The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Creepy cameras and sociopathic librarians: my review of ‘Four Past Midnight’ by Stephen King

on April 14, 2016


Four Past Midnight. Stephen King. Viking Press. September 1990.

I’ve only ever read one Stephen King novel – The Shining – and whilst I loved it and it was certainly creepy, I wasn’t terrified by it. I didn’t have to put it in the freezer like Joey from Friends


Source: Twitter

I felt the same way about Four Past Midnight. I loved the way the stories were written (Stephen King is the BEST storyteller – you can tell even in the way he writes his personal notes to introduce each novella in this collection), and there were plenty of creepy moments, but I never felt the need to stash it away in the freezer for my own safety and sanity. I’m still searching for a story to *absolutely* terrify me in this way. If you have any recommendations, let me know!

I think I’ll do this story by story, otherwise this review could get a wee bit rambly:

The Langoliers – 5 stars

This was my favourite novella in the collection. The story follows a set of characters taking a flight to Boston. Each of them fall asleep on the plane, and when they wake up, everyone bar them has mysteriously disappeared, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone in control of the plane, which has been drifting along on autopilot whilst they’ve been sleeping.

This story was weird and creepy and I loved following all of the characters as they attempted to make sense of something completely nonsensical. If you loved LOST (aka my favourite TV show of all time) you’ll adore this. I loved the element of strangers having to rely on one another, and the way each of their back-stories were gradually revealed. Although there was a fairly big cast of characters (10), I felt each of them were distinctive, and I came to care about all of them deeply by the end of the novella. And speaking of the ending, it kind of blew my mind. It wasn’t a twist as such, but it was just so perfectly written.

Straight after finishing this, I checked out the rather cheesy 90s made-for-TV movie adaptation, and I secretly loved every minute. You can find the film on Youtube here.

Secret Window, Secret Garden3.5 stars

You may have heard of the film adaptation of this story – Secret Window starring Johnny Depp. I’ve never seen the movie, so I went in blind, but whilst it certainly gave me the creeps in places, I also felt the plot was predictable (I guessed the twist early on.)

The story follows recently divorced Mort Rainey, an author who is staying up at his summer house for the winter (as his ex-wife took ownership of their home in the settlement) and struggling over the manuscript for his next book. One morning, a strange man named John Shooter shows up on Mort’s doorstep and accuses him of plagiarising one of his stories. Mort has no idea what the man’s talking about, and assumes he’s just crazy, but as the story progresses, John won’t seem to leave him alone, and all kinds of sinister things start happening.

Even though I guessed what was going on, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story, which was very interesting from a psychological perspective. Plagiarism is a fear which must haunt all writers to a certain extent, because we can never be completely sure if an idea or phrase came from us, or from something we read years ago and buried deep in our subconscious. Mort instantly starts feeling guilty, and I loved seeing what guilt does to him and how it messes with his head. I’m really interested to see how this story is handled in the film adaptation, which I’m definitely watching soon!

The Library Policeman4 stars

This was an excellent story, but all kinds of messed up. The plot follows a man named Sam Peebles who goes to the library in search of some books to help him with a speech. When he gets to the library, there’s a real sense of wrongness; nobody’s around, it’s uncannily quiet, and there’s some seriously disconcerting decor in the children’s section, including a large poster of the sinister-sounding ‘Library Policeman’ who threatens to punish children who don’t bring back their library books. Sam confronts the librarian about the posters, which he feels are totally inappropriate/will terrify kids, and he gets a very strange vibe from her – there’s something not right about her at all. Creepier still, when Sam returns to the library, everything looks completely different, and the librarian he spoke to is nowhere to be found. But the scariest parts are still to come…

This story made me think about how strange libraries actually are, especially when relatively empty – all those massive, silent rooms with never-ending shelves of books definitely have lots of potential for creepiness.

There was plenty of weird paranormal stuff going on, and creepy characters who gave me the shivers, but the most horrifying thing that happened in this novella was something which could and does happen in real life. That particular scene made me sick to my stomach, and was probably the most disturbing part of the whole book.

For me, The Library Policeman was a powerful story, which addressed some interesting themes and important issues. I grew to really care about Sam, and I think that’s why this story affected me so much.

The Sun Dog2.5 stars

This story was actually part of the reason I bought Four Past Midnight in the first place. I went to a YA event last year, and an author on one of the panels said this was one of the scariest stories she’d ever read. I was expecting to be terrified, but unfortunately I wasn’t really feeling it. It was a creepy concept – a boy called Kevin gets a polaroid camera for his 15th birthday, but discovers there’s something very wrong with it… instead of taking pictures of whatever he points the camera at, the photos which emerge are of a dog next to a picket fence. As he takes more and more photos, the dog appears to be moving… closer and closer to the lens.

The pace of this story dragged a bit, and I found myself getting bored and wanting things to move faster. I was also disappointed with the ending – it just wasn’t horrifying enough for me, and I kind of knew what was coming all along, so it all felt a bit silly. It kinda reminded me of Goosebumps (although this was written before Say Cheese and Die…) for grownups. Except the only thing which made it grownup was a tiny bit more gore, and some swearing… Don’t get me wrong, I loved a bit of Goosebumps back in the day, but it takes a lot more to scare me as an adult.

An aspect of this story I did find really creepy were the dreams Kevin had about the world of the camera and the dog and the picket fence. They had that surreal, weird quality which reminded me of dreams I’ve had which were frightening simply because they made no sense. The other thing I found quite sinister was Pop’s shop (Pop is the man Kevin takes his camera to, in the hope that he might be able to fix it or tell him what’s wrong with it). Pop’s shop was full of clocks which would all chime ‘on the hour’ but slightly out of sync with each other. I don’t know why but there was something a bit disconcerting and eerie about that.

Overall, this was a great collection of horror stories, even if the last one was weaker than the rest. None of them kept me awake *all* night, but they were entertaining, creepy, and well written. I’d definitely recommend them, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Stephen King’s work.

Have you read any Stephen King books? Which ones would you recommend? And are there any scary books you can recommend that you genuinely considered putting in the freezer?! I’d love to hear from you.


36 responses to “Creepy cameras and sociopathic librarians: my review of ‘Four Past Midnight’ by Stephen King

  1. Lizzy says:

    Well I scare very easily and even this review has creeped me out! I can’t believe none of those stories properly terrified you, I would have had them in the freezer from the first 5 pages!

    • mudandstars says:

      Aww sorry the review creeped you out haha! Have there been any books you’ve read that have scared you? I scare easily with horror films (I have to watch most of them behind a pillow or not at all) but I find it harder to find books which genuinely scare me. I think I’m more scared by stuff that could happen in real life (whereas most of these stories had a supernatural element). I get creeped out by a lot of psychological thrillers!

      • Lizzy says:

        I definitely find anything psychological more scary – where’s it’s the power of suggestion rather than something actually happening. But I can be scared by pretty much anything! Although I find it easier to get over it if it’s set in a fantasy world.

        The scariest book I ever read was definitely The Woman in Black. I can’t have a copy on my shelf because just looking at it creeps me out. But that is supernatural

      • mudandstars says:

        Ooh, I’ve never read it, but the film creeped me out. It was so jumpy!! Ghost stories are actually the exception to me not finding supernatural stuff scary – I haven’t read many but the ones I have terrified me!

      • Lizzy says:

        Well if you’re in the mood to be scared out of your wits The Woman in Black is definitely one I’d recommend!

      • mudandstars says:

        Awesome, will definitely check it out then! 🙂

  2. Hey Ashers! says:

    I watched the Langoliers with my family as a kid, and it freaked me out for weeks after. I still remember standing at the top of my driveway and looking down at my (silent, forested, almost-rural suburban) neighborhood and wondering if my family were the only people left in the town, and I’d see the langoliers moving toward me from the horizon. *Shudders.*

    • mudandstars says:

      Ahh that must have been such a creepy place to be after watching scary movies! I think I would have had exactly the same reaction. Especially as the Langoliers are supposed to mainly eat children haha… I’d have been sleeping with the light on for weeks.

  3. I really need to pluck up my courage and read a Stephen King novel! I will do it this year!

    • mudandstars says:

      Ooh you definitely should! Which one are you thinking of picking up? I have only read 2 of his books, but I’m definitely planning to read more this year. I’m trying to find something which scares the crap out of me, so I’m thinking I might try ‘IT’ as I have a clown phobia… wish me luck!

  4. You should try The Mist.. It’s definitely scary and unputdownable at the same time.

  5. I’ve talked to a few people recently who told me ‘IT’ and ‘The Shining’ were the way to go if you want to be terrified… All this talk about SK is getting me super excited to see him in June 😁

    • mudandstars says:

      Ooh did you manage to get tickets for the event? So jealous, that will be awesome! I enjoyed The Shining, but I wasn’t too scared – however, I think that’s because I watched the movie first, so I knew what was going to happen. I definitely hid behind a cushion watching the movie! I am terrified to try IT because I have a phobia of clowns.. but as I’m looking for a book that will terrify me, that sounds like a good reason to pick it up haha!

  6. coffeehousechatter says:

    I’ve never actually read King’s short stories but I REALLY want to. This will probably be the first I pick up now thanks for the review

    • mudandstars says:

      You’re welcome, and ooh I hope you enjoy them!! Look forward to seeing what you think. Which of his novels would you recommend most? I’m definitely going to read some more this year 🙂

      • coffeehousechatter says:

        I always recommend Cujo or Carrie to people who are just starting to read his work. Eventually you should definitely read IT though. It’s a time commitment to say the least but it’s my favorite book of all time

      • mudandstars says:

        Thanks, will check both of those out! I enjoyed the movie of Carrie. Her mum was so creepy. I do want to read IT, but I’m terrified, as I’m scared of clowns haha. But I guess being scared is the whole point, and what I’m looking for 🙂

  7. Annelise Lestrange says:

    I only read one book by the King [haha, I’m so stupid, how do you put up with me? lol] and it was the black or dark tower, I don’t know. It wasn’t horror/terror/his main thing, but something odd and dystopian and bizarre, so I won’t recommend that. I actually hated it, haha! But I can’t wait until putting my hands in a novel by him!! ❤

    • mudandstars says:

      Haha you’re not stupid – I’d only read one of his books before I read this one! Ohhh yes, I’ve heard of that one – and the person who told me about it hated it too! Think I’ll stay away from that one haha. Maybe we can choose another of his novels for book club sometime – hopefully we’ll like that one better! 🙂

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        I think this is a great idea! I think I may have bought some ebooks from him sometime in the past – yo see, I have one-click-buy syndrome and keep getting ebooks like crazy since 2012 lol It’s very possible of me to have something of him in my kindle app or on my other generic ereader… This can totally work!!!!

      • mudandstars says:

        Ooh, let me know if you find any! And don’t worry – I completely have the same condition… it’s a sickness (but the best kind of sickness!) ❤

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        Already found one called The Bazaar of Bad Dreams! 🙂 Do you know it?? Sounds liek several stories put together or something…

      • mudandstars says:

        Ooh yes I’ve heard of it – I think it is a short story collection. I’m definitely interested to read it at some point, although the e-book is over £8 on Amazon at the moment so I think I may have to wait for a sale! 😛

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        OMG HOW COME?! That’s such an absurd price for an ebook! =O I’m so shocked!!! I even think I wrote it wrong lol

      • mudandstars says:

        I know, it’s crazy isn’t it? I’m not sure why it’s so much – Four Past Midnight was quite expensive too (£7). A lot of e-books are quite expensive in the UK, unless they are by indie authors 😦

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        this is soo weird! I though that only happened at Brazil! I refuse to buy national or in Portuguese titles because they are expansive beyond reason! I only buy US ebooks, haha! 🙂 And lots of freebies, of course!!! As a contemporary and important thinker called Britney Spears would say and I quote: “Someday I will understand” lol

      • mudandstars says:

        Hahahh you made me laugh so much with your Britney comment! Yes it’s a problem for us too, but usually only with new releases, so I’m surprised by this one!!

      • Annelise Lestrange says:

        One can’t ignore the wisdom in celebrity world, haha! And yeah, that was what I was thinking, usually they abuse of the new ones ://

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