King’s crime novel ‘Blaze’ unfulfilling

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When Stephen King announced that “Blaze” would be published this summer, nobody was happier than I was. I knew that “Blaze” was a novel from an earlier era-that it was, in fact, one of King’s first, written before even “Carrie” hit the shelves-but this fact excited rather than deterred me. King’s latest few-“The Colorado Kid,” “Cell” and “Lisey’s Story”-have been disappointments. Perhaps Blaze could remind me why I fell in love with the author in the first place.

Also, King decided to publish “Blaze” as Richard Bachman, a pseudonym he’s used in the past. Bachman’s record is nearly perfect. King’s early stories, the ones before “Carrie,” were dark crime tales that, although imperfect in their prose, (King/Bachman uses far too many adverbs in “The Long Walk,”) were driven by the honesty and angst of a young author. If King was going to publish his final pre-“Carrie” trunk novel under the Bachman name, I expected it to be my favorite book of 2007.

But things didn’t happen that way. King did publish “Blaze,” and he published it under the Bachman name, but the excitement, the love, the nostalgia that I was supposed to feel dipping back into that old Bachman world just didn’t happen. “Blaze” is easily the worst of the Bachman books, a loosely organized, melodramatic caper story written in a tired, boring style. It reflects none of King’s former fire. “Blaze,” in fact, is one of the coldest King stories, another forgettable blunder in the author’s inconsistent career.

“Blaze” tells the story of Clayton Blaisdell, a mentally-challenged criminal looking to make the big score. Blaisdell, or Blaze, plans and then executes the “crime of the century,” kidnapping a rich family’s infant to hold ransom for $1 million. This plot trades off almost chapter-by-chapter with Blaze’s backstory, which proves more interesting than the main story.

The plot looks interesting enough on paper, and King’s craftsmanship-his sense of human psychology, his rhythmic storytelling voice-is sturdy as always, but the overall execution just seems lazy. It reads like the work of a burnt-out author, something written in a dispassionate, (perhaps desperate) rush.

One of the biggest issues is King’s use of George, Blaze’s dead friend. George is less a character than a plot device. Whenever Blaze runs into a problem that he can’t figure out, the author has George (now a voice inside Blaze’s head) supply the information. That’s fair enough for problems of logic, because after all, George was always the clever one of the pair. But later in the novel, when King hits a plot snag, George starts telling Blaze things he couldn’t possibly know without a little psychic twinkle (“They’re coming for you, Blaze.”) It’s lazy, and it makes for an unsatisfying story.

Another big problem probably results from the author’s lack of faith in the story. King introduces this novel with a disclaimer: “Dear Constant Reader. This is a trunk novel, okay?” That’s true enough. After all, “Blaze” had been buried since the beginning of King’s long career. But shouldn’t its publication after all this time be celebrated? King is justifying failure before anyone has told him he’s failed. That attitude carries into the text.

If “Blaze” had been written by someone else in the crime/mystery vein, it would be much easier to praise, and casual readers looking for something that’s easy but still serious will probably love “Blaze” for its protagonist and storytelling style. But from Bachman, representative of the young, hungry, mostly unknown King, I expected much more.