’s have Steve write another couple of stories involving smoking, and then we can sell them as an audio tape.” The end result is a grouping of stories which promise blood and smoke, and deliver very little of either. The smoking, certainly, feels like an afterthought. The other major problem with this collection is the person reading them. Stephen King may be a great storyteller, but he’s not a great teller of stori
es. His accent seems somewhere between the Maine drawl he writes about so often, with most of his novels being set in that state, and the almost nasal New York accent and, whilst he does not quite speak in a monotone, there is not a great variation of tone, and sometimes the only thing that distinguishes between two different characters having a conversation is a slight difference in tone, maybe a softening or hardening of his voice. What makes this all the more remarkable is that one of his characters, Rose McClendon in 1995’s “Rose Madder”, gets a job reading audio books after a chance meeting. If I may quote for a moment, the person who conducts her impromptu audition says to her “Your voice is absolutely wonderful…low but not drony, melodious and very clear, with no definable accent…” and “…dialogue is much harder than narration…the acid test, one might say. But I heard two different people. I actually heard them!” Stephen King clearly knows the theory of reading aloud, but not the practice. It would perhaps have been advisable if, when he’d realised how he sounded, he had passed the job along to someone else. His voice, as opposed to how Rose’s must have sounded, does tend to drone a little, and does have a fairly strong accent to it. And, whilst you can distinguish between two characters, you do sometimes need to concentrate to do so. It is a shame, as these three stories are fairly good, all told, although two of them are far from Stephen King’s best, and his reading of them does take something away from them. The packaging promises “nail-biting suspense” which never really materialises and all of the stories seem to tail off, even though the pace within them is fairly high, at least in part. The first of these is “1408”, a ghost story without a ghost. Mike Endslin is a writer of factual ghost stories, having
written three books with titles starting with “Ten nights in ten…”, written by spending a night in ten separate, supposedly haunted, locations. Having covered castles, graveyards and houses, he’s now onto hotel rooms. Which brings him to Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel, New York. It is a room which has seen thirteen people commit suicide in it over the years, and which Mike believes is haunted. However, as the hotel manager tells him, there are no ghosts in the room, but an evil presence, which means harm on everyone who enters the room, and will hurt Mike if he tries to stay in there. His efforts at persuasion have no effect, and Mike enters the room for what turns out to be the most eventful hour (or so) of his life. This is a wonderful story, the first half fairly slow, as the hotel manager tries to persuade Mike not to go into the room, the second much quicker, once Mike is in the room, although it does tail off towards the end. There is very little smoke involved, and that is mostly caused by fire, and not by cigarettes, and no real blood. It is also let down more than a little by the reader of the story, and by the discordant clarinet which comes in, a little too loudly just before the end of the reading. The compilation is worth buying for this story alone. The second story, “In the Deathroom”, is a story of Fletcher, a newspaper reporter in a Latin American country, who has been arrested and is being interrogated for the information he may have concerning an impending revolution. They use an interesting instrument of torture to try to make him talk, whilst Fletcher tries to give away as little as possible, whilst not getting caught telling the lie which may kill him, a difficult job for a reporter. This is not one of his better stories, although it does get a little gory, which is never a bad thing and shouldn’t be listened to at mealtimes. Stephen King’s attempts at accents
are not terribly successful, although his New York-type accent is fairly good. The ending is relatively poor, but nice enough, although “nice” is not really a word you would normally associate with Stephen King. The smoking reference is strongest in this story, and does become quite important towards the end. Again, this may be better with another reader, and would probably work better if it were written down, and you could take a bit more time over it. The final story, “Lunch at the Gotham Café” is the only previously published story in this collection. It was in an anthology called “Dark Love”, published in 1995 and edited by Nancy Collins, Edward Kramer and Martin Greenberg and, at £6.99, is well worth a look. It is interesting that this story was commissioned originally for it’s links with love, rather than smoking, and fits in better with the theme of that collection, rather than this one. This story also indicates the lie on the packaging of this collection, promising as it does “three unabridged short stories”, as the printed version of this story is longer. The missing parts are not essential to the story, but do add some nice touches, and there are a few changes to what is left to help it fit onto the tape, not necessarily for the better. This is the story of Steve Davis (that always makes me laugh!) who has recently been left by his wife. He suddenly quits smoking shortly afterwards, and there are continual reminders of and references to this throughout the story. Eventually, the husband a wife, and her lawyer meet in a restaurant called the “Gotham Café” for lunch, to discuss the break up, but do so on the day that the head waiter goes mad, and starts trying to kill people. As with “1408”, the story has a slower first half, but a faster paced second half, and tails off towards the end. It’s a pretty good story, although not quite as powerful a
s “1408”. Stephen King’s attempts at a French accent are better than his attempts at a Spanish one, but there are three male characters at the start of the story, and distinguishing between them would be very difficult if this were read as, say, a script, rather than as a story. There is very little variation in King’s voice between the three. This is a much better story to read than to listen to, although it is a good story to have if you do not own a copy of that anthology. I would not consider myself disappointed with this collection, even after paying £14.99 for it in WHSmith’s a year or so ago, as it’s useful to have for Stephen King fans, especially for “1408”. However, there are far more talented readers, and it is this which lets the collection down. This has also put me off buying the audio version of “Hearts in Atlantis” as my favourite story from that book is read by Stephen King and not John Hurt, who read a couple of the others. I would say that this is a good tape to have for a long journey, as suggested by nikkisly, or for sitting around on a lazy afternoon when you’re busy doing something else, but need a little background sound to avoid you getting too bored. Stephen King has a new short story collection, “Everything’s Eventual” due for publication in hardback in March 2002, and if these stories appear therein, I would avoid buying this tape. If not, however, this audio collection is a must for any die hard Stephen King fan. Like myself, for instance. If, however, you are a fan of audio books or spoken word tapes in general, or not a mad Stephen King fan, I would advise you to steer clear of “Blood and Smoke”, and go create your own!
"WARNING: Listening after dark may cause fear, trembling and, ultimately, insanity" So reads the 'government health warning' on the box of the three cassettes that comprise Stephen King's audio book "Blood and Smoke", three "unfiltered" stories on the theme of smoking, of which two are previously unpublished. Since my husband and I have completely different tastes in music, we occasionally buy audio books if we know we have a long journey together in the car. We find it a compromise that saves the sort of arguments that occur when I'm force fed Pink Floyd and he is made to listen to Northern Soul which have, in the past, escalated to long sessions of silent sulking and ruined any outing we might have planned. Would "Blood and Smoke" keep us sufficiently entertained to avoid fisticuffs, given the fact that I am a King fan and he is not? Our initial reaction on inserting Cassette One was hysterical laughter. Whilst he might be King of the written word, when reading his own stories, the maestro's voice bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Elmer Fudd. However, once we'd got over our initial shock and begun to actually listen to the words rather than the voice, we were both captivated. Story one is entitled "1408". A best selling writer of ghost stories ignores all warnings, determined to spend the night alone in the most haunted hotel room in New York City and survive to write his story. This is King at his suspenseful best and, unusually for him, he maintains the tension throughout the story rather than allowing it to build before defusing it with humour then rebuilding it. This was so spooky a tale that we found ourselves covered in goosebumps at several stages in the telling. A masterful psychological thriller/ghost story, ideal for Halloween. Rating 5*'s. Story two is "In the Deathroom". This is the tale of a man who is imprisoned b
y South American bad guys and his plot to escape which hinges round his request for a last cigarette. In our opinion, this was the weakest of the three stories, one that we both found difficult to follow. The words were pure King, yet the plot seemed rather convoluted and ultimately pointless. Rating 2 *'s. Story three is "Lunch at the Gotham Café" and is the story of a man whose wife decides to walk out on him just when he has finally decided to quit his lifelong smoking addiction. The main action takes place when he meets his wife and her lawyer for lunch and is a delightful mixture of horror and black humour that is almost Monty Pythonesque. A deranged Maitre D' goes berserk with a knife, creating a blood -drenched scene that is simultaneously gross and funny. We laughed, we groaned and we dry heaved throughout. Rating 5*'s. The whole package runs for approximately three and a half hours and the sound quality is excellent. You would probably expect a good review from me, being a self confessed King fanatic, but my husband is quite the opposite. He has only ever been persuaded to read two King books, one of which he pronounced "dire", the other he didn't even finish. His rating of "Blood and Smoke" was a muted " It's quite good", but he found it sufficiently entertaining to listen to again in its entirety on our return journey, without any urging from me. I would,in all honesty, sooner read King's books for myself than have them read to me and I would have to question the wisdom of having King read them personally. (He undoubtedly has a fevered imagination but his spoken words are unlikely to raise your temperature to fever pitch.) Having said that, there are times when you physically can't read and King's rendition is perfect for just such times. Listen to it with a friend rather than alone - "Blood and Smoke" is the perfect illustration that smoking (
especially Stephen King style) is bad for your health. "Blood and Smoke" - Stephen King - Hodder Headline Audiobooks. (currently £13.49 at amazon)
Now I know why they get actors to read for audio books. I've always wanted to hear a King audio book read by King. I've always thought the writer would be the best reader because he or she wrote it; he knows where everything goes and how everything should be read. But after a while (Blood & Smoke is 3 1/2 hours long), King begins to sound like Casey Kasem. The stories are good. There are three, all involving smoking, which is supposed to be the glue for this package. All smoking-related stories, packaged in a tall thin box with a flip top like a pack of cigarettes. Cute marketing. But the smoking element of these stories could have been changed to just about anything and they wouldn't have suffered. In the end, it seems like someone had an idea to package some King stories and make them available only as audio books and someone else had a cool packaging idea, and they said to King, "Hey, can you work smoking into the stories somehow?" Is this package worth the £13.50 (cassette)? Sure, if you plan to listen to them over and over, but, honestly, who listens to an audio book more than, maybe, two or three times? If it's funny, like a George Carlin book, or if it's just so well done you can't help it, like Neil Gaiman's "Warning: Contains Language", then sure. But your average audio book (and this audio book is simply that, average), no. For one, it's too easy to get distracted. I mean, people listen to audio books because they don't have time to read, but if they're already busy with something else, they're not giving their mind the time or attention to form the pictures in their head a regular reading experience requires. The first story in this set, "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe," is an okay story, but it's got so much going during the climax, you really need to be able to read it, to see exactly what's going on. And writing in an accent is fine for some
people. But some people shouldn't try to duplicate the spoken accent themselves. In this story, Steve Davis has come home to find his wife has left him. Looks like he picked the wrong week to quit smoking. And things get worse when his wife's lawyer arranges a lunch in order to discuss the divorce. Somehow, the spot on the maitre'd's jacket at the Gotham Cafe looks a lot like dried blood. There isn't much else to say about this story. Next is "1408," the best of the bunch. A simple ghost story with enough dialogue, it's suited perfectly for an audio book. And this one is by far the most interesting; the only one I can see myself listening to over and over. In this one, Mike Enslin has made his money writing non-fiction books on ghosts. But he doesn't believe in them himself, until he tries to stay the night in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, a room which hasn't been used in 20 years. Even the numbers of the room add up to 13. Last is "In the Deathroom," yet another short story that began as an interesting idea, but wasn't brought to complete fruition, and was put to paper before it was ready. This story is a scene in a longer novel, a simple series of events coming from one place, and leading to another. Fletcher is an American reporter being held in a South American "deathroom." His only means of escape comes when he's offered a final cigarette before death. I'm not saying don't buy Blood & Smoke. If you like audio books, go ahead. They haven't been published anywhere else.
Stephen King has forced us to confront our greatest fears. He has guided us through the depths of our imagination to places we never would have ventured alone. Now, in Blood and Smoke, he takes us inside a world of yearning and paranoia, isolation and addiction. It is the world of the smoker. In this audio-only collection, the now politically incorrect habit plays a key role in the fates of three different men in three unabridged stories of unfiltered suspense. In Lunch at the Gotham Cafe, Steve Davis is suffering through intense withdrawal -- from both nicotine and his wife. His desperation for a cigarette and for his ex are almost too much to bear, but that's nothing compared to the horrors that await him at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. In 1408, Mike Enslin, bestselling author of "true" ghost stories, decides to spend the night in New York City's most haunted hotel room. But he must live to write about it without the help of his ex best-friends, his trusty smokes. And in In the Deathroom, a man named Fletcher is held captive in a South American stronghold. His captors will use any tortuous means necessary to extract the information they want from him. His only hope lies with his last request -- one last cigarette, please. A cartonfull of chills and thrills, Blood and Smoke is classic Stephen King.