20 Oct Stephen King’s “Holly”
Written by: Nick Philip, Adult Services Supervisor
Since the 1970s, Stephen King has reigned supreme as one of the most prolific authors in English literature, reliably putting out at least one (generally fairly substantial) novel a year. One of King’s hallmarks is how he interweaves his works, which resembles a multiverse much like Marvel. His newest and 64th novel, Holly, focuses on a macabre mystery investigated by his detective Holly Gibney. King has been vocal that Holly is one of his favorite characters he’s ever written since her first appearance in 2014. However, King’s most recent release is the first time Holly’s been the star of her own novel. If you’re interested in learning more about the beloved character, here are the books she’s appeared in thus far.
Holly first appears in this 2014 novel, in which King tells a comparably realistic serial killer story that toes the line between the mystery and horror genres. The story follows Bill Hodges, a retired police detective, hounded by the man at the center of his last unsolved case, mass murderer Brady Hartsfield. Brady’s identity is known to the reader, but not to Bill, which makes for a “howcatchem” mystery in the style of Columbo. Bill is aided by his teenage neighbors Jerome and Holly Gibney. Though Holly is initially introduced as the neurotic and reclusive cousin of Bill’s romantic interest, Janey, she quickly becomes an integral player in the hunt for Brady. Mr. Mercedes is a taut thriller set in Ohio and features no fantastic elements, which makes it a great entry point for readers who would normally avoid King’s writing. The mystery community thought highly enough of the book to award it the 2015 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.
Right on the heels of Mr. Mercedes came its sequel the following year, Finders Keepers. Bill, Jerome, and Holly form a private detective agency, which is later recruited for a complex cat-and-mouse case. In 1978, a man murdered and stole unpublished manuscripts from his favorite author. A teenager finds those manuscripts decades later, which prove to be a double-edged sword that provides much-needed finances, but centers him in a blackmail plot and a killer’s gaze. Finders Keepers is a neat story that decentralizes Holly and her friends, but works its way into being a very nice thriller with a heavy literary bent.
King wraps up his Bill Hodges trilogy in 2016 with End of Watch. While the previous two volumes were incredibly realistic in content by King’s standards, he just couldn’t help himself for the grand finale, as he imbues his villain with telekinetic powers. This villain is bent on revenge against Bill, who is battling terminal cancer. End of Watch is an explosive finish to a unique trilogy in King’s vast oeuvre.
In 2015, David E. Kelley signed on as the showrunner for a television adaptation of the series. Debuting in 2017 on the now-defunct Audience Network, Mr. Mercedes ran for three seasons, each one rather faithfully adapting the novels of the trilogy, with the one significant change being switching the seasons handling Finders Keepers and End of Watch with each other. Bill was played by Brendan Gleeson, who did not attempt to discard his Irish accent through the run, and Brady was played by Harry Treadway. Most notably for this brief primer, though, Holly was played by Justine Lupe, who may be best known for her role as Willa (Connor’s significant other) on the HBO series Succession and as Astrid (Midge’s sister-in-law) on the Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Holly’s next appearance in the King multiverse comes in 2018’s The Outsider, which, like the Bill Hodges Trilogy, begins as a mystery story and develops into the type of supernaturally macabre horror that made King his fortune. Holly enters the narrative midway through as a private investigator hired by representation for a man suspected of having killed a local boy despite having an airtight alibi for the night in question. Holly’s arrival marks the turning point of the story into a horror one and she becomes one of the primary heroes of the novel.
In 2020, continuing a long tradition of adapting King novels for both the big and small screens, a television adaptation of The Outsider appeared on HBO. Boasting a large cast of characters including Ben Mendelsohn, Jason Bateman, and Bill Camp, the role of Holly is played by Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo. Notably, the showrunner, Richard Price (himself a very accomplished crime novelist and TV writer), was very free with how he adapted the story, as his Holly displays some different characteristics and appears much earlier in televised narrative than in the book.
Aside from being a very prolific novelist, King has amassed quite a collection of notable short stories and novellas. His most recent collection, 2020’s If It Bleeds, features Holly in the eponymous story. Teaming up with Jerome and his sister Barbara, Holly discovers the supernatural nature of a local TV news anchor and endeavors to stop his nefarious activities. Out of the four stories featured in this blog, “If It Bleeds” is the only one that has not notably been in any stage of the adaptation process.