STRANGER THINGS: DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN / AUTHOR: ADAM CHRISTOPHER / PUBLISHER: DEL REY / FORMAT: HARDBACK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
As with most runaway hits, Stranger Things has hit the cash-in market in a huge way - there are action figures, plush toys, T-shirts, video games, even a Monopoly set – but they’ve also used this commercial reach to widen the mythology of the series, with a new comic book published this year by BOOM! Studios and a series of tie-in novels from the penguin imprint, Century.
The first of these, Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond, laid the backstory for Papa’s experiments at the Hawkins National Laboratory, but the second – Darkness on the Edge of Town by London-based New Zealand author Adam Christopher – takes a different tack to flesh out the background of one of the show’s most popular characters.
Darkness… is Hopper’s story. He wasn’t always Chief of Police in Hawkins, and this book covers a very important few days in the summer of 1977, when he was tasked with tracking down a serial killer in Brooklyn, New York. The New York of the 1970s is a very different place to today, and Christopher makes the most of its humid decay, with parts of the city left to rot, and crime and vice rampant, although the odd clunky chronistic reference slips through.
The story moves along quickly, and the reader is dragged along with it, with a strong cast of characters introduced to stand alongside and against Hopper. Christopher obviously has a feel for the genre and his audience, and it’s not difficult to imagine a young David Harbour when you picture Hopper in the book. The plot is satisfyingly resolved at the novel’s end, and does enough to leave you wanting more of Hopper’s exploits in the Big Apple.
The problem is that this is not particularly a Stranger Things story. The book is wrapped in a story device of Eleven discovering Hopper’s old case files, and we hear the story as he tells it to her in their cabin in 1984, but there is little else to connect it to the wider Stranger Things world, despite the murders initially seeming to have a sprinkle of Satanist flavour – this is the summer of Son of Sam, after all.
As a YA thriller, this is a page-turner. It is well-written, and coherently-plotted, with some good character work, and a solid evocation of its setting. It’s just not a Stranger Things story, which is disappointing if that was your abiding reason for picking it up. This is the problem with using characters whose first reaction to any kind of weirdness was depicted in season one of the show, but the wider mythology remains largely unexplored, and you’d hope that future novels mine that very reach seam, rather than falling back on character pieces.