Stephen King's latest paperback novel, 'From A Buick 8', is by no means his best novel, nor is it his worst. It is in fact comprised of elements from both, and as a result is best described as mediocre. Due to King's talent as a writer, and years of practice, 'From A Buick 8' is an interesting novel, and manages to grasp and hold the readers attention for most of it's short length.
In a welcome change of setting, King takes us to small town Pennsylvania and the barracks of State Patrol Troop D. Trooper Curt Wilcox recently perished in a rather grisly encounter with an (unfortunately) moving vehicle, and his son, Ned, is looking for a measure of closure. He starts spending time at the barracks, and soon discovers the mysterious occupant of Shed B.
Commanding Sargeant Sandy Dearborn decides the boy deserves to know about the strange object that so fascinated his father. It's a Buick Roadmaster, the likes of which have never been seen. For starters, it doesn't have an engine and it manages to heal damage to itself. It also has certain 'episodes', accompanied by a drop in temperature and mysterious lights, in which surrounding objects disappear and very alien ones sometimes appear.
Ned is of course enthralled. Sandy and the other members of Troop D relate the entire story to him, starting when Curt first found the car abandoned so many years ago. The story is structered by a series of monologues, as troopers take turns telling the parts of the story they were present for. In between these, we return to the present for some analysis, in addition to lemonade and cigarettes.
The characters are well written but they serve mainly as devices to tell the story of the car, and as a result are essentially flat on their own. King tries to flesh them out with his usual tangential anecdotes, but they're not substantial enough to really add anything to the characters. The problem is also compounded by the fact that they're not really anything we haven't read about before - most of the characters could be dropped into almost any Stephen King book without even a hiccup.
The monologues/flashbacks are well written, and the story they begin to tell is interesting. The true nature of the car is obscured, and the events surrounding it are parcelled out in pieces. This directly leads into the biggest problem with the book; although plenty happens, there's really no tangible enemy or even an significant problem to solve. The car never does anything, or directly threaten characters - as an antagonist it's sorely lacking. The events which surround it are interesting, yes, but they're not sufficient enough to carry the book on their own. Turns out a haunted car without an engine isn't really that scary at all, and works more as a novelty than anything else.
The book relies solely on the mystery of the cars origin and purpose, and the only impetus to keep reading is to solve the puzzle. Although more events are related, the book never reaches any point of resolution. As things close the nature of the car is never more than hypothesized, and its origins never explained. Sure this is realistic - as State Troopers don't usually have a theoretical physics department - but realism doesn't always make for good reading. It feels like the last half of the book is missing, and it's irritating to find out that the puzzle is never going to be solved. Especially when such a solution is the main draw of the novel.
'From a Buick 8' is a fine book, but in the end it's difficult to see the point. Your best bet is to find this book at the library, or wait for a discounted edition. It pales in comparison to King's finest work, although it's by no means his worst. Today's 'Word of the Day' is 'Average'.